Ukraine Situation Report: Deluge Of Rodents A Common Enemy

A massive influx of mice, rats and voles is making a harsh existence fighting in winter even more miserable.

byHoward Altman|
Ukraine and Russia have a common enemy - rodents infesting the battlefield.
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It's miserable enough fighting in winter, but after an unusually warm early fall followed by brutal cold, large swaths of fields that have gone unharvested and thousands of human carcasses to feed on, troops from both sides are facing an additional scourge.

Rodents.

These Russian soldiers found out just how bad the problem was when they started up their 120-mm self-propelled howitzer 2S9 Nona-S. Scores of mice who sought refuge from the cold spewed out of the exhaust. One soldier is seen kicking at them in vain as the mice continued to pour out of the vehicle.

Mice have also infested Russian trenches, crawling over bedding and food stores.

Ukraine too has been battling rodents, as you can see in this video below.

This soldier had to shake out his jacket, which was crawling with rodents.

This soldier used a wrench to try and whack mice running around his stash of grenades.

It's been a long time since we last saw the trench beaver, but it appears Ukraine has an ally in the fight against rodents. Meet the trench weasel.

Rodent infestations are not benign beyond the yuck factor. In addition to concerns about the diseases they carry, there is also the toll they take on military gear. Agency France Press spent time with a Ukrainian front line unit and reported that mice damaged their communications equipment.

"The problem is, they gnaw at the cables," Volodymyr, one unit's 45-year-old commander, pointing to the one used to connect to the internet via Starlink satellite, told the publication.

Last month, another Ukrainian unit reported that a horde of mice destroyed artillery charges, affecting unit readiness.

Rodents affecting military operations is hardly new. During WWII, a large number of German armored vehicles was rendered inoperable by rodents chewing through wires, according to the Russia Beyond website.

"On November 19, 1942, the Red Army began the large-scale operation dubbed ‘Uranus’ to surround" German forces. "The larger strikes were carried out against German flanks, manned by weak Romanian forces who were aligned with Germany. The 22nd Panzer Division received a rapid order to move out and aid the 3rd Romanian Army, which was on the brink of defeat." 

"And that’s when the unexpected began to happen. A portion of the tanks simply refused to start, while another would shut off shortly after starting. As it turned out, the culprits were simple field mice, which lived in the straw that the tank division was using for cover. They had chewed through much of the electrical wiring. As a result, at the most critical moment these tanks were needed on the battlefield, only 30 out of 100 were battle-ready. "

Given that winter doesn't officially start for another few weeks, it seems like there is no immediate end in sight for the rodent problem facing Ukrainian and Russian troops alike.

How much more damage those creatures can inflict remains to be seen.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, most of the heaviest fighting continues to be centered in Donetsk Oblast, where Russia continues to try and advance in and around Avdiivka.

You can get a sense of the human toll on Russia from this video below showing the battlefield littered with dead Russian troops.

In this video below of Ukrainian troops dismounting into battle near the Avdiivka Coke plant, you can see one of the key attributes of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles donated to Ukraine. As we described in our deep dive on the Bradley, it has the ability to deliver troops to the front lines in a well-protected vehicle that packs a punch.

The first image of a Bradley captured by Russia emerged on social media. The vehicle, with Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles (BRAT), was reportedly captured near Avdiivka last month, according to the Oryx open source tracking group.

Though there has been little progress to report in Ukraine's counteroffensive in the Verbove salient in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, two Ukrainian troops were seen holding off a larger number of Russian troops approaching their trench.

As Russia continues to pour troops into the fight, the Ukrainian Deep State milblogger is suggesting that Ukraine needs to develop an echelon defense.

“The situation remains tense, the enemy introduces more and more reserves that allow maintaining a high intensity of fighting, which negatively affects the physical condition of the Defense Forces, for whom rest is time to transfer to another problem point,” Deep State wrote on Telegram. “In one of the interviews, a..combatant from the 54th OMBr stated that in their area above Soledar the ratio is 5:1 in favor of the enemy, and against the background of Avdiyivka and Kupyansk, this is not yet such an active area of ​​the front. At this stage, the need for echelon defense becomes critical. Somewhere they have already started to solve it, but time is not on our side.”

In its latest assessment, the Institute for The Study of War said "Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced near Avdiivka."

One of Ukrainian President Voldoymyr Zelensky's top aides acknowledged that Kyiv has shifted priorities as the winter weather sets in without major progress on the battlefield.

"Undoubtedly, the winter and the analysis of our own and the enemy's resource capabilities require adjustments in tactics," Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. "On the frontline and in the cities, we are already moving to a different tactic of warfare - effective defense in certain areas, continuation of offensive operations in other areas, special strategic operations on the Crimean peninsula and in the Black Sea waters, and significantly reformatted missile defense of critical infrastructure."

The winter, he added, "won't be easy, given that Russia pays absolutely no attention to international law, conventions and rules of warfare, deliberately attacking civilians on a massive scale, but Ukrainians are prepared, taking into account the experience of the last winter."

All of Ukraine's resources "are being directed to increasing domestic arms production and speeding up negotiations with partners to increase supplies of critical equipment for the new stage of offensive operations. First and foremost, additional missile defense systems, as well as long-range missiles, drones, and electronic warfare systems."

The White House is warning Congress that money to support Ukraine's war efforts could soon run out.

White House budget director Shalanda Young warned in a letter to Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and other congressional leaders on Monday that the United States was running out of time and money to help Ukraine fight its war with Russia.

“I want to be clear: without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks,” Young wrote. “There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money—and nearly out of time.”

“Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories. Already, our packages of security assistance have become smaller and the deliveries of aid have become more limited. If our assistance stops, it will cause significant issues for Ukraine. While our allies around the world have stepped up to do more, U.S. support is critical and cannot be replicated by others.”

As we previously reported, President Joe Biden's administration in October asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.

Speaking to reporters Monday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that while Ukraine is making some progress, concerns exist about funding.

“With respect to the battlefield, it’s a tough situation,” Miller said. “The Ukrainian forces are fighting against the very entrenched Russian military. We’ve seen them make progress. The progress has been difficult, but we have seen them continue to make progress. And when we were in Brussels last week, we spoke directly with the foreign minister of Ukraine about this matter.”

“With respect to the supplemental, yes, we’re absolutely concerned that the level of funding has expired. We are now relying on residual funds from the drawdown that will soon – we’re at I think over 97 percent of those having been exhausted. We’ll very shortly run out of any runway at all. So yes, we are very concerned.  It’s why the Secretary joins the president and others in the administration in urging Congress to act as quickly as possible.”

These concerns from U.S. officials follows a dire picture NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg painted about Ukraine's fight.

"Wars develop in phases," Stoltenberg said in an interview Saturday with German broadcaster ARD. "We have to support Ukraine in both good and bad times," he said.

"We should also be prepared for bad news,” Stoltenberg added, without being more specific. 

As they watch what is unfolding in Ukraine, several NATO members are worried about a future Russian attack against their nations.

"Estonia and other nations making up NATO's Eastern Flank, along with the alliance as a whole, have a three-year window in which to avoid war with Russia, according to the head of Poland's National Security Bureau (BBN)," Estonia's ERR news outlet reported. "Other expert estimates from European NATO member states put the time-frame at between five years and a decade."

Speaking of NATO, Russia planned to interfere with the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance, according to the secret intelligence report obtained by the Finnish Yle's MOT news outlet. 

“According to the report, the Russian intelligence service planned to organize harassment campaigns disguised as demonstrations before the countries' acceptance of NATO membership,” the publication reported. “The plan is revealed in a memo prepared by a Russian intelligence officer, which was initially leaked to the Dossier Center, a center for investigative journalism. The intelligence service's plan states that the violent demonstrations that followed the burning of the Koran in Sweden have increased the fear of Islam in EU countries. The document calls for further stirring up this tension. The goal has been to increase friction between Turkey and European countries and NATO.”

In a sobering look at the run-up to Ukraine's sputtering counteroffensive, The Washington Post spoke with "more than 30 senior officials from Ukraine, the United States and European nations" to gain "new insights and previously unreported details about America’s deep involvement in the military planning behind the counteroffensive and the factors that contributed to its disappointments."

Here were some of the key takeaways from that report:

● Ukrainian, U.S. and British military officers held eight major tabletop war games to build a campaign plan. But Washington miscalculated the extent to which Ukraine’s forces could be transformed into a Western-style fighting force in a short period — especially without giving Kyiv air power integral to modern militaries.

● U.S. and Ukrainian officials sharply disagreed at times over strategy, tactics and timing. The Pentagon wanted the assault to begin in mid-April to prevent Russia from continuing to strengthen its lines. The Ukrainians hesitated, insisting they weren’t ready without additional weapons and training.

● U.S. military officials were confident that a mechanized frontal attack on Russian lines was feasible with the troops and weapons that Ukraine had. The simulations concluded that Kyiv’s forces, in the best case, could reach the Sea of Azov and cut off Russian troops in the south in 60 to 90 days.

● The United States advocated a focused assault along that southern axis, but Ukraine’s leadership believed its forces had to attack at three distinct points along the 600-mile front, southward toward both Melitopol and Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov and east toward the embattled city of Bakhmut.

● The U.S. intelligence community had a more downbeat view than the U.S. military, assessing that the offensive had only a 50-50 chance of success given the stout, multilayered defenses Russia had built up over the winter and spring.

● Many in Ukraine and the West underestimated Russia’s ability to rebound from battlefield disasters and exploit its perennial strengths: manpower, mines and a willingness to sacrifice lives on a scale that few other countries can countenance.

● As the expected launch of the offensive approached, Ukrainian military officials feared they would suffer catastrophic losses — while American officials believed the toll would ultimately be higher without a decisive assault.

In addition to facing off against the Russians, Ukraine is also battling internal strife as well. According to Ukrainian Pravada (UP), there are simmering frictions between President Volodymyr Zelensky and Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander of the Armed Forces.

There are a number of contributing factors, UP explained in a lengthy analysis published Monday. Chief among them though centers on Zelensky reaching around Zaluzhny to communicate directly with subordinates like Ground Forces Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi or Air Force Commander Mykola Oleschuk, the publication said. 

“It is obvious that direct contact with commanders speeds up work for the president, but destabilizes the work of the head of the Armed Forces, who learns part of the information from his formal subordinates only at stakes, if at all,” UP reported. "You see, sometimes there is an impression that Zelensky has two types of armed forces: the ‘good’ ones commanded by Syrskyi and other favorites, and the ‘bad’ ones subordinated to Zaluzhny. This greatly demotivates the commander and, most importantly, prevents him from commanding the entire army.”

There is apparently tension too between Zelensky and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who recently told Der Spiegel that Ukraine is moving towards authoritarianism, a seeming jab at Ukraine's president.

"At some point we will no longer be any different from Russia, where everything depends on the whim of one man," Klitschko said. 

Zelensky's spokesman Serhiy Nikiforov did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. 

Klitschko said that Ukraine was leaderless and chaotic in the opening months of the full-scale war, and credited Ukraine's mayors with playing key leadership roles, protecting their residents and supporting the military. However, he said the President's Office sees mayors merely as an obstacle to the centralization of power.    

Despite being the mayor of Ukraine's capital, Klitschko said he hasn't talked to Zelensky since the full-scale invasion began.   

Zelensky seemed to address concerns over friction in a statement on his Telegram channel Monday.

"I thank everyone who does not get discouraged and does not waste their precious energy on arguments," he wrote. "Those who work for the national interests. Those who heal and save lives. Those who educate children and genuinely care for their communities' interests. Those who manufacture weapons and ammunition for our warriors. Those who organize volunteer fundraisers and, against all odds, provide assistance to specific units."

In a separate post, he also offered some hopeful news with a cryptic message about the supply of air defense missiles from allies.

“Implementation of important defense agreements with our partners continues,” he wrote. “They received both the missing missiles for the existing air defense systems and new, modern anti-aircraft systems. Grateful to our friends.”

Zelensky did not elaborate on which missiles were missing or what new anti-aircraft systems were donated or by whom.

He did, however, specify that there has been an increase in production of the domestically designed Bohdan 155mm howitzer.

“Efforts to increase own production give results,” he wrote. “For the first time, six ‘Bohdan’ per month reached the indicator. And we can already see how to increase it even more.”

Speaking of 155mm howitzers, German arms maker Rheinmetall won a large-volume order for supporting Ukraine with 155mm artillery ammunition, the company announced Monday. The Düsseldorf-based tech enterprise has been tasked with supplying Kyiv with artillery rounds worth around €142 million (about $153 million).

“The order encompasses tens of thousands of complete 155mm artillery shells, including the projectile, fuse (for the explosive charge), propellant and primer (for igniting the propellant). The customer is a NATO partner nation whose declared intention is to support Ukraine in its defensive struggle with effective long-term military aid.”

The company did not say which nation provided the funds.

The shells will be produced by Rheinmetall Expal Munitions, the Group’s newly acquired Spanish subsidiary. The ammunition will be delivered in 2025, the company said. Production and delivery of around 40,000 rounds for Ukraine from an earlier order is already due to take place in 2024.

This deal is just part of a much larger effort to add to the supply of artillery munitions.

"Demand for artillery ammunition is currently very high, due not just to Ukraine’s requirements but also the need to replenish the largely empty ammunition depots of Germany and other NATO and EU countries," the company said. "Rheinmetall plans a massive increase in ammunition production capacity in 2024 at its plants in Germany, Spain, South Africa and Australia, bringing annual output capacity to around 700,000 artillery rounds. Rheinmetall currently has multiyear framework contracts for supplying the German Bundeswehr with several hundred rounds of artillery ammunition worth over €1 billion (about $1.08 billion)."

Efforts continue elsewhere to provide Ukraine with more Soviet-era artillery munitions, in this case 122mm shells.

Ukraine is drastically increasing the number of drones it will deliver to troops in December, Deputy Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Ivan Gavrylyuk, said in an interview with the Ukrainian ArmyInform publication.

"...given the intensity of hostilities on certain areas of the front, drones, especially of the tactical level, are essentially expendable," Gavrylyuk said. "Their supply needs to be replenished practically continuously, like shells. In November, we managed to send more drones to the troops than in the previous month. We recently received an additional resource for procurement. Therefore, in December, the Armed Forces will receive many times more drones. I hope the picture on the battlefield will change."

While he didn't offer any specifics about how many drones would be delivered this month, Gavrylyuk said that next year's budget allots 175 billion hryvnias ($4.78 billion) for missiles and ammunition and more than 43 billion hryvnias ($1.18 billion) for drones.

He also mentioned that the MoD is preparing an order for 750 combat vehicles from Ukrainian industry.

The ubiquity of drones is something experienced by troops on both sides. You can get a sense of that in this video of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, fighting World War I-style trench warfare while coping with drones buzzing overhead.

Russian milblogger Reporter Filatov complains that the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) is gaming the use of First Person View (FPV) drones by going after targets that produce spectacular visuals instead of tactical successes.

“Videos of kamikazes destroying pickup trucks are pretty, but... It complicates the life of the enemy, teaches him to move in small groups, to dig in effectively, but almost does not help in carrying out a real combat mission, and not tiktok window dressing,” he said on Telegram Monday.

Another video of drone-on-drone combat emerged on social media, this one showing a Russian drone ramming a Ukrainian drone. These videos first started appearing more than a year ago.

While both sides continue to innovate their use of aerial drones, this video below shows a combination of modernity and the ongoing use of old vehicles employed by Ukraine and Russia alike. This this case, it's a 1950s-era GAZ-69 4 by 4 that was reportedly found, repaired and put into service by Ukraine's Khorne drone group.

Uncrewed ground vehicles (UGVs) are starting to play a larger role on in Ukraine as well.

This video below, published by the Russian “Help for fellow Countrymen” Telegram channel, shows such systems in action near Avdiivka delivering ammunition, food and water to troops in a roadway fortification. One UGV is reportedly seen evacuating a wounded soldier while one, equipped with a Volnorez counter-drone electronic warfare jamming system, apparently dodges Ukrainian FPV drones.

The Pentagon on Monday declined to specifically address suggestions that Ukraine has already used up a limited number of the cluster munitions variant of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missile provided.

"We have nothing to offer on this assessment," Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone Monday. "Our security assistance is always driven by battlefield conditions and what can help Ukraine defend its country.  We are committed to continuing to provide Ukraine with the military aid they need to succeed on the battlefield and fight for their freedom and independence. ATACMS provide Ukraine with the ability to strike deep area targets in Ukraine to deny Russian forces safe haven in occupied territory. Due to operational security considerations, we will not discuss the number of ATACMS provided to Ukraine in order to preserve a tactical advantage on the battlefield."

Garn answered our questions about suggestions that the supply of about 20 of these ATACMS variant has run out since there has been no recent news about their use since the end of October.

Recall that Ukraine's ATACMS devastated Russian helicopters in October, which you can read more about in our coverage from the time here.

Polish protests against Ukrainian trucking and farming are creating a logistical nightmare for Ukraine.

The blockade against Ukrainian trucking began Nov. 6 and has left thousands of trucks idling at the Ukraine-Poland border. Since then, not only has the economy of Ukraine lost at least €400 million, but the blockade “lowers the defense capability of Ukraine, because part of the military cargo is also stuck at the border,” the Babel news outlet reported.

Ivan Poberezhnyak, head of the procurement and logistics department of Come Back Alive, one of the biggest military support foundations in Ukraine, told Babel that since the beginning of the blockade, all goods imported by the foundation itself or imported for it by Ukrainian suppliers have been waiting at the border. The fund has not yet received any of the deliveries that were supposed to arrive in November.

As of Monday morning local time, about 2,500 trucks are stuck in line at four border checkpoints on their way from Poland to Ukraine, Andrii Demchenko, spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, said during a media briefing. 

The blocked shipments reportedly include patrol boats provided by the U.S.

The head of the cyber security department of the Security Service of Ukraine Illia Vitiuk talks about his nation's cyber defense, including what he says was one of Ukraine's most successfully cyber counterattacks of the war.

You can get a look at Ukrainians operating a U.S. donated M109 A6 Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzer in this video.

The Ukrainian MoD showcased the work of its air defenses lighting up the night sky.

Ukraine recently suffered a logistical loss when a pontoon bridge it built over the Oskil River near Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast was destroyed.

Russia appears to be using so-called mobile cocoons, structures troops can hide in designed to hide from drone strikes by disguising themselves from their thermal imagers.

What happens when you try to fire artillery on ground too frozen to secure the weapon? It goes for a little ride when fired, greatly reducing accuracy and rate of fire, as you can see in this video below.

In addition to everything else it down, the Bradleys have been quite useful during Ukraine's miserable fall weather.

And finally, troops aren't the only ones feeling the cold. Such is the case of this cat, who found a warm place to hide from the elements.

That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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