Ukraine Situation Report: Key Donetsk City Liberated

Even as the bulk of its counteroffensive appears to be aimed further west in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine appears to have captured a key city in Donetsk Oblast, according to Ukraine’s military and Kremlin-connected Russian Telegram channels.

“Staromayorsk, Donetsk region – released,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday in a terse note on her Telegram channel. “Now our defenders continue to clear the settlement.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video on his Twitter account said to be Ukrainian troops in that city.

Staromayorsk is a key logistics node along the Mokri Yaly River. It straddles the TO-518 Highway, the major north-south road in that part of the oblast. It is located some 60 miles north of Mariupol and 65 miles north of Berdiansk, two Azov Sea port cities Ukraine would either like to capture or cut off on its march to sever the so-called land bridge to Crimea.

Staromayorsk is a key logistics node. (Google Earth image) Google Earth image

Russian sources concurred that Ukrainian forces have advanced in that area.

“Violent clashes continue in the Vremyevsky sector near Staromayorsky, where the Armed Forces of Ukraine were able to occupy the adjacent heights and enter the village,” the Rybar Telegram channel reported Thursday. “[Russian] Armed Forces counterattacked, but in fact the settlement was completely destroyed.”

A key factor for Ukrainian success has been the range of its artillery, the Russian Operation Z Telegram channel noted. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) munitions – fired by the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) provided to Ukraine – have a range of up to about 80km (about 50 miles).

“Using the advantage in range, practically not receiving ‘answers’, the enemy methodically rolled out Staromayorskoye for several days, knocking out personnel from shelters and turning these shelters into piles of broken bricks,” Operation Z wrote. “Satisfied with the result, he went on the offensive, clinging to the outskirts and gradually pressing us back, at the same time creating a flank threat to the positions on Urozhaynoye…the loss of a settlement after a stubborn and no doubt heroic defense is a blow to our military pride.”

Meanwhile, about 50 miles to the southwest, there is conflicting information about what appears to be the main thrust of Ukraine’s counteroffensive that we wrote about yesterday.

Some Ukrainian observers say Ukraine has made advances on that push, particularly around the towns of Rabotino and Verbove.

Russian Telegram channels say the fighting is fierce and that Ukrainians have been so far kept out of Rabotino.

“Thanks to the efforts of mainly Russian fighters from the 70th regiment of the 42nd motorized rifle division of the Russian Armed Forces and the 810th separate marine brigade of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, they successfully repelled the advancing enemy forces in several areas near the village of Rabotino,” the Russian Grey Zone Telegram channel reported. “The enemy does not leave attempts to break through the ‘damned’ area in order to take possession of the heights directly near Rabotino, which, moreover, is also partially hidden by the forest. The situation, according to the guys, is difficult, but they hold on.”

There is conflicting information about the status of the fight around Verbove. (Google Earth image)

The fighting has been intense, as this video of Ukrainian armor being attacked by Russian Lancet drones apparently shows.

The capture of either one of those towns, which appear to be along a main line of Russian defense, would put Ukrainian forces about 16 miles northeast of Tokmak and some 45 miles northeast of Melitopol. Those cities, as we reported back in December, are key to Ukraine’s desire to reach Crimea.

Of course, all this is taking place in the fog of war and it is impossible to know precisely what is going on. But with so many Ukrainian forces apparently committed to the effort, we will likely begin to get a fuller picture of the success or failure of these advances in the coming days.

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

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Elsewhere on the battlefield, Russian forces are continuing their push toward the Oskil River and Kupiansk in an effort to draw Ukrainian artillery from the ongoing counteroffensive, the Ukrainian Euromaidan Press reported Thursday.

The publication reported that while Ukrainian forces have been able to repel three recent Russian drives in that area, a fourth seems to be gaining some traction.

However, the Russians face two major problems. Crossing the river in mass is a challenge. And the Ukrainian possession of the surrounding high grounds is another disadvantage.

“Despite Russian claims of capturing three settlements – Serhiivka, Nadia, and Novoehorivka, the small populations and limited infrastructure offer little logistical value,” according to Euromaidan Press. “The true worth of Russian positions lies in their tactical advantage, as they seek to advance along ridges towards the main Ukrainian defense line along the hill.”

“However, as long as Ukrainians maintain control of the hill, they are well-positioned to repel further Russian advances,” the publication reported. “Russian reliance on infantry, as crossing the river restricts vehicle usage, presents an opportune scenario for Ukrainian forces to use cluster munitions effectively.”

U.S. Abrams tanks are likely to arrive on the Ukrainian battlefield in September, Politico is reporting, citing six people familiar with the planning.

“The plan is to send a handful of Abrams tanks to Germany in August, where they will undergo final refurbishments,” according to the publication. “Once that process is complete, the first batch of Abrams will be shipped to Ukraine the following month.”

This represents the most specific time frame provided for when America’s main battle tank is expected to roll onto the battlefield. Pentagon officials have previously said the Abrams would be in Ukrainian hands sometime in the fall. The U.S. is sending older M1A1 models instead of the more modern A2 version, which would have taken a year to get to Ukraine.

Efforts to track more than $45 billion in aid provided to Ukraine through the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been hampered by a lack of embassy staff and wartime travel restrictions, according to a new State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) report.

In addition, OIG found that Embassy Kyiv “had not updated its Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) due to staffing limitations related to the embassy’s closure and subsequent operations in wartime conditions.” The ICS is a “whole-of-government strategic planning document that establishes goals, objectives, and sub-objectives for an embassy.”

Without an updated ICS, “department bureaus and other agencies lacked guidance for designing programs and performance indicators aligned with common strategic goals,” according to the report.

Responding to the monitoring challenges, many program managers “employed remote monitoring methods and developed other methods to verify that goods and services were used as intended, including one bureau that introduced an innovative smartphone application to securely document the delivery of equipment,” the report noted. 

OIG observed that “challenges to the oversight of unprecedented levels of foreign assistance will continue until the circumstances stabilize,” according to the report. “Staffing level increases at the embassy may enable more site visits and improved monitoring.”

Corruption is a looming concern, the report noted.

Moving forward, “particularly as the department plans to assist Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction, corruption in the Ukrainian government and private sector poses risks to the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance that requires robust oversight,” according to the report.

OIG recommended that “Embassy Kyiv, in coordination with the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, the Bureau of Budget and Planning, and the Office of Foreign Assistance, update its Integrated Country Strategy.”

The embassy concurred and OIG considered its recommendation resolved.

As his troops face ammunition shortages in the war on Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was given a tour of North Korea’s Weaponry Exhibition 2023 by Kim Jong-un on Wednesday that included viewing Pyongyang’s nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The men observed “the new-type weapons and equipment” being displayed at the exhibition, the official North Korean KCNA news agency reported Thursday. The publication posted photos of Kim and Shoigu in a hall filled with ICBMs on missile carriers, drones, tanks, air defense sytems and other weapons. The ICBMs are banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions. .

During the conversation with Kim, “views on global and regional security issues were exchanged,” the Russian Defense Ministry posted on its Telegram channel. “In addition, today the head of the Russian Defence Ministry is going to take part in a military parade dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War of 1950-1953.” Or, as the rest of the world calls it, the armistice that led to a truce ending hostilities during the Korean War.

A top White House official on Wednesday addressed the issue of whether Shoigu is seeking support from Kim, who has openly backed the Russian full-on invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s been no secret, and we’ve talked about it many times, that Mr. Putin is reaching out to other countries for help and support in fighting his war in Ukraine,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. “And that includes, we know, some outreach to [North Korea].”

“It’s a testament of the fact that Mr. Putin knows he’s having his own defense procurement problems, his own inventory problems, that his military remains on the back foot, and he’s trying to shore that up,” Kirby added. As we have noted in the past, Russia has received a “substantial amount” of ammunition from North Korea, according to U.S. officials.

Just over a month after launching a mutiny attempt against Russian military leaders, Wagner Private Military Company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was photographed in St. Petersburg, glad-handing African visitors on the sidelines of an event headlined by Vladimir Putin.

One photo was of Prigozhin and a Central African Republic delegate posted on the Facebook page of Dimitri Sytyi, head of Russia House in the Central African Republic, on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum.

A photo from a Wagner-associated Telegram channel showed Prigozhin with “the director of the ‘Afrique media‘ publication,” according to the Orchestra W Telegram channel.

“The head of PMC Wagner visited his African friends in St. Petersburg,” according to the Orchestra W Telegram channel. “Rumor has it that half of the delegations arrived to discuss the terms of cooperation with the St. Petersburg representative.” 

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozin met with African officials and business leaders according to a Telegram channel associated with Wagner. (Orchestra W Telegram photo)

Prigozhin’s presence on the summit periphery comes as a coup attempt is taking place in Niger, something for which he seemed to take credit.

“This is the effectiveness of Wagner PMC – a thousand fighters of Wagner PMC are able to restore order and destroy terrorists, preventing them from harming the civilian population of states,” the Orchestra W Telegram channel stated.

During that meeting, Putin stated he would not return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, hammered out last year to allow grain and other food and fertilizer to be shipped out via Ukraine’s Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny. Russia withdrew from that deal earlier this month following Ukraine’s attack on the Kerch Bridge. The Kremlin has denied a connection.

“…we refused to extend this would-be deal,” Putin said Thursday at the forum. “As I have already said, Russia can well fill in the gap left by the withdrawal of the Ukrainian grain from the global market, either by selling its grain or by transferring it for free to the neediest countries in Africa, especially considering that this year we once again expect to have a record-high harvest.”

Earlier Thursday, the African Union urged Moscow to reinstate the grain deal, according to Politico.

After Russia pulled out of the grand deal, it launched an ongoing series of missile and drone attacks against Odesa and other Black Sea port cities.

One of those attacks severely damaged the Transfiguration Cathedral. On Thursday, Zelensky proved once again that he was is not afraid to visit Ukrainian communities under fire. He toured the damaged church.

Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces (SSO) posted a YouTube Thursday showing an attack on a Russian position somewhere on the southern front they claim resulted in the capture of several troops.

American volunteers were recently seen on video, taking a bumpy ride on the way to storming a Russian trench. The video cuts off before we can learn the fate of this mission.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s troops fighting in Russia released their own wild trench fighting video, which shows a machine gunner standing up and firing from the hip, only to be slammed by the back blast of an RPG.

A Ukrainian First Person Video (FPV) drone strike on a Russian TOS-1A Solntsepek 220mm thermobaric rocket launcher resulted in a tremendous post-impact explosion as the ammunition on the feared launcher apparently cooked off.

Two Russian Grad multiple launch rocket systems were captured on video reportedly being disabled by a Ukrainian HIMARS strike.

And finally, add Avdiivka the falcon to the long line of pets Ukrainian troops have adopted.

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

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.