Ukraine Situation Report: Major Push Toward Tokmak Gaining Steam

Ukraine continues to make slow progress in its counteroffensive, especially on the Zaporizhzhia axis in the push south toward Melitopol, officials in Kyiv and Washington are saying. It’s an assessment at least partially shared even by a number of Russian ‘milblogger’ Telegram channels and those of appointed officials.

After retaking Robotyne earlier in the week, Ukrainian troops are advancing toward Novoprokopívka, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff. That town, about two miles south of Robotyne, sits aside the key TO408 highway and is a little more than 10 miles north of the city of Tokmak, which Russia has turned into a fortified garrison. As we have noted before, taking or bypassing Tokmak on a push south will be a major step toward making it to Melitopol, which as we said in December is a major objective in Ukraine’s desire to reach Crimea and cut off the so-called land bridge to choke off Russian forces.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff says its troops are advancing toward Novoprokopivka in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (Google Earth image)

Ukrainian troops “have succeeded” in their move toward Novoprokopivka, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said Friday on its Facebook page without providing specific location details.

Though “very bloody” and “slow,” and producing a high number of casualties, Ukraine’s counteroffensive is making progress and has punched through the first line of Russian defenses, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday.

“I wouldn’t say it’s failing,” Army Gen. Mark Milley said of the counteroffensive in an interview with the Jordanian Al Mamlaka TV network. Ukraine “has actually liberated a considerable portion” of territory once controlled by Russia “since the beginning of their offense, and specifically on the axis and advance they’re attacking on right now.”

Ukrainian troops have “attacked through the first main defense belt – defense-in-depth that the Russians had many months to prepare,” said Milley, who did not name any specific location. “It’s got minefields. It’s got dragon’s teeth. It’s got tank ditches. It’s a very, very complex set of defensive preparations that Ukraine is fighting in and they’re fighting through it. The Ukrainians have a significant amount of combat power remaining, but it’s not over yet. So I think it’s frankly too early to say whether it succeeded or failed. It clearly is a partial success to date.”

Ukrainian special operations forces have played a vital role in helping clear some of those minefields and fight through trenches in the push toward Robotyne. In the video below, you can see them sweeping for mines and advance on Russian positions, all while hearing the constant buzz of enemy drones overhead. You can even see a near-miss from a Russian First Person Video drone.

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) on Friday said its forces, “supported by artillery and heavy flamethrower systems” repelled five Ukrainian attacks in Zaporizhzhia. However, the Russian MoD did not specifically counter the Ukrainian claim about Novoprokopívka.

Russian Telegram channels on Friday expressed a mix of concern and bravado for how things are developing along this part of the frontlines.

“At the cost of colossal losses yesterday, they were able to reach the first defensive line of engineering barriers, but they go basically even without artillery support,” Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-appointed governor of occupied Zaporizhzhia, said Friday on his Telegram channel. 

But because of the lack of artillery support, Beltisky claimed the Ukrainians there “were destroyed tonight in full force.”

Still, “the situation is definitely tense. The enemy is trying to wear down our defenses with his constant suicides, but our guys give such a tough rebuff that the enemy command does not have time to replenish the losses of their soldiers and Western equipment, which burns as well as any other.”

Ukraine, said Belitsky, “is concentrating quite large forces – according to various sources, from 50 to 80 armored vehicles. Enemy attacks continue in waves.”

As we noted earlier in this story, Ukraine “has chosen a priority road to Tokmak for himself, pressure in this direction is high, we understand this, resources are concentrated here to prevent an attack on Tokmak.”

There are “fierce battles” going on in this sector of the front, the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel said.

“The situation is difficult, as the enemy sent significant forces to capture Robotyne. The village, or rather control over it, has become something sacred for the Ukrainian authorities. Initially, the Armed Forces of Ukraine intended to gain a foothold on August 24, but our fighters managed to repulse the attack.”

Meanwhile, just to the north, near Mala Tokmachka, the Ukrainians have built “a concentration of reserves for the attack by the second wave,” according to Rybar. “Mechanized units of the 118th brigade, as well as the 15th brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine with armored vehicles, arrived in this area, which will enter the battle to further break through the defense.”

Given the fog of war, the fluidity of the situation and the inability to independently verify Ukrainian or Russian claims here, we don’t really know the full extent of the Ukrainian advance. However, that should become clearer in the coming days. Whether Ukraine can reclaim enough ground before the rainy season sets in toward October, when oozing mud slows down everything, remains to be seen.

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

The Latest

In what appears to be one of the largest coordinated attempted drone strikes against Crimea, Ukrainian and Russian sources alike are claiming a military base on the peninsula was struck despite what the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) has officially proclaimed.

However, the extent of the damage is in dispute.

Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the commander of the Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) told The War Zone on Friday that the home of the Russian 126th separate Coast Guards Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet was struck by Ukrainian drones. Budanov told us that as of about 9. p.m. local time, there had been no solid confirmation of any deaths from that attack.

However, he promised more such attacks to come.

“Drone strikes will be continued,” he told us.

Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of the Russian-held city of Melitopol, claimed on his Telegram channel that explosions had occurred at a military base in Perevalny near the Crimean city of Simferopol and that 300 troops were hospitalized as a result.

However, he offered no proof and said: “We are waiting for clarification from the General Staff.”

The Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel reported that several drones fell on what it described as a military training ground there. While there were some vehicles damaged, Rybar claimed no one was hurt.

Nine drones “were able to fly to the training ground near Perevalnoye, where they were jammed under the influence of electronic warfare,” Rybar reported. “But several of these UAVs fell on the territory of the facility, damaging two KamAZ trucks. There are no reports of casualties or damage to infrastructure.”

Earlier on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) claimed it downed all 42 drones that approached Crimea before they could cause any damage.

“As a result of the Russian Armed Forces’ actions over the territory of the Republic of Crimea, nine UAVs were destroyed, 33 were neutralized by electronic warfare means and crashed without reaching the target.”

This drone wave attack on Crimea follows strikes earlier in the week carried out by GUR. As we previously reported, GUR destroyed what it said was an S-400 air defense system on Wednesday, then launched a special operations raid near the same location on Cape Tarkhankut.

Earlier this week, as we reported, Budanov again promised more strikes against Crimea, where facilities and Russian Navy vessels have long been targeted by Ukrainian aerial drones and uncrewed surface vessels as well as partisan threats.

The Russian MoD also claimed that Ukraine carried out another attack on the Skaykovka airbase in Kaluga Oblast Friday, this time with an S-200 air defense missile converted to a strike weapon.

“The missile was detected and destroyed by air defense systems over the territory of Kaluga region,” the Russian MoD claimed Friday on its Telegram channel.

There was no clear indication of any damage to the base, home to Russian Tu-22M Backfire bombers from the 52nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment.


Shaykovka, along with the the Soltsy-2 airbase, was targeted earlier this week in apparent drone attacks that the GUR told us was carried out under its command by people inside Russia.

“People recruited by the GUR came from central Russia, did their work and went back to their place,” GUR spokesman Andrii Yusov told The War Zone Monday. “GUR continues operations in Russia. In the border regions, in the deep rear and in Moscow.”

You can read more about those attacks in our story here.

Perhaps in response the GUR claims, “the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs are combing the area near the Shaykovka airfield,” the Russian Baza new outlet said Friday on its Telegram channel.

“According to Baza‘s sources, several operational-search groups have been formed from the police and other security forces, which are supposed to comb the entire area in the Shaykovka area for saboteurs, their possible caches, parking lots and equipment for launching UAVs. The number of traffic police units in the area has been increased.”

Meanwhile, the governor of Kaluga Oblast admonished residents for sharing images on social media of area air defenses in action.

“After the publication of information about the work of air defense in my social networks, a lot of questions and comments appear,” said Vladyslav Shapsha. “Where exactly was [something] shot down? There is an air defense near our village, this is their job, etc. Friends! Under no circumstances should this be done. Writing this means helping the enemy.”

In the wake of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s presumed death in a plane crash Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering Russian paramilitary fighters to swear an oath the the Russian flag.

The measure is aimed at “forming the spiritual and moral foundations for the defense of the Russian Federation” and applies to members of volunteer formations — a term often used to describe mercenary groups, according to The Moscow Times.

This all stems from Prigozhin’s putative putsch back in late June in which he marched on Moscow before calling it off.

Beyond that, questions remain about how the end of Prigozhin will play out in Africa and Belarus, where his Wagner Private Military Company is is still active.

Regardless of the cause, Prigozhin’s demise “could have profound consequences for African client states and warlords who, in the span of a few years, helped turn a mercenary enterprise into one of Russia’s most powerful and recognizable assets on the continent,” The New York Times reported Friday.

Wagner forces, as we have previously reported, operate in Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR)  and Libya.

In return for its support, Wagner’s African clients supplied it with cash, along with gold and diamond mining concessions, the Times noted. And Wagner’s thousands of mercenaries and dozens of shell companies were also involved in other industries, including timber, beer and vodka, logistics and entertainment.

The future of this business empire now appears uncertain, with its most recognizable figure believed to be dead, the Times suggested.

So too did Financial Times.

His death “cast fresh doubt over Russia’s ability to maintain the mercenary deployments it runs in Africa and the Middle East through the network he built, according to people familiar with its operations,” the publication reported. 

“Africa’s all going to go to shit,” said a longtime Prigozhin acquaintance briefed on and referring to Wagner’s operations there. “They wouldn’t let him do any operations anymore and nobody’s going to take them over, because you need Zhenya for that,” he added, using Prigozhin’s nickname. “He was the only one crazy enough to make it work.”

Meanwhile, in Belarus, despite the emergence of satellite images showing the dismantling of a Wagner camp there, the group has a future in Russia’s vassal state according to its president.

Wagner will remain in Belarus, Alexandr Lukashenko said, according to the Telegram channel of Astra, a publication of independent Russian journalists. 

Lukashenko explained the dismantling of the camp near Osipovichi seen from space was merely the removal of unneeded tents, according to Astra.

“Wagner lived, Wagner is alive and Wagner will live in Belarus, no matter how much someone would not like it,” Lukashenko said. “Prigozhin and I have already built a system of how the Wagner will be located in our country. And these pictures from space, that we are dismantling something … Why are we removing extra tents – so much is not needed. The core remains here, someone went on vacation, someone decided to live on the sidelines, but telephones, addresses, passwords, and appearances in this core are known. Within a few days everyone will be here, up to 10,000 people. Now there is no need to keep them here. Therefore, they do not run anywhere. As long as we need this unit, they will live and work with us.”

Earlier this week, we told you about an apparent defection to Ukraine by a Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS, in its Russian abbreviation) Mi-8AMTSh Hip combat transport helicopter, in what is claimed to have been a long-planned Ukrainian intelligence operation. You can read more about that wild story here. Now new images of the Hip have emerged online.

Incredible new video has emerged of a Ukrainian assault near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast. It shows an armor column firing as it advances, troops dismounting, drones dropping munitions, vehicles dodging incoming artillery fire and intense close-order fighting in trenches.

And finally, in the hell of combat, war can be confusing. This video below shows a Russian soldier running toward a reported group of foreign volunteers fighting on behalf of Ukraine, apparently thinking that they were on his side. The look on his face tells the tale.

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

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.