Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Has Gained The Most Ground This Year

Despite all the bloodshed, destruction of towns and farmland and the loss of war materiel on both sides, little territory has been gained by either side this year, but Russia achieved the largest net increase in territory, according to The New York Times.

In a sobering graphics-based story, the publication reported that ultimately, “the front line, after months of grueling combat and heavy casualties, remains largely unchanged.”

“Less territory changed hands in August than in any other month of the war,” the newspaper said, based on its analysis of data from the Institute for the Study of War. While Ukraine made small gains in the south, Russia took slightly more land overall, mostly in the northeast.

Overall, Russia has gained 331 square miles while Ukraine has gained 143 square miles compared with the start of this year. The Russian net gain of 183 square miles is smaller than either New York City or Kyiv.

The bulk of Ukraine’s gains in the counteroffensive have come in a salient between the towns of Robotyne and Verbove in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Russian forces have been shifting reserves there and mounting fierce counterattacks. Complicating matters for Ukraine is the fact that is has to wade through dense lines of minefields and anti-armor trenches and fortifications. Whether it can achieve further breakthroughs this year before bad weather sets in is still very much an open question.

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, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that Russian forces tried an unsuccessful counterattack in Zaporizhzhia Oblast while the Russian Defense Ministry said that it launched attacks against Ukraine near Robotyne and Verbove in that region.

The status of Ukraine’s advance in the Verbove-Robotyne salient remains unclear, according to the latest assessment from the Institute for the Study of War. 

Here are some key takeaways from that assessment:

  • Ukrainian forces marginally advanced near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 27.
  • The situation near Verbove remains unclear as prominent Russian milbloggers have become noticeably less inclined to report in detail on Russian activity on this frontline or present bad news about Russian failures, while a discussion about reported Russian problems in this area has emerged on the fringes of the Russian information space.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, in Bakhmut, and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on September 27 but did not make any confirmed gains.

As Ukraine continues to make limited progress in its ongoing counteroffensive, the defense ministers of France and the U.K., as well as the NATO secretary general, made unannounced visits to Kyiv today to show their continued support for that effort.

The visits by Grant Shapps, Sebastien Lecornu and Jens Stoltenberg came ahead of an event scheduled for tomorrow organized by the Ukrainian government, which Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, said would bring together representatives of 165 military contractors from 26 nations. The goal is to foster the increase of weapons production inside Ukraine as its allies struggle to meet its needs for ammunition, according to The New York Times.

After a months-long hiatus, the self-proclaimed anti-Putin Freedom of Russia Legion partisan group claimed it staged operations inside Russia over the past 24 hours.

As it has in the past, the group said it attacked in Belgorod Oblast.

“We can safely say: the assigned tasks were accomplished, all Legionnaires were unharmed,” the group claimed on Twitter. “The enemy suffered losses in manpower and equipment. We remind Putin’s regime dogs: our raids on Russian territory are your new reality. It will happen at any moment necessary for us and unexpected for you. You can hide losses all you want, but you know very well how many funerals you write to the mothers of your subordinates. We will not stop: because Russia is our home and we will fight until we liberate it.”

While there was no confirmation by the Ukrainian military, parliament member Yuriy Mysiagin said on his Telegram channel Thursday that the group conducted “assault operations on the territory of the Belgorod region of the Russian Federation. There are no injured or dead soldiers, the work is going according to plan.”

The Russian Defense Ministry did not address the claims and Belgorod Oblast Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said only that his region was attacked by Ukrainian drones, artillery and mortars. His Telegram channel did not mention an incursion by partisans.

Freedom for Russia Legion and another group, the Russia Volunteer Corps made several incursions into that area in the spring. As we noted at the time, the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) acknowledged “some form of cooperation” with those groups.

Despite increased wear and tear on its aircraft after 582 days of full-on war, Russia still maintains the ability to “surge” sortie rates for fixed-wing aircraft over occupied Ukraine, according to the U.K. MoD’s latest assessment. How long that can last, however, is in question.

“…as the war continues much longer than the Russian Ministry of Defence originally planned for, wear and tear of airframes is likely to have reduced the viability of the [Russian Aerospace Forces] VKS’s long-term tactical air power,” the assessment states.

To date, Russia has lost about 90 fixed-wing aircraft in combat since the start of the war out of about 900 tactical aircraft it had before Feb. 24, 2022.

Russia faces a continuing problem of maintaining its remaining fleet given the number of hours those aircraft have been required to fly, the U.K. MoD states.

“It is highly likely that with this extra wartime use, Russia is eating into many of its airframes’ lifespans far more quickly than the VKS planned for. The need for extra maintenance is complicated by a shortage of spare parts because of increasing demand and international sanctions.”

A joint venture between German arms maker Rheinmetall and the Ukrainian defense industry to service, maintain, assemble, produce and develop military vehicles in Ukraine has cleared another hurdle.

The German Federal Cartel Office has approved the plan Rheinmetall announced Thursday in a media release. It was first launched in May between the company and Ukraine’s state-owned Ukrainian Defense Industry Group (UDI), which replaced the former Ukroboronprom.

Authorization from other relevant agencies has already been applied for and is expected to come shortly.

“The joint venture is to be based in Kyiv and engage in service and maintenance as well as the assembly, production and development of military vehicles,” the German Federal Cartel Office said Sept. 28 media release. “It will initially operate exclusively in Ukraine. There will be no competitive overlaps in Germany, nor are there any indications of competition concerns. The Bundeskartellamt cleared the transaction within one month.”

Pilots on both sides continue to do to avoid enemy air defenses by flying low — very low. This video below shows a Ukrainian Mi-8 Hip combat transport helicopter hugging the ground reportedly near the front lines in Donetsk Oblast.

Speaking of Hips, this video below shows one lifting off from a sunflower field armed with U.S. supplied Hydra-70 rockets.

The Swedish-made BvS10 tracked articulated amphibious all-terrain armored vehicle has been a handy addition to Ukraine’s arsenal, able to cross the country’s many rivers, stream, creeks and boggy areas.

The old saying about “it takes a village” certainly applies to a Ukrainian effort to make camouflage ‘ghillie’ suits for snipers, known in Ukraine as ‘kikimora.’ The video below shows a group effort to produce them, which are then sent to front line troops.

And finally, there are some respites to the horrors of war. Ukrainian zoological authorities say they have successfully reintroduced nearly-extinct Red Book hamsters back to the Odesa steppes.

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.