Ukraine Situation Report: Small Town Near Bakhmut Recaptured

Even as its counteroffensive has seemed to slow down after incremental successes in the Robotyne-Verbove sector of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine is claiming progress in the longer-term fight in Donetsk Oblast south of war-torn Bakhmut.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday thanked the Third Separate Assault Brigade for capturing the small hamlet of Andriivka, about five miles south of the embattled coal mining city that has been the focus of so much fighting for well over a year.

“As a result of a lightning operation, the Russian garrison of Andriivka was surrounded, cut off from the main forces and destroyed,” the Third Separate Assault Brigade said Friday on its Telegram channel. It also said that in two days, it eliminated the Russian 72nd Brigade’s chief intelligence officer, several other officers, most of the troops and “a significant amount of equipment.”

It also used drones flying over the ruined remains to urge Russian troops to surrender.

“The capture and holding of Andriivka is our way to a breakthrough on the right flank from Bakhmut, and the key to the success of all further offensives,” the brigade said. “We pay a high price for the results of these battles. And the blood of each of our fighters will be repaid only with blood.”

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) did not specifically deny the Ukrainian claims, saying only that its ground forces, artillery and tactical aviation “repelled four attacks by [Ukrainian] assault groups in the nearby villages of Klescheevka and Mayorsk.”

“The enemy’s losses amounted to up to 275 Ukrainian troops, four armored fighting vehicles, four motor vehicles, three U.S.-made M777 howitzers, as well as one Gvozdika howitzer,” the Russian MoD claimed.

Andriivka has been hotly contested for months, with Ukraine having recaptured it in July and the Russians taking it back later. Consisting of just a few dozen homes, Andriivka has tactical significance sitting along a road and railway running north into Bakhmut.

“First of all, Andriivka is full control over the railway, which is a support line for further offensive,” Maksym Zhorin, Deputy Commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade, said Friday on his Telegram channel. “It is a necessary bridgehead for further progress, because the task of the Ukrainian forces in this direction is to encircle Bakhmut, and without Andriivka it is impossible to achieve this.”

“The battles for this settlement were very difficult,” he added. “The enemy constantly transferred reserves, because for them even the thought of losing Bakhmut is a nightmare. They killed so many of their personnel here that it is logically impossible to explain it.”

Ukrainian forces claim they have once again captured the small Donetsk Oblast hamlet of Andriivka, south of Bakhmut, seen at the bottom left of this satellite image. (Google Earth image)

Bakhmut city fell into Russian hands on May 21 after a long battle with heavy casualties on both sides. Continued fighting around there has been ongoing, as Ukraine tries to keep Russian forces pinned down and unable to reinforce its defense against Kyiv’s main lines of effort.

Over the course of the nearly four-month-old counteroffensive, Ukraine has focused its main attack vectors south from Orikhiv in Zaporizhzhia Oblast toward Tokmak and Melitopol, as well as from Velyka Novosilka south toward the Azov Sea port of Berdiansk in western Donetsk Oblast.

Clearly, Russia is reinforcing those areas in the hope to stop the Ukrainian advance and perhaps even close the salient created during the counteroffensive. Whether Ukraine’s ongoing effort near Bakhmut will keep enough Russian forces away to prevent that 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 here.

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In an unusually blunt assessment calling for more honest analysis of the so-called special military operation, a former military commander of the Southern District turned Russian parliamentarian says the Ukrainian counteroffensive has switched tactics and gained enough ground to make Russian helicopters and artillery much less effective.

While still maintaining that Russia will prevail, Russian Duma member Andrey Gurulev said Friday on his Telegram channel that Ukrainian forces “have switched to squeeze-out tactics, they are massively using cluster shells, inflicting fire on the strong points of our units and assault groups. They have a lot of ammunition, they are trying to burn out absolutely everything.”

That in turn is forcing Russian troops to “retreat deeper,” said Gurulev, who did not specify any locations. “Not far, but in some places they lost up to 10 kilometers of territory. The enemy has somewhere occupied our defensive positions, which are very well equipped with our own hands.”

The territory recaptured by Ukraine “created conditions for the impossibility of using anti-tank missiles by our helicopters; due to the deflection of the line, they became accessible to enemy [man-portable air defense systems] MANPADS. The efficiency of our helicopters has decreased.”

If this assessment is accurate, that’s a huge change from the beginning of the counteroffensive nearly four months ago when Russian Ka-52 Alligator and other attack helicopters were causing havoc for Ukraine’s armor. You can read more about that in our story here.

In addition to keeping Russian rotary wing aviation at bay, Ukraine has “learned to work with our very well-made minefields. They competently clear them of mines, inflicting artillery fire and using trawls.”

While it has improved its counter-battery warfare, with some positive results, Russian artillery is no match for the range and maneuverability of Ukrainian fires, Gurulev said. 

“Basically, all of [Ukraine’s] guns are installed in depth at a distance inaccessible to our artillery. An estimated two artillery brigades were concentrated in the ‘hottest’ directions, not counting the artillery of local brigades. We burned a lot of their towed artillery, they switched to using self-propelled guns. Our people say that it is very difficult, almost impossible, to catch them; after the second sighting shot they move and change position.”

Ukrainian drones are also a huge problem for Russia.

“They have a lot of unmanned vehicles and even more,” said Gurulev. “We have also adapted here, and over the last two to three weeks we have effectively begun to destroy them. Verba and Strela-10 air defense systems work well against UAVs. But the [Ukrainians] have a lot of drones, they use them wisely, you see these attacks not only at the front, but also in our deep rear.”

Ukraine is putting up a fierce fight, but a bigger threat is dishonesty about the course of the war, Gurulev argued.

Russian forces are adapting, but “it is foolish to deny that today NATO is fighting against us with all its advanced technologies,” he said. “We will win in any case, but victory is separated from us only by one serious problem of ours – lies. Yes, there is less of it than there was at the beginning of the [special military operation], but it is there. There are at different levels, they talk about it in the troops. False reports, unfortunately, lead to poor decisions at many levels. This is there, let’s acknowledge it and fight it, otherwise there will be trouble.”

Much has been made about the training Ukrainians received from the U.S. and allies for the counteroffensive, ranging from it being too short to not geared toward the realities on the ground.

In a story about this grinding effort, Financial Times on Friday published an interview with a soldier holding the latter point of view.

“If I only did what [western militaries] taught me, I’d be dead,” Suleman, a special forces commander in the 78th regiment, told the publication. American, British and Polish soldiers he trained with offered “some good advice” but also “bad advice . . . like their way of clearing trenches. I told them: ‘Guys, this is going to get us killed.’”

Ukrainian officials claim that the Russian Bora class missile hovercraft Samum received “extensive damage” after being hit on the starboard side by a Ukrainian “Sea Baby” uncrewed surface vessel.

The attack took place near the entrance to Sevastopol Bay Thursday and the Samum had to be towed back to port, according to the Ukrainian Novoe Vremia news outlet, citing its sources in the Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU).

The Russian Defense Ministry, however, said that the Samum’s onboard armaments destroyed the USV before it could cause any damage.

Meanwhile, an image published by the Black Sea Fleet Telegram channel purported to show the ship Friday undamaged in Sevastopol. The angle of the photograph, however, obscures most of the Samum‘s hull. Still, major damage would be visible.

Add Belgium to the list of nations helping train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 Vipers.

On Friday, the Belgian government announced its approval to join the international F-16 coalition.

Under the plan, six Ukrainian instructors and four mission planners will be trained in Belgium so that they can subsequently train Ukrainian pilots and other personnel on F-16s, Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said, according to the Belgian Le Soir news outlet.

In addition, in the coming weeks, the Belgian Defense Ministry (MoD) will send three troops to a training center for Ukrainian F-16 pilots in Denmark. Next year, according to the plan, the Belgian MoD will send two two-seat F-16BMs to Denmark for advanced training, as well as a contingent of about 50 military personnel, mostly technicians, who will be responsible for supporting the F-16s.

“In addition to this important contribution to the preparation and commissioning of F-16s, our government is officially pledging its support to help implement this new capability, essential to the modernization of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Dedonder said.

Dozens of F-16s have been pledged to Kyiv and more could follow.

The Sept. 13 Ukrainian cruise missile attack on Sevastopol has created a cascading series of problems for the Russian Black Fleet (BSF) headquartered there, according to the U.K. Defense Ministry (MoD).

The attack “almost certainly… functionally destroyed” the Ropucha class landing ship Minsk and caused “catastrophic damage” to the Kilo class diesel-electric attack submarine Rostov-on-Don (B-237), the MoD said in a tweet.

“Any effort to return the submarine to service is likely to take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” the MoD said.

That takes one of four cruise-missile-capable submarines that have been wreaking havoc on Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure out of service.

Beyond that, because the attack took place on vessels in dry docks, “there is the very real possibility” that the “complex task of removing wreckage from the dry docks will place them out of service for many months. This would present the BSF with a significant challenge in sustaining fleet maintenance.”

Additional satellite imagery that emerged on social media gives an even better view of the damage inflicted on the Minsk.

In his own analysis based on the MoD imagery, submarine warfare analyst H. I. Sutton said it appears likely the Rostov was struck on the bow, where the submarine has six torpedo tubes and sonar systems.

Against the backdrop of increasing demand from Ukraine and concern about domestic needs, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said the U.S. is on track to produce 100,000 155mm artillery shells per month in 2025.

The current rate is about 20,000 a month, up from about 14,000 a month six to eight months ago, William LaPlante, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, said Friday during a Center for A New American Security (CNAS) Virtual Fireside Chat.

By next spring that rate should increase to 57,000 per month before nearly doubling the following year.

LaPlante updated a previous Pentagon estimate that suggested the U.S. would boost its 155mm shell production to about 80,000 rounds per month, which you can read more about here. So far, since the start of the all-out war, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with more than two million 155mm rounds.

The 155mm round production conversation between LaPlante and moderator Stacie Pettyjohn, Senior Fellow and Director of the CNAS Defense Program, starts at about the 28-minute mark in the YouTube video below.

The long-discussed decision by Germany to send Ukraine air-launched Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles could be made in the next week or two, according to Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.

“If it takes another week or two until a decision is made, then so be it,” Pistorius said at the first “Westphalian Peace Conference” in Münster, according to the German Tagesshau news outlet. The ongoing debate doesn’t mean any hesitation on the part of the federal government, the publication explained.

 “The Federal Republic of Germany must show this level of prudence, even if it is difficult for our Ukrainian friends to understand,” Pistorius said.

With a stated range in excess of 310 miles according to manufacturer MBDA, Taurus reaches further than any other weapons delivered to date and is a “highly complex industrial product,” said Pistorius. “We’re not talking about programming a coffee machine.”

You can read more about Taurus in our story here.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally whose troops are fighting in Ukraine, is in a coma, according to the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR).

“Indeed, there is information that Kadyrov is in a serious condition and that the diseases that were there have worsened and became the cause of this condition,” GUR spokesman Andrii Yusov said Friday on his Telegram channel.

The GUR claim could not be independently verified.

Russia’s TOS-1A multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) is a terrifying weapon, firing rockets using thermobaric, or fuel-air explosive, warheads. These use surrounding oxygen to create a high-temperature explosion. Also sometimes referred to as “vacuum bombs,” they include a fuel container with two separate explosive charges.

From our previous report

“Once the target is hit, the first explosive charge allows the fuel container to open and disperse a cloud of fuel, and the second charge ignites the incendiary fuel cloud which results in the fiery explosion and a subsequent oxygen-sucking vacuum. The detonation of the rockets causes such a rapid and drastic change in air pressure that taking shelter within a trench or cave, behind a reinforced barrier, or, in some cases, even inside of an armored vehicle would fail to protect a human.”

The video below purports to show Ukrainian troops in the aftermath of an attack by this system, with at least one soldier retching after surviving.

A donated Ukrainian Leopard 2A6 main battle tank is seen in this video below being used as an indirect fire platform, shooting several rounds at a Russian position in a tree line near Robotyne with its 120mm L55 smoothbore main gun.

And finally, war exacts a heavy price on those who fight. In this video below, a Russian soldier who reportedly returned from the front decides to have some fun showing off a hand grenade to some children. After pulling the pin, explosive hijinks ensued.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there is 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.