Ukraine Situation Report: This May Be Our First Image Of An M1 Abrams In-Country

An image has emerged on social media purporting to show the first look at an M1 Abrams main battle tank in Ukraine.

byHoward Altman, Thomas Newdick|
The first image of an M1A1 Abrams tank in Ukraine may have emerged.
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What could very well be the first image of an M1A1 Abrams main battle tank in Ukraine surfaced on social media today, three weeks after U.S. officials confirmed all 31 donated to Kyiv had arrived in-country. The photo is being referenced as the first glimpse of the M1 in-country, although where exactly it was taken and under what circumstances remain unclear.

The photo shows the front of the tank’s hull and the turret rear bustle rack — a metal cage for storing extra gear and supplies. That means the 120mm main gun is pointing rearward.

That’s a strong indicator that the tank is not in a battle position, according to a U.S. armor expert who analyzed the photo for us.

“If it was in a battle position, the hull and turret would face forward to be able to drive up and engage targets,” said the expert, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

The photo also shows the tank in what appears to be a dug in position, with high mud walls and, below that, a cut-out for the tracks. 

“I think that they dug a very deep position that is very similar to a ‘hide’ position just to keep it out of direct line of sight of any reconnaissance," said the expert. "That’s because the M1 Abrams is a such a prize target for the Russians to destroy, it would be a huge propaganda win if they’re able to target it and the Ukrainians know it.”

In addition to showing a portion of the tank itself, the photo also shows a Ukrainian soldier holding a belt buckle very similar to the “steel fist” insignia of the Ukrainian National Guard's Rapid Response Brigade in his left hand. That unit has fought near Bakhmut, according to the unit's Facebook page. Neither the unit's Facebook nor Instagram pages show images of an Abrams tank though.

We reached out to the unit on Facebook and Instagram and will update this story if it responds.

In this Abrams tank photo, a soldier is seen displaying a belt buckle with the Rapid Response Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine's "steel fist" emblem. (Via twitter)
The official patch of the Ukrainian National Guard's Rapid Response Brigade. (Rapid Response Brigade photo)

The long-awaited Abrams is one of the best tanks in the world.

“The Abrams is an amazing main battle tank that can take a beating, either from enemy fire or mother nature, and keep going,” Erik Albertson, a retired U.S. Army senior non-commissioned officer, told us in January when news first broke of the Biden administration approving delivery to Ukraine. Albertson served as a tanker in all positions on the M1A1 and early versions of the M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams main battle tank. You can read more about what it will bring to the battlefield for Ukraine here.

Whether the M1s have been used in either Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive or its defense of Russian advances around Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast or anywhere else is unknown. However, no images have yet emerged on social media of an Abrams in battle. Nor have any images been seen of any Abrams damaged or destroyed, something that the Russian Defense Ministry and milbloggers would have instantly jumped on had that happened.

With the counteroffensve largely a stalemate with worsening winter weather conditions setting in, it remains to be seen when and if we will see the Abrams on the front lines any time soon

At least one image of a cousin of the M1 in Ukraine has been confirmed, however.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attended a ceremony where a M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) - which uses the M1's chassis - was seen. You can read more about that in our story here and see an image of it below.

Before getting into the rest of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

Russian forces conducted several “unsuccessful” attacks across the front lines in the south and east of Ukraine last week, officials in Kyiv say. The official Ukrainian account talks of 400 individual “combat clashes” in the last seven days, during which Russia has maintained its offensive directed against the town of Avdiivka, in the eastern region of Donetsk. So far, Russian attempts to surround and take that town have failed.

“The enemy is conducting assault actions in several directions at once,” Andriy Kovalyov, a spokesperson for the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told state TV today, AFP reports.

Kovalyov added that Russian attacks had occurred near the village of Robotyne, which Ukraine retook control of earlier this year, in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. “The enemy attempted to restore its lost position near Robotyne but had no success,” he said.

For Ukraine’s part, Kovalyov said that its forces are continuing their own “offensive operations” to the south of Bakhmut. This city was captured by Russia in May, after months of fighting, including relentless artillery fire that left it almost totally destroyed.

Russia confirmed Ukrainian attacks near Robotyne, but its defense ministry said that these were repelled.

While these claims cannot be independently verified, taken together, they do point toward what we know of the current situation on the ground. Namely, neither Russia nor Ukraine has been able to make significant territorial gains for months, leaving a stalemate-like situation across many parts of the front line. That hasn't stopped the bloodshed. Fighting remains intense, with both sides continuing to take heavy losses.

Current reports from Ukraine claim that Russian casualties now stand at more than 305,000 dead or injured, while the U.S. government estimated back in August that there had been 120,000 Russian deaths and 180,000 injured since the full-scale invasion began. These remain the most recent available U.S. figures.

The next tweet goes some way toward explaining the kinds of bitter trench warfare that now characterize much of the fighting in the east and south of Ukraine. The familiar first-person-view (FPV) drones that have already wrought considerable havoc on the battlefield are being used by Russian forces to target Ukrainian machine-gunners in the first line of trenches before more waves of attack drones hit successively deeper trenches to protect the Russian infantry as it advances.

Ukraine’s commander-in-chief Valeri Zaluzhny announced that one of his top aides was killed when a birthday gift exploded Monday while he was gathered with family.

“Unspeakable pain and heavy loss for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and for me personally,” Zaluzhny wrote on Telegram Monday. “Today, under tragic circumstances, on his birthday, my assistant and close friend, Major Gennadiy Chastyakov, died in the family circle. An unknown explosive device went off in one of the gifts. Gennady is survived by his wife and four children. My deepest condolences to the family.”

Zaluzhny said an investigation is ongoing.

“The reasons and circumstances will be established during the pre-trial investigation,” he said.

Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s Minster of Internal Affairs, said that the initial investigation showed Chastiakov “returned home from work with gifts from his colleagues [which he] began to show relatives.”

Chastiakov “took out a gift box with grenades inside and started showing one of [them] to his son,” said Klymenko. “These were grenades of the new Western model.”

At first, “the son took the ammunition and started turning the ring. Then the serviceman took the grenade from the child and pulled out the ring, provoking a tragic explosion,” Klymenko wrote.

Ukrainian police “found five more such unexploded grenades in the apartment. They will be sent for examination.”

Police also found “a fellow soldier who gave a fatal gift. His office was already searched and two similar grenades were seized. Primary investigative actions are ongoing.”

Klymenko said he was releasing the information to dispel widespread rumors about the incident. Unfounded speculation on social media began to suggest an internal power struggle.

“I urge you not to spread unofficial information,” he cautioned. “The pre-trial investigation is ongoing, wait for the official conclusions of the investigation.”

Earlier, Ukrainian Pravda reported that "Chastiakov’s wife said that her husband had brought home a gift bag containing a bottle of alcohol and shot glasses in the form of grenades. When he opened the package, it blew up."

Former Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said while "careless handling" of the grenade was the most likely cause of death, nothing can be ruled out.

"Of course, according to the rules, the investigation must check all versions of the death of a serviceman who was the assistant to the Commander-in-Chief," she said Monday on Telegram. "And none of them can be ruled out yet. Even if for specialists here the picture of the event is more or less obvious. The police are now documenting this as the result of careless handling of ammunition resulting in the death. This is correct, because it is a preliminary qualification - in fact. The investigation is ahead."

During the investigation, "it will be necessary to check not only careless handling of ammunition, but also other versions, because the deceased held the position of [Zaluzhny's] assistant during the war," Maliar said. "And this in itself creates additional risks for life."

Zaluzhny mourned Gennady Chastyakov as a close confidant.

"From the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Gennady was a reliable shoulder for me, completely devoting his life to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the fight against Russian aggression," he said.

Recently emerged videos from the conflict show two very rare and interesting versions of the well-known Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter serving with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

First up is what appears to be a Mi-24RKhR, also known as the Mi-24R, a version of the helicopter that was developed during the Cold War. The helicopter was intended for nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) reconnaissance, being fitted with pincer-like sampling gear on the tips of the stub wings. In this role, the helicopter came to light during the operation in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, in the Ukrainian SSR.

Known by the NATO codename Hind-G1, 152 of this version were built but any survivors have long ceased to be used for NBC reconnaissance. While these helicopters were originally completed with no weapons systems, these have likely been reinstated, although the example seen in this video is apparently flying unarmed.

The second video shows what seems to be an ever-rarer Hind version, the Mi-24VP. This is an attack helicopter, basically similar to the mass-produced Mi-24V, but with the normal 12.7mm machine gun in the nose replaced by a harder-hitting twin-barrel 23mm GSh-23 cannon, in a flexible mounting. Only 25 of this version were ever completed, so seeing one in active Ukrainian service at this point — flying alongside a Mi-8 down a highway — is highly unusual.

More Ukrainian helicopter imagery now, with unusually high-quality footage of some of the Mi-17V-5s that were delivered to Ukraine by the United States.

These rotorcraft also have an interesting backstory. When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021, five of the country’s Hips were in Ukraine for maintenance and were handed over to the Kyiv government as Excess Defense Articles in March 2022. A subsequent package of U.S. military aid to Ukraine announced in June 2022, brought the total number of Mi-17s transferred or set to be transferred to 20. It seems that at least some of these aircraft continue to fly in their Afghan liveries, in which they were delivered to Ukraine.

One previous source of defense equipment for Ukraine that looks like it may be closed off in the future is Slovakia. Here, incoming Prime Minister Robert Fico has said he will stop the country from transferring further military aid to its neighbor, although private deals that benefit Slovakian firms would still be permitted.

Among the arms delivered to Ukraine by Slovakia so far include 13 MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters, assorted Mi-17 and Mi-2 helicopters, an S-300PMU air defense system, and various armored fighting vehicles.

However, a fundamental part of Fico’s successful September election campaign involved criticism of Western support for Ukraine, sanctions on Russia, and U.S. foreign policies.

“We have communicated very clearly and I want to communicate — we are talking about weapons, about ammunition from Slovak army storage, about state material,” Fico said. “When some company wants to make weapons and send them somewhere, nobody is going to obstruct that.”

Details are emerging of a significant blow delivered to the Ukrainian Armed Forces during a Russian missile strike on a medal-awarding ceremony that was taking place in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, on November 3.

Local media said that 20 people were killed — among them, soldiers from the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade — and at least one Ukrainian soldier took to social media to criticize commanders for having planned the event in the frontline Zaporizhzhia region. Reuters reports 19 soldiers killed, while other figures put the death toll considerably higher, with as many as 28 killed and more than a hundred wounded.

“This is a tragedy that could have been avoided,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “A criminal investigation has been registered into the tragedy. The main thing is to establish the full truth about what happened and to prevent this from happening again.”

Videos posted to social media yesterday appear to support claims of a Ukrainian strike against a Russian armament depot located in the village of Sedovo, close to Mariupol, in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, southern Ukraine.

There are claims that the strike resulted in the loss of several Russian helicopters and other equipment, allegedly at a repair depot. These claims cannot be confirmed at this point.

Located around 60 miles from the front lines, some kind of long-range weapon would have needed to be used. Unconfirmed rumors have suggested that air-launched Storm Shadow and/or SCALP-EG cruise missiles may have been employed, or the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), or even a combination.

Russian airstrikes overnight appear to have been especially heavy in the southern region of Kherson. Local governor Oleksandr Prokudin posted footage of a five-story building with most of its windows shattered and its walls partially collapsed.

“It is a miracle that no one was seriously injured,” Prokudin said, adding that a 54-year-old woman had been wounded.

Ukraine recaptured large parts of Kherson from Russian forces last year, including the region’s main city, but the Kremlin still controls large portions of the Black Sea territory.

Meanwhile, Russian drone attacks on Ukraine last night hit Odesa hard, leaving at least five people injured, setting grain trucks on fire, and damaging the city’s historic art gallery, according to Ukrainian officials. Moscow has been waging a war on the Black Sea port ever since walking away from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, in July this year.

According to Oleh Kiper, governor of the Odesa region, 15 Russian drones were destroyed over the city. Kiper added that several high-rise residential buildings were damaged and a warehouse and trucks with grain caught fire.

Meanwhile, reports from Ukraine suggest that Russia is now prioritizing the domestic production of Iranian-designed Shahed-series kamikaze drones, rather than importing them from Tehran.

According to Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Chief of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, “We do not currently record the active movement of Shaheds from Iran to Russia.”

Skibitskyi added that large-scale production of Shahed-type drones has already “partially begun” at a factory in the city of Alabuga in the Republic of Tatarstan. “The enemy planned to produce at least 200 Shaheds per month, but in reality, it produces less,” Skibitskyi added. “Today, it is mainly an assembly of components delivered from Iran.”

While Russia apparently ramps up production of Shaheds, Ukraine, too, is now said to be producing a very similar model. According to Herman Smetanin, the director general of the Ukroboronprom State Concern, which brings together the various sectors of the defense industry of Ukraine, production of an as-yet-unnamed local analog of the Shahed has begun. The new drone is claimed to have a range of 1,000 kilometers, or 621 miles, which would allow it to strike targets deep in Russia.

Among the more antiquated pieces of military equipment provided to Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion is the British-made Daimler Ferret scout car, apparently provided by a privately funded initiative.

Intriguingly, the photo provided of a Ferret said to be used by the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, has the top of its open turret blurred out, suggesting it may have undergone some kind of modification. In our previous deep dive on the Ferret for Ukraine, we suggested that options might include adding a small external ATGM on the vehicle, or even carrying a single Javelin missile operator. It’s possible that something similar has now been achieved, although we will need to see more imagery to be sure.

Finally, while we have been used to seeing the skies around Ukraine light up as a result of the ongoing fighting, which is now in its 621st day, the country was visited over the weekend by lights of a more peaceful kind. The photos below show the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis — the effects of solar flares — which were some of the most powerful seen in years.

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

Contact the authors: howard@thewarzone.com; thomas@thewarzone.com

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