Ukraine War, 24 September 2023: 'Breakthrough'?
Since something like 36-48 hours, there is a growing number of reports about some sort of a ‘breakthrough’ in southern Zaporizhzhya. Have checked around, but can’t get any details right now: apparently, the involved troops - no matter from what side - are still ‘all involved’. I.e. nobody was rotated back to tell the story, re-charge the smartphone, upload videos etc.
Thus, when you’re now asking me (and quite a few did so) what kind of ‘breakthrough’ was achieved - and by whom and where….?
At most, I can deduct. As follows.
Yes, no doubt: general impression is that the battle in the ‘greater Robotyne-Novoprokopivka-Verbove area’ is ‘reaching its high point’. As reported earlier, in late August and early this month, the Russians brought in elements from four different VDV divisions to this sector of the frontline, before launching a series of (bitter) counterattacks into the ‘flanks’ of Ukrainian advance. Known examples are such like the 56th VDV (in combination with the 291st MRR) attacking south-western Robotyne, while the 108th VDV attacked from the area north of Verbove in western direction. Have reported about this earlier.
If ‘we’ - all of us in the social media, thousands of kilometres away - were able to ‘follow’ that Russian re-deployment, it’s on hand the HQ of the Group of Forces Tavriya was able to do so far better. Unsurprisingly, Ukrainians are known to have reacted by deploying a second artillery brigade to support their five brigades involved in advance in direction of Tokmak. Approximate disposition was something like this:
the two artillery brigades somewhere between Orikhiv and Mala Tokmachka (which is one of co-reasons why the VKS then heavily bombed this area, the last four weeks);
65th Mech was deployed in the Kopani area, to keep the Russians busy there;
47th Mech was deployed on the western flank of the Ukrainian advance, to defend Robotyne;
118th Mech was deployed on their eastern flank (north-west of Verbove), while
46th and 82nd Airborne continued the advance further south.
Gauging by Russian reports, their counterattacks might have forced the 118th Mech back, some ‘two fields’, but: by now it’s clear that they ended in a bloody massacre. As first, the 108th VDV was reportedly decimated by Ukrainian artillery: what was left of the unit had to be withdrawn back towards Tokmak and replaced by the 234th VDV Regiment.
Then the Russian and Ukrainian reports surfaced along which the Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade - known to have been deployed west and south-west of Robotyne, as of back in late August - was mauled to the degree where its remnants had to be withdrawn to the Tokmak area. More recently, Ukrainian reports surfaced about the ZSU (see: probably the 47th Mech), advancing west and south-west of Robotyne. Indeed, meanwhile even the Russians are reporting a ZSU advance ‘south-west’ of Robotyne, causing (heavy) losses to the elements of the 76th and 104th VDV Divisions in the process.
Not sure what regiments specifically: probably the 56th VDV?
By now it’s quite certain that as of 18-19 September, Ukrainians have widened their approach to Novoprokopivka from the north and have – between others – secured that big farm north of the village. Ever since, they should have taken numerous homes (i.e. ruins of the same) further west, too. Mind that north-west of Novoprokopivka, the ZSU is still not through the ‘big’ Russian minefield, though. Read: the fighting in this area is ‘particularly complex’.
That said, there are no indications about any kind of an Ukrainian ‘breakthrough’ in this area: if one has taken place, then somewhere else.
East of Novoprokopivka…
A bitter battle is known to be raging along the 2nd anti-tank ditch - and then in southern direction - for at least a week, meanwhile. Videos like this one from 17 September are showing the Russian VDV forcing back a Ukrainian assault group (probably from the 46th or 82nd Airborne), supported by artillery fire. Then the videos surfaced showing Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers clearing lanes through minefields further east, along the western and then southern side of Verbove.
Sure, everybody cheered ‘breakthrough’, BUT: for me, the presence of Ukrainian armoured vehicles south/east of the 2nd anti-tank ditch west of Verbove is ‘little else but confirmation’ for something reported already back in August. The fact that Ukrainian infantry has not only reached, but secured this section of that obstacle, plus - and that’s more important - plentiful of local Russian field fortifications south and east of it. Thus, ‘sorry, but: nothing special’.
‘However’, since around three days it’s the VDV-troops deployed in the Verbove area that are bitterly complaining in the Russian social media. They - and the desantniki in question seem to be from the ‘crack’ 76th VDV Division - say they’re ‘killed like partridges at a shooting range’ (in addition to the conclusion that the locals hate them, they’re tired, want to go home, and have no clue what are they fighting for). Indeed, two days ago, they began complaining about a ‘breakthrough’, and yesterday official Kyiv announced something similar, though without providing specific information.
However, this is still leaving the question about location of that breakthrough open: what kind of ‘breakthrough’ and where?
Sorry, right now, this remains unclear: as said above, involved troops are ‘still there’, in combat, and thus there are no details and no photos or videos.
That’s why I’ve got nothing else to tell you but to try some deduction.
For weeks already, there is a talk about some sort of a road connecting Novoprokopivka with Verbove. Since around 15 September, talk was about the ZSU bringing that road under ‘fire control’. Means: it was denying its use to the Russians because it had a free field of fire at it.
Since 22 September, there are reports the ZSU has ‘cut’ this road.
Problem (at least for me): by best will, I can’t find any ‘road’ there – at least not further north than the road connecting Ocheretuvate with Romanivske and thus Verbove.
Sure, there seem to be something like ‘field path’ along the ravine where I’ve positioned my mark for the ‘1429 MRR’ on the attached map. But, I’ve got no evidence Ukrainians came that far. At least not yet.
Considering the appearance of VDV troops in the 2nd anti-tank ditch east of Novoprokopivka, back on 17 September, it is possible the Russians have moved the 237th VDV to this sector of the frontline. If this was the case, I would not be surprised if either the Ukrainian 46th or 82nd Airborne ‘reacted’ with flanking the desantniki through an advance down the hedgerows in southern direction – in direction of that ravine. That would then ‘result in the cut off of the road between Novoprokopivka and Verbove’.
No evidence for this, though, thus: ‘lots of question marks’ in that area.
Call me ‘conservative’ (in addition to ‘Ukrainian cheerleader’, ‘Russo-phobe’, ‘biased’ and many other things), but: either I’m missing something important or…. well, right now I do not see how should the ZSU ‘punch through’ in between of Hills 169, 166 and 162 and Verbove – the area where I’ve entered ‘marks’ for some five-six Russian regiments, including the 201st MRR, 71st MRR, BARS-3, 210th MRR and BARS-14 (plus, and that’s a guess: 237th VDV) - without first securing the elevations. Elevations held by (remnants of) these five-six Russian regiments. It must take these and thus deny the Russians a good overview of the battlefield if it wants to continue in southern direction. While there is little doubt that different ZSU units have attempted to get at least up to the Hills 166 and 169 – and that: several times – since mid-August, so far, there is no evidence (and no reports) any of them has secured either.
….which means that the Russians remain in possession of elevations dominating the battlefield.
Me thinks, this – the fighting for these three dominating hills - is going to decide the outcome of this battle. As long as the Russians are holding these elevations, they're having a good overview over the battlefield (as obvious from dozens of their videos of the last few days) - which in turn means that Ukrainians can't by-pass them and really 'break through'.
….all of which is why I have such a problem with comprehending what are the Russians, and what is official Kyiv understanding with ‘breakthrough’.
Well, guess, we’ll have to do the usual, which is: patiently wait for more news.