BAKHMUT, Ukraine – On the battlefields of the rolling Donbas hills in eastern Ukraine, and near the Black Sea in the south, Ukrainian troops have stubbornly tried to inch forward without losing control of territory, facing an opponent whose forces have been strengthened by rrecluses turned combatants and by Iranian drones.
“Perhaps it will seem to someone now that after a series of victories we have a certain calm,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his late-night speech on Sunday.
“But this is not a pause. This is Ito preparation for the next sequence.
Over the weekend, Ukraine’s military increased pressure in the country’s south, with forces attacking Russian military strongholds and targeting sites used by local officials loyal to the Kremlin.
They also continue to hit the supply lines of thousands of Russian soldiers on the west bank of the Dnieper River.
Ukraine’s attacks on the major Russian city of Kherson appeared to shake security there, with widespread shootings and riots.
But further north and east, in the town of Bakhmut in the Donbas region, advancing Russian forces made their presence known as the sound of artillery fire rang out on Sunday, highlighting an important spot where Ukrainian control may become tenuous. as Russian forces push from the east and southeast in an attempt to cut off supplies to the country.
Bakhmut, a city with a pre-war population of 70,000, is central to Russia’s goal of seizing the rest of the mineral-rich Donbas region.
When Russian forces captured the industrial city of Lysychansk in early July and consolidated their control of Lugansk, one of the two provinces of the donbas, Bakhmut soon became the focus of Russia’s slow advance.
Even after Russia suffered a crushing defeat in northeastern Ukraine last week, where its troops lost dozens of villages and roughly 2,500 kilometers of territory around the city of Kharkiv, its forces continued to attack Bakhmut.
It seems that there isn endless supply of soldiers around Bakhmut attacking Ukrainian forces, many of them not among regular Russian ranks, Ukrainian troops said.
Soldiers on the front lines around the city have claimed that Russian forces in the area are mainly made up of troops from the Wagner Group, a private military company with ties to the Kremlin.
Wagner’s troops have fought in places like Syria and Libyacountries with a history of Russian intervention, and Ukrainian soldiers say they are deploying russian prisoners on the front.
On Tuesday, a video posted online and analyzed by New York Times it showed the Wagner Group promising convicts that they would be released from prison in exchange for a six-month combat tour in the Ukraine.
It is unclear when the video was shot.
After Russia’s humiliating defeat around the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, in the spring, the Russian president, Vladimir Putinsaid that capturing the Donbas, a region the size of New Hampshire, would be one of the main objectives of the war.
At a regional summit in Uzbekistan on Friday, Putin reiterated that the “main goal” of his “special military operation” was to seize Donbas, despite losses in the northeast and Ukraine’s ongoing offensive in the south, near the port city of Kherson.
A Ukrainian missile strike destroyed a cotton factory used as a Russian base, Ukrainian officials said Sunday, after claiming credit for an attack on a downtown courthouse that served as the headquarters of the Kremlin-backed military administration.
Another challenge to Russia’s claim that it is in complete control of the security situation in the city came on Saturday night, when gunfire broke out in the city’s streets and continued into the night, according to a video posted by Russian military bloggers.
Kherson remains the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by Moscow since the invasion.
It was unclear who was involved in the clashes.
Local Russian authorities spoke of an attack on Ukrainian guerrillas.
The Ukrainian military did not make an official statement, but officials suggested it was possibly a factional fight on Moscow’s side.
Mykhailo Podolyak, one of the Ukrainian president’s top advisers, said the shooting was part of a internal fight among the Russians who were looking for “split the loot” before “run away”.
Ukraine has been pushing a counteroffensive in the south for weeks, trying to wear down Russian fighters and force their surrender or withdrawal.
But unlike in the northeast, where Russian lines were spread thin and quickly overwhelmed by the lightning assault from Ukraine, Russian forces in the south have been preparing for an expected Ukrainian advance and have strengthened their positions.
Despite mounting pressure, there was no indication of a massive Russian withdrawal, and Russian forces continued to storm Ukrainian positions and pummel Ukrainian cities and towns.
The city of Kherson and the surrounding region are the only Russian-held land west of the Dnieper River.
Ukraine has been blowing up Russian ammunition depots and command posts and hitting river crossings and supply lines with missile strikes, seeking isolate the 25,000 russians estimated on the western bank of the Dnieper.
But as Ukraine’s counteroffensive enters its third week, restoring morale and emboldening allies, Russia’s military is making increasing use of a new and, according to Ukrainian officials, a terrifyingly effective weapon:
attack drones made in Iran.
Russia and Iran never acknowledged reaching an agreement over the Shahed-136 attack drones, but a senior Ukrainian military official said it was discovered.n remains of them on the ground after the northeast counteroffensive was launched this month.
The mighty weapon is a call kamikaze drone because it explodes on impact and carries a warhead of about 36 kilos.
Its appearance in Ukraine marks the first time it has been deployed outside the Middle East.
The use of these drones illustrates how, despite Russia’s widespread isolation and even some recent warnings from Chinese and Indian leaders, Moscow has still found support from Iran.
It also adds a layer of geopolitical complexity to the conflict as more nations are drawn to supply weaponry.
The United States believes that Iran has sold out to Russia two types of drones, said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. Russian transport planes loaded the drones at an airfield in Iran in August, she said.
“The Russian military is experiencing severe supply shortages in Ukraine, in part due to sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to rely on unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment,” Watson said.
She said intelligence showed the drones in that batch had experienced “numerous failures”.
However, in the countryside, the drones are scaring the Ukrainians.
In its first use in Ukraine, an Iranian drone blew up a US-supplied M777 howitzer, Col. Rodion Kulagin, commander of artillery operations in the Kharkiv counteroffensive, said in an interview.
Half a dozen attacks destroyed shells and armored vehicles, killed four soldiers and wounded 16, he said.
The Wall Street Journal ipreviously reported on the use of Iranian drones by Russia.
The appearance of the drones, even amid Ukraine’s successes in the northeast, prompted Kulagin to appeal to Ukraine’s Western allies to quickly provide defenses or a similar weapon to counterattack.
“Give us something like this,” Kulagin said.
Drones have already played a crucial role in the conflict.
The United States has supplied Ukraine with its drones switch blade, and an attack on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet involved a drone. Ukraine has also deployed Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones that fire guided missiles.
It is unclear how many Iranian attack drones Russia has acquired. The United States.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said in July that Russia intended to buy several hundred iranian drones of various types.
The Shahed-136 drones have so far been deployed only in northeastern Ukraine, Kulagin said.
“They are testing them and they have concentrated them in this region,” he said.
Captain Volodymyr Danchenko, an artillery officer made available for a telephone interview by the Ukrainian military, said he had witnessed an attack on a self-propelled howitzer.
The drone entered and destroyed the weapon, he said.
“It wasn’t like the artillery that hit us before,” he said.
“I haven’t met such a thing before.”
Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported from Bakhmut, Ukraine; Marc Santora from Kyiv; and Andrew E. Kramer Kramer of Koropove, Ukraine. Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels, Jim Tankersley from Washington, and Natalia Yermak from Bakhmut.
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