Twenty-four hours after the fact, the Ukrainian military confirmed on Sunday that the city of Lysychansk is now entirely under Russian control. The news was released as reports from third-party and independent sources made it clear Ukrainian forces were withdrawing from the city as Russian troops entered in large numbers. “After heavy fighting for Lysychansk, the defense forces of Ukraine were forced to withdraw from their occupied positions and lines,” read a statement released by the Ukrainian general staff. “In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw.” The general staff’s statement also spoke of Russian advantages in aircraft, artillery, troop numbers and other forces.
The capture of Lysychansk comes one week after Russian forces captured its sister city of Severodonetsk. Ukraine no longer has a foothold in the Luhansk province. It is now effectively under the control of Russia. With the situation in the east looking bleak for Ukraine, the United States and European nations will be under pressure to provide more powerful weapons to Ukraine in even greater numbers. At this point in the conflict, however, Western unity is starting to sag under the weight of the economic fallout. Behind the scenes, a new push for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia will be getting underway soon.
Unfortunately, Zelenskiy is not likely to cave into any potential Western demands on negotiations anytime soon. For whatever reasons, the Ukrainian leader still seems to think he is holding a handful of trump cards and has the upper hand despite the battlefield setbacks. He is also appearing more and more out of tune with real world events when he makes public appearances. For example, earlier today Zelenskiy denied that Lysychansk was completely in Russian hands. While giving a news conference with Australia’s prime minister, who was visiting Kiev, the Ukrainian leader said fighting was taking place on the outskirts of the city. His remarks came as the Ukrainian military was releasing the statement discussed above.
The badly timed comments make Zelenskiy seem either out of touch or reluctant to publicly admit bad news to the people of his country. It is important to keep public morale up, but not by repeating outright lies and propaganda. On this topic, Ukraine’s president has much to learn yet.
After four months of heavy fighting, the Ukrainian military is facing shortages of ammunition for many of its Soviet-era weapons systems. With the war now focused in the eastern Ukraine and the fighting having become an artillery-driven war of attrition, the shortages are becoming more pronounced. The timing for this could not be worse. The flow of ammunition from Western nations has failed to keep up with demand and replenish Ukraine’s dwindling ammunition stockpiles. The United States and European nations are also shipping more accurate and mobile self-propelled artillery and multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine. However, it is taking a significant amount of time to deploy the weapons and train Ukrainian soldiers to employ them effective. In the meantime, Ukraine’s army relies on its older artillery, even as the ammunition for these guns diminishes to critical levels.
Russia is gaining an advantage on the battlefield because of the ammunition woes. Russian artillery batteries are firing at least three to four times as many rounds as their Ukrainian counterparts. To be fair, Russia has more artillery batteries than Ukraine, but the disparity in rounds fired has more to do with Ukrainian ammunition issues than anything else. Gunners are having to conserve shells more and more as the days pass.
It is a common problem in war and hardly one exclusive to the war in Ukraine. Pre-war calculations and estimates are no longer accurate once the balloon goes up. Rates of fire and use of ammunition dwarfs the pre-war figures. Logistics takes precedence as the race to resupply can often determine what side wins a war. We’re seeing this now in Eastern Ukraine. Some of the gains Russia has made on the battlefield in the last 36-48 hours were possible largely because Russia has far more artillery batteries and ammunition available.
Forty-six civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, according to Russian news reports. Another report from Ukrainian troops defending the plant tells of twenty civilians who were evacuated during a ceasefire. It remains unclear if these two groups are the same or different. However, The UN confirmed today that an operation to evacuate people from the steel plant in Mariupol is under way. According to estimates, there are 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and several hundred soldiers sheltering in the massive plant. According to news updates at 1540 Eastern Time, the UN has announced an operation to evacuate all civilians inside the city will begin on Monday
In eastern Ukraine, fighting has picked up around Kharkov as Ukrainian forces strive to push Russian troops farther away from the nation’s second-largest city. The battlelines around Kharkov have been static since the early days of the war. Russian troops are entrenched in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, operations carried out by Ukrainian forces have retaken four villages around Kharkov: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. Those claims have yet to be independently verified.
Germany’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being criticized (yet again). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told a German newspaper that Berlin’s actions have been hesitant when compared to other European nations. Kuleb said Germany should “take the leading role in Europe, especially in questions of Eastern policy.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted little time in defending his decisions on Ukraine. “I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies. I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.” Scholz has been heavily criticized for not providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine fast enough.
Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were expressive in declaring that the United States is committed to assisting Ukraine win the war and repel Russian forces from its territory entirely. Austin also said that along with preserving Ukraine, another US desire is to see Russia “weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.” Blinken also confirmed the US will be opening its embassy back in Kiev within the coming weeks.
Russia is continuing to focus on attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. Today, a number of rail stations and facilities in central and western Ukraine were attacked, as well as other targets labeled by Ukrainian officials as ‘critical infrastructure.’ Civilian casualties were reported.
Following a fairly quiet Orthodox Easter Sunday, the tempo of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian positions on the eastern outskirts of Kharkov began taking artillery fire early Monday morning and there are indications of fighting taking place in other areas of the east. This fighting is responsible for the destruction of a substation in the town of Kreminna which has knocked out power for the entire province of Luhansk.
The British government today has said Russian combat losses in the Ukraine War have topped 15,000. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace also informed Parliament that over 2,000 Russian armored vehicles were destroyed or captured, including 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers and 560 infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 60 helicopters and fighter jets.
The White House said earlier today that sanctions will be imposed on the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, but stopped short of announcing sanctions against Russia. The restricted application of sanctions now seems calculated to leave open the chance for a diplomatic solution. For weeks now, the United States and Europe have threatened major economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. Now, with Russian forces moving into the newly recognized independent separatist states, the definition of what exactly constitutes an invasion falls into a gray area. Are Russian troops crossing into what the world recognizes as Ukrainian territory? Yes. Is it a full-scale invasion aimed at toppling the Zelenskiy government and seizing control of the entire country? No. For now the number of troops entering LPR and DPR territory appears to be limited and their mission has been defined as ‘peacekeeping.’
The true nature of the so-called ‘peacekeeping mission’ and Russia’s troop movement into eastern Ukraine will begin to take shape in the coming hours. So far there have been no reports of significant contact between Ukrainian and separatist or Russian forces.
President Zelensky addressed the Ukrainian people after 2am local time. “We are not afraid. We won’t cede anything.” He said Putin withdrew from Minsk Agreements by ordering troops into Ukraine officially. He called for emergency meetings of OSCE, Normandy Format, UNSC. The timing of the address left me a bit perplexed. Why wait until 2 AM to address the people? Granted, most Ukrainians are probably awake now given what is happening in the east. It’s enough to make a cynical person wonder if the Ukrainian government expects something significant to happen later in the morning.
I’ll try and get one more update out before midnight. Things on my end are getting a little busy, but I should be able to get one out. Even if it’s relatively short.