Ukrainian armed forces kept the spearhead of Russian forces engaged in the eastern city of Severodonetsk while launching successful counterattacks in the north and south during the 15th week of the war.
The southern counteroffensive began on May 28 and by June 2, Kherson Oblast military administration head Hennadiy Lahuta reported that Ukrainian forces had liberated 20 villages.
In some areas, Ukrainian forces had managed to push the Russian lines of defence back about 25km (15 miles). For example, whereas the Russians were almost on the outskirts of Mykolaiv, they are now reportedly halfway between Mykolaiv and the city of Kherson. Increased Russian attacks have failed to win these areas back.
Ukraine’s navy also said on Facebook that its use of anti-ship missiles has forced Russian ships to a distance of 100km (62 miles) from land and prompted Russia to place Bal and Bastion anti-ship missile batteries on Crimea.
Ukraine says it has sunk 13 Russian ships and boats of various types. “We have deprived the Russian Black Sea Fleet of complete control over the northwest part of the Black Sea, which has turned into the ‘grey zone’,” the navy announced on Facebook.
Russian military sources on June 5 reported that Ukraine had launched a new counteroffensive in the northern Kharkiv region. This is where Ukraine successfully pushed Russian forces back to within a few kilometres of the Russian border in May and secured the city of Kharkiv.
The heart of the struggle was the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukrainian and Russian forces appear to have gone back and forth. Russian defence minister Sergey Shoigu claimed on Telegram that his forces have captured the entire residential part of the city and continue to fight for the industrial area.
Russia launched the battle for Severodonetsk on May 25. Given that the city is only about 25 streets deep from east to west, and Russia has committed the flower of its forces there – 10,000 men backed by relentless artillery, mortars and air power – Ukrainian forces appear to have held out admirably.
Despite Russia’s tenfold superiority in artillery there, as reported by the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence Kiril Budanov, Russia has failed to surround Severodonetsk, take neighbouring Lysychansk or ford the Siverski Donets river, which lies between them.
Ukraine has proven the more versatile and resilient combatant, says the Institute for the Study of War.
“The Russian military has concentrated all of its available resources on this single battle to make only modest gains. The Ukrainian military contrarily retains the flexibility and confidence to not only conduct localised counterattacks elsewhere in Ukraine (such as north of Kherson) but conduct effective counterattacks into the teeth of Russian assaults in Severodonetsk,” it said in its June 4 assessment.
Severodonetsk has symbolic, not strategic, value say analysts, as its occupation would allow Russia to claim it has taken Ukraine’s easternmost Luhansk province.
“Russia’s drive in Luhansk is the desperate gamble of a dictator staking the last of the offensive combat power he can scrape together in hopes of breaking his enemies’ will to continue the fight,” wrote Frederick W Kagan, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank, referring to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. “And let him claim that he’s taken all of Luhansk Oblast … There are no Russian large reserves coming behind this force to carry its successes forward.”