SLOVIANSK, Ukraine — At one point on the front line, Ukrainian soldiers advanced crawling on their stomachs for 50 meters at a time, digging new trenches at each stop.
Elsewhere, soldiers from the 93rd Brigade captured about five kilometers of wheat fields – and a Russian tank. Another unit liberated a village last week.
On the rolling plains of eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, soldiers and commanders point to these modest gains as a measurable result of Ukraine’s strategy of publicly and frequently telegraphing its intentions to attack. Russia on another front of the war: southern Ukraine.
The Russian military, they say, diverted troops south to meet the Ukrainian attack, reducing the intensity of fighting in the east – and allowing Ukraine to regain chunks of land there. down.
Western military analysts have noted the diversion of Russian forces and a reduction in violence in Donbass, which has been the focus of Russian military attention since it failed to capture the capital Kyiv. last spring. Throughout the region, the intensity of Russian artillery fire has decreased. On narrow sections of the front near the towns of Bakhmut, Pisky and Avdiivka, Russian attacks persisted.
Fighting in the Ukraine War is effectively split between two theaters, eastern and southern, with Ukraine seeking to slow or halt Russian advances in the east while counterattacking in the south.
Where to concentrate forces has become a dilemma for both armies, leaving commanders in a guessing game over the other side’s intentions, as the summer has become a time of feints and rare public declarations of military operations. planned by both parties in Donbass and southern Ukraine.
The Russians are most vulnerable, according to Ukraine, in the territory they hold on the western side of the wide Dnipro River. In recent weeks, the Ukrainian military has hit two bridges used for supply and hit the spans again on Saturday as Russian engineers sought to repair them.
Russian forces have reinforced their positions in the south, the British Ministry of Defense said in a war assessment on Saturday, and “Ukrainian forces are focusing their targeting on bridges, ammunition depots and rail links with high frequency. increasing”. Reinforcements could defend or anticipate the attack from Ukraine with their own offensive.
The effect of all this on the eastern theater of the conflict has become apparent in recent weeks, said Yuriy Bereza, the commander of the Ukrainian National Guard’s Dnipro-1 unit, which is fighting outside the eastern city of Sloviansk. .
“We have reached parity” in the war in eastern Ukraine, Bereza said.
As with everything in this war, much remains opaque, and at least some analysts say the slowdown in the east has more to do with Russia’s need to rebuild its forces, and less with dividing its attention with the south.
After capturing the towns of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in late June, the Russian military declared what it called an operational pause to regroup and rearm. Independent analysts said the Russian force suffered heavy losses and units would need to be replenished.
Bereza also credited the appearance on the battlefield of US-supplied high-mobility artillery rocket systems, which strike with precision far behind Russian lines, for calming Russian artillery. The systems, known as HIMARS, arrived about a month ago, just as the counteroffensive intensified in the south.
“The first time I heard a HIMARS launch was like music to my ears,” he said. “This is the most beautiful music for Ukrainian soldiers.”