On Saturday evening in Ukraine, Ukrainian forces are moving block by block through the city of Lyman, looking into houses, checking IDs of any residents still there, and accepting the surrender of any Russian forces willing to lay down arms. Russian casualties north of the city, and along the highway to the east, are reported to be horrendous, and it’s probably going to be some time before any since of the true scale of the carnage becomes clear. But with darkness falling over Lyman, at least for the moment, those conducting the door to door search report relative peace. There have already been images showing Ukrainian soldiers at the building Russia was using for their local HQ. No one was home.
It may seem like the siege of Lyman went on for an extended period, but it’s really been less than three weeks since Izyum was liberated. In that time, Ukraine has freed over 1,400 square kilometers and dozens of localities. Not bad for a period in which Ukraine was also consolidating its control over the 300+ towns and villages it had just liberated, handling thousands of Russian prisoners, and incorporating hundreds of abandoned Russian vehicles.
What Ukraine just accomplished in the area around Lyman is an amazing example of multi-tasking. And of being able to execute a plan, even in the face of the enemy. The came, they saw, they maneuvered the holy hell out of it.
Here’s a new map, and for once there is not a big blob of yellow and red stretching out around Lyman.
As of Saturday, there are likely Russian troops still remaining in Lyman, in Zarichne, and in the woods and fields east of both. Ukrainian forces are trying to locate survivors from the running battle fought along the highway. Expect to see some of the new hardware they’ve acquired from that “Russian lend lease program” in the next few days.
Even before the final round of combat got rolling around Lyman, there were reports of Ukrainian troops showing up 30km to the east at Kreminna. With a population of 18,000 before the war, Kreminna is almost the same size as Lyman, but until last week it was a position that Russia almost seemed to have ignored. In fact, local officials once let it be known that there were no Russians in the city and ran up a Ukrainian flag, before the Russians came back and put a stop to that.
Over the last two weeks, much of the reinforcement and materiel coming into Lyman has come through Kreminna, but that may not be a good indication that the city has been built up or prepared as a defensive position. Which may be why there are multiple reports on Saturday that the first response of Russian forces there to the unexpected appearance of Ukrainian troops, was to run away.
On the other hand, there were plenty of reports on both Telegram and Twitter over the last month that Russia had pulled out of areas that it had definitely not left. The number of false “Russia has withdrawn from (insert town here)” in the last two weeks has been so high, that even if there’s not a single Russian troop in Kreminna, someone will need to walk around the town with a camera before most people are going to buy it. For now assume that Kreminna is will stocked with Russian forces.
The expectation of most observers is that Ukraine will now move toward Svatove, which is to the north, behind that arc of towns that have “boxes” in them. Those represent locations where Russian sources say Russia is preparing a defensive line, expressly to prevent Ukraine from reaching Svatove from the south. But of course, those positions were hardened on the assumption that Ukraine would try to move up the highway directly from Lyman to Svatove, because TWRWD (that’s what Russia would do).
If we back away a step, it’s clear that Ukraine has options.
Over along the Oskil River, Ukraine has forces on the south of Borova, and another force coming down the river which is just 15km to the north. It’s certain that Ukraine would like to liberate Borova, which is the largest town in Kharkiv Oblast still occupied by Russia. On the other hand, they don’t need Borova to move down the wide open P07 highway, through the heart of Kharkiv Oblast, and into Luhansk. Maybe Russia has also hardened some locations in that direction, but there aren’t many hills, or towns, along that route to make a good stopping point.
Ukraine could go for Svatove straight down the P07 without bothering to take Borova. It could take Kreminna, or bypass it, and move toward Svatove from the south. Or it could ignore Svatove completely and go for Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk.
It could do none of the above.
While Russia continues to dash itself on the rocks at Bakhmut, seemingly unable to think of anything else worth doing. Ukraine has plenty of options. Most likely it will do what it’s done in the past month—look for the location where Russia is vulnerable, maneuver for position to avoid marching straight into artillery and massed troops, and accept Russia’s surrender when they cut off and destroy that position.
It’s certainly fun to speculate about where Ukraine goes next. We probably won’t have to wait long to find out.
As this was being written, both Russian and Ukrainian sources began reporting what looks to be a serious shift in Kherson. One Russian source indicates that Ukrainian forces are “pouring in” along “the whole northern border.” Another insists they have to retreat because the Ukrainian forces “have many vehicles.”
I don’t yet have enough specifics to map what’s happening. As best I can tell, the major push seems to be just a few miles on the west side of the Dnipro River. It seems like Ukraine may be about to come at the Kherson area in a whole new way. Stay tuned.
Here’s more on that advance Ukraine is making in the Kherson area. Russia had actually managed to recapture a few villages in this area over the last three weeks. Now it looks like Ukraine is taking them back quickly. Then we’ll see if push turns into a major drive toward one of the two critical objects: Kozatske (across from Nova kakhovka) or the city of Kherson.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.