How Ukraine gained momentum against Russia and captured the city of Izium

KYIV, Ukraine —In a months-long war defined by battles between two armies along a largely static, 1,500-mile-wide frontline, Ukraine’s astonishing speed of advance northeast of The country reshaped the conflict in just a few days.

On Saturday, Ukrainian soldiers retook a city that has long been the center of Russia’s military campaign in the east, Izium, and continued to raise blue and yellow flags over dozens of towns and villages. The desert was occupied by Russia a few days ago.

The northern advance is carried out in conjunction with another Ukrainian operation, in the south of the country. There, thousands of Russian troops west of the Dnipro River appear increasingly isolated and cut off from their supplies, as Ukrainian forces slowly break through front-line defenses and shell Russian targets. deep behind the front.

While the swift advance to the north appeared to have caught Russian forces by surprise, the Ukrainians had been laying the groundwork for it for weeks.

Here’s the significance of the battle to retake Izium, how the Ukrainians set the stage for their attacks, and why this week’s events could be a turning point in the war.

The first Russian missiles hit the small city of Izium in northeastern Ukraine on February 28, as part of a multi-force invasion that Moscow believes will lead to the rapid collapse of the government. in the capital city Kyiv.

The city of 40,000 was quickly besieged, and for three weeks in March, Russia was besieged. Some residents fled, others hid in bunkers, and homes, shops and apartments were ravaged by shelling until Russian troops flooded in.

By the time the rest of the people broke out of their basements in late March, Russia had taken control.

In the months that followed, Russia used Izium as a base of operations and command center, relying on road and rail hubs to supply troops. The city has become a Russian military station, supporting the operation to occupy the Donbas region, in eastern Ukraine, which in the spring became the main target of the Kremlin after the failed attack on Kyiv.

Supplies flowing through Izium helped sustain the massive Russian spending on ammunition during that campaign. At one point in June, Ukraine was almost out of ammunition and Russia killed 200 Ukrainian soldiers a day, according to Ukrainian officials.

Loss of land in the east as Russia uses Izium for support it captured two crowded cities in late June and early JulyUkraine retreat to stronger defensive positions. With that movement and the arrival of Western weapons and ammunition, Ukraine stabilized the defensive lines in the east. Russia stopped gaining ground and Ukraine began to set the stage for a new phase of the war.

At the end of July, as precision long-range missile systems began arriving in Ukraine, Russian ammunition depots at the rear of the front lines began to explode. Ukrainian officials, in statements and social media, will publish tally after tally of what they claim to have destroyed. And while it is not possible to verify all of their claims, there is video evidence of many strikes.

But unlike in the spring, when a Russian military convoy stuck north of Kyiv gave a clear indication of Russia’s logistical problems, it was difficult to tell the damage of the attacks on Russia. late summer.

In interviews with Ukrainian political and military leaders throughout August, they all reiterated a common sentiment: Just wait.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the President of Ukraine, said that even if Ukrainian forces attacked five depots a night, Russia already has plenty of supplies and it will take time to establish the conditions for an attack. labour.

In addition to using new long-range weapons from the West, Ukraine has deployed special forces, sometimes working with partisans, to disrupt Russian activities behind enemy lines. – an operation that not only targeted supply centers, ammunition depots and command centers, but also Ukrainians who cooperated with the Russian authorities.

When Ukraine attacked an airport in Crimea in early August, the first wave of attacks hit territory seized by Russia in 2014, not only did they hit a Russian stronghold, but they also prepared for the next step. according to the widely publicized – the southern counterattack.

Throughout August, Ukraine signaled that it was ready to move south with clearly visible attacks. Every bridge over the Dnipro River, dividing Ukraine from north to south, was struck again and again in an attempt to isolate Russian groups.

Russia has been racing to strengthen its garrison west of the river in the southern Kherson region, with analysts estimating that it deployed 15,000 to 25,000 troops by mid-August. According to satellite images, they pulled concrete from irrigation ditches, and reinforced three lines of defense.

In late August, Ukraine attacked, saying its forces had managed to penetrate Russia’s first line of defense in multiple locations.

But the status of the attack remained shrouded in secrecy, as Ukraine and its Russian proxies issued competing statements and as the Ukrainian military imposed new restrictions on the access of military personnel. journalists to the front lines, including asking pro-Kyiv military bloggers not to disclose details of troop movements.

It’s not clear where that attack stands. Russia has had months to fortify and fortify the region, but many of its troops may now be straining to resupply. The Ukrainian military described heavy casualties and difficult battles in the region. But those armies also reported even greater Russian losses.

Earlier this week, the first reports started coming in from all over the city of Kharkiv. Ukrainian troops are moving, but it is not clear where exactly.

The northeastern city, Ukraine’s second most populous before the war, has been bombarded by Russian troops since the first hours of the invasion. The shelling has never really subsided, and officials have steadily reported civilian casualties, even as Ukrainian troops drove Russian forces from the outskirts of the city all the way to the border, just miles away. 25 km. Since spring, fighting has continued but has not resulted in major territorial changes.

The Russian stronghold at Izium, vital in supporting so many phases of the Russian campaign, even as Russian forces bogged down or slowed down, does not appear to be a weak point.

But in early September, Ukrainian forces around Kharkiv swept to the southeast, attacking Russian positions where defenses had thinned – in part due to Russia’s persistent manpower problems, but It may also be due to the Kremlin’s substantial redeployment of troops to southern Ukraine.

Day after day, Ukrainian forces pushed further behind the Russian front lines, encircling Izium and retaking towns and villages on their way. Russian forces have fallen again and pro-Kremlin bloggers have reacted with shock and dismay to the sudden collapse of the defenses. On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said it was strengthening the Kharkiv region; on Saturday, it confirmed that it had pulled the forces back to “regroup.”

Although the statement sought to portray the withdrawal as a planned move, the remaining military equipment scattered in the area indicated a hasty retreat to avoid encirclement.

By Saturday night, Izium was one of the hubs Russia abandoned, boosting Ukrainian morale, providing Ukraine with a hub of its own operations in the east, and depriving Russia of an important hub. to keep their war machine running.

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