For this phase of the offensive, Svatove is the prize. Ukraine is putting pressure on both the north and southern approaches to the town, which is why Russia is throwing everything it can at both Lyman and the Ukrainian bridgehead east of Kupiansk. As Russian war blogger Rybar put in, “in the event that the Armed Forces of Ukraine reach Svatovo, the entire Lyman group of allied forces [Russian and Donbas proxy armies] will be in an operational encirclement. With a simultaneous strike from the bridgehead near Kupyansk, the entire defense along the border of the LPR could collapse.” That looks like this:
Ridkodub is on one of the two highways supplying Lyman, while the other road, just to the east, is within range of Ukrainian artillery. But Svatove is the real prize, the key logistical hub for this corner of the front. Russia transports supplies to Starobilsk and/or Bilohurakyne by rail, then trucks them over to Svatove. If Ukraine can take the town, Russia would need to supply Lyman and its environs across the Krasna river (which passes north-south through Svatove and Kreminna). If any bridges are still left standing at this time, HIMARS/MLRS would take care of that quick. Rybar is right: cut off Svatove, and Russian positions to the west of the Krasna collapse and Ukraine walks away with several hundred more trophy armored vehicles. (Crossing the Krasna, particularly engorged by fall rains, would present serious problems for the continued Ukrainian advance, but they’ll cross that bridge—literally and figuratively—when they get there.)
Another pro-Russian blogger, in describing the desperate state of the Russian defense in the area, essentially says that Russia is throwing its reserves into a meat grinder trying to slow the Ukrainian advance. That may be why Russia is rushing recently mobilized forces to Ukraine with just a day’s worth of training. They are literally meant to be human speed bumps.
Interestingly, pro-Russian Telegram has been declaring for about a week now that Lyman is about to fall. Meanwhile, the invaders still hold on under incredibly difficult conditions. It’s one thing for Ukrainian defender to fight to the last—this is their land. Why are Russians still sacrificing themselves?
Lyman will fall in the next couple of days, but that stiff resistance is troubling. This doesn’t look like a Russian side on the verge of utter collapse. These Russians aren’t quitting just yet — whether here, or down in Kherson, where we seem to be back to a bloody artillery battle over open fields.
Comment: It does appear the Russians and DNR/LNR militias have been ordered to hold Lyman at all costs. I would guess the defenders of Severodonetsk received the same orders. Ah, the joys of getting tactical orders directly from the Kremlin.
I do think Lyman, Svatove and Severodonetsk will be liberated by the Ukrainians in the coming weeks. It won’t be at the speed of the recent Kharkiv offensive. It will be at the speed of infantry advancing along the unpaved forest tracks that characterize this region. Rasputitsa is already beginning to make itself felt.
The Russians should be establishing a defensive line somewhere between Staroblisk and the original LOC that can accept the unmotivated, ill trained and ill equipped mobiks trickling to the front. Russians have a reputation of being dogged in the defense. Of course, that applies to defending Mother Russia herself. I doubt the mobiks will be taken in by the Kremlin’s referendum bullshit. Unfortunately, Putin’s tactical orders are to defend every inch of the new Russian lands. The unfortunate mobiks will either die in place or surrender en masse.