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Drones, planes, and airborne troops go into action The changing shape of the battle for Bakhmut and Avdiivka on our updated combat map
Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Meduza has adopted a consistent antiwar position, holding Russia responsible for its military aggression and atrocities. As part of this commitment, we regularly update an interactive map that documents combat operations in Ukraine and the damage inflicted by Russia’s invasion forces. Our map is based exclusively on previously published open-source photos and videos, most of them posted by eyewitnesses on social media. We collect reports already available publicly and determine their geolocation markers, adding only the photos and videos that clear this process.
Meduza doesn’t try to track the conflict in real time; the data reflected on the map are typically at least 48 hours old.
Developments as of April 12, 2023, 8 p.m. GMT (3 p.m. EDT)
Contrary to what numerous experts predicted, a Ukrainian counteroffensive did not materialize in the first ten days of April; meanwhile, the Russian offensive is not yet over. Wagner Group has continued its advance into Bakhmut — in recent days, Ukraine’s Armed Forces have controlled only the city’s western outskirts. Further north, in the forests near Kreminna, Russia resumed its airborne offensive and was able to capture several more Ukrainian positions. Face-to-face combat is ongoing around the city of Avdiivka, on the northern outskirts of Donetsk. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are attempting to flank Russian troops as they bypass fortified areas in Avdiivka, while the Russian army keeps trying to surround the city. Even on segments of the front that appeared completely hopeless for Russia, where its offensive long seemed to have ground to a halt (like a small section near the villages of Novoselivsk and Kuzemivka in the Luhansk region, where a local battle that started last fall finally ended in a small victory for the Ukrainian forces), Russia’s Armed Forces are once again active.
The Russian army has not achieved great successes in any of these battles, except, perhaps, for the battle for Bakhmut, but they do show that the Russian command is not yet ready to give up. The nature of the fighting has changed, however: both sides are increasingly using “suicide drones” to damage the other side’s equipment, artillery, air defense installations, trenches, and even personnel.
Video of drones crashing into their targets now accounts for up to half of the information coming from the front lines. (The other half includes UAV ammunition strikes, incoming artillery strikes, skirmishes in towns and forests, and footage of the military moving while under fire.) The prevalence of drone usage may be slightly distorted by the fact that drone footage is better in quality than video from the trenches, but it’s clear that drones have become a critical part of operations. Moreover, drones are equipped with thermal imaging cameras that can be used at night. Drones have also been, at times, an effective tool for isolating a battlefield, making it nearly impossible to bring in reinforcements and supplies or to evacuate the wounded. In previous wars, air power could solve those problems.
Russian air power has, nonetheless, returned to the battlefield, after a year of almost total disuse. The first massive air strikes (including high-caliber bombs converted for guided high-precision strikes) began in March in Avdiivka.
In April, the Russian Aerospace Forces launched attacks on multiple sectors: in the forests near Kreminna, in Vuhledar, on all the front lines in the Zaporizhzhia region, and on the western bank of the Dnipro in the Kherson region. This is probably due to the fact that Russia’s air forces have received new precision-guided munitions, and to the depletion of Ukraine’s air defenses.
Air power is weak compared to drones because airplanes launch bombs miles from the front, cannot conduct reconnaissance independently, and require ground support units to designate targets, not to mention their inability to attack moving targets. But piloted airplanes still pose a great danger because they can carry cheap and accurate long-range heavy munitions, and can attack targets far from the front lines. In just a few weeks, Russian Aerospace Forces have reportedly destroyed a significant part of Avdiivka, though fighting on the ground has not yet begun.
Russia’s Defense Ministry and Wagner Group founder Evgeny Prigozhin both say that the regular army, including its airborne units, has taken over Wagner Group positions on Bakhmut’s northwest and southwest sides. If true, this would allow Wagner Group to reduce the mercenary-powered segment of the front from 40 kilometers (24 miles) to 20 (12 miles) and to send the freed up troops to storm and encircle the city of Bakhmut. While it’s impossible to verify Prigozhin’s or the Defense Ministry’s claims, the Russian side has definitely intensified its assault on the city. Mercenaries have advanced on the Bakhmut-2 railway station and the grain elevator, pushing the Ukrainian defenders almost completely behind the railway into the city’s western quarter.
At the same time, Wagner Group has renewed its attacks on the southwest exit route from Bakhmut. Locals call this part of the city “the hill,” and several high-rises do, in fact, stand on a tall rise at the exit from the city. If mercenaries succeed in capturing them (and if they are not completely destroyed in the process), Wagner Group will gain the ability to shell all of the roads in the western part of Bakhmut from the buildings’ windows and roofs.
Wagner Group also continues to advance on a different, northwestern exit from the city, leading towards the village of Khromove. Ukraine’s main lifeline connecting troops in western Bakhmut to the Ukrainian “mainland” runs through the village.
Ukrainian sources report that Wagner Group has also renewed attacks on Khromove itself, from the north, after halting those assaults in late March.
After losing important positions to the north of Avdiivka (the villages of Krasnohorivka and Novobakhmutivka), Ukraine’s Armed Forces have tried to flank the advancing Russian troops in the area around Novoselivka. Yet they seem to be unable to fully halt the Russian advance. Russian troops are trying to cross the railway that runs north from Avdiivka — it isn’t functional, but remains an important line of defense.
The Russian advance has been far less successful to Avdiivka’s southwest. The combat taking place in fields and forested areas between Vodyane, the base of the Russian army’s advance, and Sievernyi, where the Armed Forces of Ukraine defense is holding, resembles a “layer cake.” There’s no unified front, and it’s difficult to understand which patches of forest are held by Russian troops, and which by Ukrainian. The Russian army has not yet been able to reach Sievernyi, its closest target.
So far, everything indicates that the battle for Avdiivka will be a repeat of Bakhmut, both in duration and in intensity.
After a brief lull, the Russian offensive through the forest between Kreminna and Torske has resumed. It’s likely that Russian reserves, and in particular airborne forces, have reached the area. Those troops have, among other resources, heavy TOS-1 flamethrowers, which were previously available only to military command. Russian troops have occupied several clearings, pushing Ukraine’s defending army into the central part of the forest (an area often called “the grave of the unknown soldier”). The Ukrainian defense continues to hold, however. While fighting stays in the forest, Russian forces are very unlikely to break through to Yampil or the Sieversky Donets river, whence Russia could then threaten to encircle the Ukrainian formations.
The data reflected on the map are typically at least 48 hours old. Meduza is careful in working with data, but mistakes are still possible, and perhaps even inevitable. If you spot one, please let us know by sending an email to [email protected]. Thank you!
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