Stretching Russian forces thin Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive, trying to tax Russian reserves in Bakhmut and at the Belgorod border. Meduza’s 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.
Key updates as of 10:00 a.m. GMT (6:00 a.m. EDT) on June 3, 2023
The front lines have changed little in the past week. In the Bakhmut region, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) continue their attempts to break through to the north and south of the city, but there are ever fewer attempts as the days pass. The lack of activity is due in part to heavy rains that fell on May 30 along the entire line of contact.
The situation is shifting in the combat theater, however. Ukraine is attempting to open a new front along the internationally recognized border with Russia, with the aim of forcing Russia’s Armed Forces to spend reserves covering it. Even the AFU’s minimally successful offensive near Bakhmut and Wagner Group’s departure from the area has forced Russian command to transfer reserves there, including forces who were supposed to be covering the border.
The Ukrainian army is “stretching” Russian forces is preparation for a large offensive, for which Ukraine’s military has assembled over 20 shock brigades. None of these brigades has so far appeared at the front.
Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi has said that Russia changed its tactics in the Bakhmut region following the departure of Wagner forces. They storm AFU positions less, and rely more on artillery fire. “It might seem like a lull. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary,” he said. The general believes that the normal Russian troops that replaced Wagner fighters may go on the offensive again.
The AFU, which started its local offensives on the northern and southern flanks of the Bakhmut front in early May, has managed in recent days to liberate just a few forested parcels in the Klischiivka area (Russia’s main fortified area to Bakhmut’s south) and near Zaliznianske, close to the Bakhmut–Kramatorsk highway on the northern flank. Video footage from these areas shows that Russian troops do, in fact, rely on artillery power to repel Ukrainian attacks.
Although the AFU didn’t manage to quickly pierce Russian defenses, the Ukrainian offensive near Bakhmut, along with the withdrawal of tens of thousands of Wagner fighters) has been important. Russian command continues to transfer reserves in that direction. For example, the 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Northern Fleet, which previously fought near Kharkiv and then covered the border in Russia’s Belgorod region, has been operating to the north of Bakhmut for several weeks.
A group of far-right Russian nationals from the Russian Volunteer Corps, along with fighters from the Freedom of Russian Legion, continued their attacks from Ukraine across the border in the Belgorod region. Judging by the fact that the groups used heavy equipment and artillery belonging to the AFU, they were likely operating under Ukrainian military command (and possibly the Main Intelligence Directorate).
The attacks have not yet resulted in the groups capturing any Russian territory. It’s likely that they have a different goal, in any case — they had too little force to take territory, operating with just several hundred people and a few dozen pieces of equipment. Ukrainian leadership’s goal is to “revive” a few hundred meters of the front that was frozen after Russia’s withdrawal from the Sumy and Kharkiv regions.
Repeated attacks and shelling increase political pressure on Russian command. The only way they can stop the attacks is to reestablish a buffer zone in Ukraine’s Sumy and Kharkiv regions. But they can only accomplish this with a new invasion over the border.
This means that Russia’s Armed Forces will have to remove reserves from the current fronts and send them to a strategically useless (for Russia) area. At the same time, large auxiliary forces from the Western Military District, including artillery, aviation, and air defenses, are already involved in fighting at the border. They may still not be enough for troops in the area in the event of a Ukrainian offensive in the Svatove and Kreminna area.
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!