Satellite images and first-hand testimony have provided a more complete picture of the multiple and disastrous attempts by Russian forces to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in eastern Ukraine over the past week.
New video and analysis of drone and satellite images show that the Russians may have lost as many as 70 armored vehicles and other equipment trying to cross the river early this week. Their aim was to encircle the Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region, but failed spectacularly.
In its report of the battle, Ukraine’s 80th Separate Assault Brigade said it “destroyed the pontoons and thwarted nine crossing attempts”.
It claimed that “at least 73 units of equipment were destroyed, including T-72 tanks” and a variety of infantry fighting vehicles.
This count appears to be supported by analysis of drone videos showing Russian equipment strewn along a trail to the north of the river, as well as semi-submerged tanks.
It is clear that the Ukrainians had previously figured out where the Russians were likely to try to lay the pontoons and observed the approach of Russian units. The exploration of possible crossings had begun at least two days before the Russian attempt.
The Siverskyi Donets are flowing fast and the Russians seem to have needed motorized tugs to complete the bridge. The sound was a further indication to Ukrainian units that an attempt to ford the river was underway.
In its report, the 80th Brigade says that “despite heavy casualties, the enemy managed to break through … gain a foothold on the northern edge of one of the settlements.” At least 30 Russian vehicles and infantry made the crossing.
Other Ukrainian officials say Russian units that did cross the road were stranded north of the village of Bilohorivka.
“Fire, heavy fighting lasted about two days,” the 80th Brigade said on its Facebook page. “The paratroopers have destroyed an entire battalion tactical group (BTG) invaders!”
Open source analysis suggests this is likely true, with at least 30 infantry fighting vehicles counted among the wreckage at the pontoon site, not to mention what may have been destroyed beneath the equipment that did cross.
In its analysis of the episode, the Institute for the Study of War said that “Ukrainian forces likely inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces attempting to cross the Siverskyi Donets River.”
“Russian forces have probably lost the momentum needed to carry out a large-scale crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River,” it added.
Mick Ryan, a former Major General of the Australian Armed Forces who studies the Ukrainian conflict, tweeted: “The Russians clearly intended to invest in this ashes and throw a lot of combat power into it.
“As a result, this is probably a bigger setback for the Russians than some have speculated,” Ryan said in a message posted to his verified Twitter account.
“It probably caused not just a BTG, but probably an entire brigade to lose much of its combat power.”
“Importantly, the Russians lost scarce engineer bridging equipment (and probably combat engineers as well). These resources are not cheap, nor are they available in large quantities. And these are in high demand during an offensive.”
The Russians’ inability to advance across the river from the north likely delayed their offensive into Luhansk, which for the time being relies on troops from the east and south moving through front lines that have moved little in a month.