Ukraine’s northeastern front could decide new battle lines – Times of India

KUPIANSK (UKRAINE): A tanker Ukrainian infantry speeds to a target position marked with a metal plate. The soldiers climb down, throw grenades and let out a crack of machine gun fire. Then they repeat the moves, getting faster with each iteration.
It’s just an exercise. But with the sounds of real war rumbling just seven kilometers (four miles) away, this daily training underscores the high stakes on Ukraine’s northeastern front, where military officials are making a long-awaited Russian offensive has already begun, with fighting that could determine the next phase of the conflict.
Time is of the essence here, so speed and cohesion are the goal of the exercises that combine the reserve tank and the infantry assault units.
“Synchronization will be important to halt Russian offensives towards Ukrainian defense lines,” said Colonel Petro Skyba, commander of the 3rd Separate Tank Iron Brigade.
Debilitating artillery battles have intensified in recent weeks near Kupiansk, a strategic city on the eastern edge of Kharkiv province on the banks of the Oskil River.
The Russian attacks are part of an increasingly intensive effort to conquer the entire industrial heartland known as the Donbas, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. It would be a much-needed victory for the Kremlin as the war enters its second year.
The triumph in Kupiansk could determine the future lines of attack for both sides: if Russia manages to penetrate Ukrainian Armed Forces west of the river, it would pave the way for a significant offensive further south, where the administrative borders of Luhansk and Donestk converge.
If Ukraine’s defense holds, it could expose Russian vulnerabilities and enable a counter-offensive.
The Associated Press spoke of the fighting with generals, commanders and soldiers of three brigades in the Kupiansk area, as well as civilians in the city affected by the heavy fighting.
“The enemy is constantly increasing its efforts, but our troops are also increasing their efforts there, providing timely replacements and holding up the defense,” said Brigadier General Dmytro Krasylnkov, head of Kharkiv’s military administration.
In the towns and villages in the path of the fighting, homes have been razed to the ground by continuous Russian bombardments, with some homes repeatedly hit.
Citizens wait for food in the cold and line up to receive rations of milk and materials to cover shattered windows.
“We have nothing to do with this war, so why are we paying the price?” asked Oleksandr Luzhan, whose mother’s house was hit twice.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian soldiers put a rocket launcher in the combat position, aiming the weapons in accordance with the coordinates sent by their commanders. They are waiting for the final order.
Seconds turn into minutes. Snow falls silently in thick wet clumps near a shriveled sunflower field.
“Firework!” — a volley of missiles shoot into the air at Russian targets, often armored personnel carriers or tanks. To escape any counter-attack, the servicemen of the 14th brigade of the Ukrainian army pack up and leave, rolling away in the Soviet-era BM-21 “Grad”.
There are no quick victories along the northeastern front, said Vitaly, the operation’s gunner, who gave only his first name in accordance with Ukrainian military protocols. “It’s war – someone is retreating, someone is moving forward. Every day there is a change of position.”
Russia stepped up attacks earlier in February after sending three major divisions to the area. The fighting is taking place northeast of Kupiansk, where Kremlin troops have gone on the offensive with marginal territorial gains.
Ukrainian fortifications have so far deterred major advances, senior Ukrainian military officials said.
For Russia, the Kupiansk operation serves two purposes: expelling Ukrainian troops from settlements along the provincial borders would enable the capture of Luhansk province.
Pushing back Ukrainian troops west of the Oskil River and trapping them there would create a new line of defense and prevent deployment to the critical Svatove-Kreminna line further south, where a separate Russian offensive is under way to destroy the Donestk region by reclaiming abandoned posts in Lyman. . Svatove, occupied by Moscow last spring, is located 60 kilometers southeast of Kupianske.
Ukrainian troops are counting on better coordination between infantry and tank units to deny Russia the chance to break through Ukrainian lines.
Ukrainian troops still control settlements in Luhansk, near the border with Kharkiv.
A shortage of artillery and ammunition is a major problem on this front, where the landscape is heavily forested, small villages are separated by vast farmlands, and Ukrainian soldiers are fired on for up to nine hours on some days.
Long-range weapons would contribute to faster victories in such an environment, Krasylnkov said.
Serhii, an infantry soldier with the 92nd Brigade who also used only his first name, said an ammunition shortage derailed his unit’s ability to advance and occupy enemy positions.
“They can take 40 shots in our direction and we can return two rounds on target,” he said. “They have quantity, but we are more efficient.”
The coming months will be crucial, he predicted. The Russians clearly want to “cut us off from the Oskil River. They want to make sure we push back our troops… and they can occupy the entire area along the river from Kupiansk to Kreminna.”
“But we don’t allow this,” he said.
In the rubble of a destroyed house where a group of soldiers had lain, lay the severed hand of a Ukrainian soldier. Russian reconnaissance drones spotted the soldiers and on February 17 an S-300 missile split the house in two.
Olena Klymko lives next door. The strike shattered her windows and damaged her roof.
The Russian bombing of Kupiansk, a city with a pre-war population of 27,000, has become so frequent that “every time we go to sleep, we pray to God that we wake up in the morning,” she said.
Sometimes the attacks seem to have clear targets that soldiers pass through. Other times they are random.
The shelling is even more intense in the outskirts of Kupiansk, closer to the Russian lines where access to supplies is also limited.
Residents of the border village of Vovchansk drive three hours to a makeshift bridge over the Pechenizhske reservoir leading to Kharkiv.
It’s the only way they can collect supplies, residents said. They rarely leave their homes, afraid of the intense shelling.
But like many Ukrainians who live in similar danger zones along the 1,000-kilometer front line, most are unwilling to leave their hometowns for good.
In the village of Zelena, dozens of elderly residents waited under a bus shelter amid heavy snowfall for a food truck.
“Today is a quiet day, thank God,” said Victoria Bromska as she drove her food package home.
Luzhan picked up wooden planks and other items supplied by a Swiss relief group called Witch/Eper to seal off his mother’s house. About a quarter of those seeking the group’s shelter packages in Kupiansk come for a second time. The kits increase the indoor temperature in battered houses,
The home targeted in the February 17 attack belonged to an elderly woman whose children had evacuated her to Kharkiv. Despite the risks, it is customary to provide resting places for Ukrainian servicemen, Klymko said.
“How can we say no? she asked. “They’re out there fighting for us.”

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