Satellite images and first-hand accounts have provided a fuller picture of multiple and disastrous efforts by Russian forces to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in eastern Ukraine over the past week.
New videos and image analysis from drones and satellites show that the Russians may have lost up to 70 armored vehicles and other equipment while trying to cross the river earlier this week. Their objective was to try to encircle the Ukrainian defenses in the Lugansk region, but this failed spectacularly.
In its account of the battle, the Ukrainian 80th Assault Brigade said it had “destroyed the pontoons and foiled nine crossing attempts”.
He 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 video showing Russian equipment strewn along a track north of the river, as well as half-submerged tanks.
It is clear that the Ukrainians had previously determined where the Russians were likely to try to drop the pontoons and observed the approach of the Russian units. Reconnaissance of possible crossing points had begun at least two days before the Russian attempt.
The Siverskyi Donets is sinking rapidly and the Russians appear to have needed motorized tugs to attempt to complete the bridge. The noise was a further clue to Ukrainian units that an attempt to ford the river was underway.
In its account, the 80th Brigade states that “despite heavy casualties, the enemy still managed to break through … gaining a foothold on the northern outskirts of one of the settlements.” At least 30 Russian vehicles and infantry made the crossing.
Other Ukrainian officials say the Russian units that crossed, north of the village of Bilohorivka, were pinned down.
“Fierce and intense fighting lasted about two days,” the 80th Brigade said on its Facebook page. “The paratroopers destroyed an entire Battalion-Tactical Group (BTG) of 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 including what may have been destroyed among the equipment that made it through.
In its analysis of the episode, the Institute for the Study of War said “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 execute a full-scale crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River,” he added.
Mick Ryan, a former Australian Armed Forces Major General who studies the Ukraine conflict, tweeted: “The Russians clearly intended to invest in this axis and throw a lot of combat power into it.
“Therefore, this is probably a bigger setback for the Russians than some have assumed,” Ryan said in a post on his verified Twitter account.
“It probably caused not just one BTG, but probably an entire brigade to lose a lot of combat power.”
“It is important to note that the Russians lost the rare engineer bridging equipment (and probably also the combat engineers). These resources are neither cheap nor available in large quantities. And they are in high demand during a offensive.”
The Russians’ inability to advance from the north across the river likely slowed their offensive at Luhansk, which for now depends on troops moving from the east and south across front lines that have moved little in one month.