Analysis: Ukrainian defenses remain strong


Editor’s note: Jeffrey Owens is a Jeffersonville native, a 1995 graduate of Miami Trace High School and 2000 graduate of Ohio University.

As a life-long history buff, Owens published Victory In Europe; A People’s History of the Second World War, a more than 700 page analysis of World War 2 in Europe in 2015. Since 2015, Owens has hosted more than a dozen educational symposiums on a variety of military history topics at the Grove City Library.

Once Russia invaded Ukraine, Owens applied his love of history and writing to the topic, and transformed his personal Facebook page into an educational blog about the war. Utilizing in-depth research and his knowledge of military history, Owens has provided a unique coverage of the war from multiple angles through his writing.

Owens is a resident of New Holland, is married and the father of two children. His son Luke is currently completing his freshman year at Miami Trace.

The following is Owens’ 13th Ukraine analysis entry published on April 21:

Under heavy artillery cover, Russian forces advanced all along the entire Donetsk-Luhansk line on April 18 in what Russian and Ukrainian officials both confirmed was the beginning of Putin’s offensive to overrun the Donbas. Significant ground assaults were focused against the Donetsk towns of Rubizhne, Popasna, and Marinka, and although several small frontline villages have fallen, no major gains have yet been achieved.

Donetsk is currently the most strategic oblast in Ukraine. Divided into twenty-four oblasts, Ukraine is a unitary state with each oblast having its own elected legislative and executive bodies while remaining under the umbrella constitution of Ukraine. With a population of 4 million spanning across 16,000 square miles, Donetsk is heavily industrialized and is home to multiple cities ranging from Mariupol, Horlivka, to Makiivka, with the largest being Donetsk City with a pre-war population of 1 million.

In February 2014 the pro-Russian Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, who essentially was Putin’s puppet governor, was chased out of office but resurfaced in Russia claiming to head the Ukrainian government in exile. Multiple Russian speaking regions of the Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, both of which border Russia, declared their independence from Ukraine as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), along with their allegiance to Yanukovych. Since 2014 both the DPR and LPR have been heavily militarized, infiltrated by Russian armed forces, and their populations put through “filtration” to weed out those still loyal to Ukraine.

Both the DPR and LPR have served as crucial launching points for the current war on Ukraine, as this front has seen nearly nonstop frontal assaults by Russian and Russian proxy forces against Ukrainian defensive lines. Although limited gains have been made, as of April 18, all of Luhansk if fully under Russian control, while approximately 60% of Donetsk is under occupation. Each of the major cities of Donetsk, Horlivka, Makiiyka and Donetsk City, have fallen into Russian and DPR’s control, while the last few bastions of Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol continue to hold out.

Putin’s strategy would appear to be the encirclement and capture of the remaining 40% of Donetsk, and to then sue for peace via a negotiated ceasefire to keep his gains as part of the deal. This projected encirclement is likely to come from two directions. The Russian 1st Tank Army advancing south from Izyum will cut east at some point in an attempt to envelop Ukrainian forces holding the Luhansk line. Simultaneously, Russian forces all along the Donetsk-Luhansk front continue their frontal assaults against Ukrainian defenses, attempting to break through and reach the 1st Tank Army to close the encirclement.

The likelihood of success remains slim as the Russians continue to practice little accepted operational art of battle. The multiple units pulled out of the Kyiv front and redeployed to Donetsk-Luhansk were badly battered and required and operational pause of at least one to two months for reconstituting. This process is complicated as it takes time for units to consolidate, identify the number of soldiers fit for battle, assess how many soldiers will be needed to bring the unit up to strength, and account for the combat readiness of equipment. All this needs to happen before a consolidated unit is even ready to accept replacements and be effective in battle.

No such pause was taken, and ever since the Kyiv front was withdrawn, those units have been thrown piecemeal into front line combat against Ukrainian Donetsk-Luhansk defensive lines, and countless lives and equipment have been wasted. In doing so, the Russian command has squandered much of what could have been their striking power, had those units been held in reserve, reconstituted properly, and collectively concentrated in a centralized attack.

Additionally the command and control of the Russian military remains exceptionally poor. The Russians have yet in this war to complete a single successful strategic envelopment, not to mention an operation that employs multiple patchwork units advancing multi-directionally through both enemy territory and established defensive lines.

Meanwhile Russia and its proxy forces continue to slowly grind down the last remaining Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, who are holed up in the Azovstal Steel Works factory complex. Both the Mariupol defenders and remaining civilian population have been existing in desperation for weeks. Without power or incoming water or food, the population has had to survive on whatever supplies were stockpiled prior to the siege.

While tens of thousands of civilians have escaped, tens of thousands of others have fallen victim to forced deportation to Russia via filtration. Although an exact number can nowhere near be calculated, the death toll in Mariupol is well in the tens of thousands, with untold thousands more wounded and mentally traumatized. As of Monday April 18, Russian forces declared Mariupol “closed” so no further ceasefires and evacuation corridors for civilians can be expected.

In a desperate plea for international help to get women, children, and the bodies of dead soldiers out of Mariupol, Serhiy Volyn, the commander of the 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol, released a video statement. Volyn patriotically recounted the “super human efforts” and “great losses” of the Mariupol defenders. He spoke of wounded soldiers slowly dying in “unbearable torment” because supplies of “medicine, disinfectants and anesthesia are long exhausted.” Volyn alerted the world that many hundreds of women and children “including babies” were also holed up in the battle zone of the Azovstal factory, who were mostly “relatives of soldiers and are wanted by the Russians.”

In spite of their incredible efforts across fifty days of nonstop resistance, the heroic defenders of Mariupol simply cannot hold out indefinitely. Russian defenses around the city are dense and there is no Ukrainian force with the striking power to break through Russian lines to relieve the siege.

Mariupol is the last major city in the Donetsk Oblast still holding out, but if it falls, ten Russian battalions will be released from the siege to participate in further Donetsk operations. These Russian units however have suffered heavy casualties throughout the grinding campaign of urban warfare, and each of these battalions can only be expected to be at half strength at best. The remaining 100,000 civilians in basements and bomb shelters spread throughout Mariupol will likely all face filtration and forced deportation into Russia.

Ukrainian defenses however remain strong all along the eastern front of Ukraine and have successfully repelled daily attacks by the Russians since the beginning of the war. Additionally Ukrainian forces have been on the offensive both in the north from Kharkiv and the southeast against occupied Kherson. The Ukrainian people and armed forces have proven themselves again and again throughout this war and are prepared to not only fight to defend, but to fight to win in the Donbas.

For more, the link to Jeffrey Owens’ blog is

By Jeffrey Owens

Local History Writer

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