Ukraine faced a terrible tragedy on May 27. Russia’s invasion of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine began on that day, with the fall of Lyman, the last free town north of the Donets River. The Russian army was able to strengthen its position in Donbas and protect supply routes after taking Lyman.
To use a metaphor, Lyman was a domino. Severodonetsk, the last independent city east of the Donets, was destroyed as it fell. And with the fall of Severodonetsk, its twin city, Lysychansk, was also destroyed on the other side of the river.
In the nearly four months since then, the dominoes have begun to fall in the reverse direction. Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which began 100 kilometers northwest of Lyman, has freed a thousand square miles of northeast Ukraine in just two weeks.
1/ UTW – Operational Update: ZSU Counter Offensive in the Donbas, 04-10 Sep. The ZSU is engaged in what may likely become the most stunningly successful counteroffensive since the IDFs OPERATION GAZELLE during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. #ukrainecounteroffensive #UkraineWillWin pic.twitter.com/nrC8cg02ia
— Jomini of the West (@JominiW) September 10, 2022
The once-elite 1st Guard Tanks Army and other Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast have fled east across the Oskil River, leaving behind hundreds of vehicles and possibly thousands of wounded as they try to get away from a dozen eager Ukrainian battalions.
The Ukrainians have made it over the Oskil and are making their way south toward Lyman on the strength of aggressive air and artillery assistance. Paratroopers and territorials from different brigades in Kyiv are moving quickly toward Lyman from a different direction. A rope of sorts is being tightened around the necks of the Russians living there.
The stakes were laid out by the Institute for the Study of War in the nation’s capital. If the Ukrainians keep pushing east along the north bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, they could make it impossible for the Russians to hold their positions around Lyman. This would open the way to Lysychansk and, eventually, Severodonetsk.
This means that the Russians may soon lose much of the land that they fought so hard for throughout the summer.
Attackers have the upper hand because of the current force configuration in and around Lyman. One analyst estimated last week that there were just four Russian battalions present, most of which were motorized infantry. On the front lines, a battalion may only have a few hundred soldiers. The term “brigade” is used to describe a group of battalions.
According to ISW’s own analysis, the situation is significantly worse for the Russians. The think tank said that most of the Russian defenders in Lyman are still thought to be reservists and “the remnants of forces seriously hurt in the Kharkiv Oblast counteroffensive.”
The Russians “do not appear to be directing reinforcements from elsewhere in the theatre to these locations,” ISW said.
The latter shouldn’t be surprising. At its height a week ago, the Kharkiv counteroffensive ate up an entire Russian battalion every single day. The famed 1st Guard Tank Army had to retreat across the Oskil, losing at least half of its approximately 200 T-80 tanks in the process.
Even worse for Moscow was that the reserve 3rd Army Corps went to Kharkiv to stop the Ukrainian offensive, but they lost a few skirmishes and then joined the rest of the Russian army in retreat.
That is to say, the Kremlin exhausted its reserves, including the 3rd AC, in a fruitless effort to halt the initial Ukrainian offensive, leaving no resources to reinforce the Lyman garrison. Russia can’t field effective new units because it lacks trained young troops and sophisticated equipment. Not anytime soon, anyhow.
The Russians stationed in Lyman are outnumbered, cut off from support, and left to fend for themselves. The Russian troops in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk are probably paying close attention as the Second Battle of Lyman gets closer.