June 20, 2024

The war in Ukraine nearly two years on

Nearly two years have passed since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022.

The conflict in Ukraine has displaced over 6 million Ukrainian refugees and led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and military personnel.

Initial U.S. intelligence estimates prior to the invasion predicted the Ukrainian capital Kyiv would fall within days of Russian troops pouring through the border. Fierce resistance from the Ukrainian military and a steady supply of aid from the United States and its allies proved fruitful in preventing a swift Russian victory.

“Most policy analysts that I had spoken to when this all started gave Ukraine three to six months of fighting tops, and then Russia would prevail,” said Dr. Martin Claar, an assistant professor of political science at the university. 

A Ukrainian T-72AV tank maneuvers during the Kharkiv Counteroffensive in late 2022. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

Though Russia succeeded in capturing numerous cities and settlements throughout Ukraine, particularly in the south where Russian forces from Crimea occupied the vital city of Kherson in early 2022, their inability to capture Kyiv prompted several military commentators to remark on the apparent ineptitude of the Russian Armed Forces.

“Russian units are not fighting as BTGs (battalion tactical groups). They’re not doing combined arms warfare,” said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an expert on the Russian military. “They’re driving down roads in small detachments, pushing recon and VDV (Russian Airborne Forces) units forward. Tanks without infantry. It’s not going well for them because this isn’t how they organize and fight.”

By the end of 2022, Ukrainian counter-offensives led to the liberation of Kherson, as well as most of Kharkiv Oblast.

Then on June 7, 2023, the Ukrainian military began its long-awaited summer counteroffensive. What was planned to be a decisive blow against Russia’s southern forces instead turned into a grueling slog against extensive Russian fortifications and resistance. 

The village of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, originally planned to be liberated in less than a week, instead took several weeks to retake.

After Ukrainian troops successfully recaptured the village in August, the offensive gradually wound down, failing to have reached its objectives of liberating the cities of Tokmak and Melitopol.

By the end of 2023, Ukraine shifted into a defensive posture as Russia began an offensive into the city of Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast. Despite possessing an overwhelming superiority in both equipment and manpower, the Russian military found itself bogged down against dogged Ukrainian resistance from the city.

A graph depicting the numbers of visually-confirmed vehicle losses for both sides of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Graphic by Marvin Wurr.

According to the Frontelligence Insight team, a group of Ukrainian military analysts, “[the Russians] sustained disproportionately higher losses in vehicles and personnel than the defenders of Avdiivka.”

Despite these losses, the team notes the Russians managed to gain a foothold in the city by January, thus threatening the Ukrainian defense.

Last Friday, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi announced he had ordered a withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka, citing the threat of a Russian encirclement.

“No one likes unpopular decisions. Withdrawal of personnel is not the case, heroic defense is. You can get a promotion for that,” said Viktor Biliak, a soldier with Ukraine’s 110th Mechanized Brigade, the unit in charge of defending Avdiivka. “There were two attempts to withdraw. On the first night, Feb. 14, the top ten left. They had to engage in a small arms battle. The artillery was already brought in. Only three wounded made it back. And if two of them made it back in the dark. The last one was evacuated in the morning. I and three other volunteers carried him. And daytime is not the right time for movements, and even such heavy ones. And as a natural result. From one wounded, there were four more of us.”

The Frontelligence Insight team notes ammo shortages, particularly in the form of artillery shells, will prove a major obstacle for Ukrainian operations in the coming months.

“I think the next six months are going to determine whether this protracts out to three or four years or whether it ceases in six months,” said Claar. “If the western powers can get their act together and provide the military assistance, monetary assistance; if the U.S. electorate makes particular decisions in November, then we’ll see this continue. Ukraine will be able to continue to fight back. If we don’t, it will end sooner rather than later, and probably not well.”

Author

  • Marvin Wurr

    Marvin is a third-year English literature major. In his free time he enjoys hanging out with friends at bars and watching straight-to-DVD action flicks.

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