Ukraine Update: The outsized importance of the heroic defense of tiny BohorodychneAugust 2, 2022
Ukraine’s map is full of little towns that led unremarkable, mostly agricultural lives until war was foisted on them. I previously wrote about Dovhen’ke, which stymied Russian forces pushing down from Izyum for two months before finally surrendering its remaining rubble to Russia on June 4. Yet in the nearly two months since, Russia hasn’t been able to advance past the town—a pattern we see time and time again: Russia runs itself ragged capturing some insignificant point on the map, and is then left with little in the tank for further gains.
Bohorodychne, pre-war population 794, is one of those towns, not too far from Dothan’ke.
The slice of map above hasn’t changed in the two months since Dovhen’ke fell. (If you don’t believe me, look for yourself.) In that entire time, Bohorodychne has been under near-daily assault, resisting what was supposedly the largest concentration of Russian forces in all of Ukraine. How did it manage that?
Here’s a satellite image of the village:
The town has two features that have assisted in its defense. To the north, the Siversky Donets river presents a natural barrier to an assault from that direction. Now if you look closely, you’ll note the second defensive feature—hills. There’s high ground both northwest of town, and east and southeast of it. By all indications, Russia held those northern heights, Ukraine held the eastern side. For two months, poor hapless Russian soldiers have been sent into the flat lands between those two heights where they are picked off by defenders.
Russia’s repeated efforts to capture the village has proven costly, and we can see just how costly for ourselves. Russia is known to have first reached Bohorodychne on June 11. Here we see Ukrainian defenders rushing to its defense.
Careful with the dates on these tweets—the date the event happened, and when video was uploaded to Telegram aren’t necessarily the same. I figure it just gives us a general time frame, taking other cues into consideration, like the state of foliage.
Anyway, here is Ukrainian M777 howitzer artillery hammering Russian positions at the base of the hill northwest of the village, perhaps a few days later:
Note that in any army, airborne or airmobile troops are considered elite. This suggests that Ukraine took defense of the town seriously, sending some of its best troops to man it.
You might remember this video, which was geolocated to Bohorodychne:
The beginning of the video is mind-blowing—four tanks lie incapacitated after hitting land mines. There’s a gap between two, so a fifth tank decides why not? Well, that opening is also mined. Best of all, only one of the tanks appears fully destroyed, the rest had blown tracks and were hopefully captured by Ukraine for refitting and later reuse. (More video and pictures here.)
Perhaps a week later, in the exact same location, a notorious Russian source claimed their tanks ambushed a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier:
By all indications, this was Russia’s highlight of the battle for Bohorodychne.
From video we know that Russia attempted to move infantry through the woods at the base of the Ukrainian-occupied hills. This very graphic video is here, so forwarned if you click through. Given their identification documents, they traveled a long way to die, from the Kuril Islands in the Pacific. These are the very same islands Japan claims. Apparently, they could just waltz in today if they wanted.
Still, by mid-July, Russia held the town, though maybe “held” needs to be wrapped in scare quotes:
This footage shows a Russian armored vehicle parking inside a civilian structure on the southern edge of what is by now a ghost town. It then gets blown up. At the same time, we know that Ukraine still holds positions in those hills east of the village because we have video of Russian TOS-1 thermobaric missile barrages on those positions:
The video of that barrage, from a Russian source, gives a great view of the terrain. The TOS-1 has a range of only four kilometers, so it makes sense that Russia would have to hold that southern edge of town to make use of it.
This Russian position is also in the southern edge of the village:
That’s not an “ammo depot,” not even the Russians are stupid enough to place one directly on the front line. It actually looks like Russians set up shop next to fertilizer storage, which is why part of the explosion burns orange. It certainly makes for great dramatic footage.
Sometime mid-July, Ukraine dealt more losses against the invaders:
Note that only one of those armored vehicles and a Tigr-M (like a Hummer) are new. The others are destroyed husks from other attacks detailed above. Russian reports on that failed attack also revealed losses from an unspecified earlier assault:
Cool visuals in this news report of the Ukrainian airmobile unit defending the village, along with the anxiety-inducing sound of artillery and small-arms fire in the background. Definitely makes me wish I spoke Ukrainian:
This suggests than rather than occupy the heights of the hills, infantry with anti-tank weapons patrol the forest at the base, ambushing armor or infantry attempting to advance.
I started digging for these tweets, then realized @Danspiun had already done it. He is one of the guys helping catalogue equipment losses for the Oryx database. His final equipment losses from these tweets:
11 armored personnel carriers
4 unknown armored vehicles (APCs or Tanks)
2 Tigr-M damaged
1 armored personnel carrier
1 Unknown tank
A full-strength Russian BTG, on paper, has 10 tanks and 40 armored personnel carriers. At the very least, Russia has lost one, and maybe 1½ BTGs worth of tanks at this town. Ukraine hasn’t been unscathed, but by all indication it has been a lopsided fight. We don’t know how many Russians have been killed or wounded here, but those equipment number (and the one video of dead Russians I included above) suggests the number is significant.
Now @Danspiun doesn’t think Russia has withdrawn from the area, disagreeing with other OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysts that have concluded that Russia has left, along with the now-gone pontoon bridge once supplying this axis. I’ve written about the confusing situation here, and it does seem that the preponderance of the evidence suggests Russia is gone..
Ukrainian General Staff last reported ground assaults on Bohorodychne on July 23 and 26, so almost a week since the last assault. And while artillery barrages show up regularly, they seem less frequent in recent weeks (coinciding with the general reduction in Russian artillery post-HIMARS arrival).
Holding Bohorodychne has been a great tactical success, but what does it mean strategically? It means that Russia’s push toward the twin stronghold cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk is stuck. And if Russia can’t get through this insignificant spot on the map, how is it supposed to 1) reach Sloviansk with even longer supply lines, and 2) occupy the cities with a combined pre-war population of 250,000?
Bohorodychne opened up lots of tactical possibilities! They could move south to cut off Ukrainian defenders just south of Dovhen’ke. They could threaten that little Ukrainian salient to the east, protected by the river. They could erect a pontoon bridge to better supply that axis of attack.
Now, none of that is happening. We’ve reported rumors that Russia is emptying out the Izyum approach to reinforce Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts in the south. If you see any vehicles in the south with the “V” marking, those were all formerly in Izyum. Maybe Russia has a few more gasps left in this area, but the front hasn’t moved since Dovhen’ke fell on June 4.
Given that this area, at one time, had the highest concentration of Russian forces in the entire country, it’s embarrassing that the two little towns of Dovhen’ke and Bohorodychne—neither larger than 800 souls before the war— broke their advance.
Speaking of Dovhen’ke, something may have happened. Back on July 28, General Staff reported a Russian assault from Dovhen’ke:
In the Slovyansk direction, with the aim of finding weak points in the defense of our units, the occupiers conducted assaults in the Dovhenke—Mazanivka [direction].
Here is their report from last night:
In the Slovyansk direction, the enemy used artillery to shell the areas of the settlements of Slovyansk, Andriyivka, Dolyna, Dovhenke, Kurulka, Husarivka, Adamivka, Bohorodychne, Krasnopillya, Karnaukhivka, Chervone, Semilanne, Hrushuvaha, and Chervona Polyana. [Emphsis mine]
Remember General Staff code—they won’t necessarily announce when towns change hands, but you can read between the lines. Why would Russia shell Dovhen’ke if they still had control of that rubble?