Where are all the Russians dying?

Ukrainian border guard scouting with a monocular near the Ukrainian border with Russia and with Belarus. November 3, 2022.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, 840 Russians died in combat on November 3. They took with them 16 tanks, 28 armored vehicles, and 17 artillery pieces. It’s an absolutely astounding tally for a single day’s combat. Only a day earlier, they recorded 730 deaths, 20 tanks, 27 vehicles, and 22 big guns. The day before that, it was another 800 deaths and 16 tanks, and they day before that …

These kind of huge number have been turning up daily for more than a month, ramping up from less than 200 reported deaths a day back in mid-September, to over 500, then over 600, then an almost solid stream of days between 700 and 950 reported deaths. Equipment losses have followed suit, with almost every category of loss increasing over that period.

These losses have been so great, that many seemed to assume that there was a “secret war” going on somewhere. Surely numbers like this meant that Ukraine was actually pushing deep into Kherson, or plunging through Russian lines near Svatove, There’s been an assumption that, when the source of all these numbers was eventually revealed, some whole new area of conflict would come to light along with it.

But as the days drag on, and those numbers remain high, the idea that there’s something going on unseen starts to seem a little silly. Ukrainian operational security has been tight, but no one’s OpSec is so good that they can disguise battles that have racked up 20,000 dead, on just the Russian side, over the course of five weeks. If the Ukrainian MOD is correct, more Russian’s have died than the whole pre-war population of Borova, or Lyman, or Svatove. So where did this happen?

The best answer seems to be that this massive number of deaths happened right out in front of everyone. Along the 150km eastern front that’s roughly centered on Bakhmut.

On Thursday, Ukraine reportedly launched a series of p[robing attacks along the northern line in Kherson, and conducted attacks at three reported locations in Khakiv. But here’s just one day’s record of Russian actions on the eastern flank of Russia’s invasion with Ukraine. On Thursday, Russia attacked: Bakhmut, Bakhmutske, Bilohorivka, Krasnohorivka, Mayorsk, Nevelske, Novomykolaivka, Opytne, Pavlivka, Pervomaiske, Prechystivka, Soledar, Spirne, Verkhnokamyanske, Vodyane, Vuhledar, and Yakovlivka.

These are not the locations that Russia shelled. There are far more of those. These are on the ground, actual assaults, with the intention of taking ground from Ukrainian defenders. This was also not one large, sweeping assault. Those are all individual actions. A few of them turned into slight gains. Some of them (*ahem* Soledar) were reportedly crushing defeats. None of them were made without losses. In addition to all the towns attacked above, Russia apparently organized a large, offensive in an attempt to push west of Pisky. Which also failed.

This was also not a particularly active day. The eastern front has been like this, day in and day out, while everyone (myself included) has been more interested in the big movements in Kharkiv, Kherson, northern Donetsk, and now Luhansk.

Where are those 20,000 dead Russians? On the ground, from about 50km north, to 100km south of Bakhmut. This is a place that has known not a moment of peace, and barely a moment that wasn’t in the midst of an active assault, for almost eight straight months.

Russia has advanced in the north, near Bilohorivka. Open in another tab for a closer look.

The most obvious point of Russia advance on the map may be at the very northern end of the line. Russian forces have pushed out from around Lysychansk to reach the edge of Bilohorivka, taking back area that Ukraine has (lightly) held since shortly after the liberation of Izyum. There seems to have been a general movement of Russian forces to the west in the whole area east of Siversk, though there don’t seem to have been any real exchange of villages or critical positions.

In the middle of this section is Spirne, where Ukrainian forces have been moving east over the last two weeks. Why Ukraine is pushing in at this point, and exactly how far this mini-salient extends, isn’t clear.

At the very southern end of this section, there was extremely heavy fighting near Soledar over the last three days. Multiple reports hint that this has not gone well for Russia, with very high casualties and loss of equipment. Some of those reports suggest Russia actually lost significant ground in this area (between 2 and 5km). Still waiting on confirmation.

Bakhmut Area. Open in another tab for a closer look.

South of Bakhmut, the line has straightened and shifted a bit to the west following a Russian offensive that now seems to have ground to a halt. Two weeks ago, Russian forces were repelled violently from Bakhmut itself, giving up weeks of grinding, high cost advances over the course of a two day Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russia then seemed to shift forces south, and succeeded in advancing west of Zaitseve, as well as well to the south near Toresk.

Russia now holds parts of the highway south of Bakhmut, which doesn’t really change anything in terms of supplies. It’s also not clear that it gives them any ability to shift forces more quickly, as all of this area is still under fire control from massed Ukrainian artillery. Russia clearly wanted to move far enough to gain another angle from which to attack Bakhmut, but it doesn’t seem they’ve succeeded, and their attacks in this area have stopped gaining ground.

The whole area continues to be a slugfest, with the biggest change being that Russia, more than ever, seems willing to pile up corpses — literally — in order to make even the most minimal advance.

When you think of those 20,000 Russians lost, think of them here. During the American Civil War, there were some battles were losses were high enough that survivors said it was possible to walk across portions of the battlefield without ever sitting a foot on ground. That’s what’s going on near Bakhmut. That’s where those numbers are coming from.

Barring any big developments, those who tune in on Saturday are going to get the first part of the Field Guide to Drones of Ukraine — it had to be broken into parts, as it ran right through the limits of how long a post can be, and those are some pretty big limits. In any case, here’s someone else’s breakdown of a drone that has dominated the news since it reached Ukraine, but which may soon be of secondary importance. 

The Washington Post has an extensive article looking at why their don’t believe Russia will surrender Kherson without a massive battle.

The Kherson region forms the last crucial component of the “land bridge” from mainland Russia to Crimea that Putin has coveted ever since Moscow invaded the peninsula and annexed it illegally in 2014. And the inability to reach Crimea by road was a main reason Putin spent $4 billion to build the Crimean Bridge across the Kerch Strait.


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