The war's focus has turned to Ukrainian forces holed up inside the Azot chemical plant in the Donbas city of Severodonetsk. Image: Twitter

Asia Times is initiating a near-daily Ukraine war situation report based on multiple military and think tank sources. It’s our unvarnished bid to cut through the propaganda and misinformation of all sides that contribute to the fog of war.

Summary and Overview

Heavy Mariupol-style fighting localized on the “Azot” chemical fertilizer plant continues in Severodonetsk in the Donbas salient. Militarily, it is senseless. But apparently someone on the Ukrainian side believes it makes sense politically.

Lower intensity but strategically more relevant engagements continue northwest and northeast of Sloviansk and out of the Popasna area in the direction of Bakhmut. Russia’s capture of the two transportation hubs would narrow the Donbas escape corridor for Ukrainian forces estimated at 15,000–20,000 to less than 20 kilometers.

Military activity in the Northeast (Kharkiv) and South (Kherson) is limited to continual dispersed artillery fire by Russian forces.

Mikhail Podolyak, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told the BBC on Thursday that Ukraine is losing between 100 to 200 troops daily in the battle for the Donbas, updating Zelensky’s earlier estimate of 60–100 losses per day.

Lyudmila Denisova, the now-former Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, has been removed by the Ukrainian Parliament for falsifying claims of rapes. 

Lyudmila Denisova ‘exaggerated’ Russian rape claims. Image: Screengrab / Euronews

The Ukrainian Parliament noted that her work on sexual assaults by Russian troops “couldn’t be confirmed with evidence … and distracted the global media from Ukraine’s real needs.” The only interesting aspect regarding this matter is the sickening silence of most of the Western press.

A report by Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials leaked to the UK’s The Independent reveals that Ukrainian troops are suffering massive losses as they are outgunned 20 to one in artillery and 40 to one in ammunition by Russian forces.

The report also says that for the first time since the war began, there is now concern over desertions. The worsening situation in the Donbas is having “a seriously demoralizing effect on Ukrainian forces as well as a very real material effect; cases of desertion are growing every week.”

Like the concerns raised two days ago regarding the veracity of US intelligence officials’ claims that they are in the dark about Ukrainian military moves and intentions (frankly, The Situation considers that a bald-faced lie), there are doubts about the intelligence report cited by The Independent.

US intelligence likely claims ignorance so as not to be blamed for intelligence failures at a later stage and the report on outgunned and deserting Ukrainian soldiers, while probably true, may well have as its main purpose to manufacture “we told you so” evidence.

Center/East

In Severodonetsk, Ukrainian forces are using the Azot plant as their fighting position, much as they did in Mariupol with the Azovstal plant. Little will remain of the plant and the people in it after Russian artillery fire puts an end to militarily useless and morally repugnant Ukrainian leadership calls for resistance to the last man.    

US sources report that west of the Donets River Russian forces continue to attempt to push through the town of Toshivka, about 8 miles south-southeast of the center of Lysychansk, the twin city of Severodonetsk. If they can push through Toshivka, they will have a substantially simpler approach to Lysychansk, as it is on the same side of the Donets River.

Russian forces out of Izyum continue to push slowly southeast towards Slovyansk and have made some small gains in the last 24 hours. According to one Russian military-associated blog, two small towns due north of Slovyansk–Tetyanivka and Pryshyb – have been captured.  

Russia is also pressuring Raihorodok from the northeast. Once the siege of the Azot facility is over, it can be expected that pressure on Sloviansk from the north and from Popasna in the south will increase to achieve closure of the Donbas salient.

South

New Russian troops reinforced by tanks are being rotated into the Kherson region. Artillery fire continued across much of the line of contact in the south. However, in The Situation’s judgment, a Russian offensive in the south with the aim of moving on Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv is not likely in the cards this month.

Kiev, meanwhile, has rejected a proposed Russia-Turkey brokered plan to de-mine a channel out of Odesa to allow Ukrainian grain to be shipped out. Kiev termed the deal “not credible.”

As for the most telling and impactful development this past week, an American fellow analyst and commentator picked the dismissal of Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Denisova and her testimony that her goal in making up gang rape stories by Russian soldiers, where she said:

“Indeed, maybe I exaggerated … When, for example, I spoke in the Italian parliament at the Committee on International Affairs, I heard and saw such fatigue from Ukraine, you know? I talked about terrible things in order to somehow push them to make the decisions that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people need … I conveyed everything that the applicants wanted to say to society and the world; that the enemies, the Russian Federation, be punished. Yes, then this vocabulary was very harsh, we discussed it … I said that, indeed, maybe I exaggerated. But I tried to achieve the goal of convincing the world to provide weapons and pressure [Russia].”

Obviously, what she did undermines the credibility of the entire Ukrainian government, President Zelensky included. All is fair in love and war? The quip by Elizabethan period writer of comedies John Lyly (careful, the multiple “y”s are not significant) may be a bit over the top in this case.