What happened in Vuhledar? A battle hints at Russia’s major military troubles – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

According to one report, nearly three dozen Russian tanks and armored vehicles were reduced to smoldering rubble. In another, up to 500 Russian soldiers may have been killed. Members of soldiers in a unit frantically exchange text messages and social media posts to find their loved ones.

More than two weeks after a major clash between Russian and Ukrainian forces, details are slowly emerging about exactly what happened in Vuhledar earlier this month.

According to Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials, Russian and Ukrainian military blogs, satellite photos and other open sources, a conglomeration of Russian marines and other units suffered catastrophic casualties trying to capture the Donetsk region city for the second time since November.

“If that’s not a war crime, then what is a war crime?” a russian telegram Kanal, known for its ties to the Wagner mercenary group, said in a scathing post that included aerial footage of the devastation apparently captured by Ukraine.

Here’s what you need to know about the Battle of Vuhledar and what it says about Russia’s fighting ability a year after its invasion.

So what is this city anyway?

Located less than 2 kilometers north of the town of Pavlivka, Vuhledar is a coal mining town with a pre-invasion population of 14,000 with drab Soviet-style apartment blocks set in flat, open countryside.

Russian forces have controlled Pavlivka since around November 2022, after units including the Pacific Fleet’s 155th Marine Brigade led an assault on its recapture by Ukrainian forces, which had seized it a few months earlier.

The naval units suffered such heavy losses that a group of marines published an open letter to the governor of Primorsky Krai in the Russian Far East, where the unit is based. The letter published on a well-known Russian military telegram Ripping into commanders, Kanal said 300 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in four days and half of the brigade’s equipment was destroyed.

SEE ALSO: Russia’s New Offensive Springs into Action as Ukraine Hits Back Hard

On November 14, the Russian Ministry of Defense explained The city was under Russian control.

After that, the front line between Pavlivka and Vuhledar remained more or less stable until late last month when Russian forces made another attempt.

Why does Russia want to control it?

The reason Russia seems to be a desirable Vuhledar is because of its size.

The city’s relatively high location makes it optimal for staging artillery and missile systems to threaten not only Pavlivka but also the east-west T-0509 highway, which leads to a larger highway linking the port of Mariupol and connects the big city of Donetsk.

ALSO SEE: Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine amid signs Russia is planning a war anniversary offensive

It also endangers a major railway line that can be used to supply troops in Donetsk and Mariupol, but also to deliver supplies west to Zaporizhia, which is under Russian control.

Some military analysts have speculated that Zaporizhia could be the focus of a planned Ukrainian counter-offensive.

What exactly happened in Vuledar?

Beginning in the last week of January, after weeks of rumors of Russian forces in the district, Russian units – units of the 155 – attacked Vuhledar again. A unit of mobilized soldiers from the Tatarstan region was also present attack.

It didn’t go well.

By the end of the first week of February, the Russian offensive had apparently stalled.

According to Rybar, a Telegram channel believed this close links According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Russian commanders then attempted a flanking attack from the north, but this failed in the face of heavy Ukrainian artillery and drone attacks from higher elevations and heavily mined approaches to the city.

According to estimates by the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia lost at least 130 armored vehicles, including 36 tanks, although some observers said these figures were likely exaggerated.

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar shell at Russian troops at a frontline position near Vuhledar on February 11.

But anecdotal reports circulating on Telegram, plus aerial photos and stills of fields near Vuhledar, showed large losses of equipment for Russian units, estimated at 20-40 tanks and other vehicles.

In an interview with the Russian website 7×7 published on February 13, a man was identified as a member of the 3rd company of the 155th brigade called that only eight members of the unit survived the attack and up to 500 soldiers may have been killed altogether.

“Those who survived are called deserters,” said the unnamed soldier. “It would have been better if I had been captured and just never returned. Moods are at their worst. You’ve already wasted 500 people, maybe more.”

Further indications of a possible major loss came on February 8th when a post was published on a VK Social media page titled Alga dedicated to Tatarstan Battalion, meaning “Forward” in Tatar.

“We extend our sincere condolences to the families of the Alga Battalion members killed in action on February 6, 2023,” the post read. “Details of the victims are still being clarified.”

“Something bad happened on February 6 at the front with the Tatar battalion Alga,” said Ukrainian blogger Denys Kazanskiy, who tagged the post on his telegram Channel. “You write that as a result of an unsuccessful attack on Ukrainian positions, several dozen people died at once. The exact number is not yet known, since the bodies are lying in the fields and cannot be taken away.”

Fears that the Tatarstan battalion had suffered heavy casualties also quickly circulated through VK and other social media. Speak with Idel. Realities by RFE/RL, two relatives of Alga Battalion soldiers accused company commanders of abandoning the soldiers; casualties were estimated at the equivalent of two Russian companies, which would be around 250-300 men.

A third relative was outraged that Tatarstan’s regional leaders had not announced public mourning or publicly acknowledged the losses.

All three spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from law enforcement.

“In general, the Vuhledar front is particularly bloody now. All units taking part in the fighting are taking heavy casualties, so similar reports about Alga are consistent with the ‘bigger picture,'” says Ruslan Leviyev, an open-source researcher at the Conflict Intelligence Team, told Idel.Realities.

Igor Girkin, a former Russian military intelligence officer who is now an outspoken critic of Russian commanders’ warfare, also hinted at a major loss. He claimed that more than 30 armored vehicles were destroyed and “dozens” of tank crew members killed, with “even higher” casualties among special forces marines and motorized gunners.

“Without much effort, the enemy held their positions in the fortified area that had been repeatedly attempted to be taken (including head-on) during the spring and summer of last year,” said Girkin, who was convicted in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, wrote on his telegram Channel.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said in its Feb. 10 statement Evaluation that the widely circulated video footage indicates “highly dysfunctional tactics”.

Tactics, it said, “much more suggest that the 155th Marines Brigade is likely to consist of poorly trained mobilized personnel than poor command.”

“Fear of commanders, unwillingness to correct mistakes, inability to use the experience of a year of war, and routine bureaucracy: these are the main reasons for what happened,” Rybar said wrote on February 11th. “Systemic changes are required in how they approach the conduct of hostilities.”

Otherwise, Rybar said, “Vuledar will be repeated again and again.”

The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on the Vuhledar battle.