Russia has deployed one of its most elite fighting units to the front lines in a desperate bid to halt Ukraine’s advance.
While Kyiv’s counter-offensive has made slow progress since it was launched earlier this year, Ukraine reported a breakthrough on Monday saying its troops had liberated the southeastern settlement of Robotyne.
Its forces are now trying to push further south, likely with the ultimate goal of reaching the Sea of Azov to split Russia’s ‘land bridge’ that connects the invading country’s mainland to occupied Crimea, providing a vital supply route.
The Ukrainian military said last week that its forces had raised the national flag in the strategic settlement, but were still carrying out mopping-up operations.
In response, reports have said Moscow has deployed its 76th Guard Air Assault Division (GAAD) – sometimes described as Russia’s best fighting unit – to the region, with elements being spotted near Robotyne last week.
Russia has deployed one of its most elite fighting units to the frontlines in a desperate bid to halt Ukraine’s advance. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, August 25. Ukraine claimed Monday to have taken Robotyne
While Kyiv’s counter-offensive has made slow progress since it was launched earlier this year, Ukraine reported a breakthrough on Monday saying its troops had liberated the southeastern settlement of Robotyne
In a daily update on the situation in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War – a Washington-based Think Tank, said on Saturday it had seen evidence of ‘lateral redeployments of elements of the 7th Guards Mountain VDV Division from Kherson Oblast to the frontline in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and elements of the 76th VDV Division from the Kreminna area to the Robotyne area’.
This, it said, suggests ‘that Russian forces may be using relatively elite units to reinforce critical sectors of the front.’
Yesterday, it repeated the report about elite units being redeployed, adding: ‘Russian forces committed a considerable amount of materiel, effort, and manpower to hold the series of defensive positions that Ukrainian forces are currently penetrating’.
It added: ‘It is unclear if Russian forces will retain the advantages they have held if they cannot commit the same level of resources and personnel to these next layers of defence. The next Russian defensive layer will, nevertheless, very likely pose significant challenges for the Ukrainian advance.’
Images circulating on Ukrainian social media appeared to show tow Russian unit patches from the 234th and 104th Guards Airborne Assault regiments – both part of the 76th GAAD. The patches were reportedly taken as trophies.
Russia’s 234th regiment it believed to have been involved in the Bucha massacre, a mass killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers in March 2022.
Extensive reporting by the Associated Press and other news outlets uncovered how the regiment carried out a ‘cleansing’ operation in the Kyiv suburb, arresting, torturing and murdering Ukrainian residents.
Elements of the 76th GAAD had been fighting in Kremmina in the Luhansk region – around 150 miles to the north-east of Robotyne.
Their sighting around the southern village suggests some have been moved.
Ukrainian soldiers of the Separate Assault Battalion ‘Skala’ enter the embattled village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on August 25
Ukrainian forces raise the national flag in the settlement of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in this screen grab taken from a social media video released August 23, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen fire small multiple launch rocket systems towards Russian troops
The reports come as Ukrainian forces believe they have broken through the most difficult line of Russian defences in the south and that they will now start advancing more quickly, a commander who led troops into Robotyne said last week.
‘Robotyne has been liberated,’ Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar was quoted as saying by the military.
The settlement is six miles south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.
Tokmak’s capture would be a milestone as Ukrainian troops press southwards towards the Sea of Azov in a military drive that is intended to split Russian forces following Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Kyiv’s generals want to reach the city of Melitopol, around 40 miles southwest of Robotyne, in order to cut Russia’s ‘land bridge’ – a swathe of Ukrainian territory currently occupied Moscow’s forces that connects Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsular that was annexed by Vladimir Putin in 2014.
Maliar told Ukrainian television that Kyiv’s troops, who began their counteroffensive in early June, were now moving southeast of Robotyne and south of nearby Mala Tokmachka.
Ukraine’s success in retaking Robotyne, which Russia has not confirmed, follows media reports of a meeting this month of senior NATO military chiefs and Ukraine’s top general on resetting Ukraine’s military strategy.
Ukrainian forces are also fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, and progress has been slower than had been widely expected in the counteroffensive because they have encountered vast Russian minefields and trenches.
Maliar described the battlefield situation in the east as ‘very hot’ in the past week.
She said Russian troops were gathering new forces there and regrouping, and Moscow was aiming to deploy its best troops there.
Ukrainian forces had continued to advance south of Bakhmut, she said, referring to the nearly devastated eastern city that was captured by Moscow’s troops in May after months of fierce fighting that resulted in tens of thousands of casualties.
A Ukrainian serviceman walks near a destroyed Ukrainian tank near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, August 25
A Ukrainian serviceman operates an FPV drone from his positions at a front line near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, August 25
She added that in the past week Ukrainian forces had retaken 1 square km (0.39 square mile) around Bakhmut, and Russian troops had not made any advances.
Meanwhile, in the latest of Russia’s frequent air strikes on Ukraine, two people were killed overnight when a vegetable oil plant was hit in the central Poltava region, the region’s governor said.
Russia said it had shot down a Ukrainian drone flying towards Moscow in the early hours of Monday, in an incident that briefly disrupted flights over the Russian capital.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the situation on the battlefield of the reports of the latest attacks.
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