Kyiv, Ukraine — While autumn mud slowed Ukraine’s march to reclaim lost land, Kiev’s forces pressed their advance south, attacked hastily erected Russian defenses in the northeast and defended against a months-long attrition in the Donetsk region.
Both armies must now contend with the challenges of the thick loamy mud that handicapped Napoleon’s army in 1812, slowed Hitler’s advance on the Eastern Front in 1941, and devastated Russia’s plans for a lightning push into Ukraine earlier this year.
Twice a year — during the fall rains and again in the spring during the winter thaw — roads in Ukraine can be swallowed up by mud, and combat vehicles caught in the mud can be exposed to enemy fire.
There’s an old Russian word for the muddy seasons, “rasputitsa,” and Ukrainians call it “bezdorizhzhya,” both essentially meaning “lack of roads.” And without roads, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters this week, Ukraine’s advance will be slower.
“This is the rainy season and it is very difficult to deploy wheeled combat carriers,” he said.
Despite the inclement weather, fighting raged as Ukraine attempted to encircle the important city of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, which was captured by the Russians in April. If the Ukrainians can retake Kreminna, they could compromise a vital Russian logistics vein used to supply units in Luhansk as well as in the northern part of the neighboring Donetsk region.
Russian military bloggers published video footage of Moscow’s armed forces using TOS-1 thermobaric multiple-launch missile systems to slow the Ukrainian advance. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research organization, said the deployment of the powerful system may indicate that the Russians are prioritizing the area, “or that Russian forces lack sufficient artillery systems or ammunition required for standard-fire engagements.” would be more appropriate. ”
Underlining the challenges facing his forces in the region, Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai noted that heavy rains had hampered the ability to transport equipment and that since the rapid advance of Ukrainian forces through northeastern Ukraine in September, the Tue Russians had time to bring in reserves, damaging bridges and further mining the territory as fortified defensive positions.
Further south, in the Donetsk region, Russian forces continued their frontal assault on the battered city of Bakhmut, where they have not gained any significant ground despite months of daily bombardment of military and civilian targets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that fighting around the city was among the heaviest of the war.
“The madness of the Russian command is most clearly visible there now: day after day for months they drive people to their deaths there, concentrate the maximum power of artillery strikes there,” he said.
Military analysts said the city – which had a pre-war population of 70,000 – has minimal strategic value and that Russian efforts there are better explained by competition between different elements of Russia’s military.
The Bakhmut offensive is being led by fighters from the Wagner mercenary group, and its founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, sought to raise its profile as the military effort stalled.
In Kherson, a largely agricultural area where vast plains are criss-crossed by irrigation canals, the wet weather has made conditions particularly difficult. As the mud slows the Ukrainian advance, ill-prepared Russian soldiers are also suffering, and the Ukrainians have tried to take advantage of low morale in the Russian ranks.
Ukraine’s military high command said Friday that “the lack of warm clothing” has led to widespread “stealing and looting” by Russian soldiers.
Ukraine’s military intelligence has released a steady stream of intercepted communications between Russian soldiers complaining about the dire conditions. The Ukrainian military said Friday that “the unsatisfactory state of military equipment” has led to “unique cases of desertion and surrender.”