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What Ukraine's partial Chasiv Yar withdrawal actually means

by Chris York and Martin Fornusek July 5, 2024 1:17 PM 6 min read
Ukrainian soldiers on the outskirts of the city on July 3, 2024 in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine. (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)
by Chris York and Martin Fornusek July 5, 2024 1:17 PM 6 min read
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Ukraine announced on July 4 that its troops had withdrawn from the Kanal neighborhood in Chasiv Yar, a strategically important town in Donetsk Oblast, and the scene of an intense, bloody battle that began in early April of this year.

Speaking on national TV, Nazar Voloshyn, the spokesperson for the Khortytsia group of forces, said the decision had been made because Ukrainian defensive positions in the neighborhood were destroyed, and commanders agreed to withdraw to better-protected lines.

"It became impractical to hold the Kanal neighborhood after the enemy entered it because it threatened the lives and health of our servicemen, and the positions of our defenders were destroyed," he said.

Satellite images released by the crowd-sourced monitoring service DeepState show the once populous Kanal neighborhood totally obliterated.

What's the bigger picture?

Russia's months-long attacks on Chasiv Yar are part of its grinding, slow, and costly advances in Donetsk Oblast.

Last month, as the world's attention focused on the Kremlin's new – and ultimately unsuccessful – offensive in Kharkiv Oblast, Russian troops were steadily making small gains in Donetsk Oblast, which remains Moscow's primary target.

Since the fall of Bakhmut in May 2023 and the fall of Avdiivka in February of this year, Russian forces overran one village after another and took up positions close to Chasiv Yar.

Located on hills that serve as natural defensive structures, Chasiv Yar town boasts the highest point in the area, a strategic point for any army wanting to gain an advantage.

The town is divided in the east by the Siverskyi Donets-Donbas canal, creating a barrier between the Kanal micro-district and the rest of the town.

The current situation in Chasiv Yar. The so-called "gray zone" between Ukrainian and Russian forces now extends up to the Siverskyi Donets-Donbas canal (DeepState)

Throughout most of spring, Kyiv's forces managed to keep Russian troops out of the town. On June 27, the Ukrainian army reported it had pushed out Russian forces that had entered the Kanal neighborhood.

The fighting has been brutal – Russia kept up intensive shelling of Chasiv Yar, including with TOS-1 Solntsepyok multiple rocket launchers, according to Voloshyn.

"This is a terrible weapon that hits with thermobaric warheads," Ukraine's 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade reported, whose units were redeployed to bolster the defense of Chasiv Yar, sharing on June 26 a video which shows the town under Russia's attack.

With all eyes on Kharkiv, Russian troops take one Donbas village after another
Editor’s Note: The Kyiv Independent is not disclosing soldiers’ full names since they disclosed information without authorization from their command. DONETSK OBLAST—As public attention shifted to Moscow’s renewed offensive in Kharkiv Oblast, Russian forces steadily advance in the country’s easternm…

What does the withdrawal actually mean?

In a comment from Ukraine's 24th Mechanized Brigade communications unit, a serviceman told the Kyiv Independent the withdrawal became necessary as resupplying men and materiel to the Kanal neighborhood was becoming increasingly difficult.

"For us, it means we have fixed our logistics because our logistics to that district were awful, and it was very hard to keep this part of the battlefield," he said.

"Holding the area was quite important for us, but it was more important not to lose people."

He pointed out that Russia would face the same issues if it tried to cross the canal separating the two armies, and one of Ukraine's priorities now will be to "crash their logistics" from their new positions.

"The enemy is also trying to regroup, and we will wait to see which direction they will continue their offensive," he added.

An aerial view of the Kanal district on July 3, 2024 in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)

Retired military officer and defense expert Viktor Kevliuk told the Kyiv Independent the withdrawal from the Kanal neighborhood has "no strategic consequences."

Kevliuk said that Russia's advance was also an attempt to secure the flank of the Russian group attacking Toretsk, located around 22 kilometers south of Chasiv Yar.

The Ukrainian military reported on June 18 an increase in Russian attacks near Toretsk after a "long lull" in fighting in the area.

A few days later, it was reported that Russian forces were attacking Chasiv Yar from the direction of Toretsk.

Kevliuk echoed the Ukrainian army line that its forces had no option but to withdraw from the Kanal neighborhood after its defensive positions there were "completely destroyed."

"The (Russian) 98th Airborne Division brought all three of its regiments into battle – the 217th, 299th, and 331st, which made it possible to significantly increase efforts in this direction and take full control of the Kanal neighborhood," he said.

"Units of the 11th Airborne Assault Brigade and parts of the 102nd Regiment of the 150th Division also took part in the attacks," he added.

"The enemy took positions on both sides of Oleha Koshovoho Street, including in the area of ​​the bridge over the canal, and its advanced units entrenched themselves in the forests to the north and south of it."

Commenting on why the U.S. assistance package, approved more than two months ago, did not help to stem the tide in Chasiv Yar, Kevliuk said that American aid would not prevent the effective destruction of the Kanal neighborhood.

Not only does it take time to produce and deliver the aid, it is also necessary to have trained manpower to operate it, he added.

"(Ukrainian) defense forces in the area have no more than 14,000 people," Kevliuk added, summing up the number for Chasiv Yar and neighboring Klischiivka, Andriivka, and positions around Kurdiumivka.

"A Russian group of 48,000 people is advancing on Chasiv Yar. Up to 6,000 more have been allocated to Klischiivka, Andriivka, and Kurdiumivka."

What happens next?

Much will depend on Ukraine's ability to consolidate and hold its new defensive lines, which remains to be seen.

If Russia were able to take the town, it would have a significant impact on the war in Donetsk Oblast.

Taking Chasiv Yar is crucial for Russia's larger offensive in the east, and the deployment of elite Russian airborne troops is evidence of just how important it is for the Kremlin.

If Russia captures Chasiv Yar, it will gain fire control over key Ukrainian supply routes, severely hampering operations in the area.

Ultimately, the fall of Chasiv Yar would mean the last Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk Oblast – the cities of Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk, and Sloviansk – would be under massive threat from Russian forces.

Ukrainian soldiers on the outskirts of the city on July 3, 2024 in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine. (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)

What was Chasiv Yar like before the full-scale invasion?

Chasiv Yar was home to around 12,000 people, living in a town that traced its roots back to the late 19th century, when a factory was established to produce refractory materials from the abundant clay found in the area.

By April of this year, only about 700 people lived in the town. All children had been evacuated last year, leaving behind mostly elderly residents unwilling or unable to leave.

Speaking to BBC Ukraine in April, Serhii Chaus, the head of the town's military administration, said they faced dire conditions without access to power, water, or gas, as well as constant shelling, which had critically damaged 80% of apartment buildings.

Battle of Chasiv Yar begins: On the ground with Ukrainian forces defending city key to Russia’s plans
Editor’s note: In accordance with the security protocols of the Ukrainian military, soldiers featured in this story are identified by first names and callsigns only. CHASIV YAR, DONETSK OBLAST – As he creeps between rubble-strewn garages near the central square of Chasiv Yar, the eyes and ears of t…

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