Editor’s note: Jeffrey Owens is a Jeffersonville native, a 1995 graduate of Miami Trace High School and 2000 graduate of Ohio University. As a lifelong history buff, Owens published “Victory In Europe; A People’s History of the Second World War”, a more than 700-page analysis of World War II in Europe in 2015. Since 2015, Owens has hosted more than a dozen educational symposiums on a variety of military history topics at the Grove City Library. He is a resident of New Holland.
The following is Owens’ 21st Ukraine analysis:
“Glory to Ukraine” followed by “Glory to the Heroes” echoes throughout every corner of Ukraine; within the Ukrainian diaspora around the globe and among supporters of Ukraine. These statements serve simultaneously as both a greeting as well as an invocation of fierce patriotism. Beginning with “Glory to the Ukraine,” a patriotic slogan adopted during the separatist’s war, and followed by the corresponding response of “Glory to the Heroes,” a celebration of Ukrainian soldiers; is as automatic of an interaction as “OH” and “IO” are between Ohio State Buckeye fans on game day. Professed by millions and invoked with tremendous reverence and respect for those who risk or have lost their lives defending the survival of their country; “Glory to Ukraine and Glory to the Heroes” are among the greatest rallying cries of all time.
At no point during Russia’s war of aggression have these slogans meant more to the Ukrainian people than throughout June. Scores of Russian missiles have slammed into civilian infrastructure across the country while on the front lines casualties have amassed resulting from the war morphing into an attritional battle of artillery fires. For the first time in the war the nature of combat is benefiting Russia. This is not because of any change in strategy or improved leadership, but rather it is due to terrain and the style of fighting resulting from the shrinking battlefront.
The geography of the Kyiv front allowed for considerable maneuver of Ukrainian forces. This reality was mirrored in the first multiple U.S. aide packages to Ukraine made up almost entirely of hand-held and shoulder fire weapons including thousands of anti-tank javelins, Stinger missiles, rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition. These supplies, however useful they were at earlier stages of the war, are worthless at this point with each army engaging the other in the Donbas from miles away via artillery salvos.
As the battlefield is squeezed from multiple directions and Ukrainian defenses correspondingly compressed into fewer square miles in which to operate, the art of maneuver in the Donbas has become obsolete. Overwhelming, artillery barrages and counter-battery attacks to neutralize opposing cannons have proven the only means of successful offense or defense in the Donbas throughout most of June.
Russia’s military specializes in scorched earth tactics and is focusing solely on incremental gains while obliterating everything standing in its path. “The Kremlin continues to press by sheer mass,” stated Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov. Simply by possessing seven to 10 times the number of artillery cannons as Ukraine and by having the capacity to fire 10 rounds for every one that Ukraine does, Russia has a distinct advantage. By concentrating their collective combat power throughout occupied zones of Ukraine almost entirely in Luhansk Oblast; Russian forces have repeatedly used “saturation fire” with unguided munitions as a means of overwhelming the battlefield with thousands of rockets and artillery rounds.
Saturation fire is a primitive and outdated form of warfare designed to break the will of a population by wiping out everything in the invaders’ path, irrespective of the legitimacy of its targets. More than 210 widely banned unguided munitions have been confirmed to have been used against Ukraine with more than 330 recorded incidents of their deployment in or near civilian targets.
The Russian military has violated every clause of the Geneva Convention’s protocols on establishing legitimate targets. These violations range anywhere from attacking only out of “military necessity,” not engaging in attacks where civilian casualties could be “disproportionate” to military ones, planning a “distinction” between civilian and legitimate military targets, and not employing weapons that would cause “unnecessary suffering.”
Such actions are not new for Russia, as they have employed them in their own territory in Chechnya as well as in Syria without consequence. Former U.S. Ambassador-at-large Pierre-Richard Prosper has stated that Russia’s continued violations not only reveals how poorly they regard Ukraine, but also is “…a window into how Russia views the likelihood that it will be held accountable for its actions.”
The widespread use of cluster munitions may be the greatest of these infringements. Fixed to the warheads of rockets, mortars and artillery shells and laced with submunitions filled with shrapnel, these ordinances explode midair, raining down death and destruction to anything below or around the detonation. Nearly 20% of the recorded cluster munitions employed against Ukraine were duds which did explode as planned. These now await their future victims who possibly even years later may come across the undetonated ordinances and be killed or maimed by them.
Multiple incidents have been recorded throughout Ukraine of cluster munitions detonating over hospitals, nursing homes and schools, with many resulting in both killed and wounded civilians. Oleksander Senkevych, the fiery rifle-wielding mayor of Mykolaiv, who has fiercely led the defense of his city since the opening days of the invasion, has advised civilians who “want to survive” to leave.
Widespread use of cluster munitions, which make up 80% of the incoming rockets being fired at Mykolaiv from occupied Kherson, prompted Senkeyvch’s statement. With Kherson only 40 miles away, the rockets explode before the air raid sirens sound, and the cluster munitions threaten the livelihood of everyone in their vicinity.
On the battlefront, Ukrainian casualties have soared to between 100-200 killed and 400-500 wounded per day throughout June. The result is the daily neutralization of a battalion size unit. Nearly all of these are the result of massed Russian artillery fires, many loaded with cluster munitions. For Ukraine these casualties are simply not sustainable as they have lost a considerable number of their professional fighting force and have daily become more reliant on the civilian Territorial Defense Force to fill the voids.
These sacrifices are held in the highest regard by Ukrainians. The populations of many small towns throughout Ukraine have been devastated by the casualties of war. One village near Chernihiv has reported that all of their male population under the age of 30 have been killed. Thousands stop their cars and take a knee on the side of the road for processions. Thousands more attend multiple funerals across the nation, where “Glory to Ukraine” and “Glory to the Heroes” takes on an even higher dimension of meaning. Miles from those funerals, however, the war never stops, and Russia continues to murder Ukraine’s future through its indiscriminate massed fires of scores of thousands of rounds.
Alexandra Karpenko, a legal analyst in Kyiv wrote, “Every day we remember that the peaceful sleep of every Ukrainian is possible only thanks to our defenders. They do not sleep for days, wear hot army boots in June, have no connection with their families for weeks,” all while “constantly under shelling, so that today we can go out and calmly drink coffee, hug our relatives and just continue to live. In the same time, our defenders need constant support, because while being on the front line, they run out of even basic things”
In making multiple trips with her personal vehicle loaded with supplies, she recounted “Today coffee, tea, water, socks, underwear, energy drinks, cigarettes, matches, field rations and medicines were delivered to defenders from Kyiv who are now at a hot spot near Severodonetsk.” For Alexandra: “The war of Russia against Ukraine does not stop for a second. The defender, who we delivered to said that the other day they had in one hour” taken “286 enemy strikes … to their position.” Alexandra concluded “And this is the price of today’s peaceful day for Ukraine and Europe. Glory to the heroes of Ukraine!”
Multiple previous analyses have discussed the gradual amassing of nearly all Russian combat power into Luhansk to overrun its last bastions of defense. Analysis #18 concluded that “Eastern Ukraine will be won or lost with artillery.” This remains the case in the final days of June as Lysychansk, the last town in Luhansk Oblast under Ukrainian control, holds on by a fierce but threadbare defense. Just like Severodonetsk before it, Lysychansk is being reduced to rubble. It’s culture and history are being erased. Civilians and military personnel alike are killed just by leaving their shelter for a moment and getting caught in a storm of artillery shells.
The Ukrainian defense of Severodonetsk came to a final end on June 24 as the last remaining Ukrainian forces withdrew. They left behind a city 90% destroyed by warfare. This long and protracted battle began as early as March 13 as Russian forces pushed west from the roughly 70% of Luhansk Oblast under Russian control at the beginning of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. Little ground was gained towards Severodonetsk until the April 18 refined Russian offensive pushed forward. This only was possible after the entire Kyiv front was abandoned and the new Russian aim became the conquest of the Donbas.
Slowly grinding westward under heavy artillery cover, Russian forces advanced on Severodonetsk and even eliminated one of two bridges along the Ukrainian Ground Line of Communication (GLOC) leading back to Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast. By May, Severodonetsk was among the most dangerous places on the planet, under constant bombardment from everything in Russia’s conventional arsenal and multiple volunteers were even killed attempting to evacuate civilians. In mid-June Russian forces destroyed the bridges spanning the Siversky Donets, eliminating a potential escape route to Lysychansk for Ukrainian forces, but also destroying their own means of crossing the river.
High Ukrainian casualties by massed Russian artillery fires has weakened Ukrainian defensive lines. Just as the Ukrainians abandoned Severodonetsk, Russian forces advancing from Popasna seized multiple villages south of Lysychansk, and are fighting for control of the T1302 Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway. From here Russian forces are not only threatening the Ukrainians in Lysychansk with encirclement, but are also seeking to sever their GLOC leading back into Donetsk Oblast.
The shrinking battlefront in Luhansk has condensed Russian anti-aircraft fire into a concentrated area. Simultaneously, Russian electronic warfare, such as computer hacking, has improved. Both have resulted in Russia wreaking havoc on Ukrainian drones which throughout the war have been a primary source of targeting for artillery. By late June, Ukraine ceased the use of the Turkish Bayraktar drones in Luhansk to avoid them being shot down.
As Severodonetsk fell, Russia battered Ukrainian cities within Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Khmelmytskyi, Chernihiv, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts on the early morning hours of June 25 with a barrage of missile and rocket attacks fired simultaneously from multiple directions. Six Russian Tu-22M3 bombers taking off from the Shaykova airbase in Belarus fired 12 cruise missiles from Belarussian airspace into Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy. Sea-based Kalibr missiles, along with ground-based Iskander, Tochka-U, X-22 and ONYX missiles were launched against western, southern and northern Ukraine.
Among the most significant damage inflicted was in the Schevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv, which was attacked by X101 missiles deployed by Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers operating over the Caspian Sea. Launched at such a great distance for no plausible reason except to show off their capabilities, accuracy was sacrificed. Although likely aimed at the Artem State Joint-Stock Holding Company, a manufacturer of multiple missile systems based in Schevchenkivskyi, the impact sites were civilian infrastructure and apartment complexes. This resulted in multiple casualties and was well documented by every Ukrainian with a smart phone and a social media account anywhere in the vicinity.
Even in the face of multiple military debacles that have cost his army tens of thousands of lives and countless pieces of military equipment; Putin likely views the current stage of attritional war as his to win. Using massed saturation fire with Russia’s vast stores of unguided munitions at his disposal that robs Ukraine of its citizenry at a rate of thousands per week, he has no interest in any metaphorical “off-ramp” or a negotiated cease-fire.
His endgame has never changed. This is the destruction of the Ukrainian state and culture, and his success or failure could determine his continued tenure in office. Russian troops, however, have little investment or motivation to fight. They are underpaid, under supported and aside from massing fires have little training to perform much else.
Ukrainian citizens and soldiers alike do and have proven that they have all the motivation in the world. It is widely known in Ukraine that no truce with Putin can ever be trusted. Ukrainians know their terrain far better than does the invader and they are literally fighting to defend their homeland and families from murder, rape and total destruction. The U.S. and NATO overwhelmingly support Ukraine but ascribe to the Cold War doctrines that time is on the side of the defender and of slowly ratcheting up the heat on an enemy while constantly analyzing and assessing how far is too far.
Every threat Putin has issued, ranging from continued Western aid to Ukraine, to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, have proven to be empty gestures. Therefore, the time for slowly turning up the heart on Putin is past. Although four U.S. provided HIMARS have now been fielded, far more heavy weaponry is needed for Ukraine to drive Russia out. Putin will only be stopped by force and force means combat power. Combat power at this stage means vastly increased Ukrainian fires to overwhelm Russian positions and push them out of Ukraine completely and permanently.