Ukrainian forces made confirmed advances in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and made claimed advances south of Bakhmut on September 9. Geolocated footage published on September 9 shows that Ukrainian forces advanced northwest of Novomayorske (18km southeast of Velyka Novosilka) along the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border, where Russian sources claim fighting has intensified in recent days. Additional geolocated footage published on September 9 shows that Ukrainian forces also advanced northeast and east of Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv) and west of Verbove (20km southeast of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes south of Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv). A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces forced Russian forces to withdraw from Andriivka (9km southwest of Bakhmut), and another prominent milblogger claimed that Andriivka is now a contested “gray zone.” Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces also achieved unspecified success south of Klishchiivka.
Ukrainian forces have captured an estimated 2,500 square kilometers in Kharkiv Oblast in the Kharkiv area counteroffensive as of September 9. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhnyi stated on September 8 that Ukrainian forces liberated over 1,000 square kilometers between September 1-8 – a day before Ukrainian forces reached the southern approach to Kupyansk and the Oskil River on September 9. Ukrainian forces are likely clearing pockets of disorganized Russian forces caught in the rapid Ukrainian advance to Kupyansk, Izyum, and the Oskil River, given the influx of observed pictures of Russian prisoners of war in the past 48 hours. Ukrainian forces may collapse Russian positions around Izyum if they sever Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) north and south of Izyum. Ukrainian forces continued to advance on Kupyansk and towards Izyum on September 9, and are undertaking measures to isolate the Russian Izyum grouping of forces. If Ukrainians are successful in severing the Russian GLOCs, then they will have an opportunity to create a cauldron around Izyum and collapse a major portion of the Russian positions in northeastern Ukraine.
Russian forces have reportedly made notable changes to their command and control (C2) in Ukraine to protect command infrastructure and improve information sharing, although Russian force deployments are likely still exacerbating issues with horizontal integration. Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) Deputy Director of Analysis Magarita Konaev and CSET Fellow Owen Daniels stated on September 6 that Russian forces moved headquarters out of range of most Ukrainian strike systems and have placed forward command posts further underground and behind heavily defended positions. It is unclear if Russian forces have employed this more protected command infrastructure throughout Ukraine and to what degree these defensive efforts have impeded Ukraine’s ongoing interdiction campaign. Konaev and Daniels stated that Russian forces have improved communications between command posts and units at the front by laying field cables and using safer radio communications. The Royal United Services Insitute (RUSI) stated on September 4 that Russian forces are also trying to improve signals through the wider use of application-based C2 services that require less training. Konaev and Daniels noted that signals at the battalion level downward are still often unencrypted and that Russian personnel still frequently communicate sensitive information through unsecure channels.
Ukrainian successes on the Kharkiv City-Izyum line are creating fissures within the Russian information space and eroding confidence in Russian command to a degree not seen since a failed Russian river crossing in mid-May. Ukrainian military officials announced that Ukrainian forces advanced 50km deep into Russian defensive positions north of Izyum on September 8, but the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) notably did not issue any statement regarding Ukrainian advances in Kharkiv Oblast. Ukrainian successes and the Russian MoD’s silence prompted many Russian milbloggers to criticize and debate Russian failures to retain control over the city of Balakliya, approximately 44km northwest of Izyum. Some milbloggers claimed that Russian forces fully or partially withdrew from Balakliya in good order, while others complained that Ukrainian forces beat Russian forces out of the settlement. Others noted that Rosgvardia units operating in the area did not coordinate their defenses or have sufficient artillery capabilities to prevent Ukrainian counterattacks in the region. Milbloggers warned about an impending Ukrainian counteroffensive northwest of Izyum for days prior to Ukrainian advances, and some milbloggers noted that Russian command failed to prepare for “obvious and predictable” Ukrainian counteroffensives. Others noted that Ukrainian forces have “completely outplayed” the Russian military command in Balakliya, while others encouraged readers to wait to discuss Russian losses and withhold criticism until Russian forces stabilize the frontlines.
Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 7 and made further gains on both sectors of the front. Geolocated footage published on September 7 indicates that Ukrainian forces have made further advances northwest of Verbove (18km southwest of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces made further advances in the area and other milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces temporarily advanced to the northwestern outskirts of Verbove on September 6, likely indicating further recent Ukrainian advances northwest of the settlement. Satellite imagery collected on September 6 shows burning foliage in a tree line roughly a kilometer northwest of Verbove, suggesting that Russian forces are firing on advancing Ukrainian forces in the area. Geolocated footage published on September 7 indicates that Ukrainian forces have made marginal gains northwest of Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes south of Bakhmut and near Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Verbove in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
Ukrainian forces in southeastern Kharkiv Oblast are likely exploiting Russian force reallocation to the Southern Axis to conduct an opportunistic yet highly effective counteroffensive northwest of Izyum. Ukrainian forces likely used tactical surprise to advance at least 20km into Russian-held territory in eastern Kharkiv Oblast on September 7, recapturing approximately 400 square kilometers of ground. Russian sources claimed that Russian troops began deploying reinforcements to the area to defend against Ukrainian advances, and the Russian grouping in this area was likely understrength due to previous Russian deployments to support ongoing efforts to capture the remainder of Donetsk Oblast and support the southern axis. Ukraine’s ongoing operations in Kherson Oblast have forced Russian forces to shift their focus to the south, enabling Ukrainian forces to launch localized but highly effective counterattacks in the Izyum area. Russian milbloggers voiced concern that this Ukrainian counterattack seeks to cut ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Russian rear areas in Kupyansk and Izyum, which would allow Ukrainian troops to isolate the Russian groupings in these areas and retake large swaths of territory. These milbloggers used largely panicked and despondent tones, acknowledged significant Ukrainian gains, and claimed that the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south may be a distraction from the ongoing actions in Kharkiv Oblast, which they name as the main Ukrainian effort. The level of shock and frank discussion of Ukrainian successes by Russian milbloggers speaks to the scale of surprise achieved by Ukrainian forces, which is likely successfully demoralizing Russian forces. While it is unlikely that the southern counteroffensive and effort to attrit Russian forces in southern Ukraine is a feint for renewed operations in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukrainian forces likely took prudent advantage of a reallocation of Russian troops, equipment, and overall operational focus to launch localized counteroffensives toward critical points in Kharkiv Oblast.
Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the Bakhmut and western Zaporizhia Oblast directions and have made gains in western Zaporizhia Oblast as of September 6. Geolocated footage shows that Ukrainian forces have advanced along the trench line west of Verbove (about 20km southeast of Orikhiv), and the Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes in the Robotyne—Novoprokopivka direction south of Orikhiv. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally reported that Ukrainian forces are continuing successful offensive operations south of Bakhmut.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) September 6 report on the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) described numerous ways in which Russian occupation authorities and the Russian military are jeopardizing the safe operation of the plant. The report does not attempt to determine which party is responsible for the shelling that has damaged the facility and repeatedly calls on “all relevant parties” to take measures to improve the situation. The moderation and apparent neutrality of that language can overshadow the extremely clear articulation of the Russian activities undermining the plant’s safety and the fact that the report attributes no dangerous actions to Ukraine. The IAEA’s report is thus a coded condemnation of Russian moves that have created and are perpetuating the danger of nuclear disaster in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is tangibly degrading Russian logistics and administrative capabilities in occupied southern Ukraine. As ISW has previously reported, Ukrainian officials explicitly confirmed that Ukrainian troops seek to attrit Russian logistical capabilities in the south through precision strikes on manpower and equipment concentrations, command centers, and logistics nodes. These counteroffensive actions also have intentional radiating effects on Russian occupation authorities. The head of the Kherson Oblast occupation regime, Kirill Stremousov, told Russian media outlet TASS that his administration has paused annexation referendum plans in Kherson Oblast due to “security” concerns. The Ukrainian Resistance Center similarly reported that Russian occupation authorities are abandoning plans for referenda due to the ongoing counteroffensive. Shortly after TASS published his comment, Stremousov posted on Telegram denying he called for a pause because his administration had never set an official date for the referendum. Both of Stremousov’s statements indicate a high level of disorganization within occupation regimes that is likely being exacerbated by the effects of the counteroffensive. Ukrainian forces intend to slowly chip away at both Russian tactical and operational level capabilities in Kherson Oblast, and in doing so will likely have significant impacts on the administrative and bureaucratic capabilities of occupation officials.
Ukrainian light infantry has advanced to positions beyond anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles that comprise the current Russian defensive layer ahead of the Ukrainian advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and Ukrainian forces likely intend to hold those positions. ISW is not prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have breached this Russian defensive layer in the absence of observed Ukrainian heavy equipment in these areas. Geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced to tree-line positions that are east of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles that are a part of a tri-layered defense immediately west of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv). Geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian light infantry has also advanced further into a series of prepared Russian defensive positions along the road that runs northwest into Verbove. Other geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces have advanced up to Russian defensive positions between Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv). Ukrainian forces are widening the breach they have already made in one Russian defensive layer and are reportedly maneuvering more equipment and personnel into tactical rear areas of this layer. Ukrainian forces appear to be making gains in the immediate vicinity of the not-yet-breached Russian defensive layer that runs northwest of Verbove to north of Solodka Balka (20km south of Orikhiv) with infantry assaults and heavy artillery fire on Russian positions further into and south of this layer. The deployment of Ukrainian heavy equipment and more substantial forces to these areas than ISW has so far observed would indicate both a breach of this Russian defensive layer and an effort to widen that breach.