This frontline WaPo report is a healthy reminder that both sides in war lie to boost morale, not just the bad guys.
Except … the Ukrainian claims it details barely qualify as exaggerations of what’s happening on the ground. Two days ago, Zelensky’s office announced that Ukrainian forces had counterattacked west of Kiev and retaken Makariv, a strategically important town located along a major highway into the capital. WaPo sent reporters out there and found that Ukrainian forces had “only” retaken 85 percent of it, per the mayor, and that the Russians were still shelling it regularly, preventing residents from returning.
So, sure, the Ukrainians are guilty of exaggeration. But what made their alleged advance into Makariv newsworthy this week has now been confirmed: Zelensky’s military really does have the ability, it seems, to push the Russians away from Kiev. A month into the war, Putin’s forces are further from their goal of seizing the capital than they were two weeks ago.
[A]s a team of Washington Post journalists passed through the checkpoint on Wednesday, Ukrainian soldiers ordered them to quickly leave the town, warning of incoming Russian rockets or artillery. Minutes later, reporters heard the sound of shells falling. Black plumes of smoke rose over the houses. Soon more blasts followed…
“The military doesn’t control all of Makariv, only partially,” said Mayor Vadim Tokar, standing on the town’s outskirts shortly after the shells landed. “It’s 100 percent no-go for civilians to return.”…
As of Wednesday, he said, Russian forces were still in control of roughly 15 percent of the town, an area they have held for nearly three weeks with little shifting of the front lines. There were no signs Wednesday that any of the roughly 15,000 residents who have fled since the Russian invasion began last month were returning to the town.
Even WaPo acknowledges that Makariv is a Ukrainian success story despite the fact that they haven’t fully reestablished control of the town: “The Russians are trying to use it as a possible entry point to topple the national government in the capital” and that entry point has now been denied to them. A former Ukrainian defense official told NBC that recapturing Makariv would create an artery from Ukraine’s western border into Kiev, allowing the capital to be supplied without Russian interference. And it would “ease pressure on the defenders of Kyiv in the northwest who have faced a difficult Russian offensive, he said, allowing them to address casualties and help trapped civilians.”
And that’s only half the story. Reportedly, the Ukrainians have also mounted a counteroffensive *east* of Kiev that’s also succeeded in pushing the Russians back:
NEW: Ukraine's counteroffensive near Kyiv has pushed Russian forces ~35 mi to the east of the capital: senior U.S. defense official
Russia was ~20 mi to the east of Kyiv earlier in the week. Ukraine has begun to take back territory from the Russians this week, officials said.
— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) March 23, 2022
Ukraine advancing from Kiev to the west and the east simultaneously isn’t something anyone expected a month in, needless to say. In fact, there are some reports circulating that the Ukrainians have gained enough ground west of the city to have surrounded Russian forces in the area:
UK MOD update- "There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces are now able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin." pic.twitter.com/g0BQqqY3On
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) March 23, 2022
"The invaders tried to advance into the area of the settlement of Teterivske, however due to limited forces they were unsuccessful and were forced to withdraw."
–General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
RU military in Bucha/Hostomel/Irpin are surrounded
–Bucha city council pic.twitter.com/mQhA8Xm9aL
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) March 23, 2022
The Bucha City Council also claims that Zelensky’s forces have surrounded their city on all sides. That claim has been disputed, but Ukrainian officials insist that they really have regained a meaningful amount of territory around the capital:
Ukraine making big gains around kyiv. I got a brief (with an unclassified map) from two top municipal officials pic.twitter.com/zASEbmISyJ
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) March 23, 2022
The Belarusian border isn’t far from Kiev to the north. But despite the fact that Putin could use their help at the moment to try to push the Ukrainians back towards the capital, there’s still no sign of Lukashenko’s forces entering the fray.
I repeat a question I asked a few days ago: Is there a point here at which Putin concludes that Kiev is out of reach and decides to redeploy his forces there to the south, assuming they’re able to retreat? Or would that backfire by also freeing up Ukrainian forces in the north to move south and go on offense in hopes of retaking cities like Kherson and Mariupol? Putin would be loath to concede Kiev in any case, fearing a loss of prestige. And keeping a large Russian force around the city has the virtue of forcing the Ukrainians to stay put there and defend it, preoccupying their military.
But if that force really does end up being surrounded and cut off from resupply, suddenly Russia is looking at a debacle in the north. They might lose a chunk of their army and end up with the Ukrainians free to move south in a broader counteroffensive.
Either way, the fact that Russia has already reached this point after just a month of fighting must be giving its commanders pause about how long this war can be sustained:
Ukrainian forces destroyed an interesting Russian group. Mostly civilian vehicles, and what looks like a ford transit van with an AGS-30 automatic grenade launcher in the rear. pic.twitter.com/QUSCfQ6fnu
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) March 23, 2022
I’ll leave you with this snippet from Russian state television. The good news is that they’re showing the devastation of Mariupol to Russian viewers. The bad news is that they’re claiming the Ukrainians are responsible for it, and their gullible audience is likely to believe them.
Russian state TV posts this absolutely apocalyptic aerial footage of Mariupol (result of Russian siege). But the anchor says: “Sad scenes of course… the Ukrainian nationalists withdraw trying not to leave a stone unturned" pic.twitter.com/7dCfbfV5qn
— Mary Ilyushina (@maryilyushina) March 24, 2022
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