August 16, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine recaptures Urozhaine on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia border

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on August 16 and advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast and on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border, including liberating the village of Urozhaine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut, Berdyansk (Zaporizhia-Donetsk Oblast border area), and Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) directions. Geolocated footage published on August 16 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced northeast of Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast and have likely made wider gains in the surrounding areas given weeks of consistent Ukrainian activity in the forested areas northeast of the settlement. Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces liberated Urozhaine (9km south of Velyka Novosilka) in the Zaporizhia-Donetsk Oblast border area, and the Ukrainian 35th Marine Brigade published footage of their personnel raising the Ukrainian flag in the center of the settlement. Ukrainian reporting on the liberation of Urozhaine is in line with previous statements by Ukrainian officials about the liberation of other settlements in the area and recent reports by Russian forces that Russian units in the area were withdrawing. Russian claims about Ukrainian assaults further south and east of the limits of the settlement further indicate that Ukrainian forces likely control the majority of the settlement.

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces have committed their “main reserves” to counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast, although continued Russian claims of small Ukrainian infantry assaults in the area do not correspond with the alleged commitment of major elements of Ukraine’s mechanized reserves. Russian sources appear to be incorrectly portraying Ukrainian reserves as one large unitary contingent that Ukraine would commit to fighting as a whole and prematurely claiming that Ukraine has committed all of its reserves based on scattered observations of western-equipped Ukrainian units.

The first civilian vessel travelled through a Ukrainian-created temporary corridor for civilian vessels in the Black Sea on August 16 as part of Ukrainian efforts to circumvent Russian attempts to further curtail maritime traffic. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for Restoration and Minister for Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure Development Oleksandr Kubrakov reported on August 16 that the container ship Joseph Schulte left the Odesa port through one of the temporary corridors. Ukrainian Monitoring Group on Sanctions and Freedom of Navigation of the Institute of Black Sea Strategic Studies Head Andriy Klymenko stated on August 16 that Ukraine is implementing strategies to create a “grain corridor” without Russia and had submitted a map of possible routes for the “grain corridor” to the International Maritime Organization in mid-July. The Ukrainian Navy announced the creation of temporary traffic routes for civilian ships going to and from Ukrainian Black Sea ports beginning on August 8. Russian Ambassador to Turkey Alexei Yerkhov announced on August 16 that Russia is working with unnamed partners on alternatives to the Black Sea Grain Deal so that Russia can deliver food to countries in need. The Kremlin likely seeks to curtail maritime traffic to Ukrainian ports without fully enforcing a blockade through escalatory posturing in the Black Sea, including the recent forcible stop and inspection of a civilian cargo ship on August 13. Russia’s naval posturing in the Black Sea may not yet be having this desired effect, and Russia is likely trying to promote its own initiatives to export Russian and stolen Ukrainian grain to further undermine the potential success of a Ukrainian-established “grain corridor.”

Key Takeaways: 

  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on August 16 and advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast and on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border.
  • Ukrainian reports and video released by Ukrainian troops confirm that Ukrainian forces liberated Urozhaine, on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border, on August 16.
  • Russian sources are prematurely asserting that Ukrainian forces have committed their entire “main reserves” to counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast based on scattered observations of western-equipped Ukrainian units.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of August 15 to 16, primarily targeting grain and port infrastructure in Odesa Oblast.
  • The first civilian vessel traveled through a Ukrainian-created temporary corridor for civilian vessels in the Black Sea on August 16 as part of Ukrainian efforts to circumvent Russian attempts to further curtail maritime traffic.
  • Russian ultranationalists are increasingly criticizing Russian military command for failing to recruit and train effective middle-level military officers to lead Russian forces on the frontlines in Ukraine.
  • Russian senators proposed an amendment to ban the distribution of photos and videos containing information about Russian military activities and locations on August 16, amplifying a recent trend of cracking down on public imagery of the war.
  • The Russian MoD may be using the Army-2023 Forum in Moscow to coerce countries into refusing to cooperate with the Wagner Group and to advertise Russian MoD-controlled private military companies (PMCs).
  • Russian sources claimed that the Russian military command placed nominal Russian deputy theater commander in Ukraine and notable Wagner-affiliated Army General Sergei Surovikin under house arrest as of early August.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and did not make any confirmed advances.
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