April 20, 2022

Russian forces, making minor advances, announce victory parade in Mariupol on May 9

Institute for the Study of War

Institute for the Study of War summary of the Russian offensive in Ukraine

Russian forces made minor advances in the ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine on April 19, seizing several small towns and advancing into the key frontline towns of Rubizhne and Popasna. Russian forces continued major assaults with heavy air and artillery support but are continuing to build the logistics and command-and-control capabilities necessary for a larger offensive. Russian forces have not achieved any major breakthroughs, nor have they demonstrated any new capability to conduct multiple successful, simultaneous advances. Russian forces additionally made grinding progress against remaining Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel Works and announced plans for a May 9 Victory Day parade in the city – indicating Russian forces will declare victory in Mariupol by that date at the latest.
Key Takeaways

  • Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine secured minor gains in the last 24 hours, taking parts of the key frontline towns of Rubizhne and Popasna.
  •  Ukrainian forces reported the presence of small numbers of Syrian or Libyan mercenaries fighting in Popasna (eastern Ukraine), likely individual recruits fighting under the umbrella of the Wagner Group rather than larger units.
  •  Russian forces made incremental advances in Mariupol and continued to set conditions to declare victory in the city by –at the latest – May 9.
  •  Russian forces made minor advances around Izyum but have not secured any major breakthroughs.

Russian forces may be preparing to conscript Ukrainian citizens amid continuing recruitment challenges. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on April 20 that Russian occupation forces are planning to hold pseudo-referendums in occupied Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts to declare a forced mobilization and “throw ‘mobilized’ Ukrainians to the hottest parts of the front.”[1] If confirmed, this effort is highly unlikely to generate meaningful combat power and will provoke an uptick in protests and partisan actions against Russian forces in these regions. The GUR additionally reported that Russia’s FSB is conducting a purge of the political leadership of the LNR in retaliation for its failure to achieve military objectives since February 24.[2]

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

For the full ISW report: 


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