On December 19, the 299th day of the war, Russia continued to bombard Ukrainian territory and use Iranian-made drones. Iranian UAVs masquerading as Russian Geran-2s were shot down over the Cherkasy, Mykolaiv, Poltava, Dnipro, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. Russia also struck Kherson and the Kherson region, local authorities reported. Donetsk was shelled from multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) the day before, with the city’s Kalinin hospital coming under fire. Russian propagandists and representatives of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) claim that the shelling came from the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) – including the use of Swedish howitzers.
The situation remains tense in the Bakhmut direction. There are battles in the suburbs of Bakhmut, including Opytne, and the AFU is not retreating, according to Boris Rozhin, an expert of the propagandist pro-Russian Center for Military and Political Journalism. The AFU is also pulling its forces towards the town of Chasiv Yar – groups from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are being redeployed near Klyshchiivka and Kurdyumivka. The AFU also held onto Bakhmut itself (Russian propaganda calls it Artemivsk). At the same time, Ukrainian forces may be pulling infantry into the city area to prevent its capture by fighters of the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), writes the Telegram channel Voenny Obozrevatel (“Military Observer”), which is close to the Russian Ministry of Defense. According to Rozhin's channel, the Russian army is currently advancing in the area of Pidhorodne and in the industrial zone.
Fighting continued in Marinka in the Donetsk direction; the Russian army is contiuing its attempts to try to capture the city. A video of a tank battle between the Russian army and the AFU was circulated on social media.
According to propaganda channels, including the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, Russia has already occupied the center of the city. A prominent military observer in the Russian propagandist Telegram channel Rybar claimed that a Russian motorized rifle brigade is advancing through the center of Marinka. VGTRK reporter Alexander Sladkov also claimed that Russia had occupied most of the city. According to Sladkov, the difficulties in Russia’s advance are caused by mud, which sticks to the boots weighing “five kilograms each,” as well as minefields and open space. AFU correction drones are able to easily identify Russian positions and redirect their artillery fire accordingly, Sladkov added.
AFU reserve colonel and military expert Roman Svitan told The Insider that positional battles have occurred in Marinka for the past eight years. The Russians occupy up to “the middle of the city,” the AFU then knocks the Russian units out, and they retreat along Aleksandrivka, meaning the “Marinka grouping” is constantly moving. The AFU has now indeed withdrawn from the eastern part of the city, confirms Svitan, as the Russians have destroyed it and ground down the fortifications. The Russians have entered Marinka only halfway, and the AFU is pounding them with artillery – similar situations have occurred more than once over the past eight years, the expert says. According to Svitan, staying on the defensive in this area of Marinka is convenient – the AFU is now engaged in “positional warfare,” maintaining a level of active defense.
It is now difficult for the Ukrainian army to maneuver because of the weather, the expert notes. According to Svitan, Ukrainian troops can advance in the agglomerations near Svatove and Kreminna, which have two roads from Kupiansk – the railway and highway to Svatove and the road from Chervonopopivka to Kreminna. The AFU can move along the road, while nothing is happening in other directions except for the occasional artillery duel due to bad weather conditions, assured Svitan. He claims that “reverse movement” is to be expected in the near future – the center or the whole of Marinka will turn over to Ukraine, and then Russia will go on the offensive again.
Russia shells Kyiv with Iranian drones
On the night of December 19, Kyiv was attacked by 35 Iranian drones – 30 of them were shot down, reported the AFU’s press service. The strikes led to emergency blackouts across the city – however, no hits on critical infrastructure were recorded. After the strikes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported that Russia had received 250 Shahed-136 kamikaze drones from Iran.
Judging by the published photos, Ukrainian energy facilities were attacked including Shahed-131 (“Geran-1”) kamikaze drones with new MD275 engines, military Telegram channels claimed. Voenny Osvedomitel (“Military Whistleblower”) pointed out that the previous version of the UAV was equipped with an MDR208 engine. The AFU also reported that the Shahed-131 drone was also used in the strikes.
The Shahed-131 equipped with a new engine was publicly displayed by Iran this fall.
NASA published a satellite image of Ukraine plunged into darkness after another missile strike on December 16.
Svitan, in his interview with The Insider, noted that while almost all of the drones launched are shot down, Russia continues to hope to do serious damage to Ukraine:
“Even if five drones go through and five power transformers are destroyed – at least five transformers are destroyed – which means five districts in Kyiv are left without electricity. Plus the downed drones have fallen on the city, which means combat damage is being inflicted on the capital of Ukraine. There’s military logic in that, and therefore the strikes will continue until we begin to destroy the production points of these missiles and the operators of these drones.”
According to Svitan, in order to accomplish this, Ukraine needs weapons with a range of over one thousand kilometers (over 620 miles), so that the AFU can identify and destroy the launchers along with the drones. This is what the AFU did in Crimea, which is why Russia moved the launchers from Crimea and began deploying drones from the Yeisky airfield in Krasnodar Krai, Svitan claims.
«Now [Ukraine] will find the ranges and we'll work on the Krasnodar region, as before on Crimea. For every such move, there's a counter, it just takes time. Eventually it’ll stop – when we start destroying the launchers, the factories that produce these drones and the drone operators. That's the best option.”
Belgorod under fire
Authorities in Russia's border regions continue to report strikes. The city of Belgorod and the Belgorod region came under fire the day before, with regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov claiming that an air defense system went off over the city. Gladkov also claimed that debris from a missile damaged one of the region’s poultry farms. Windows in apartment buildings were broken in one of Belgorod’s districts, and damage was inflicted to private cars and a residential area. One person was killed in the shelling and eight others were wounded.
Borshchevik complex to hunt for Starlink
The Sestroretsk Arms Plant, a private company, has designed the “Borshchevik” (“Hogweed”) direction finding complex for hunting Starlink terminals. Tests of the new mobile complex should be completed soon. The “Borshchevik” is designed to detect Starlink terminals, the company claims, adding that complex can detect Starlink locations at a distance of up to 10 km (6 miles) with an accuracy of 60 meters (65 yards).
After the start of Russia’s invasion, Starlink satellite internet terminals began operating in Ukraine. Due to the continuous shelling of the country’s communication infrastructure, the network is important for Ukraine’s defense capability, allowing the AFU to fight and maintain communication lines even when the cellular and Internet networks are destroyed. In total, about 20,000 Starlink terminals were transferred to Ukraine. According to Elon Musk, the operation cost SpaceX $80 million and is slated to exceed $100 million by the end of the year. In mid-October, Musk told the Pentagon that he would no longer be able to fund the network in Ukraine. SpaceX asked the US Department of Defense to absorb these costs. However, Musk then reverted on his request and promised to continue providing Starlink services for free.
Russia wants to use Soviet infantry tactics
The Russian military is developing plans for large-scale infantry attacks similar to the tactics used by the USSR during World War II, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak told The New York Times, citing intelligence reports. Military expert Roman Svitan told The Insider that Russia could indeed use such tactics as it has no other option:
“Technologically, Russia is a backward country, meaning that the weapons it has been able to accumulate somehow, it has already used. So all that’s left is manpower and prehistoric means of destruction from the last millennium. It is with these means – old tanks, old artillery and a lot of manpower – that they will carry out infantry attacks. Of the forces and means that they have, infantry attacks are carried out near Bakhmut in small battalion-tactical groups (BTGs) of 10 to 30 men – a platoon, squad or company at most, but this is rare.
They are left with only infantry tactics, which is what Podolyak is talking about – the use of infantry offensives in large numbers from unprepared troops on equipment that is practically non-existent. The Russians are now mobilizing citizens in waves, and those mobilized in waves will be thrown onto the front line with small arms. That's all they can do, but they’ll do it because they have a large mobilization resource – about 15 million people and a big country. They can accomplish this kind of task by destroying their own people. They don't have any other options.”