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Weekly Ukraine war summary: AFU counterattacks in Vovchansk, HIMARS strikes on air defenses in Russia’s Belgorod Region

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In today's summary:

  • The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have successfully stabilized the situation in Kharkiv Oblast. However, efforts to achieve similar stability in the Donbas region have not yet been successful.
  • Russian forces are expanding their zone of control north and south of Chasiv Yar on the Bakhmut axis.
  • Ukrainian forces have pushed back the enemy in the Vovchansk urban area, while the northern part of the town has been turned into ruins.
  • Russia carries out combined strikes in Ukraine — targets include energy facilities and military airfields.
  • First effective use of Western weapons on Russian territory — Russian S-300/S-400 air defense system hit by HIMARS MLRS near Belgorod.
  • Vladimir Putin claimed a hard-to-believe ratio of losses in war, saying Russian Armed Forces have lost “five times fewer” soldiers than Ukraine.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron announced the transfer of Mirage 2000-5 fighters to the AFU.
  • New U.S. military aid package includes howitzers, M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs), and ammunition for air defense systems and HIMARS.

Situation on the front lines

In one of his recent overviews, Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets noted that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), unlike on the Kharkiv axis, did not manage to completely stop the Russian advance in the eastern operational zone (i.e. the Donbas region). In the north of the Avdiivka operational area, near Ocheretyne, the situation remains threatening: in particular, Russian forces have engaged in fighting for the village of Sokil. Impressive footage of these battles has been circulated on social media, including a “meeting engagement” between a Russian BTR-82A APC carrying soldiers on its hull and a Ukrainian M2 Bradley IFV on the same road. In the same section of the front, as reported by members of the Ukrainian military (1, 2), the Russian army is continuing its attempts to reach the Pokrovsk-Kostiantynivka highway.

West of Avdiivka, Russian forces managed to reach Karlivka (confirmed by geolocation from the Ukrainian DeepState project) and began encircling Yasnobrodivka. Near Marinka, the Russians have fully occupied the hamlet of Pobjeda, and, according to an as yet unconfirmed statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, Paraskoviivka. DeepState also reported about Russian attacks along the Vuhledar-Kostiantynivka highway on the eastern flank of the Vuhledar Bulge.

According to Mashovets, Russian forces are preparing to advance on Vuhledar from the south as well, amid ongoing attempts to restore the situation on the Vremevsky Bulge that existed before the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the summer of 2023. According to his assessment, the Russians have managed to dislodge the AFU from Staromaiorske. Meanwhile, the Russian pro-war “Rezhim B” (lit. “Mode B”) Telegram channel — connected to the Russian army’s Vostok Group, which is operating in this direction — reported Russian successes in Urozhaine.

The situation is no less dangerous in Chasiv Yar and its surrounding area. According to an assessment by BILD columnist Julian Röpcke, Russian troops have occupied Kalynivka to the north of the town and crossed the Siversky Donets-Donbas canal there. South of the city, as per Kostiantyn Mashovets, the Russian Armed Forces are also expanding their zone of control, advancing south of the Novy neighborhood. A Russian serviceman contributing to the “Temniy” (lit” Dark”) Telegram channel claims that the Russians are managing to repel counterattacks on both flanks of the offensive.

Meanwhile, Chasiv Yar's defenders from Ukraine’s “Black Swan” UAV unit (part of the 225th Separate Assault Battalion) are bombarding a pipeline near the town with drone drops in order to prevent Russian forces from using the structure as cover while infiltrating the Ukrainian rear, as happened in past battles near Avdiivka.

Things are somewhat better for the AFU in the Kharkiv direction, where they manage not only to hold their positions, but also to counterattack. According to Röpcke, Ukrainian forces managed to significantly push the Russians out of some urban areas of Vovchansk. The northern part of the city, meanwhile, has been turned into ruins due to Russian bombardment, as per a DeepState report that included a satellite image of the area.

Some responsibility for the destruction of Vovchansk appears to lie with the Biden administration. The Washington Post reported that it took the White House 17 days to authorize the use of American weapons for strikes on Russia’s Belgorod Oblast near the border with Kharkiv Oblast — this was after Ukraine made a request to the U.S. in connection with the launch of the Russian offensive in the area. However, the AFU often manages without American weapons: for example, near the border with the neighboring Sumy Oblast, a Russian convoy was destroyed with the help of Ukrainian-made drones.

The Insider released a detailed breakdown of the preliminary results of Russia's Kharkiv operation. Experts agree that taking Kharkiv in the short term is out of the question, and even Russia’s so-called “war correspondents” are warning that the AFU is quite capable of pushing the Russian army back to the border.

Ukrainian diplomats, in the meantime, promise to fight for the removal of the remaining restrictions on the use of Western weapons on Russian territory. In particular, the ban on attacks using long-range ATACMS missiles has not yet been lifted.

The independent Russian publication Verstka found hundreds of deserters and “refuseniks” among Russia's mobilized soldiers, who are held in military units across the country and then sent back to the front, where they are transferred to assault groups as punishment for leaving their previous units, or for refusing to participate in combat operations. By January 2024, at least 800 people were on the list of mobilized men who had fled the war.

Mutual strikes and sabotage

On the night of June 1, Russian forces launched a massive missile and drone strike on Ukraine. The Ukrainian Air Force reported destroying 35 of 53 missiles and 46 of 47 Shahed-type drones. Energy infrastructure facilities in five regions, including two thermal power plants and two hydroelectric power plants, were hit. The Russian Defense Ministry justified the strike by saying that it was aimed at power facilities that “support the operation of enterprises of [Ukraine’s] military-industrial complex.”

Ukrainian air defenses also had to repel drone strikes and combined missile and drone attacks on the nights of June 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7. During the attacks of June 7, an industrial facility in Kyiv Oblast was damaged. According to Russian sources, the impacted facility was an oil depot.

Authorities in the Odesa, Poltava, Kharkiv (1, 2), Dnipropetrovsk (1, 2, 3) and Donetsk (1, 2) Oblasts all reported civilian casualties as a result of Russian attacks. There has been a slight decrease in the frequency of attacks on Kharkiv and Kharkiv Oblast, but it is difficult to say to what extent this is due to the lifting of the ban on the use of Western weapons in the Russian border region and whether this is a long-term trend.

Significant strikes on Ukrainian military facilities include the shelling of Starokostiantyniv airfield in Khmelnytskyi Oblast, as well as the Kanatove and Dovhyntseve airfields in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. According to satellite imagery, the first two airfields suffered infrastructure damage. At Dovhyntseve, an attack with a Lancet loitering munition damaged (but most likely did not destroy) a Ukrainian Su-25 ground attack jet. Russian forces also struck another crossing in Kharkiv Oblast and a warehouse of engineering equipment and construction materials in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

According to calculations from Twitter user John Ridge, as of June 2, Russia had fired a total of 2,074 subsonic cruise missiles, 169 supersonic cruise missiles, five hypersonic cruise missiles, 738 ballistic missiles, 335 tactical missiles, and 5,585 Shahed-type drones at Ukraine since August 2022 alone. The New York Times, in turn, estimated the number of destroyed and damaged buildings in Ukraine at 210,000, basing its conclusions on satellite data. Among these are hundreds of facilities protected by the Geneva Conventions, including 106 hospitals, 109 churches, and 708 schools.

The week also saw more “abnormal releases” of Russian guided bombs on Russia’s Belgorod Region (1, 2, 3). The Insider calculated that at least 88 Russian aerial munitions have been “abnormally released” over the region so far in 2024, 85 of which are various versions of the FAB-series high explosive bombs.

The AFU's most significant strike over the past week was what appears to be the first effective use of Western-supplied weapons on Russian soil. The target, a S-300/400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) positioning area near the village of Kiselevo, close to Belgorod, came under attack by a HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). The strike resulted in the destruction of two 5P85SM2-01 launchers and a BAZ-69092 towing vehicle.

Aside from those mentioned above, the previous week also saw Ukrainian forces carry out strikes in:

A simultaneous strike in Luhansk caused a section of a five-story apartment block to collapse, killing four people and injuring more than 50. Ukrainian sources noted (1, 2) that Russian media attempted to pass off parts of a Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile as debris from an American-made ATACMS missile, as the Russian sources asserted that Ukraine was responsible for the destruction of the apartment building in Luhansk.

In addition to this incident, civilian casualties were reported by authorities in Belgorod Oblast (1, 2, 3, 4), as well as by the Russia-installed occupation “administrations” of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts.

According to data compiled by Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) volunteers, civilian casualties saw a significant rise in May compared to April. The onset of the Russian offensive in Kharkiv Oblast resulted in a more than 25% increase in documented civilian deaths, rising from 220 to 282. Additionally, the number of injured civilians surged by nearly 30%, from 1,071 to 1,386. These figures include casualties in both Russia and Ukraine, including in the Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation.

Losses

OSINT analyst Naalsio has updated his estimates of Russian and Ukrainian equipment losses based on data from open sources. In the Avdiivka operational area, Naalsio puts Russia’s confirmed losses of equipment from May 24 to May 31 at 35 units, while the AFU lost only six. In the vicinity of Krynky on the left bank of the Dnipro River, Russia was reported to have lost one unit of equipment over the same period, while Ukraine lost none.

Naalsio has also updated estimates of this week’s visually confirmed losses of military equipment in the Kharkiv sector. Overall, the Russian Armed Forces lost at least 29 pieces of equipment (25 of which were destroyed), and the AFU lost six (all destroyed).

A contract serviceman of the Russian Armed Forces told ASTRA about losses during the attacks on Vovchansk. According to him, they were sent to the town with nothing but bulletproof vests and assault rifles. As a result, only 12 fighters of his 100-strong company remained in action (most of the others were wounded).

The Russians have executed at least 61 Ukrainian POWs during the war, according to a statement from Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin. Kostin also said that, of the 2,200 Ukrainians who have returned from captivity, more than 500 testified to the use of physical violence — including electric torture — against them during interrogation.

The Insider published a selection of photos of Ukrainians who returned from captivity bearing signs of emaciation.

At a conference attended by representatives of international news agencies at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Vladimir Putin spoke about military losses on the Russian and Ukrainian sides. According to the BBC Russian Service, Putin made unsubstantiated claims that Russian losses were “a fraction of those on the Ukrainian side.” The Russian president claimed the number of Russian servicemen in Ukrainian captivity was 1,348, and that the number of Ukrainian servicemen in Russian captivity was 6,465.

According to Putin, the ratio of irrecoverable losses (that is, Russian and Ukrainian military dead) is comparable: “one to five or so.” Concretely, Putin estimated the AFU’s “sanitary and irrecoverable losses” — meaning those wounded, captured, missing, or killed — in the last month as “approximately 50,000.”

Weapons and military equipment

French President Emmanuel Macron's promise to transfer Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets to Kyiv was potentially the most significant of the arms pledges announced this week. Aside from announcing the Mirage shipment, France also said it plans to train and equip a brigade of 4,500 AFU soldiers.

Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) analyst Justin Bronk believes that the Mirage 2000-5 is vulnerable to a dual threat: Russian SAMs and R-37M air-to-air missiles. Ukrainian military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko, in turn, noted in a comment to The Insider that while the Mirage may face problems with maintenance and spare parts (because the French jets are fewer in number than other NATO aircraft), they do offer many technical advantages over the F-16.

Simultaneously, the Franco-German KNDS consortium, known for producing the Caesar self-propelled howitzer, announced the establishment of a subsidiary in Ukraine. This subsidiary aims to set up a service center for the howitzers, organize 3D printing of spare parts, and produce 155-mm artillery ammunition.

Germany has also expanded its contract for the production of artillery rounds, allowing for additional orders to be placed for both the Bundeswehr and the AFU. Furthermore, Germany has resumed production of the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers, and the Hensoldt company has announced plans to manufacture missile defense systems for Ukrainian helicopters.

The United States has announced a new military assistance package to Ukraine under the Presidential Drawdown Authority for Military Assistance (PDA). This package includes munitions for air defense and HIMARS systems, along with additional howitzers, mortars, and M113 APCs.

Italy plans to transfer another SAMP/T air defense system to Ukraine. The Netherlands is preparing to produce Swedish CV90 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) for the AFU. Meanwhile, the UK and Latvia have issued a call for commercial proposals to produce low-cost first-person-view (FPV) drones. Additionally, Ukraine showcased the Cheetah self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG), a Dutch variant of the German Flakpanzer Gepard, which was bought back by the U.S. from Jordan last year.

Dutch variant of the German Flakpanzer Gepard (nicknamed the 'Cheetah') in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Dutch variant of the German Flakpanzer Gepard (nicknamed the 'Cheetah') in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Photo: “West” Air Command of the Ukrainian Air Force

Russia has commenced serial production of Granat-4 reconnaissance UAVs, one of which provided target designation for destroying an M1 Abrams tank. Russia also aims to produce over 8,000 light reconnaissance drones this year, a figure that does not include its plans for the Orlan and Zala UAVs. Moscow has also started equipping Kh-101 missiles with cluster warheads. Furthermore, Russia's latest wheeled self-propelled howitzer, the Malva, was spotted in Belgorod Oblast, marking its first documented appearance at the front.

Both Ukrainian and Russian soldiers continue to add grills to their vehicles. The AFU demonstrated Dutch YPR-765 APCs, which are used as “shuttle buses to Robotyne,” equipped with protective screens. On the Russian side, the week saw the appearance of “moto-grills” — motorcycles fully enclosed by anti-drone grills (even if some Russian pro-war channels were quick to criticize the innovation). Ukrainian volunteers are also equipping Ukrainian-made Bohdana howitzers with similar anti-drone screens — Bohdanas are often required to travel close to the front line for counter-battery fire, exposing themselves to Russian UAV strikes. The Russians, for their part, are adapting factory-made protective screens for BTR-82A armored personnel carriers and adding them to their tanks.

Our previous weekly summaries of the main events of the Ukraine war:

May 25 — May 31: Ban on striking Russia with Western weapons partially lifted, Russian offensive on Kharkiv stopped

May 18 — May 24: Russia razing Vovchansk to the ground, Shahed downing record, and a strike on Russia’s nuclear forces facility

May 11 — May 17: Russian advances near Kharkiv and Donetsk stalled, unprecedented Ukrainian drone attack on Russia and Crimea

May 6 — May 10: Kharkiv border region “comes into motion,” record long-range drone attack on Russian territory

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