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Weekly Ukraine war summary: U.S. accuses Russian army of using chemical weapons, missile strikes on Odesa, “death fields” near Avdiivka

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In today's summary:

  • North of Avdiivka, the advance of the Russian Armed Forces threatens the important Pokrovsk-Kostiantynivka highway.
  • Fierce fighting for Robotyne continues, and with almost nowhere left to take cover, Russian attackers are highly vulnerable to Ukrainian drones.
  • The U.S. Department of State officially accused the Russian military of systematic use of chemical weapons, namely tear gas and chloropicrin.
  • Odesa was hit by missile strikes three times between Apr. 29 and May 2; one missile carried a cluster warhead.
  • Shocking footage of “death fields” outside Avdiivka show the bodies of at least 82 combatants killed along a stretch of 444 meters.
  • The imminent transfer of an Italian SAMP-T air defense system and German TRML-4D radars to Ukraine has been announced.
  • The U.S. is ramping up production of artillery ammunition and will supply additional ATACMS missiles to Ukraine.
  • Ukrainians are adapting piston-engined aircraft to fight Russian drones.

Situation at the front

Over the past week, Russian forces have sought to build on territorial gains recently made around Ocheretyne, north of the Avdiivka operational area. They have managed to take control of Keramyk and Novokalynove, enter Arkhangelske, and advance to within 10 kilometers of the Pokrovsk-Kostiantynivka highway, an important logistics artery for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) in Donbas.

To the south, the Russian Armed Forces managed to gain a true foothold at the refractory plant in Krasnohorivka (north of Marinka) one week after planting the Russian flag at that spot. According to Ukrainian military blogger Kostiantyn Mashovets, the tactical successes of Russian troops threaten to translate into operational value, putting Ukrainian-controlled Kostiantynivka, Sloviansk, and Kramatorsk in jeopardy. However, any talk about a full-fledged Russian breakthrough of Ukrainian defensive lines in the east is premature.

In the area of Chasiv Yar, the Russian Armed Forces are attempting to breach the city limits from the east while encircling the town from the south. They have reached the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas canal and forced their way across. The Ukrainian units leading the defense complain of Russian FPV (first-person view) drones’ overpowering presence, and about the Ukrainian losses resulting from munitions dropped by Russian UAVs.

In the vicinity of Robotyne, Russian forces managed to enter the destroyed village and even planted a flag there, but Ukrainian sources claim the Russians were driven out of the settlement. Meanwhile, Russian pro-war channels deny (1, 2, 3, 4) that their side has captured Robotyne, contradicting hastily reported stories from Kremlin-controlled media. The Telegram channel Dva Mayora considers Russia’s activities near Robotyne to be inept and predictable, particularly when compared with what it considers to be the effective maneuvers of the Russian military in the area of Ocheretyne and Arkhangelske.

Subscribers of the channel explain that there is practically nowhere left to take cover in the destroyed village, which allows the AFU to track every movement of Russian infantry with UAVs and to send out FPV drones, even against individual soldiers.

In the Lyman sector, the Russian Armed Forces entered the village of Kyslivka, pushing back a Ukrainian Territorial Defense battalion defending positions there. Russian troops have not yet succeeded in completely capturing the settlement, but they have made advances in neighboring Kotlyarivka as well.

AFU Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi announced the liberation of Nestryga Island in the Dnipro River. However, according to Russian military blogger Kirill Fedorov, Russian forces immediately launched shelling and other attacks on the island and forced the AFU to retreat with losses.

Analysts and representatives of Ukrainian government agencies continue to speculate about the plans of the Russian command. Possible scenarios for the development of fighting this summer involve localized encirclements of individual AFU groups, possibly in the area of Vuhledar and south of Bakhmut. It is also possible that Russian forces will attempt to launch an offensive towards Kharkiv and Sumy.

Rob Lee, a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute's Eurasia Program, believes that the first deliveries financed by the recently approved package of American military aid will help Ukraine stabilize the situation on the front. However, he stresses that without addressing personnel shortages, Ukraine will not be able to restore the offensive potential of its armed forces by 2025.

The Insider previously published an in-depth dissection of the new Ukraine aid act passed in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of State officially accused the Russian Armed Forces of using chemical weapons, issuing a statement alleging that the Russian side systematically uses not only tear gas but also chloropicrin on the battlefield. On Apr. 5, 2024, the AFU's Office of Strategic Communications reported that there had been 371 cases of the Russian military using munitions containing hazardous chemicals in March 2024 alone.

The Insider released a piece quoting Russian servicemen who were forced to participate in so-called “meat grinder assaults” — the practice of sending infantry to attack enemy positions without proper training or support from artillery, drones, and armored vehicles. The tactic often results in heavy casualties among the attackers. The Russian soldiers’ testimony paints a picture of extreme equipment shortages and blatant disregard for the lives of personnel by those in command. The article will be available in English shortly.

Over the course of the week, Russian military personnel and their relatives complained about attempts by military police to impound a vehicle delivering food to soldiers in the occupied Kherson region, demands that troops on the front lines pass physical fitness tests, and the illegal detention of servicemen who refused to fight. Meanwhile, representatives of an AFU battalion in the Zaporizhzhya sector accused the command of Ukraine’s 68th Separate Jaeger Brigade of trying to “dispose” of them and demanded that the battalion be withdrawn for recuperation and removed from the brigade's subordination.

Mutual strikes and sabotage

On the night of Apr. 27, the Russian Armed Forces carried out a massive missile attack on the territory of Ukraine, hitting four thermal power plants in different regions of the country. According to the AFU Air Force Command, 21 of the 34 missiles were shot down. Notably, the Russian attack utilized eight sea-launched Kalibr missiles simultaneously, a munition Russia had barely used in months. This may indicate that the Russian Navy has figured out how to outfit naval ships with such missiles at the base in Novorossiysk, where a significant part of its Black Sea Fleet was redeployed following repeated Ukrainian strikes on Crimea.

Between Apr. 29 and May 2, Odesa was hit three times by ballistic missiles. One of the strikes, which involved the use of a cluster munition, hit a busy seaside area, killing six people and injuring 32 more. Among the targets of the other two strikes were reportedly the headquarters of the AFU Operational Command South and the Telekart plant, which had probably ceased military production. The latter strike burned down a terminal of the logistics company Nova Poshta.

Kharkiv city and Kharkiv Oblast are also among the significantly affected parts of Ukraine. Russian strikes there were carried out with various types of munitions, from FPV drones to guided aerial bombs (including a new type of glide bomb, the UMPB D-30).

Ukrainian forces responded during the week with massive missile and drone attacks on Russian territory and occupied Crimea. Ukraine launched a successful raid on the Kushchevskaya airfield in the Krasnodar Krai of southern Russia, damaging a warehouse of Unified Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK) glide-bomb kits and likely at least one aircraft.

Ukraine also continued ATACMS strikes on Crimea, affecting military personnel at several air defense facilities and hitting at least one S-300/S-400 surface-to-air missile launcher. Another ATACMS strike hit a training ground near Rohove in the Luhansk region, where a cluster of 116 Russian military personnel suffered casualties.

In addition, two oil refineries in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai were hit on Apr. 27 (one of them suspended operations as a result), and on May 1, a primary oil refining unit in Ryazan caught fire after a drone strike. Politico notes that regular strikes on Russia's oil refining facilities have already driven up gasoline and diesel prices in the country.

Losses

British and French authorities have offered their assessments of the Russian Armed Forces' losses over the course of the full-scale war in Ukraine. Leo Docherty, the British Minister of State for the Armed Forces, put the Russian casualties at 450,000 killed and wounded, excluding private military company fighters. Meanwhile, in an interview with Novaya Europe, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné estimated the Russian side's losses at 500,000 troops, including 150,000 killed.

With assistance from a team of volunteers, over the past two weeks, journalists from BBC Russian Service and Mediazona have used open-source material to confirm the deaths of another 1,059 Russians in the fighting in Ukraine. This brings the total number of Russian soldiers documented to have been killed in action to 52,155 since the start of the full-scale invasion.

According to the investigator Naalsio, in the week from Apr. 19 to Apr. 26, the Russian Armed Forces lost at least 25 pieces of equipment in the Avdiivka operational area, while the AFU's confirmed losses increased by one unit. In the area of the AFU bridgehead in Krynki on the left bank of the Dnipro River, he verified the loss of one Russian truck and two Ukrainian drones over the same period.

Human Rights Watch has verified reports that, since December 2023, Russian soldiers appear to have executed at least 15 Ukrainian servicemen as they attempted to surrender. The organization emphasizes that, in the incidents it studied, the Ukrainian soldiers “demonstrated a clear intent to surrender and, since they were no longer taking part in hostilities, were considered hors de combat and not targetable under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war.” On Apr. 9 of this year, the Office of the Prosecutor-General of Ukraine reported that it had confirmed 54 cases in which Ukrainian prisoners of war had been shot, and that the office had initiated 27 criminal cases connected with those events.

The scale of losses near Avdiivka was revealed via footage filmed by a Russian serviceman (extremely graphic content, viewer discretion advised). The video shows 82 bodies of dead soldiers along a 444-meter stretch of treeline near Stepove, where this past winter Russian forces made multiple unsuccessful attempts to break through to the city's supply lines from the north. The Russia No Context channel, which published the video, notes that its subscribers’ comments indicate that 10 of the bodies captured in the footage may belong to Ukrainian soldiers, while the confirmed losses of military vehicles in the area amounted to four units for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and 28 for the Russian Armed Forces.

Weapons and military equipment

Perhaps the most important piece of news this week regarding Western arms deliveries to Ukraine was La Repubblica's scoop of Italy's plans to allocate one more SAMP-T surface-to-air missile system to Kyiv (earlier, President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke about the need for at least seven systems of this class). In addition, Germany's Hensoldt promised to deliver six more TRML-4D radars by the end of the year, and Belgium said it would accelerate deliveries of F-16s, transfer surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine, and contribute €200 million to a German-led “air defense coalition.” According to Zelensky, Norway will provide Ukraine with an extra $600 million, which the Ukrainian president says will largely be put towards air defense. In addition, Lithuania promised to deliver German-made Mantis NBS C-RAM automated air defense systems.

The German government has updated its statistics on arms and military equipment delivered to Ukraine. The recent additions to the list include, inter alia, 10 Marder 1A3 infantry fighting vehicles, a Skynex self-propelled air defense artillery system, surface-to-air missiles for IRIS-T systems, 29,638 rounds of ammunition for Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, and 7,500 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition.

The comments of Douglas Bush, Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, point to increased production of artillery ammunition and the arrival of a large number of ATACMS missiles under old orders, which will allow the U.S. to transfer these weapons to the Armed Forces of Ukraine on a larger scale.

In the meantime, the Ukrainians are adapting Soviet-era propeller aircraft to fight against Russian reconnaissance drones. A Ukrainian Yak-52 plane has shot down two Russian UAVs — an Orlan and a Zala — over the Odesa region using early WWI-era tactics: the second crew member fired at the drones with a personal firearm (most likely an automatic rifle or a shotgun).

Among Russian innovations in the field of counter-drone systems was an installation of three coaxial PKT machine guns with collimator sights, which were demonstrated to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The design was mercilessly criticized by Russian prowar bloggers (1, 2), who compared the adaptation to “using a wooden abacus in the digital age” and pointed out the system’s lack of remote control and electro-optical targeting systems.

The Defense Intelligence of Ukraine assessed the stockpiles and production of several types of Russian long-range missiles. According to Ukrainian intelligence, as of the end of April, the Russian Armed Forces possessed an available 40 Tsirkon hypersonic missiles (with a production rate of up to 10 per month), 400 Oniks cruise missiles (up to 10 per month), 270 Kalibr cruise missiles (30-40 per month), and 45 Kh-69 guided missiles (1-3 units per month).

Russian infantry fighting vehicles with factory-made enhanced armor, which used to be a rare sight, continued to flow to the front. Meanwhile, those Russian soldiers who did not get new IFVs are outfitting Chinese Desertсross and Russian UAZ Hunter all-terrain vehicles with makeshift armor commonly referred to as mangal (“barbecue grills”).

The main events of the Ukraine war in our weekly summaries:

Previous weekly summary (Apr. 22–26, 2024:) Russian armed forces cut into Ukrainian defenses near Ocheretyne, U.S. announces largest aid package of the war

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