For three weeks, Russian and Ukrainian ground forces have been embroiled in a costly tank battle on the outskirts of Vuhledar, in southern Ukraine. The engagement is the largest tank battle to occur in the Russo-Ukrainian War thus far, and has resulted in heavy losses for the Russians, with the Ukrainian military claiming an estimated 130 armored vehicles have been destroyed by the country’s forces.
Part of the wider Battle of Donbas, the fighting occurring in Vuhledar has seen heavy tank use and infantry advances. Since mid-March 2022, the Russian military has attempted to capture the coal mining town, launching continuous failed assaults against Ukrainian soldiers and civilian infrastructure. By the end of December, this was resulting in around 60 Ukrainian casualties per day.
The largest assault on Vuhledar began on January 24, 2023. With the aid of soldiers from the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Russians were able to push the Ukrainian forces deep into the town. While the former achieved some early success, the latter destroyed a number of Russian tanks and weapons.
A more coordinated offensive against Vuhledar was launched during the second week of February, which, again, has failed to be successful for the Russians, who’ve suffered heavy infantry, fighting vehicle and tank losses. Many have attributed these failures to the leadership of inexperienced officers and tank commanders, as well as ill-prepared conscripts whose morale is at an all time low.
As the Russians advance in columns, the Ukrainians remain on the defensive, firing their artillery and anti-tank missiles from a distance. Those manning the tanks have panicked during these barrages, turning their vehicles around and inadvertently driving over landmines.
According to the Ukrainian military, troops have managed to nearly completely eradicate the elite 155th Naval Infantry Brigade, with an estimated 150-300 additional enemy Marines losing their lives each day. On top of this, its alleged around 130 tanks and armored personnel carriers have been lost in the battle raging in Vuhledar, dealing Russia heavy losses reminiscent of the early days of the Russo-Ukrainian War.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, little ground has been gained by Russia through these continued assaults. This has led many to speculate that the fighting occurring in Vuhledar is intended to distract from the lack of progress in Bakhmut.
The eastern Ukrainian city has been the site of intense urban and trench warfare since August 2022, with the Ukrainian forces continuing to put up a stiff defense against deadly and repeated Russian attacks.
In Vuhledar, the continued fighting has left the town in ruins, with the deputy mayor saying that “one hundred percent of the buildings” have been damaged. There are no services, and residents have been forced to collect rainwater to survive. This has resulted in the majority of Vuhledar’s 15,000-strong population to evacuate. It’s estimated around 500 civilians remain in the town, the majority unable to leave because they have nowhere to go.
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As for why the Ukrainian military continues to fight for Vuhledar, it’s since been revealed to be a key position from which troops can target Russian supply lines.