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Ukraine Had No Choice But To Deploy One Of Its Least-Prepared Brigades

The situation in and around Ocheretyne is desperate for Ukraine

This weekend, Russian drones and scouts surveilling the front line just west of the ruins of Avdiivka, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, observed something strange. Ukrainian trenches just east of the village of Ocheretyne, previously manned by soldiers from the Ukrainian army’s elite 47th Mechanized Brigade, were empty.

The village was undefended

Seizing the opportunity, the Russian army’s 30th Motor Rifle Brigade raced several miles along the railroad threading west from Avdiivka and captured most of Ocheretyne—and potentially also Novobakhmutivka, the village south of Ocheretyne.

It’s the fastest penetration into Ukrainian territory by Russian forces in months—and it threatens to collapse Ukraine’s defensive line west of Avdiivka. A line that has held for months, but now has a deep and widening gap in it. “Pandora’s box is open,” Ukrainian analysis group Deep State commented.

To get a sense of how frightened Ukrainian commanders are right now, consider the brigade they rushed into the breach north and west of Ocheretyne: the 100th Mechanized Brigade. The brigade is one of the newest and most lightly-equipped brigades in the Ukrainian army—and seemingly unsuited for the kind of front-line triage commanders are asking of it.

The collapse in Ocheretyne reportedly isn’t the 47th Mechanized Brigade’s fault. That brigade—the main operator of Ukraine’s American-made armored vehicles—was following orders to withdraw from Ocheretyne in order to redeploy to the rear for a much-needed period of rest after spending nearly a year in combat.

The 115th Mechanized Brigade was supposed to take the 47th Mechanized Brigade’s place in Ocheretyne, seamlessly filling the same fighting positions with enough troops to maintain the integrity of the defensive line west of Avdiivka.

But something went wrong. According to Mykola Melnyk, the famed 47th Mechanized Brigade company commander who lost a leg during Ukraine’s counteroffensive last year, “certain units just fucked off.”

The 115th Mechanized Brigade’s failure to hold the line practically invited the Russian 30th Motor Rifle Brigade into Ocheretyne—and triggered a panicky response in Ukrainian headquarters. Commanders ordered the battle-weary 47th Mechanized Brigade to turn around and return to the front line. They also ordered the 100th Mechanized Brigade to counterattack.

The 100th Mechanized Brigade is a former territorial brigade—the equivalent of a U.S. Army National Guard unit—that the defense ministry in Kyiv upgraded to the active army in late March.

The 100th Mechanized Brigade isn’t inexperienced: its 2,000 or so troopers have seen action many times in Russia’s 26-month wider war on Ukraine. But the brigade lacks the heavy equipment—Western-made tanks, fighting vehicles and artillery—that gives more elite units such as the 47th Mechanized Brigade much of their combat power.

The 100th Mechanized Brigade fought hard, anyway, intercepting the Russian 30th Motor Rifle Brigade and other units from the Russian 41st Combined Arms Army as they attempted to advance toward the village of Prohres, another seven miles to the west along the same railroad linking Avdiivka to Ocheretyne. “The attempt to advance towards Prohres was stopped by a successful counterattack by the 100th Mechanized Brigade,” Deep State reported.

It’s unclear what might happen next in and around Ocheretyne. For now, Ukrainian troops “hold positions in the western part of the village and maintain fire control over its southern part,” the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies noted.

That the Ukrainians had to rush into a combat a comparatively weak brigade speaks to the paucity of Ukraine’s reserves west of Avdiivka, however. The Russians, for their part, are keeping an entire tank division, the 90th, in reserve around Avdiivka.

If the 90th Tank Division rolls into Ocheretyne before the Ukrainian eastern command mobilizes additional reinforcements, the Russian penetration could widen into a full-fledged breakthrough—one that could force tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops to retreat west to their next line of defenses.

For the Ukrainians, the best reason to be hopeful is the $1 billion in fresh munitions the United States rushed to Ukraine in the hours after the U.S Congress finally, after six months of delay, approved additional U.S. aid to Ukraine on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian brigades around Ocheretyne will need every bullet, shell and missile they can get. Especially the lightly-equipped 100th Mechanized Brigade.

Source: Forbes