A Russian train carrying troops and equipment to reinforce positions in southern Ukraine was blown up by American-supplied precision missiles over the weekend, killing dozens of soldiers and destroying many rail cars, according to Ukrainian officials, who released satellite imagery of the strike site to support their claim.
At the same time, Russia sought to renew its flailing effort to advance in eastern Ukraine, once again blanketing the front with overwhelming artillery fire as it tried to reposition ground forces to press forward.
On multiple fronts, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries were trying to dictate both how and where the battle is fought. Much will turn on which army succeeds in that effort.
For the Ukrainians, that means attacking the Russians where they are weakest on both the eastern and southern fronts, employing some of the same tactics they used in the early months of the war to drive the Russians from around Kyiv and other cities and towns in the north.
For the Russians, that means using the kind of brute force that has laid waste to many of the cities now under their control.
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As more long-range Western weapons have arrived in the country, Ukraine has been increasingly able to wage what military analysts call a “deep war,” attacking Russian command and control centers, hitting key supply routes, trying to isolate Russian forces in pockets, and enlisting Ukrainian guerrillas behind enemy lines in the south to assist in targeting Russian positions and engage in sabotage.
The attack on the train over the weekend was the latest in a series of strikes that have disrupted Russian logistical efforts and inflicted grave losses.
“According to intelligence data, all the drivers and engineers of the Russian Railways company, who were transporting military cargo from Crimea to the Kherson region, were killed,” Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said on Monday morning.
While his specific claims not be independently verified, video of an explosion and satellite imagery of the aftermath offered evidence that the Ukrainians struck a Russian train along one of two main rail lines running from Crimea to southern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said on Monday that in recent weeks it had destroyed at least 15 ammunition depots in southern Ukraine alone — with many of the strikes captured on video — forcing the Russians to use surface-to-air missiles to strike ground targets. The Pentagon said last week that Ukraine was using Western weapons to increasingly devastating effect.
The Ukrainians have become very effective in finding and killing Russian command and control hubs and destroying large amounts of Russian equipment, a senior U.S. defense department official said on Friday.
The exiled Ukrainian governor of Kherson, Dmytro Butrii, said on Monday that some 46 villages in the province had been liberated but some of them had been nearly completely destroyed and were still under Russian shelling.
The Russians have shown that they can still cause widespread death and destruction with the vast arsenal still at their disposal.
Use of overwhelming force has been at the heart of Russian military doctrine since Soviet days. The advances their forces made this spring in the eastern Luhansk region came only after Russian artillery had basically reduced towns to rubble.
“Their tactic remains much the same as it was during the hostilities in Luhansk region,” Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said on Monday.
He said the Russians were making daily attempts to mount an offensive on the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region but so far had failed to break through the main Ukrainian defensive lines.
Russia’s forces in the east — as well as in certain parts of the south — were also massing troops to try to advance along several lines of attack, the Ukrainian military high command said. While Western military analysts think it is unlikely that Russia will succeed in any attempt to gain large new swaths of territory, the Ukrainians would need to respond — influencing how quickly they can mount a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has expressed growing confidence that as long as the West continues to supply the weapons it needs Ukraine can win the war. But Kyiv also must persuade a war-weary public and Western allies to be patient.