Ukrainian forces have repelled a Russian attempt to cross a strategically significant river west of Severodonetsk in the Donbas, incurring heavy losses in the process, according to British defence intelligence.
The British said Russia had lost “significant armoured manoeuvre elements” from a battalion tactical group – a formation with about 800 personnel at full strength – as well as pontoon bridging equipment.
Severodonetsk is the easternmost town held by Ukrainian forces in the Donbas, and the effort to cross the Siversky Donets River to its west was likely to have been intended to be a fresh attempt by the Russians to cut off the defending forces.
Ukraine’s defence ministry tweeted out pictures of a smashed pontoon bridge and destroyed armoured vehicles on Wednesday, describing them of victims of “artillerymen of the 17th tank brigade”.
The British assessment appears to verify that, and quantify the level of loss – effectively the equipment strength of one battalion of about 100 such Russian units operating in and near Ukraine.
“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky manoeuvre and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the British MoD said on Friday morning.
Russian forces have made incremental progress on the north side of the river, and are assessed to be in control of Rubizhne to the north-west of Severodonetsk on Thursday by the Institute for the Study of War.
“They will likely launch a ground offensive on or around Severodonetsk in the coming days,” the Institute said, but added that it was “unclear if Russian forces can encircle, let alone capture” Severodonetsk as the impetus in the Russian effort in the Donbas region appeared generally to have faded.
Elsewhere on the ground on Friday, Ukraine claimed it had damaged a Russian navy logistics ship near Snake Island in the Black Sea.
“Thanks to the actions of our naval seamen, the support vessel Vsevolod Bobrov caught fire – it is one of the newest in the Russian fleet,” said Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the Odesa regional military administration.
Satellite imagery provided by Maxar, a private US-based company, showed the aftermath of what it said were probable missile attacks on a Russian Serna-class landing craft near the island, close to Ukraine’s sea border with Romania. Maxar images also showed recent damage to buildings on the island. Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Renewed fighting around Snake Island in recent days may become a battle for control of the western Black Sea coast, according to defence officials, as Russian forces struggle to make headway in Ukraine’s north and east.
Ukrainian forces are reported to have driven Russian troops out of the region around the second-largest city, Kharkiv. Reuters news agency said its journalists had confirmed Ukraine was in control of territory stretching to the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River, about 25 miles (40km) east of Kharkiv.
Fighting has continued in Ukraine’s south and east. Ukraine’s presidency said shelling continued throughout Luhansk – part of the Donbas region where Ukrainian forces are fighting Russian armour and Kremlin-backed separatists.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in his Thursday night address to the nation that Russian forces had destroyed 570 healthcare facilities in the country, including 101 hospitals. “What for? It’s nonsense. It’s barbarity.”
In the north-eastern region of Chernihiv, three people were killed and 12 others wounded on Thursday in a strike on a school in Novhorod-Siversky, the emergency services said.
Iryna Vereshchuk, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister, said “difficult talks” were under way over the evacuation of 38 seriously wounded troops from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
She said: “We have started a new round of negotiations around a roadmap for an [evacuation] operation. And we will start with those who are badly wounded,” she told Ukraine’s 1+1 television.