Months of preparation and improved military tactics by Russia have made advancement particularly slow and treacherous for Ukraine’s counteroffensive. The recent liberation of the village of Staromaiorske in Donetsk province showcased the difficulties faced by Ukrainian soldiers. They encountered stiffer resistance than expected, facing anti-tank weapons, grenade launchers, extensive minefields, and entrenched defenses fortified by superior air support. Ukrainian troops are also pinned against Russian fire by surveillance drones that relay their location. Despite these challenges, Ukraine continues to press the action on three fronts in an effort to spread out Moscow’s troops and create a weak spot that could lead to a drive toward the Sea of Azov coast, potentially cutting off Russia’s supply lines.
The Ukrainian forces have reported modest gains south of Bakhmut and in the push toward the occupied port cities of Berdyansk and Melitopol. However, the progress has come at a high cost. Ukrainian soldiers describe the advancement as slow and scary, with casualties expected amongst their ranks. The ongoing conflict has taken a toll on Ukraine’s birth rate, which has fallen by 28% in the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.
Russia has forcibly mobilized up to 60,000 men in occupied territories, according to Ukraine military spokesperson Andrii Cherniak. The Russian mercenary group, Wagner, has suspended recruitment of new members due to a “large personnel reserve.” China has also tightened export controls on civilian drones to prevent their military use in Ukraine.
In addition to the military situation, Ukraine has been facing challenges in exporting its agricultural products. Since Russia withdrew from a blockade agreement and targeted port infrastructure, Ukraine has been seeking new options. A recent deal with Croatia may provide an alternative to export grain through Croatian ports on the Danube River and the Adriatic Sea.
Recent attacks have intensified the conflict, with Russian missiles targeting the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih and Ukrainian drones damaging buildings in Moscow. These actions have further escalated tensions between the two countries.