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War in Ukraine, day 26: Ukrainian forces repelled Russian efforts to seize the city of Izium

Ukrainian soldiers with the military aid from Povernys Zhyvym foundation.
War in Ukraine, day 26: Ukrainian forces repelled Russian efforts to seize the city of Izium
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun
Heavy fighting continues north-west, east of Kyiv. Ukrainian forces repelled Russian efforts to seize the city of Izium, launched further localized counterattacks around Mykolayiv in the south. Russian forces continued their slow advance into Mariupol but did not achieve any major territorial gains. Ukrainian forces reportedly killed three Russian regimental commanders in the last 24 hours. The Kremlin is preparing its population for a “long war” in Ukraine. The upcoming extraordinary NATO summit on 24 March might hopefully help develop a NATO strategy adapted to the new realities.

The report is based on media reports, expert analyses and official information posted online.


According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 21.03.2022, supplemented by its [noon assessment]:

Quote. “The situation and the nature of the actions of the defence forces have not changed significantly during the last day. The Armed Forces of Ukraine and other units of the Defence Forces continue to strike at groups of enemy troops trying to hold the captured frontiers.

Et bilde som inneholder kart Automatisk generert beskrivelseAt the same time, there is a decrease in the intensity of the use of manned aircraft by the enemy. In order to assess the effectiveness of the results of missile and bomb strikes, the enemy used operational and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.

During the previous day, units of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine hit 7 air targets of the enemy (1 plane, 4 UAVs and 2 cruise missiles). In addition, bombers and assault aircraft dealt devastating blows to clusters of enemy equipment and manpower.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine in cooperation with other components of the Defence Forces give a worthy rebuff to the invader in all directions. The destruction of enemy support columns also continues.

[The enemy continues to conduct large-scale armed aggression against Ukraine. The occupiers’ tasks of defeating groups of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, reaching the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, encircling Kyiv, and establishing control over the left-bank part of Ukraine have not been fulfilled. The enemy partially managed to reach the goal in the Donetsk operational area and keep the land corridor in the southern part of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.]

[Due to the lack of significant progress in the ground operation, disinformation and propaganda continue to be actively disseminated among the population of the Russian Federation – a basis is being prepared to justify prolonging the war and creating a misconception about the effectiveness of international sanctions.]

[During the day, the enemy fired missiles and bombs and actively used airstrikes. It should be noted that the occupiers focused their attacks on important civilian infrastructure and residential areas of settlements, in order to intimidate the civilian population and reduce the economic potential of Ukraine.]

[In the Volyn direction, there is a high probability of provocations by the special services of the Russian Federation at Belarusian facilities in order to involve the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus in a military operation against Ukraine.]

[The enemy did not carry out active offensive operations in the Polissya direction. It is fixed on the captured frontiers and prepares for the attack on Kyiv. Due to the active actions of units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the occupiers were blocked in some areas.]

[In the northern direction, the enemy continues to regroup and concentrate forces and means to resume offensive operations. But he is unable to organize high-quality logistical support of divisions and engineering equipment of the occupied positions.]

[In the Slobozhansky direction, the enemy did not conduct active offensive operations, trying to make covert preparations for the resumption of the offensive.]

[In the Donetsk and Luhansk directions, thanks to the skilful and professional actions of Ukrainian soldiers, seven enemy attacks were successfully repulsed, 12 tanks, 9 infantry fighting vehicles, 3 cars, and about 170 manpower were destroyed. Air defence units shot down 1 enemy Su-34 and 1 occupier helicopter (losses are being clarified).]

[The enemy continues to carry out airstrikes on Mariupol’s civil infrastructure facilities, in particular, the Azovtsal metallurgical plant. Conducts assault operations on the western and eastern outskirts, in the direction of the central part of the city. It is not successful. Suffers losses.]

[No significant changes have been noted in the Tavriya direction. In order to prevent rallies in the occupied settlements, the Russian National Guard units were relocated, which are trying to carry out punitive measures against civilians in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.]

[It is expected that the occupiers will continue to take measures aimed at establishing the occupying power in the temporarily controlled territories and combating the centres of national resistance.]

[In the Pivdennyi Buh directions, the enemy is demoralized, there are many cases of abandoning defensive positions, weapons and equipment.]” Unquote.

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 24 hours):

  • Heavy fighting continues north of Kyiv.
  • Russian forces advancing on the city from the north-east have stalled. Forces advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the north-west have been repulsed by fierce Ukrainian resistance. The bulk of Russian forces remains more than 25 kilometres from the centre of the city.
  • Despite the continued lack of progress, Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective and they are likely to prioritise attempting to encircle the city over the coming weeks.
  • Russian forces advancing from Crimea are still attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa. These forces have made little progress over the past week.
  • Russian naval forces continue to blockade the Ukrainian coast and launch missile strikes on targets across Ukraine.
  • The blockade of the Ukrainian coast is likely to exacerbate the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, preventing vital supplies from reaching the Ukrainian population.

Russian aviation makes about 200 combat missions with planes and helicopters per day on Ukrainian territory according to Pentagon, the Centre for Defence Strategies reports.

Ukraine’s Air Forces shot down almost 100 Russian jets out of 450 prepared for the war in Ukraine as well as more than 100 helicopters out of 250 prepared, Defence Express reports.

There are enough pilots in Ukraine, there are not enough planes for everyone, Yurii Ihnat, the Spokesperson for the Air Force Command, said. If NATO provided at least two squadrons of jets (12 jets each), that would neutralize Russian advantage in the air or at minimum equalize the chances of Ukrainian aircraft against the invaders.”

As of Sunday 20.03.2022, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

  • personnel – more than 14,700 people (+500),
  • tanks – 476 units (+10),
  • armoured combat vehicles – 1487 units (+17),
  • artillery systems – 230 (+17),
  • multiple rocket launchers – 74 (+2),
  • air defence means – 44 (no change),
  • aircraft – 96 (+1),
  • helicopters – 118 (+3),
  • automotive technology – 947 (+33),
  • light speedboats – 3 units (no change),
  • fuel and lubricant tanks – 60 (no change),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 21 (+4)
  • Special equipment – 12 (+1).


According to UNHCR 3,389,044 refugees has been registered as of 19 March.

The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 2,050,392 refugees, Romania 527,247, Moldova 362,514, Hungary 305,518, Slovakia 245,569, Russia 184,563 and Belarus 2,548.

Now in its fourth week, the ongoing military offensive has already caused 2,149 civilian casualties, including 816 killed, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The actual figures are likely much higher as fierce clashes continue across the country.

Nearly 6.5 million people have been forcibly displaced within Ukraine, adding to the almost 3.3 million and counting who have fled the country since 24 February. Combined, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and those who have fled to other countries amount to around 9.8 million people – more than 23 per cent of the country’s population.

The situation in Mariupol (Donetsk Oblast, east) continues to deteriorate. The city’s Deputy Mayor Serhii Orlov says that the estimated death toll of more than 2,350 people is likely as much as two times higher. Mariupol’s City Council reports that around 80 per cent of the city’s housing stock has been affected by ongoing hostilities, with nearly 30 per cent estimated to be damaged beyond the point of repair.

Seven humanitarian corridors were planned for March 20, mainly from Donetsk and Kyiv regions; four of them were successful, the Centre for Defence Strategies reports. As a result, 7,295 people were evacuated during the day, almost 4,000 of them from Mariupol. An evacuation from one of the villages failed in the Kyiv region due to Russian troops’ violation of the “silence regime.” Only one of three humanitarian convoys delivering food and medicine in the Kharkiv region was successful. The connection was lost with one of the humanitarian convoys delivering food and medicine in the Kharkiv region. On March 21, there will be 5 evacuation trains: from Kharkiv, Dnipro and Kramatorsk.

Russia demanded that Ukrainians put down their arms and raise white flags on Monday in exchange for safe passage out of town as it continued its barrage of the besieged city of Mariupol, ABC News reports. Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev said it would allow two corridors out of Mariupol, heading either east toward Russia or west to other parts of Ukraine. Mariupol residents were given until 5 a.m. Monday to respond to the offer. Both the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Irina Vereshchuk, and the Mayor of Mariupol rejected the offer.

Thousands of residents of Mariupol are allegedly being deported against their will to Russia, according to city officials and witnesses. Up to 4,500 people may have been taken across the nearby border by Russian forces, The New York Times reports.

The General Staff of Ukraine reports:

  • The occupiers continue to terrorize the local population and loot in the temporarily occupied territories. The enemy exports home appliances, automobiles, food and other material resources to the Russian federation.
  • There have been many cases of Russian occupiers deploying personnel, weapons and equipment on civilian infrastructure.
  • The occupiers continue to carry out forced mobilization measures in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Thus, according to available information, budget organizations of the Stanytsia-Luhanska village community have been notified of the need to arrive on April 1, 2022, male workers aged 18 to 60 years in the local police department for registration. The reasons for this “registration” are not explained, although it is connected with the next wave of mobilization to the 2nd Army Corps to be sent to the combat areas.


European Union leaders this week meet to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Russia including an oil embargo, Reuters reports. European Union governments will consider whether to impose an oil embargo on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine as they gather this week with US President Joe Biden for a series of summits designed to harden the West’s response to Moscow. Seeking to force a Russian military withdrawal from Ukraine, the West has already imposed a panoply of punishing sanctions including the freezing of the assets of the Russian central bank. “We are working on a fifth round of sanctions and many new names are being proposed,” a senior EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the discussions are not public.

French authorities have frozen 22 billion euros in Central Bank funds, as well as the accounts and real estate of sanctioned individuals, Economic Truth reports. “We have frozen the assets of the Central Bank in the amount of 22 billion euros. We have also frozen funds in the accounts of individuals in French institutions in the amount of 150 million euros,” said the French Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Mer.

The government of Poland intend to confiscate Russian property and assets in the republic, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in an interview Sunday, Tass reports. “According to the Prime Minister, Polish authorities plan to have a meeting with the opposition Monday, during which they will raise a question on how to freeze and confiscate Russian property in the country.”

A Chinese article urging the country to cut ties with Putin got 1 million views before being censored. This reflects the Chinese balancing act between Russia and the west, the Guardian reports:

When an essay from a prominent Shanghai scholar suggested China needed to cut ties with Vladimir Putin as soon as possible over the Ukraine war, the online reaction was swift. Despite being published late on a Friday evening in the Carter Center’s US-China Perception Monitor, Hu Wei’s essay soon gained a million views in and outside China and was republished into Chinese blogs, non-official media sites and social media accounts. Then came the backlash, as the article was criticised for being “reckless and dangerous” vitriol. By Sunday morning, their websites were blocked in China.”

The USA has recently decided to send 100 Switchblade loitering munitions (LMs), commonly referred to as “suicide drones” to Ukraine. The problem, however, is Ukraine will likely expend those 100 Switchblades in mere days, and the variant of the Switchblade Washington is most likely sending is of no serious use against Russian armour, Breaking Defence reports, and advice Washington to work with NATO allies to urgently provide Ukraine with additional shipments consisting of greater quantities and varieties of loitering munitions.

“… while Congress should press the administration to send Ukraine more American-made LMs, the United States should solicit help from other countries as well. Türkiye operates the Kargu-2, which has seen combat in Libya, and Australia manufactures the Drone-40, both of which can be useful in an urban environment. Poland’s Warmate-series of LMs can strike targets out to roughly 9 km. The Warmate’s portability and range make it suitable for disrupting Russian supply convoys from a safe distance.”

New developments

  1. Türkiye’s foreign minister said that Russia and Ukraine were nearing agreement on “critical” issues, and he was hopeful for a ceasefire if the two sides did not backtrack from the progress achieved so far, Reuters reports. “Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, speaking to al Jazeera television, said the two sides were getting closer on four key issues. He cited Russia’s demand for Ukraine to renounce ambitions to join NATO, demilitarisation, what Russia has referred to as “de-nazification”, and the protection of the Russian language in Ukraine.”
  2. US envoy rules out participation in proposed Ukraine peacekeeping mission, the Washington Post reports. “The president has been very clear that we will not put American troops on the ground in Ukraine,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “We don’t want to escalate this into a war with the United States.
  3. China’s top envoy to Washington pledged his country “will do everything” to de-escalate the war in Ukraine but refused to condemn Russia’s attack and branded such requests “naive”, Bloomberg reports. “There’s disinformation about China providing military assistance to Russia, Ambassador Qin Gang said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. China isn’t sending “weapons and ammunitions to any party, he said, calling Beijing’s common interests with Russia an asset that could help peace talks.”
  4. Pope Francis calls the war in Ukraine a ‘Senseless Massacre’, the Forbes reports. “Pope Francis said there is “no justification” for Russia’s war on Ukraine during a Sunday address in Vatican City, calling it a “senseless massacre where every day slaughters and atrocities are being repeated.” The pope said the war is “inhumane and sacrilegious” and referenced Russian shelling of civilians. He has repeatedly denounced the war in Ukraine, calling Russia’s tactics in the war “barbaric” and rejecting Russia’s labelling of its invasion as a “special military operation” not a war in prior Sunday speeches.”

Assessment On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Sunday 22:00 (Kyiv time):

(quote) “Russian forces did not make any major advances on March 20. Russian forces around Kyiv are increasingly establishing defensive positions and preparing to deploy further artillery and fire control assets. Ukrainian forces repelled continuing Russian efforts to seize the city of Izium, southeast of Kharkiv, and Russian forces did not conduct any other offensive operations in northeast Ukraine. Russian forces continue to make slow but steady progress on Luhansk Oblast and around Mariupol but did not conduct any offensive operations towards Mykolayiv or Kryvyi Rih.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported for the first time that the Kremlin is preparing its population for a “long war” in Ukraine and implementing increasingly draconian mobilization measures. The General Staff reported the Russian military commissariats of the Kuban, Primorsky Krai, Yaroslavl Oblast, and Ural Federal Districts are conducting covert mobilization measures but are facing widespread resistance. The General Staff reported the Russian PMC Wagner Group will facilitate the transport of Libyan fighters from LNA leader Khalifa Haftar’s forces to Ukraine. The General Staff reported universities in the DNR and LNR are conscripting students above the age of 18 and that most units in the DNR’s 1st Army Corps are comprised of the “mobilized population,” rather than trained soldiers, and face low morale and equipment shortages. The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) additionally reported on March 20 that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an order to prepare to admit Unarmiya (Russian Youth Army, a Kremlin-run military youth organization) personnel aged 17-18 to fight in Ukraine on March 15. The GUR further reported Colonel General Gennady Zhidko, head of the Russian Military-Political Directorate, is in charge of executing the order. […]

Russian forces face mounting casualties among officers and increasingly frequent desertion and insubordination. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported on March 19 that “some [Russian] naval infantry units” (unspecified which, but likely referring to Eastern Military District units deployed to the fighting around Kyiv) have lost up to 90% of their personnel and cannot generate replacements. The Ukrainian General Staff reported at noon local time on March 20 that Ukrainian forces wounded the commander of the 346th Independent Spetsnaz Brigade and claimed that Ukrainian forces killed the commanders of the 331st VDV Regiment, 247th VDV Regiment, and the 6th Tank Regiment (90th Tank Division, CMD) at unspecified times and locations. The General Staff reported the Russian Black Sea Fleet is replacing 130 insubordinate soldiers in the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade with paratroopers from the 7th Airborne Assault Division – a measure highly likely to cause greater unit cohesion problems. The General Staff additionally reported that Russian forces are increasingly using ”outdated and partially defective equipment” to replace combat losses.

The Ukrainian MoD reported that forced mobilization in the DNR has demoralized Russian proxy forces, with many refusing to fight and accusing Russian leadership of forcing them into combat to find Ukrainian troop positions. The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported the number of insubordinate Russian personnel who are refusing combat orders is “sharply increasing” in the Kherson and Mykolayiv oblasts on March 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported the Russian military commandant office in Belgorod City is investigating 10 Russian servicemen of the 138th Motor Rifle Brigade who refused to continue fighting in Kharkiv and agitated for other Russian servicemen to abandon their posts.

Ukrainian military intelligence (the GUR) reported on March 20 that another group of mercenaries connected with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the “League”/Wagner Group began arriving in Ukraine on March 20. The GUR claimed this group aims to eliminate Ukraine’s top military and political leadership, including Volodymyr Zelensky, Andriy Yermak, and Denys Shmyhal. The GUR claimed Russia is turning to assassination plans due to the failure of Russian conventional operations.

Key Takeaways

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reported for the first time that the Kremlin is preparing its population for a “long war” in Ukraine and implementing increasingly draconian mobilization measures, including deploying youth military organization members aged 17-18.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly killed three Russian regimental commanders in the last 24 hours.
  • Russia’s Wagner Group will likely facilitate the deployment of Libyan fighters to Ukraine.
  • Russian forces are digging in to positions around Kyiv, including the first reports of the war of Russian forces deploying minefields.
  • Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault on Izium, southeast of Kharkiv, and inflicted heavy casualties.
  • Russian forces continued their slow advance into Mariupol but did not achieve any major territorial gains.
  • Ukrainian forces launched further localized counterattacks around Mykolayiv.” (unquote)

Assessment of consequences and what to do

Eleven days ago the Washington Post featured an article with the headline ‘No off-ramps’: US and European officials don’t see a clear endgame in Ukraine” arguing that the situation seems destined to result in an even deadlier and more protracted slog, wreaking devastation in Ukraine and causing a massive humanitarian crisis.”

The Biden administration and its allies say they see no clear end to the military phase of this conflict, according to interviews with 17 administration officials, diplomats, policymakers and experts. The situation seems destined to result in an even deadlier and more protracted slog, wreaking devastation in Ukraine and causing a massive humanitarian crisis.

Any outcome represents a lose-lose proposition, as even an eventual Russian defeat is likely to leave Ukraine decimated and its European neighbours bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis. “The longer that this goes on, the likelier it will be that Russia ends up being defeated, but also more likely that more people will die,” said a European diplomat, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment of the crisis.

Jim Townsend, the former deputy assistant secretary of defence for European and NATO policy, said that right now, “everyone is kind of feeling their way forward.” “The endgame is going to be pretty complicated, and the endgame is going to have to deal with Putin as who he is, and it’s also going to have to deal with getting Ukraine back on its feet and also deal with what to do with these sanctions,” Townsend said.

The current US strategy, according to senior Biden administration officials, is to ensure that the economic costs for Russia are severe and sustainable, as well as to continue supporting Ukraine militarily in its effort to inflict as many defeats on Russia as possible.

But US military assistance remains limited, as Biden has made clear the United States is unwilling to get into a direct confrontation with Russia, a fellow nuclear power. Biden has said that he will not put any US combat troops on the ground in Ukraine, and he and other NATO leaders have resisted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s pleas to enforce a no-fly zone over the country.”

The extraordinary NATO Minister of Defence meeting on March 16 and the upcoming extraordinary summit on 24 March might hopefully help develop a NATO strategy adapted to the new realities.

As Russia might be in the process of changing its strategy to a protracted war of attrition, it becomes increasingly important to ensure a NATO strategy that acknowledges that:

  1. The time factor is becoming increasingly important. The longer we allow the war to last, the bigger the suffering and the consequences the war will have. The Alliance needs to step up its efforts to bring the war to an end.
  2. The war is about to change into a war of attrition, and consequently taking the same form and shape as the Russian “Donbas strategy”, only this time on steroids. That will turn a horrific war into protracted horror, which eventually will force the West to respond in force. Waiting for the inevitable is unacceptable and only help discredit NATO.
  3. Ukraine must not be forced to sign a “Minsk Agreement 2.0” peace agreement that does not bring the promise of peace due to a lack of NATO support. A peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia based on Russian blackmail will not save Ukraine. It will only delay its final disintegration and demise. Only a full withdrawal of all Russian forces and a NATO membership will ensure its future security.
  4. A peace agreement will not change the cause of the war: Russia. If sanctions are prematurely lifted, Russia will be allowed to prepare for its next war. Sanctions should, therefore, not be linked to the peace agreement. Sanctions need to be upheld until we see a change to normality in Russia.

Hans Petter Midttun, Independent Analyst, Hybrid Warfare, Non-resident Fellow at Centre for Defence Strategies, board member Ukrainian Institute for Security and Law of the Sea, former Defence Attaché of Norway to Ukraine and Officer (R) of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

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