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Russian troops suffer epic fail while attempting to cross river at Bilohorivka

View of the Siverskyi Donets river in the area of Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast, after the disrupted Russian attempt to cross the river. Source.
Russian troops suffer epic fail while attempting to cross river at Bilohorivka
In recent days, the Russian troops attempted a river crossing operation over the Siverskyi Donets near Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast, but failed loosing at least a battalion tactical group of personnel and equipment, and several pontoon bridges. When the battle ended on 13 May, the Ukrainian military stated that it has foiled nine Russian river crossing attempts.

The attempted offensive on Bilohorivka is one prong of the Russian pincer maneuver effort designed to encircle two major cities in Luhansk Oblast, Lysychansk, and Sievoerodonetsk.

Bigger picture

In the first weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia ditched its early plans to cut off the entire Ukrainian group of forces in the country’s east from the rest of Ukraine as Kharkiv in the north didn’t fall, and the invasion forces couldn’t advance much further south than the city of Izium in Kharkiv Oblast. Moreover, the Russian offensive from the south on Zaporizhzhia also stalled at the time.

Now, the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive north and east of Kharkiv not only disrupted the plans of cutting off the entire eastern half of Ukraine, but also made the next smaller-scale plan to pocket the Ukrainian troops much less possible with the Ukrainian slow advance towards Izium.

As the axes of the Russian attacks show, the smaller-scale attempt of surrounding only the Donbas group of the Ukrainian troops was meant to advance to the south from Izium and to the north from Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, linking up the two pincers near Kramatorsk or Druzhkivka.

The situation in the east of Ukraine as of 13 May 2022. Pink: Russian occupied territories. The areas of Izium and Horlivka are the closest points for a pincer movement to surround all major Ukraine-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

As the Russian troops failed to break through the Ukrainian defenses in both areas, the next was an even smaller-scale attempt at an encirclement of the Ukrainian troops.

This was offensive from the north towards Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast, across the Siverskyi Donets river towards the city of Popasna in the southeast, aimed at surrounding two Ukrainian-controlled major cities in Luhansk Oblast, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
Situation in Luhansk Oblast as of 13 May 2022. Pink: Russian-occupied areas. The areas of Bilohorivka and Popasna are the closest points to attempt a pincer manoeuver to pocket the Ukrainian troops in Luhansk Oblast.

Failed offensive on Bilohorivka

The battle for Bilohorivka started on 5 May and lasted until 13 May ending up in the defeat of two Russian battalion tactical groups, according to the on-the-ground reporting by journalist Yuriy Butusov of, who also confirmed that as of 14 May, the Ukrainian military controls Bilohorivka while the Russian troops have been driven back to the northern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River.

The battalion tactical group (BTG) is a Russian combined-arms temporary autonomous unit typically comprising 600–800 troops, equipped with around 10 tanks and 40 infantry vehicles.

The Russian troops started assembling the first pontoon bridge over the Siverskyi Donets near Bilohorivka on 8 May. The Ukrainian artillery destroyed the bridge and the equipment which managed to cross the river.

failed russian attempt to cross the donets at bilohorivka
Aerial view of the destroyed Russian pontoon bridges and equipment near Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast on 12 May 2022 Source.
For several days, the Russians continued their attempts to build alternative crossings and send more equipment to the Ukrainian-controlled bank of the Donets while the Ukrainian artillery and sometimes aircraft kept destroying the Russian bridges and vehicles.

Wreckage of the Russian infantry fighting vehicles and tanks on the Ukraine-controlled bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, destroyed by the Ukrainian artillery and aircraft amid the Russian attempt at crossing the river near Bilohorivka. Source.
Destroyed Russian armored vehicles that had managed to cross the Donets near Bilohorivka. Source.
On 13 May, the official FB account of Ukraine’s 80th Separate Assault Brigade stated that in total, the Ukrainian troops thwarted nine attempts by the Russian troops to install the pontoon bridge and create a bridgehead on the Ukraine-controlled eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River. In total, at least 73 units of Russian equipment were destroyed amid the operation, according to the report.

The 80th Brigade also said that some of the Russian troops managed to advance to the outskirts of allegedly the village Bilohorivka, where the Brigade’s soldiers fought them for two days:

“Despite heavy losses, the enemy still managed to break through and move part of its forces on the other bank, gaining a foothold on the northern outskirts of one of the settlements. Assault units of the 80th Brigade entered the action here. Fierce heavy fighting lasted about two days,” which resulted in the retreat of the Russian troops, who left behind materiel and equipment.

The photo dated 13 May shows at least eight new sunk tanks absent from the previously shared footage:

The drone photo published by military expert Pasha Kashchuk with the comment “Are the tanks not afraid of the mud?” shows the Russian tanks sunk in the Donets near Bilohorivka on 13 May 2022 as they headed back to the far bank:
“It’a not obvious in the photo, but these tanks were actually trying to get back by ford, holding guns towards the enemy (i.e. Ukrainian troops),” he wrote.
The international OSINT volunteer community InformNapalm reported citing its insider sources that the Russian 74th Motor Rifle Brigade, tried to cross the Siverskyi Donets near Bilohorivka using the pontoon bridges, suffered “critical” losses. Of the 550 people sent to the river-crossing operation, only about 65 survived, InformNapalm says.

Another Russian unit that suffered losses amid the failed river crossing was the 35 Motor Rifle Brigade.

As of 12 May, a total of 73 pieces of Russian equipment, destroyed or abandoned, was visually confirmed by the drone footage, including a battalion-tactical group worth of armored fighting vehicles, according to open-source intelligence enthusiasts. On the next day, the tally amounted to about 85 pieces:

According to estimations by retired Australian Maj.-Gen. Mick Ryan it was probably “probably an entire brigade” that lost a large part of its combat power and the scarce bridging equipment:

“But perhaps most importantly, defeating this assault river crossing has probably denied the Russians an axis of advance they clearly thought was going to be productive for them in their eastern offensive,” Mick Ryan says.

The Russian troops keep trying to capture the cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk and fighting across the entire front line continues in the area. However, not it’s not likely that they may attempt another large-scale river crossing operation in Luhansk oblast in the near future given the huge loss of the bridging equipment together with a strike group.

Nevertheless, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military administration, Serhiy Haiday, reported on the evening of 14 May, that Russian troops were again preparing to crosse the Donets river near the village of Bilohorivka.

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