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Frontline report: Russia’s assault in Vovchansk meets fierce Ukrainian resistance

On 28 May, Russian forces resorted to indiscriminate shelling and air strikes on the town of Vovchansk, destroying civilian targets like supermarkets and residential buildings in preparation for a large assault.
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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video
Frontline report: Russia’s assault in Vovchansk meets fierce Ukrainian resistance

Day 826: 28 May

On 28 May, there are a lot of updates from the Kharkiv direction. After the initial Russian plan to encircle Vovchansk had failed due to Russian underestimation and a quick Ukrainian response, Russians resorted back to their old tactic of taking the town by force.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

In preparation for a large assault on the town, Russians started intensely shelling Vovchansk with both regular and rocket-propelled artillery and conducted air strikes with glide bombs.

One of the results of this indiscriminate shelling is that many civilian targets were hit as well. Ukrainian civilians released footage of the aftermath of a Russian barrage on the town center, destroying houses and, among others, a supermarket.

More footage shows the result of a Russian strike on a residential high-rise building. Another video shows the aftermath of a large Russian barrage on a residential area on the outskirts of the town as rescue workers salvage what they can and evacuate civilians.

A Ukrainian military blogger noted that the destruction of Vovchansk was likely being carried out to force civilians to leave and turn the town into a grey zone. Such a grey zone would significantly improve the situation for the Russians regarding urban combat. Besides avoiding collateral damage to civilians, empty houses, streets, and apartments would allow Russians to advance through the town and clear buildings much quicker and without hindrance.

Ukrainian soldiers in the area stated that while the strikes on the town continued, Russian infantry started moving in from the north with heavy artillery support. However, Ukrainians did not let the Russians walk in uncontested; they prepared ambushes and moved between tactical positions to halt and slow the Russian advance.

One geolocated video shows how Ukrainians fired on advancing Russian infantry with machine guns and RPGs while moving between houses.

Ukrainians used many junctions and streets to lay down fire over the roads, forcing the Russians to move off the streets and in between the houses. This caused Russians to be forced into close-quarters urban fighting, where Russian artillery support was ineffective and too dangerous due to the close proximity between Russian and Ukrainian fighters.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

A Ukrainian soldier active in the area stated that Russians were attempting to gain a foothold in the northern part of Vovchansk. Such a foothold would allow Russians to have a staging ground in the town itself from which to conduct further attacks.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

The Institute for the Study of War also reported that Russians used a new tactic here. Russians infiltrated Ukrainian lines in small groups of no more than five people before merging with other small assault groups into a larger force and strike group. Russians used this tactic extensively to cause confusion in the Ukrainian lines and quickly advance deeper into the town.

These larger Russian strike groups quickly crashed into the defensive line that Ukrainians had established to defend Vovchansk north of the river.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

This main defensive line defends the industrial zones and the high-rise district. The inherent build of these structures, with their many rooms and windows, provides an excellent defensive fighting position for the Ukrainians.

Russians had initially attempted to assault this defensive belt head-on. While drone footage shows the aftermath of heavy clashes, Ukrainians had tightly held on to their positions, fighting off the Russian assault groups.

As Russian forces wanted to maintain their momentum, they had only one option: to take control of the Hospital buildings in the eastern part of Vovchansk above the river. These tall buildings, with their many windows and rooms, provide excellent fire control over the surrounding area and enough room to safely store ammunition and gather forces. Taking control of the hospital buildings would create an opening for Russians to push further into the town and cut off a major center of Ukrainian resistance in the high-rise district.

Russian supply lines were also severely overstretched, as all reinforcements and ammunition had to come from Russia. Establishing a forward operating base in the hospital would allow Russians to alleviate some supply pressure, as it could be distributed from a central location.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

Geolocated footage showing an FPV strike on a small Russian assault group indicates that Russians were advancing deeper and deeper into the town in the direction of the hospital. Eventually, Ukrainian sources released footage of Russian infantry having reached the hospital buildings and entering them. Ukrainian military bloggers confirmed that Russians had taken complete control of the hospital, while footage showed Ukrainian artillery firing on the buildings.

Because of the hospital buildings’ significant tactical importance and the consequences for the Ukrainian defense should the Russians continue to hold on to them, Ukrainian commanders had to act. After Russians had accumulated a large number of forces, equipment, and ammunition in the buildings, Ukrainian commanders called in air strikes with multiple heavy JDAM-guided bombs.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

The result was the complete destruction of the buildings, with all that was inside foiling the Russian plans to outflank the high-rise district and solve their supply issues. With their ammunition destroyed and their supply lines again severely extended, many Russian assault groups became undersupplied, especially around the Ukrainian defensive belt. A Ukrainian military blogger in the area stated that while the situation was indeed difficult, Ukrainian forces had succeeded in destroying many of the Russian assault groups infiltrating Vovchansk. The chaotic fighting style that the Russians adopted also led to a high amount of Russian losses. Ukrainian drone operators shared a video of how Russians were overloading quad all-terrain vehicles with their dead, driving them back to Russia.

While Russians have established a slight foothold in the northern part of the town, they could not break through the Ukrainian defenses along the high-rise district. The Russian tactic of infiltrating Ukrainian lines overextended Russian supply lines, causing many Russian assault groups to be destroyed once they came in contact with the Ukrainian defensive positions in the high-rise district.

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Screenshot from the Reporting from Ukraine video

As the Russian plan to outflank the Ukrainian defenses through the hospital failed, the situation quickly became more difficult for the Russian offensive. In the end, Russians may have no other option than to attack the fortified Ukrainian positions in the town head-on, undoubtedly leading to more losses for the Russian forces.

In our daily frontline report, we pair up with the military blogger Reporting from Ukraine to keep you informed about what is happening on the battlefield in the Russo-Ukrainian war.

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