Russian advance blamed on Ukrainian troops rotation blunder

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The Ukrainian army has come under rare criticism from military analysts for allegedly bungling up a troops rotation that allowed Russia to capture 5km of land, highlighting the strains Kyiv’s forces are under as they await the arrival of fresh US aid.

Deep State, a Ukrainian analytical group with ties to the defence ministry, on Wednesday said the Russian advance late last week in the southern part of the village of Ocheretyne had been caused by a rotation that left the area unprotected.

The criticism comes a day after the US Senate approved a $61bn aid package for Kyiv which was delayed for months, forcing Ukrainian troops to ration their ammunition on the battlefield. The first arms shipments are expected in the coming weeks, with Russia vowing to intensify its attacks in the meantime and the Ukrainian leadership also acknowledging the difficult days ahead.

“The leadership of the 115th Mechanized Brigade is responsible for the collapse of the defence in the entire area, which led to significant casualties,” Deep State wrote in a report. That brigade was supposed to move in and relieve the more experienced 47th Brigade, but it failed to move in time, leaving the area unprotected.

A spokesperson for the 115th Brigade denied the allegations. “All I can say is that it’s not true, the unit did not abandon its position,” Vadym Chornyy said.

Rotating out exhausted troops and bringing in new units are notoriously sensitive manoeuvres as they are being targeted by Russian suicide drones, artillery strikes and powerful glide bombs. Small mistakes in timing can result in parts of the frontline being left undermanned.

“Rotations can cause problems, this is something we’ve seen before,” said Emil Kastehelmi, an analyst monitoring the war for the Finland-based Black Bird Group. “We don’t know exactly what happened in this case but whatever mistake it was, the Russians were able to exploit it and Ukraine lost ground without a significant fight.”

Ukrainian forces still control most of the village, said Nazar Voloshyn, another military spokesperson, but admitted that the situation in the area was “difficult”. Russian forces were now looking to set up a bridgehead around Ocheretyne “in order to launch further military operations”, Voloshyn said on Wednesday.

The Russian advance threatens defensive lines hastily raised by Ukrainian forces after the fall of Avdiivka, 15km south-east of Ocheretyne, in February.

A Russian foothold in the village “puts our units south of the Russian advance in a very uncomfortable position”, Mykola Melnyk, a former commander of the 47th Brigade, wrote on Tuesday.

Deep State said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces were able to stop further Russian advance towards the village of Progres, 8km west of Ocheretyne.

“It seems Ukrainian forces have stabilised the situation, for now,” Kastehelmi said.

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