David Axe


Aug 1, 2023


Ukrainian tanks have barreled into Urozhaine, the next obstacle between free Ukraine and Russian-occupied Mariupol.

A drone video that circulated online on Friday depicts at least three tanks, reportedly belonging to the Ukrainian marine corps’ 35th Brigade, firing on the move while rolling south along the middle of Urozhaine’s three main north-south roads.

The assault force had close air support, for once. Another video, apparently recorded around the same time as the tank assault, shows a pair of what the Ukrainians claim were U.S.-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions popping a structure—a Russian strongpoint, apparently—just a few hundred yards south of the tanks’ positions.

The Ukrainian air force has modified some of its Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters to carry the GPS-guided JDAM-Extended Range bombs. By flying low then angling up right before releasing a JDAM-ER, a MiG pilot can both avoid detection by Russian air-defenses and extend the range of the 500-pound or 1,000-pound bomb out to 50 miles or so.

But even this toss-bombing technique can’t totally eliminate the extreme danger Ukrainian pilots face every time they fly toward the front line. That Kyiv’s air force has risked precious CAS assets speaks to the importance of the Urozhaine fight.

The entire Ukrainian marine corps—four front-line brigades including the 35th—has concentrated along a 10-mile-wide stretch of the southern front in order to sustain the push down the Mokri Yaly River Valley.

For Kyiv, this concentration of forces represents both an opportunity and a risk. Ukraine’s marine brigades are some of its best and most aggressive forces. Mixing tanks and armored trucks in fast-moving columns, the marines have made the Mokri Yaly axis one of the more successful prongs of Ukraine’s long-anticipated southern counteroffensive, which kicked off on June 4.

In deploying thousands of marines in one narrow sector, the Ukrainian general staff maximizes its chances of achieving major breakthroughs in that sector.

But even the toughest brigade needs breaks. Once the four marine units are spent, and must pull back for rest and refit, the Ukrainian counteroffensive could lose momentum along the Mokri Yaly River. Ukrainian commanders clearly are hoping this maximal effort proves decisive—and soon.

So far, so good. As of Friday, it seems the Ukrainians have freed half of Urozhaine from the Russian army’s 60th Motor Rifle Brigade.

But if they’re ever going to liberate Mariupol, the Ukrainians must march through or around Urozhaine, Staromlynivka and a dozen other settlements along a 50-mile length of the Mokri Yaly axis.

Urozhaine is just the start of the campaign to eject the Russians from Mariupol, but it also is a prerequisite of that effort.