The Ukrainian armed forces’ eastern command is putting the squeeze on the Russian garrison in the ruins in Bakhmut—slowly advancing on the city’s northern and southern flanks in an effort to sever the garrison’s main supply lines.
It’s a long-term campaign both to liberate the iconic city—which fell to Russian forces in May after Ukrainian troops finally retreated from Bakhmut—and also to bleed the Russian field armies in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
And at the same time the eastern command is waging an offensive campaign, it also is transforming its brigades: replacing Soviet-vintage equipment with more modern and more capable Western-made equipment.
The wartime transformation—the organizational equivalent of changing a car’s tire while the car is moving—could add momentum to Ukraine’s eastern counteroffensive, which kicked off at around the same time as the country’s wider southern counteroffensive starting in early June.
Photos that the eastern command’s 57th Motorized Brigade recently posted on social media indicate the brigade has received a consignment of Polish-made Rosomak Wolverine infantry fighting vehicles. The Wolverines are some of Ukraine’s best new fighting vehicles.
The Polish government back in April pledged to Ukraine 200 Wolverines, eventually making the 25-ton, eight-wheel IFVs the most numerous Western-style fighting vehicles in the Ukrainian inventory alongside the 200 M-2 tracked fighting vehicles and 200 Stryker wheeled IFVs that the United States so far has pledged to Ukraine.
The Wolverine is fast, with a top speed of 60 miles per hour thanks to its 500-horsepower diesel engine. And its 30-millimeter autocannon—the same gun that arms the U.S. Army’s Europe-based Strykers—is a killer.
A Wolverine has three crew and seats eight infantry. If the vehicle has a flaw, it’s that the Polish army initially insisted on an amphibious capability for its own Wolverines. In other words, the Wolverine had to be light enough to swim short distances like a very slow, awkward boat.
But that meant reducing armor protection. In a major war like the one in Ukraine, a rational army almost always would choose armor over flotation. And indeed, Rosomak has developed a bolt-on armor kit that restores the Wolverine’s protection, but at the cost of its swimming capability.
The 57th Brigade was an obvious choice for what appears to be the third batch of Wolverines. The first batch apparently went to the new 21st Mechanized Brigade, which also operates all of Ukraine’s ex-Swedish Strv 122 tanks and CV90 fighting vehicles. The second batch seems to have joined the new 44th Mechanized Brigade, the first unit to deploy German-made Leopard 1A5 tanks.
All three brigades fight in the east: the 44th around Kreminna, the 21st and 57th farther south on Bakhmut’s northern flank. The 44th’s main effort is defensive. Russian forces have devoted tens of thousands of troops and thousands of combat vehicles to a countercounteroffensive that clearly is aimed at spoiling the Ukrainian counteroffensives.
The 21st Brigade had been fighting around Kreminna before apparently shifting south to join the 57th Brigade in its offensive effort. The 57th and adjacent brigades have advanced around a mile to the northwestern edge of Bakhmut while, on the city’s southwestern edge, the Ukrainian 3rd Assault Brigade lately has made much more dramatic gains.
With every brigade that reequips, the Ukrainian eastern command’s forces look less like their Soviet forebears and more like their new allies in NATO. The changes aren’t merely cosmetic, however. Western-made tanks and IFVs generally shoot farther, more accurately, while also protecting their crews better than Soviet-style tanks and IFVs do.
The 57th Brigade also is the fortunate recipient of some unique Ukrainian-made equipment. While the brigade has done most of its fighting with very old Soviet-made 2S1 self-propelled howitzers—whose 122-millimeter gun ranges just 10 miles or so—it recently received at least one locally-made 2S22.
The 2S22 basically is a modern NATO-standard 155-millimeter howitzer attached to a heavy-duty truck. A 2S22 fires out to a distance of around 25 miles, more than doubling the range of the older 2S1. The prototype 2S22 famously helped to drive Russian occupiers off of Snake Island in the western Black Sea.