Russia is working on creating a third line of defense in order to protect their gains in southern Ukraine, which has seen them move troops, tanks, aircraft and naval units from Crimea towards the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukrainian state media Ukrinform reported Friday, citing the Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration as the invasion stretches into its 93rd day.
The report specifically outlined a large convoy that passed from Crimea through the city of Melitopol, which included trucks, artillery pieces and a battalion of T-62 tanks.
The 50-year-old T-62 tanks have likely been moved from deep storage into the responsibility of Russia's Southern Grouping of Forces (SGF), who likely remain tasked with occupying southern Ukraine, according to a Friday UK defense intelligence update.
Using older tanks follows numerous prior intelligence reports stating that Russia has been running low on tanks, with manufacturing plants forced to shut down due to import restrictions and older Soviet-era tanks needing to be brought out.
Indeed, according to the UK defense intelligence update, using T-62s highlights Russia's shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment.
Further, the defense intelligence report notes that these tanks will almost certainly be especially vulnerable to anti-tank weapons.
Ukrainian troops are fighting to keep control of the northwestern and southeastern parts of the town of Lyman, the country's defense ministry said the same day, as Russia's offensive in east Ukraine gathers pace.
Ukrainian troops were "counteracting attempts" by Russia to push its offensive towards the key Ukrainian town of Sloviansk, defense ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said at a briefing.
Advances in the East, attacks in the center
Russian troops have also continued their operations in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, specifically working to surround the cities of Severdonetsk and Lyschansk. Regarding the former, Russian troops have encircled two thirds of the city and damaged 90% of residential housing, according to Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai.
In addiiton, Russia has managed to capture several villages northwest of Popasna, but Ukraine still controls multiple key areas to maintain footholds in Donbas, according to the UK intelligence update.
Later in the day, forces of the pro-Russian separatist-controlled breakaway in the Donbas region, the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), announced they had fully taken control over the city of Krasnyi Lyman in Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast, RIA reported.
Later, Ukraine's Donetsk Regional Military Administration head Pavlo Kyrylenko confirmed that most of Krasnyi Lyman was under the control of Russian forces. Ukrainian troops are still in the area, but have regrouped to fortified positions to both deter Russian forces and to spring a counterattack if possible, Interfax reported.
An Iskander missile fired by Russian forces Friday morning struck a National Guard range in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in central Ukraine, killing 10 and injuring around 30-35 others, Ukrinform reported, citing the head of the Dnipro Territorial Defense.
Russia's consolidation of power in Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Mariupol
In addition, Russia is also attempting to consolidate its power in these occupied areas further through the use of television and radio broadcasting, Ukrinform reported. This is further reinforced by a report from the US-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which stated that Russia dispatched three broadcast trucks to Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port city in the Donetsk Oblast that Russia finally seized, to transmit state-controlled programming.
Indeed, according to reports in Russia's RIA news agency, there is a spike in demand in the parts of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast under Russian control for Russian citizenship.
Further, the pro-Russian authorities in Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia have also offered to transfer Ukrainian military bases in the area, particularly along the Sea of Azov, over to Russia, RIA reported.
The Sea of Azov is now almost completely surrounded by Russia following their gains in the war with Ukraine. Traditionally, Ukraine bordered the body of water with Crimea and the Kherson, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. Russia has controlled Crimea since 2014 and has already seized most of Kherson and huge swaths of Zaporizhzhia, particularly on the coast. Donetsk was heavily contested, particularly on the coast of the Sea of Azov, but Russian control has been further cemented following the capture of the port city of Mariupol.
Southern Axis Update Thread:#Russian forces are reportedly attempting to advance to the Mykolaiv-Kherson administrative border and conducted unsuccessful assault operations around #Tavriyske and #Mykolaivka on May 26. 1/2https://t.co/S9Iex3aYKh pic.twitter.com/IDBwk6kir2— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) May 26, 2022
According to the ISW, Russian troops are working to push to the Kherson-Mykolaiv border and attempted to assault around Tavriisk and Mykolaivka, though these were unsuccessful.
Ukraine's Kherson Oblast Governor Hennadiy Laguta said that Russian troops are strengthening their positions in the area, with some places undergoing constant artillery shelling.
Russia has continued to take heavy losses throughout the invasion of Ukraine.
As of Friday, according to figures presented by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Russia has so far lost 29,750 soldiers, 3,246 armored personnel vehicles, 206 aircraft, 170 helicopters, 115 cruise missiles, 503 drones, 623 artillery units, 201 MLRSs, 93 anti-aircraft systems, 1,322 tanks, 13 ships, 2,226 vehicles and fuel tanks and 48 pieces of special equipment.
However, throughout the invasion, 241 children in Ukraine have been killed and 438 injured, Interfax reported, citing the Prosecutor General's Office.
Regarding Ukraine's own troops, they have also taken considerable losses.
According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov, since the beginning of the invasion - which Moscow exclusively refers to as a "special military operation" - Ukraine has lost 127 helicopters, 180 aircraft, 1,027 drones, 324 anti-aircraft systems, 438 MLRSs, 1,693 artillery and mortars, 3,281 tanks and other armored vehicles and 3,218 special military vehicles, RIA reported.
Further, over 5,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) being held in the DPR, TASS reported, citing DPR head Denis Pushilin.
However, the exact figures on both sides are suspect and nearly impossible to confirm independently.
The Kremlin said on Friday that it blames Ukraine for the fact that peace talks between the two countries are frozen, saying it was unclear what Kyiv wanted.
“The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants.”Dmitry Peskov
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters: "The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier that he had tried repeatedly to organize a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war, but that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.
"There are things to discuss with the Russian leader. I'm not telling you that... our people are eager (for me) to talk to him, but we have to face the realities of what we are living through," Zelensky said in an address to an Indonesian think tank.
"What do we want from this meeting? ... We want our lives back... We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," he said.
The last known face-to-face peace negotiations were on March 29. Contacts continued remotely for a while but both sides now say they have stopped.
Ukraine military may have to retreat from Luhansk cities, governor says
The governor of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region, which has almost completely fallen under Russian control, on Friday said it was possible that Kyiv's forces would be forced to retreat from the final pocket of resistance to avoid being captured.
"The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted," Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said in a post on the Telegram messaging service, referring to the near-surrounded cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
"We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat," he said.
More than 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began on February 24, although the true number is likely much higher, the UN rights office (OHCHR) said in a statement on Friday.
In total, 4,031 people have been killed, including nearly 200 children, according to OHCHR, which has dozens of monitors in the country. Most were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact such as shelling from heavy artillery or airstrikes.
It did not attribute blame for the deaths. Russia has denied targeting civilians in the conflict.