Russia takes heavy casualties as Ukrainian artillery blasts pontoon bridge

As the war goes on, the Ukrainian defenders are quick to learn on their feet and exploit the weaknesses of the enemy. By contrast, Russian invaders appear to be so set in their thinking, they are completely unable to learn from their own mistakes and continue to repeat them again and again.

Ukrainian forces destroyed a pontoon bridge that the Russian invasion forces set up across the Siverskyi Donets River near the town of Bilohorivka, in the Luhansk Region. The river, which in its Ukrainian section runs through the Kharkiv and Luhansk Regions, has become a major obstacle, slowing down the aggressors. The massive artillery strike conducted by the 80th Independent Assault Brigade occurred while an armoured Russian unit was crossing it. The drone footage of the aftermath of the bombardment shows dozens of destroyed or damaged armoured vehicles on both banks once connected by the pontoon bridge. The information, released by the Ukrainian side, was confirmed by the British MOD.

The information about the successful attack was released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence on May 11. The Ukrainians clearly enjoy rubbing their own success and the ineptitude of their opponents in the latter’s faces.

According to experts quoted by The Times, the Russians may have suffered losses amounting to a battalion in strength, with 70 vehicles destroyed or damaged. The manpower casualties are expected to be even higher. Ukrainians say that their estimates as to the number of deaths inflicted on the invaders can be between 1,000 and 1,500, with The Times leaning towards the former figure. Such a massive loss of life in one strike may be hard to believe, but according to military experts whose opinion The Times relies on, the force would have been concentrated around the crossing, making the effect of concentrated artillery fire the more devastating.

Serhiy Haidai, the Governor of the Luhansk Region, commented on the massive offensive the Russians are attempting to launch. According to him, the enemy threw everything they got on the section on the front near Rubizhne, Zolote, Nyzhne, and Severodonetsk.

“It appears, however, that we are fighting against idiots. Soon they will make another attempt to build a pontoon crossing across the Donets River, which means a repeat of what happened near Bilohorivka,” wrote Haidai on Telegram.

According to a daily estimate of Russian losses released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, as of May 13 the number of Russian casualties stood at about 26,900 soldiers. The losses in terms of materiel were also massive.

Plummeting morale of the invaders

Russian forces are clearly suffering from a mental strain caused by not only the merciless accuracy and firepower of the Ukrainian artillery and drones. Due to the continued use of unsecured civilian communication systems, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has managed to intercept numerous phone calls between the soldiers and their families and friends back in Russia. In many cases, Russian soldiers speak freely of the crimes they have committed against Ukrainian civilians. Some boast of their deeds, others appear to be clearly shaken by their own actions.

In a recently released phone call, a soldier is speaking to his wife, who sounds horrified to hear what her husband is telling her.

“Nastya, I can shoot a person in the head or kill a hundred people with a machine gun. [...] What, you don’t believe me?” asks the soldiers, slurring his speech, and quite obviously intoxicated. “I threw civilians in trenches and shot them all in the head. They cried, they begged me, but I ignored it and kept killing. [...] I am not proud of it, I simply stopped caring.” The man’s terrified wife asked him how he imagines their life together after this. “Nastya, I have become unhinged, I am completely mentally deranged, and perhaps I will return to you as a different man, a lunatic,” he responds. “I never lied to you, and I am not lying to you now.” He then adds that when he gets back home. he will raise their son “the right way”.

According to the SBU, the soldier is stationed in the southern region of Kherson. The SBU has announced that “unless he is killed in Ukraine”, the man will face the consequences of his actions before an international court. The SBU claims to know the soldier’s personal data, his contacts, and of course has his admission to his guilt in the form of the recording.

In another intercepted recording, released by Ukrainian military intelligence, a soldier tells his wife about a village that his unit stormed. They were accompanied by a 100-men-strong unit of marines. According to the Russian soldier, “100 went in, 50 got out.” He also says that his unit’s commander ordered them to throw grenades into every cellar, without checking if there was anyone inside. “Only then go in. The lads didn’t carry out the order. When they went inside, there were four small children in there, only children.”

His wife advised him to feign an injury to get out of the frontline, suggesting he “falls off a tank”. According to her, it is the only way, as from the information she got “they won’t rotate you until September, because everyone is refusing to go.” The soldier concedes, but he says it will be better if he gets wounded instead, as all injuries are investigated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

As mentioned, the inability to make meaningful gains or achieve a breakthrough during the renewed counteroffensive is probably one of the things that adversely affects the aggressors’ morale. Acutely aware of the effect this has on the soldiers and the people at the home front, the Russian propaganda machine ramped up its efforts to portray the heroic deeds of the Russian troops.

“Russian propagandists are forcing commanders of the occupier’s units to withdraw behind the frontline and use their personnel and equipment available for the purpose of making propaganda films and fake ‘frontline reports’,” claims the Ukrainian military intelligence. “The Russians are forced to dig trenches behind their lines and imitate entrenching forward positions, conduct mortar, tank, and artillery fire, enact assaults and mine clearing operations.” According to the intelligence, the same areas are mined and cleared of mines a number of times, until the propagandists film enough footage.

If these are the priorities of the Russian invaders, it might explain the failure to achieve meaningful successes on the front. Then again, Russian soldiers are probably better at digging trenches safe behind their lines and practising clearing their own mines, than they are at fighting actual combat-fit Ukrainian forces.