Battles in the Trenches: Inside Ukraine's Fight to Break Through Russian Defenses

By Emma Nguyen August 28, 2023

Ukrainian forces make slow but substantial progress amid complex Russian defenses, according to frontline soldier Oleksandr Solonko.

Ukrainian soldiers advancing the southern front are disclosing the struggles encountered while trying to edge past a labyrinth of intricate Russian defenses. One area of recent victory lies in the Zaporizhzhia region, where they have seized the village of Robotyne, starting a march towards other locations to reel in the crucial base of Tokmak.

Communications expert and soldier Oleksandr Solonko revealed the daunting hurdles on this battleground, noting the terrain's importance with its flatlands and villages all helping the enemy to spot them. "The enemy has been ready for you," Solonko shared on social media platform X, formerly Twitter. He further mentioned limited road access and a terrain scarred by frequent shelling, making invisibility near impossible.

The Russian fortification system is intricate, complete with trenches, dugouts, tunnels, automatic grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-tank missile systems, and artificial barriers. "What is not excavated is mined. We need to go through all of this to progress," Solonko wrote.

The complex fortification system has slowed progress, with Ukrainian sappers tirelessly trying to clear a variety of mines, the first line of Russian defenses. However, the density of these minefields deeper into Russian territory remains uncertain.

"The Ukrainian Armed Forces took time to push the Russians away from the Mariupol highway, encircle and enter Robotyne village. Our territory is boobytrapped with mines and tripwires, but we're making progress slowly," said Solonko.

On Friday, a Ukrainian officer noted that the open terrain posed a significant challenge. "Any movement immediately becomes known to the enemy, and shelling either begins with artillery or drones," he expressed. Unlike the eastern city Bakhmut, no basements are available to use as shelters here, leaving only open fields and bombed forest plantations.

Analysts say many entrenchments are waiting ahead. Satellite pictures of Solodka Balka, a village seven kilometers south of Robotyne, reveal robust communication trenches, vehicle shelters, and dragon's teeth, Russia's anti-tank obstacles. OSINT analyst Emil Kastehelmi remarks that these comprehensive fortifications have been designed to hinder any advance on the main road towards Tokmak.

The Institute for the Study of War reported that "Ukrainian forces are now within striking distance of the next series of Russian defensive positions," indicating Russian forces' extensive preparation in the trench and dugout systems.

Solonko also confirmed the loss of Ukrainian armor due to superior enemy airs. "The Russians use guided aerial bombs on a large scale and extensively use drones for surveillance and targeting Ukrainian positions," he reported.

Despite considerable obstacles, Solonko shows optimism after Robotyne's capture and the role of U.S.-donated vehicles, stating: "Even the hopelessly damaged equipment is taken for repair." He also expressed the impact of their gains on the Russians. "I understand why they are so angry because of Robotyne's loss. It is easier to defend by all standards. We are doing a great job to break through…" he revealed.