Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv

May 13, 2022

The Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv City in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements. Russian units have generally not attempted to hold ground against counterattacking Ukrainian forces over the past several days, with a few exceptions. Reports from Western officials and a video from an officer of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) indicate that Moscow is focused on conducting an orderly withdrawal and prioritizing getting Russians back home before allowing proxy forces to enter Russia rather than trying to hold its positions near the city.

Ukraine thus appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv. Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv. Ukrainian forces will likely attempt to disrupt at least the westernmost of the ground lines of communication (GLOCs) between Belgorod and Russian forces concentrated around Izyum, although Russia is using several GLOCs, including some further away from current Ukrainian positions than any Ukrainian counteroffensive is likely to reach soon. The terrain east of current Ukrainian positions may also favor the Russians attempting to defend their GLOCs, as large water features canalize movement and create chokepoints that the Ukrainians would have to breakthrough.

Russian troops continued efforts to advance all along the periphery of the Izyum-Donetsk city salient but made little progress. Russian forces attempted a ground offensive from Izyum that made no progress. We had previously hypothesized that Russia might give up on attempts to advance from Izyum, but the Russians have either not made such a decision or have not fully committed to it yet.[1] Small-scale and unsuccessful attacks on the southern end of the salient near Donetsk City continued but made no real progress.

The main Russian effort continues to be the attempt to encircle Severodonetsk and Lysychansk from the north and from the south. Russian troops attacking from Popasna to the north made no significant progress in the last 24 hours. Russian forces coming north-to-south have failed to cross the Siverskyi Donets River and taken devastating losses in their attempts. The Russians may not have enough additional fresh combat power to offset those losses and continue the offensive on a large enough scale to complete the encirclement, although they will likely continue to try to do so.

The Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol continue to fight despite the odds, although Russian attackers appear to have penetrated into the Azovstal facility.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukraine has likely won the Battle of Kharkiv. Russian forces continued to withdraw from the northern settlements around Kharkiv City. Ukrainian forces will likely attempt to disrupt Russian ground lines of communication to Izyum.

  • Ukrainian forces have likely disrupted the Russian attempt to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in force, undermining Russian efforts to mass troops in northern Donbas and complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

  • Russian forces have likely secured the highway near the western entrance to the Azovstal Steel Plant but fighting for the facility continues.

  • Russian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast are likely attempting to reach artillery range outside Zaporizhia City.

  • Ukrainian forces are reportedly attempting to regain control of Snake Island off the Romanian coast or at least disrupt Russia’s ability to use it.