Advancing Russian Troops Threaten to Reverse Some of Ukraine’s Hard-Won Gains

Advancing Russian Troops Threaten to Reverse Some of Ukraine’s Hard-Won Gains

Russian troops in recent weeks have been taking ground from Ukraine all across the front line.

In some cases, they are seizing land that Ukrainians had recaptured in hard-fought battles just last year. And in a surprise offensive, Moscow has made its biggest territorial gains since late 2022.

This is a sobering situation for Ukraine, one that may hurt the morale of its soldiers and dampen the public mood. Analysts say Russia is likely to increase its gains in coming months while Ukraine waits for American military aid to reach the battlefield.

Here’s a closer look at some of Russia’s recent advances.

Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed last week that its troops had seized Robotyne, a tiny village in the Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine. The village had been retaken by Ukrainian soldiers in August, a much-celebrated, if rare, success in Kyiv’s disappointing summer counteroffensive.

Ukraine has denied the claim, but maps of the battlefield compiled by independent analysts from satellite imagery and video footage of the fighting showed that Russian troops coming up from the south had reached the northernmost part of the village.

“Robotyne should be viewed as a mostly Russian-controlled grayish zone,” said Emil Kastehelmi, an analyst with the Black Bird Group. He said that Ukraine’s “main forces have pulled out from there,” but that they continued to target Russian forces from north of the village, mainly with attack drones, and were preventing them from securing a permanent presence there for now.

The village, which consists of a few streets and had a prewar population of just a few hundred inhabitants, lacks strategic importance to Russia and is now little more than ruins. But its loss would be a symbolic blow to Ukraine after fighting so hard to win it back last year.

Ukraine’s army in the south released aerial footage of Robotyne in mid-April. Piles of rubble lie along a dirt road amid gaunt trees. All around, green fields are dotted with craters, some several yards wide.

“This is what Robotyne looks like now,” the Ukrainian military said.

Further east, Russian troops have moved into Klishchiivka, a settlement that Ukraine retook in September, in one of its most significant advances at the time.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that its troops had seized the village. But pro-Kremlin Russian military bloggers have disputed the claim, and independent groups that map the battlefields say Russia currently controls only about half of the village. Ukraine has not commented on the claim.

Klishchiivka lies just south of Bakhmut, a city that Russian troops captured after months of fighting about a year ago.

Russian control of Klishchiivka could relieve the pressure on their troops in Bakhmut and facilitate their operations to capture the Ukrainian stronghold of Chasiv Yar, a hilltop town that is one of Moscow’s main targets, located just west of Bakhmut.

Capturing Chasiv Yar would give Russian forces control of commanding heights in the area and expose cities that Ukraine uses as military logistical hubs in the eastern Donetsk region to increased artillery fire. Russian troops have entered the eastern edge of Chasiv Yar but have not crossed a canal that separates those outskirts from the rest of the town.

Moscow illegally annexed the Donetsk region in 2022, but does not fully control it. Analysts say that capturing the part that remains under Ukrainian control is one of Russia’s top objectives.

Russia’s biggest advances so far this year have taken place in Ukraine’s northeast, near the city of Kharkiv, where Moscow opened a new front about two weeks ago and seized settlements that Ukraine had liberated in the fall of 2022.

Analysts say the goal of the new offensive is twofold: to stretch Ukraine’s already outnumbered and outgunned forces to allow Russia to break through Ukrainian defenses more easily elsewhere; and to push Ukrainian forces away from the border to prevent them from targeting Russian towns and cities with artillery.

Russia has pressed forward with attacks on villages outside Kharkiv and also intensified its airstrikes on the city itself. On Thursday, Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, said a Russian missile attack on a printing plant killed at least seven people and injured another 16.

The Ukrainian army has rushed in elite brigades that appear to have stalled the Russian advance in the Kharkiv region for now. Still, Russian troops now control more than 70 square miles of Ukrainian land in the area, including about 10 settlements.

The offensive has forced thousands of residents to relive a trial they endured once before: fleeing advancing Russian troops and seeing villages destroyed by bombardments. Mr. Syniehubov said that nearly 11,000 people had been evacuated from the area in roughly the last two weeks.

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