During the week of November 28-December 5, Russian soldiers continued to attack Ukrainian settlements on all fronts, except Volyn and Polissia in the north, where the situation remains unchanged. As of December 5, the Russian army is on the defensive on the Kupiansk and Lyman fronts, as well as the Zaporizhzhia, Novopavlivka, and Kherson fronts. In Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the Russian forces are focusing their main efforts on offensive operations and improving their tactical position.
The recently liberated territories of Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts are again under attack by the Russian army. Russian forces relocated all collaborators from Nova Kakhovka and Oleshky on the left (southern and eastern) bank of the Dnipro River, preparing for possible offensive action by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
After their retreat from Kherson Oblast, Russian forces hold reserves in the north of Crimea, having turned Dzhankoi and the surrounding areas into the largest military base in the peninsula. Occupiers are constructing fortified lines deploying about 750 items of weaponry and military equipment near Medvedivka, Dzhankoi district.
The occupation authorities continue to punish citizens for acts “discrediting the Russian army” and for anti-war statements. Now, Russian forces have also begun to exact reprisals for the performance or publication of Ukrainian songs on social media.
In occupied Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, as well as in Prymorsk, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, a new process was observed last week. The Russian occupiers have begun to “nationalize” abandoned property. They state that where they cannot establish the ownership of a property within a year, it will become municipally owned. The Russians in Mariupol, extensively damaged during its capture, continue their policy of demolishing ruined buildings and then erasing them from maps.
Throughout the temporarily occupied territories, Russian authorities continue their illegal mobilization of local men believed to have Ukrainian citizenship, looting from the local population, and imposing Russian educational curriculums for schoolchildren. In Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Russians imported teachers from Dagestan, promising them increased salaries and benefits to relieve a shortage of staff. The same situation occurred in Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, which was subsequently liberated from the Russian army and Russian “influence.”
Investigators continue to exhume the bodies of the dead in the recently liberated territories of Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts, revealing new mass graves and other evidence of the war crimes committed by the Russian army.
Russia holds reserves in the north of the peninsula to strengthen its groups that fight in Ukraine, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported. As of December 1, the city of Dzhankoi and its hinterlands have become the largest military base in Crimea.
According to Ukrainian intelligence data, “in the field park near the village of Medvedivka, Dzhankoi district, there are about 750 pieces of weaponry and military equipment.” Also, according to the General Staff, employees of military commissariats are preparing for the next wave of mobilization on the peninsula. In the city of Kerch, Russian forces are examining data held on state enterprise employees to verify who is liable for military service.
The Russian army continues to station soldiers elsewhere in occupied Crimea. Residents have been asked to billet servicemen in their homes. Refat Chubarov, the head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, wrote on his Telegram channel that more than 600 Russian soldiers — about the strength of a battalion tactical group — have been stationed in Içki/Sovietskyi. “But due to the fact that there are no free premises in the village for the quartering of such a large number of soldiers, the occupation authorities call on the civilian population to take the Russian invaders into their homes,” he said. Chubarov was told by local residents that most of the Russians are natives of Yakutia in the Russian Far East, and the sale of alcoholic beverages has increased sharply in local stores.
Moreover, Russia uses Crimean enterprises, particularly to aid its military. A factory for the production of curbs and tiles in the village of Shkilne, Simferopol district, has been turned over to the construction of concrete anti-tank barriers, according to the Russian state-owned media outlet, RIA Novosti, which cited Leonid Babashov, a member of the Russian State Duma.
The peninsula’s population continues to be subject to repression by the Russian forces. Since September alone, the invaders have sentenced 66 people on misdemeanor charges for “discrediting the Russian army” and for anti-war statements, the human rights initiative “Crimean Process” said in a research report.
“Most trends in anti-war persecution remain similar, with the exception of the complete absence of one-person protests and of a new trend — persecution for the performance of Ukrainian songs.”
Human rights defenders noted that in 16 cases, these were publications on social media (for example, a publication of a photo of the explosives-damaged Crimean bridge with the inscription “Happy birthday, grandfather”); in a further eight cases, public statements in public places; and in another eight cases the singing of Ukrainian songs. There was one prosecution for the “public demonstration” of anti-war or offensive inscriptions (someone displayed a tattoo on his left shoulder stating, “F**k the war”), and another for damage to various elements of war propaganda, including “two deep cuts on a billboard with a portrait of the President of the Russian Federation.”
In the temporarily occupied Crimea, the practice of denunciations continues. The Telegram channel Crimean Wind, citing pro-Russian Telegram channels, published the tale of a girl from Kherson who, during a lesson in Krasnoperekopsk, Crimea, ignored the Russian national anthem and drew the flag of Ukraine in her notebook. The author of the post asked the occupation authorities to react, as the girl “does not hide her negative attitude towards Russia and clearly demonstrates it.”
The fiercest battles continued near Soledar and Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian military said that in just one 24-hour period, the Russians fired 180-200 artillery rounds at Ukrainian positions.
In many places, there is no water, electricity, or heating at all. For instance, in Makiivka, where there is no centralized water supply, the water is distributed in bottles. But this involves a risk; those wanting water must show a passport with registration. “Cases were recorded when men were summonsed while waiting in line for water. That is, the enemy uses the crisis in the region as a method of identifying men to replenish their army,” wrote Ukraine’s National Resistance Center.
The Russians are preparing for the mass closure of coal mines in the temporarily occupied territory of Donbas. This follows the mobilization of more than half of their employees, and the fact that it is unprofitable to maintain non-working enterprises, reported the Eastern Human Rights Group. According to its information, a Russian Energy Ministry commission is working now on the temporarily occupied territories and wants to close the mines in the first quarter of 2023.
In occupied Mariupol, there’s a new development. The Russian occupiers want to “nationalize” abandoned property. The National Resistance Center reports that Russians are listing real estate as “unowned” and then adding these properties to a special register. If the occupiers do not establish the owners of the property within a year, it passes into municipal ownership.
Also, Russians continue their established habit of covering up the consequences of their attacks.
Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights, reported that the Russian occupiers had started deleting from Yandex Maps those residential buildings they are demolishing in Mariupol. He gave an example of a building that simply vanished from the Yandex map. Following an uproar, the Russians returned all the markings to the maps, it was confirmed on the Telegram channels of other Ukrainian politicians.
Petro Andriushchenko, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, published a video about how a building in the city center of Mariupol was demolished. “The occupiers reached the historical center of Mariupol. The building being demolished is on Myr Avenue, 85. This is another attempt by the occupiers to hide the consequences of bombings by Russian planes.”
The Russian media outlet Mediazona has published the shortened diary of an engineer from Russia who spent a month in Mariupol. He worked on a construction site in the city and saw the destruction leveled by his fellow citizens. He described his fear of death and his acknowledgment that Ukrainians “have every right to do so. I am an occupier here, no one invited me.” He ends: “It was the scariest and most traumatic experience of my life. I've been to a place where there’s a war going on. What did I see here? Only people. There were no demons with horns, no mythical enemies, and even no Nazis, but just ordinary people.”
The Russian army continues firing on territory liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. On the night of December 1-2, Russian soldiers attacked the village of Kluhyno-Bashkyrivka near the city of Chuhuiv in Kharkiv Oblast, damaging a five-story residential building and wounding two people. As Halyna Minaieva, the Mayor of Chuhuiv, reported on Telegram, the property of many residents has been destroyed, and “the war is ongoing and we should expect an insidious strike any moment.”
The residents of several settlements, including Kupiansk hromada have been offered the opportunity to be evacuated to safe places by the Kupiansk city military administration.
Ukrainian authorities are trying to calculate the consequences of the full-scale invasion. According to estimates by the mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, the damage caused to the city as a result of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation currently amounts to about $9bn. About 4,500 multi-story residential apartment buildings were damaged, of which almost 500 (in particular, about 300 buildings in the Northern Saltivka neighborhood) cannot be repaired. About 150,000 people have been left homeless.
Investigators continue to exhume the dead. In the village of Slobozhanske, Izium district (which was liberated from the Russian army in September), investigators recovered the bodies of five people: a baby and a 10-year-old girl among them. Some deaths occurred on March 9, when Russian soldiers targeted a multi-story building, Serhii Bolvinov, head of the Kharkiv Oblast Police Investigation Department, said.
Last week, a DNA examination confirmed the death of the prominent Ukrainian writer, Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was killed by Russian soldiers. A street in Izium will be renamed in honor of him.
“Volodymyr was a complex person, sometimes it seemed that he was a ‘man without skin.’ Intolerant of injustice, sensitive, uncompromising, patriotic, always and everywhere with his son. This is a painful loss. There will definitely be a street of Volodymyr Vakulenko in the city,” Volodymyr Matsokin, deputy mayor of Izium, wrote on Facebook.
Russian soldiers continue to shell the settlements of the Kherson region, located on the right bank. In the last two weeks, 19 people died and 39 more were injured as a result of Russian missile attacks, according to Kherson City Council’s Telegram channel. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russia’s goal is to strengthen its administrative and policing hold over the region, which is why Russian Armed Forces units have been withdrawn from Kherson Oblast and units of Rosgvardiya (Russia’s internal military force) deployed in their place. In the Skadovsk district, police powers were increased and a curfew was introduced, as of December 5. Movement between settlements is completely prohibited, and movement within settlements is allowed only during the day.
Russian soldiers have also intensified “filtration” measures. “In particular, at the entry and exit checkpoints for the city of Henichesk, the occupiers check all vehicles, documents, and phones of local residents,” the General Staff said.
The occupying forces want to build new facilities on the narrow Arabat Spit, which runs south from Kherson Oblast to eastern Crimea.
Currently, the occupying authorities are surveying all unfinished construction sites, where they allegedly plan to build residential buildings, administrative facilities, schools, kindergartens, and hospitals. This report appeared on Suspilne, a Ukrainian media outlet, quoting Volodymyr Saldo, the Russian-appointed “governor” of temporarily occupied Kherson Oblast, on Telegram.
The situation with pension payments remains tough. In the temporarily occupied Skadovsk district, for instance, postal workers stopped delivering payments to pensioners. “Invaders force elderly people to write applications and obtain passports and citizenship of the Russian Federation,” the General Staff reported.
Collaborators continue to leave those parts of Kherson Oblast still occupied by Russia. The National Resistance Center reported that Russians had relocated all active collaborators from Nova Kakhovka and Oleshky in Kherson Oblast (both settlements are on the left bank — the southern side — of the Dnipro River.) This includes not just Russian-appointed occupation officials, but also those who used to join Russian raids on the local population or otherwise intimidated and forced residents to cooperate with the occupying forces.
Looting and robbery of local residents continued across the temporarily occupied territories. As of December 4, for example, Russian soldiers have taken all goods and equipment, including freezers and cash registers, from the city shops in Nova Kakhovka.
Meanwhile, on December 3, the Karlson Ukrainian special forces unit, announced on Facebook that the Ukrainian military had raised the first flag on the left bank of Dnipro. They wrote that this “will become a bridgehead for the de-occupation of the left bank of the Kherson region.” There are currently no other details regarding when and where exactly on the left bank it happened.
In the liberated Kherson region, there have been the following developments:
- Kherson authorities tried to restore electricity, water, and other services
- residents of the liberated settlements started obtaining pensions for December, and
- the service center of the Pension Fund of Ukraine resumed work in liberated Kherson.
As Suspilne reported, the Kherson regional archive has compiled a list of funds that were stolen by the Russian invaders. Medicines are once again beginning to arrive in the city. People can also get free medicines at special points, which have been opened in hospitals and polyclinics.
Companies are trying to resume business. These are mostly firms providing critical services: transportation, communications, post offices and banks. Although, as Economichna Pravda wrote after talking to representatives of the enterprises, many are unable to resume work, as some are in the currently occupied part of the region, and not all enterprises have access to their facilities.
The law enforcement authorities continue to detain those who collaborated with the Russian army or occupying forces, by handing over targeting information for Russian gunners, coordinates, or the locations of Ukrainian soldiers.
New evidence of crimes committed by the Russian army was revealed last week. A new mass burial site was found in Pravdyne, near Kherson. The dead all had their hands tied and were blindfolded; the same grim evidence that has been discovered in many other settlements after the Russians were defeated.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to liberate settlements in Luhansk Oblast. Although there has been heavy fighting and slow progress, nonetheless, as of December 3, 13 settlements were liberated in Luhansk Oblast by Ukrainian troops. After Svatove and Kreminna, Starobilsk will be an important target, the head of the Luhansk Oblast Military Administration said.
The situation remains difficult in Sievierodonetsk. According to Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Sievierodonetsk Military Administration, the city entered the winter without heating and with very limited electricity supplies. The Russians continue to loot empty apartments; the availability of foodstuffs is limited, and prices are three times higher than in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.
In Khrustalnyi, Luhansk region, the Russians announced the end of mobilization, but continue to patrol the city and prepare for a new wave of mobilization in the Russian Federation, said the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It added that the Russian Federation is preparing for the next wave of mobilization planned for January-February 2023. And in the higher military educational institutions of the Russian Federation, it is planned that cadets will graduate early.
The Russian invaders in Luhansk Oblast are planning to withdraw Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, from circulation from January 1, after which payments will only be possible in rubles, according to Luhansk Oblast Military Administration.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine have not yet gained control over the Kinburn Spit in Mykolaiv Oblast, south of Ochakiv, and Russian troops are currently regrouping there. As was reported on November 22, three settlements on the spit had yet to be liberated by the Ukrainian army in order to fully liberate Mykolaiv Oblast. The spit is important, as it can be used to menace Mykolaiv Oblast. Also, restoration of control would increase the safety of ships moving along the grain corridor.
The Ukrainian authorities are trying to demine and restore electricity and water supply in the liberated territories, although the situation remains tough in many settlements, including Voznesensk, Pervomaisk, and Vradiivka Hromada. People complain electricity is only available at night and are often without power for several days.
The Ukrainian authorities are also trying to restore services in Snihurivka. It was freed from the Russian army on November 10. When Russian soldiers retreated, they pillaged almost all the houses in the city, stole all municipal equipment, and destroyed houses, schools, and administrative buildings.
“Apartment buildings were affected. Some are completely destroyed, others have no windows at all, broken roofs. There are apartment buildings where shells stick out, we conduct demining there. Many houses in the private sector were damaged. Almost all administrative buildings were destroyed,” says Ivan Kukhta, Head of the Snihurivka City Military Administration.
Business restoration is hard, too, as the Russian army destroyed 13,500 business facilities in Mykolaiv Oblast, with 12 agricultural enterprises among the destroyed assets. According to Vitalii Kim, the head of the Mykolaiv Oblast Military Administration, it is still impossible to calculate business losses, as settlements are still under attack. During the full-scale war, tax revenues from production in Mykolaiv decreased fivefold.
The Russian occupiers are not retreating from the occupied settlements of Zaporizhzhia Oblast; on the contrary, their number has increased in Melitopol city and the Melitopol district after they retreated from Kherson.
Russian soldiers have assaulted the village of Botieve, in the Melitopol district, on the shore of the Azov Sea.
“It has always been such a health resort. Today, on the territory of this village, on the grain elevator, they (the Russians), have set up their repair base. And in the sanatoriums of this village, they are forming barracks and bases. And we observe an increase of the number of Russians in Melitopol and district. We can say for sure that it’s tens of thousands of personnel and at least 1,000 pieces of materiel,” Ivan Fedorov, the Mayor of Melitopol, said during a briefing on December 2.
The Russians continue to terrorize the local residents in the occupied city. According to Fedorov’s Telegram, medical workers have refused to cooperate with Russians. But the latter are forcing Melitopol’s doctors to resign from Ukrainian hospitals and apply for employment in Russian hospitals. Also, according to Fedorov, the occupiers are actively promoting a chatbot, which encourages residents to hand over “Ukrainian bandits.” Turncoats are offered 500,000 rubles (around $8,000) for valuable information.
According to Fedorov, the Russians are preparing the full-scale mobilization of Ukrainian men into the Russian military. At a checkpoint in Vasylivka, Russian soldiers will not allow civilian males to go to Zaporizhzhia if they lack military paperwork.
“It is clear that the enemy is going to use our men as cannon fodder on the front line,” says Fedorov.
Also, there is information on his Telegram that it is still possible to evacuate using two alternative routes; toward Georgia and European countries via Berdiansk-Mariupol-Novoazovsk, or via Crimea.
Russians continue the process of russification. According to the National Resistance Center, Ukrainian teachers don’t want to cooperate with the occupying authorities, so the Russians have brought teachers from Dagestan to occupied Melitopol, promising them increased salaries and benefits given the risks of working in a war zone.
At the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest, the Russian occupiers have appointed Yurii Chernichuk, the Deputy Chief Engineer of ZNPP as the new director. The Ukrainian national nuclear energy company Energoatom released a statement asking employees not to cooperate with the occupiers. The new management, appointed by Ukrainian Energoatom, also shared a statement asking employees to stay true to Ukraine, and reassured them that Ukrainian control over ZNPP and Enerhodar would be restored.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.