This Village In Eastern Ukraine Is A ‘Meat Grinder’ For Two Armies
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This Village In Eastern Ukraine Is A ‘Meat Grinder’ For Two Armies

Oct 14, 2023

The village of Pisky lies mere yards from Russian lines just outside Donetsk, an industrial city of one million that, since 2014, has been under the control of pro-Russian separatists.

Pisky changed hands several times during the earliest phase of the Russia-Ukraine war back in 2014 and 2015, but the Ukrainians ultimately prevailed. A battalion of the Ukrainian navy's 56th Motorized Brigade dug in ... and waited.

Now the Russians are trying, again, to take Pisky. A fresh Russian assault in recent days has turned the village into "Hell," according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Russians have an overwhelming firepower advantage in Pisky, like they do across eastern Ukraine. More artillery. More rockets. More close air support. They also have more troops in the area. "We cannot yet completely break the Russian army's advantage in artillery and manpower," Zelensky conceded.

But fortifications count for a lot. The 56th Motorized Brigade's trenches and earthworks are visible in commercial satellite imagery, crisscrossing Pisky's abandoned and ruined buildings.

Well-armed attackers. Entrenched defenders. The basic ingredients for a grueling, bloody battle.

A first-hand account of the fighting, by a Ukrainian soldier, has circulated on social media. "This is a hell of a meat grinder, where the battalion simply holds back the onslaught with their bodies," the soldier wrote.

Pisky's defenders endure endless artillery barrages, with as many as 300 152-millimeter shells falling in short order. Worse, the battalion's potentially hundreds of soldiers lack any means of shooting back at the big guns. Their heaviest weaponry is a pair of mortars, the soldier claimed. Unsuitable for artillery-on-artillery counterbattery.

"Without a counterbattery fight, it turns into a senseless meat grinder, where an insane amount of our infantry is ground up in a day," the soldier wrote.

He described a typical skirmish. Russian troops break through Ukrainian lines. The Ukrainian battalion sends in its reserves. "The reserve goes to the position, closes the breakthrough and, after five minutes, only one of the 15 people remains intact."

Ukraine in recent months has acquired hundreds of modern artillery systems from its foreign allies, including 18 of Germany's best PzH-2000 tracked howitzers and—perhaps most consequently—16 American High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.

But if the soldier's account is accurate, none of these systems is helping to defend Pisky. It's possible Ukrainian commanders are prioritizing deep strikes against Russian supply dumps and bridges in Russian rear areas—especially in southern Ukraine.

It's not that the Ukrainian army doesn't have artillery. It's that Ukrainian commanders are using their artillery at the places of their choosing. And Pisky's not one of them.

So Russian artillery pounds the village with impunity. Russian infantry rush in to exploit any gaps the guns blow in Ukrainian lines. Ukrainian infantry counterattack and beat back the Russians—but suffer terrible losses as the artillery opens fire again.

A victory for Ukraine, but a Pyrrhic one. There may come a point when winning, at this cost, no longer is worth it. Ukrainian strategy, so far in the current phase of the war, has been to trade space for time—bleeding the Russian army while slowly retreating across shell-pocked terrain.

When will Ukraine trade away Pisky? Probably when Ukrainian commanders calculate they’re losing more combat power keeping the village than the Russians are losing trying to take it.