The battle of Vuhledar in Ukraine’s Donetsk region last month saw Russia lose an estimated 130 tanks and other armoured vehicles. The Ukrainian military claims the ‘epic’ battle was a major victory that saw the Russian forces retreat.
According to the Ukrainian government, this was the “largest tank combat of the war so far, and a stinging loss for the Russians,” as reported by the New York Times. It was alleged that the massive loss of life and equipment was due to incompetence because “several of their most elite troops had been left in disarray from earlier battle.” The newly enlisted soldiers have neither the experience nor the training to deal with the Ukrainian army’s strategy of ambushing tank columns. Ukrainian military drone film reveals the burned hulks of Russian armored vehicles littering farm fields everywhere around Vuhledar, having been blown up by mines, hit by artillery, or decimated by anti-tank missiles.
Russia’s operation in the south and east of Ukraine has a primary focus on the coal mining town of Vuhledar in the Donetsk region. It was claimed in early February that Moscow had lost a brigade of 5,000 soldiers near the town. The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that between 60,000 and 70,000 Russians have been killed or wounded or are still missing in Ukraine since last February, making this conflict the worst since World War II. Tanks were used by both sides in the drawn-out conflict, rumbling over dirt roads and swerving around tree lines as the Russians attempted to advance in columns while the Ukrainians played defense, firing from a distance or hiding when the Russian columns came into their sights.
Russia lost the battle because its troops advanced in columns directly into ambushes, a tactic that had previously cost Moscow hundreds of tanks. The Soviets were hampered by a similar lack of competence. Most of their top forces were destroyed after the initial battle. Newly enlisted soldiers and conscripted prisoners, unfamiliar with the Ukraine’s methods for ambushing columns, replaced the decimated military units. The shortage of qualified tank commanders in Russia is only one sign of this problem.