May 27

Sitrep for May 24-27, 2024 (as of 8:00 a.m. UTC+3)

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the evening of May 25, Russian forces struck the Epicenter home improvement store in Kharkiv using two D-30SN Universal Inter-Branch Gliding Munitions (UMPB), according to Kharkiv police reports. CCTV footage from the parking lot captured at least two explosions, with the second possibly being a double explosion, indicating that three munitions could have been directed at the target.

Surveillance cameras also recorded munitions exploding next to people inside the home improvement store. The blasts triggered a large fire, which likely increased the number of casualties, as evacuation efforts were greatly complicated by burning and collapsing structures. Photographs and videos of the aftermath of the strike reveal the store was almost completely consumed by the fire.

Reports indicate the strike resulted in at least 17 dead and 44 injured, with another eight people still missing.

Pro-Russian war correspondents, citing video evidence depicting sounds resembling secondary detonations, suggested the depot of the home improvement store was housing ammunition. However, these sounds could be attributed to the impacts occurring in the paint section of the store, where cans and spray bottles likely started exploding due to the heat. Photos of the aftermath of the strike show numerous burnt-out cans scattered across the store. Additionally, the aforementioned sounds could have also been caused by exploding propane gas canisters or cracking slate.

Typically, an explosion in an ammunition depot would send projectiles flying in different directions, damaging nearby structures. None were observed in this instance.

Taking into account the fact that there were no air defenses visible nor heard in the video at the time of the attack, and the munitions hit the same location, we believe that the Russian Armed Forces indeed targeted the hardware store. Therefore, this constitutes yet another war crime committed by the Russian side.

Frontline Situation Update

Although fighting continues in many places, the frontline has remained virtually unchanged over the past few days. Russian forces are trying to advance near the town of Vovchansk and Lyptsi, in the Kharkiv region, and on the Zaporizhzhia axis, combat operations are reportedly taking place near the villages of Verbove and Robotyne. There is still no evidence that the RuAF are able to take advantage of the diversion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to repel attacks in the Kharkiv region. We also note a small but important change in the Pokrovsk direction, where Russian forces were able to capture the village of Umanske.

In our sitreps, we have repeatedly written that motorcycles are more suitable for limited special forces operations or logistical tasks, rather than for frontal assault. Nevertheless, the use of motorcycles during assaults continues: on rough terrain, soldiers constantly fall off their bikes, and also find themselves completely unprotected, risking being killed by a burst of machine gun fire (either directly or as a result of a fuel tank catching fire or exploding). In addition, a video was published showing Russian military personnel practicing motorcycle assaults. For some reason, their training does not take into account that small arms fire by the enemy sitting in a trench can easily repel such attacks even at a distance.

Journalist and blogger Ivan Filippov published a selection of statements by pro-Russian war correspondents Aleksandr Kots, Dmitry Steshin and Alexander Sladkov, who actively approve of motorcycle assaults despite all of the obvious counterarguments.

A photo has appeared showing pit bikes, which are mini-motorcycles used for training and competing in some types of motorsports, purchased for the 76th Airborne Division. Pit bikes are very small motorcycles, resembling children's bikes, with small wheels and weak engines. They are even less suitable for riding over rough terrain with two people and heavy gear compared to standard road motorcycles.

A video has emerged showing a civilian bus with tables, computers and Russian soldiers inside. Ukrainian military expert Serhii "Flash" Beskrestnov clarified that this is not a drone control center, as initially reported. Instead, it is more likely a training center with a simulator running on the computers. Although the video claims that these buses "ride all over the frontline," the exact meaning of the sentence is unclear, as drone operators typically do not operate in close proximity to the frontline.

The existence of this video does not justify attacks on civilian buses, just as the fact that the Ukrainian postal and courier company Nova Poshta trucks were once used to transport military vehicles does not legitimize all subsequent Russian strikes on this company's warehouses.

Citing an estimate by the management consulting company Bain & Company, Sky News has reported that Russia is expected to manufacture 4.5 million artillery shells in 2024, while the combined production of the EU and USA will be only 1.3 million. It also stated that the production cost of Western 155mm projectiles is four times higher than that of Russian 152mm ones. While these figures are accurate, we believe the overall comparison is flawed. The estimate for Western projectiles considers only the key 155mm caliber, whereas the total number for Russia includes artillery rounds of all calibers.

After Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny, several former Wagner Group commanders have tried to set up units of former mercenaries under the auspices of various structures of the Ministry of Defense and Rosgvardia, the Russian National Guard. However, none of these units have managed to recruit sufficient numbers of volunteer fighters. For example, before the project was shut down by order of the Head of Rosgvardia Viktor Zolotov, the unit commander, Anton "Lotus" Elizarov, was only able to recruit about 200 people to a unit which was supposed to be part of Rosgvardia.

According to the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, a former Wagner Group commander with the call sign "Zombie," known for his conflict with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's right-hand man Magomed "Lord" Daudov and an interview with Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, is urging former mercenaries to fight under his command as part of Rosgvardia. Recruitment is ongoing for the newly formed Vostok Separate Volunteer Reconnaissance and Assault Brigade, with an estimated strength of 3,500 personnel. Like other commentators, we are highly skeptical about the prospects of this project.

The spring regular conscription campaign continues. As in the previous year, there are not many volunteers willing to go to draft offices, and regions are taking measures to avoid falling short of the conscription plan. According to the Ostorozhno, Moskva [Beware Moscow] Telegram channel, on May 24, in the town of Kotelniki, Moscow region, police and military commissars conducted a joint raid on a mosque during the Friday prayer. They escorted all the men out of the building and transported them to a draft office on five buses. Eyewitnesses reported that all those eligible for conscription, even if they were registered with draft offices in other regions, were sent to a military collection point on the same day and subsequently dispatched to military units for statutory military service.

Several young men with health issues qualifying them as unfit for military service are being unlawfully held at a Moscow military collection point on Ugreshskaya Street. They are being coerced into declaring themselves fit for military service despite having medical conditions and sent to military units. After their parents arrived and called the police and an ambulance, nine of the ten conscripts, who refused to change into military uniforms, were released. As we have previously reported, those who resist and actively fight for their rights have a much better chance of not ending up on the frontline.

Izvestia [The News, a Russian pro-Kremlin daily broadsheet newspaper and a news channel], citing three sources, has reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense will not hold the "International Army Games" this year. Part of these games included the "tank biathlon," unpopular among army personnel. These competitions were intended to demonstrate that even after the annexation of Crimea, Russia was not isolated and still had allies. The event did not take place in 2023 and it was announced that the games would now be held only on even years. The current cancellation is likely related to the change in leadership at the Ministry of Defense and is another indication of the military vehicle shortage in the Russian Army.