October 6, 2023

Sitrep for Oct. 4–6, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

On Oct. 5, Russian forces launched a missile attack on a cafe-shop in the village of Hroza, Kupiansk district, Kharkiv region. There were about 60 people in the building. Rescue work has now been completed, and 52 people are known to have been killed, including an 8-year-old child, and 6 people were injured. Four people are still considered to be missing. Before the Russian invasion, about 300 people lived in the village. This has been one of the bloodiest attacks since the start of the full-scale invasion.

A funeral wake was held in the cafe-shop for a deceased soldier, originally buried in the city of Dnipro, who was reburied in his native village. The strike killed his entire family and many other civilians.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels are claiming that a large number of Ukrainian military personnel were present at the funeral wake, however, this is not confirmed by the photographs taken at the site of the strike. Some sources report that the deceased soldier’s son, who was present at the wake, also was a Ukrainian serviceman, while others claim that he had retired for health reasons. The presence of one or more Ukrainian soldiers amongst the 50 civilians killed does not at all justify the strike from a military point of view, and it is certainly a war crime.

According to the Kharkiv police, after the study of missile fragments, explosives experts came to the conclusion that the cafe-shop was hit by a 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile. The strike razed the brick building to the ground. The power of the explosion and its distance from the frontline do not contradict the version of the Kharkiv police. The village of Hroza is located approximately 40 km from Synkivka, which the Russian Armed Forces have been recently trying to capture in order to cut off the supply routes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine along the Oskil River. Moreover, from the very beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Kharkiv region has been constantly under attack by the RuAF.

On the morning of Oct. 6, Russian forces targeted the center of Kharkiv with 9K720 Iskander missiles. As a result, a 10-year-old boy and his grandmother were killed, and 30 people were injured.

On Oct. 5, Russian forces launched two air-dropped bombs equipped with Universal Gliding and Correction Modules (UMPK) on a hospital building in Beryslav in the Kherson region (on the right bank of the Dnipro River). The fourth floor was destroyed, and another partially collapsed. Two medical workers, a paramedic and an ambulance driver, were injured. Attacks on medical facilities are also considered war crimes.

Additionally, on Oct. 5, two people were killed in Kherson as a result of an artillery strike, with shells hitting the yard of a residential building.

On Oct. 5, the city of Horlivka in the Donetsk region was hit with cluster munitions. Photographs show numerous unexploded DPICM submunitions, including on the platform of the Mykytivka railway station. Reports indicate that two were killed and five others injured. Additionally, four teenagers were injured while trying to disassemble submunitions found on the scene, with one child succumbing to their injuries.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to the European Political Community summit in Spain, on Oct. 5. It was announced that Ukraine would receive six MIM-23 HAWK surface-to-air missile systems (likely launchers). German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also stated that Germany would supply Ukraine with another Patriot air defense system.

During Vladimir Putin's speech at the Valdai Forum on Oct. 5, the comment section running under the live broadcast was flooded with comments from mobilized soldiers’ relatives demanding leaves for their loved ones. Many draftees have now been on the frontline for almost a year. Authorities had previously started blocking groups on social media dedicated to the coordination of such appeals to officials and the collection of signatures for letters to State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] members. Administrators of one such group asked participants not to write comments under live streams. Posts with hashtags like #вернёмребят, #ротация, #мобилизованнымпорадомой [#bringourboyshome, #rotation, #mobilizedbackhome], and others of the same kind are now being blocked on the VKontakte social network.

Putin stated in his speech that 335,000 people have already signed contracts with the Ministry of Defense, and that another 5,000 volunteer fighters, a term used to refer to former Wagner Group mercenaries, have signed short-term contracts.

Putin also mentioned that Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, had briefed him on the results of the investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane [deceased owner of the Wagner Group] crash. Investigators concluded that there was no external impact on the plane, and fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of those who were killed on board. We assume that the grenades could have exploded during the fire after the plane crashed.

Additionally, Putin complained that no examination was conducted to check for alcohol or drugs in the blood of the deceased. He also recalled that during a search of Prigozhin's company office, the Federal Security Service (FSB) not only found 10 billion rubles in cash but also 5 kg of cocaine. Thus, it appears that he was hinting that the Wagnerites themselves are to blame for the crash.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber, associated with the Russian Air and Space Force, which demonstrated a strong dislike for the Wagner Group due to the fact that the Wagnerites shot down several planes and helicopters during the armed rebellion, is similarly hinting that the leadership of the group were drug addicts. On the other hand, the Kanal Spetsialnogo Naznacheniya [Special Purpose Channel] Telegram channel believes that grenade fragments and white powder ought not be linked together. At the same time, the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone claims that there were no narcotic substances found in the packages at all.

In his "Valdai" speech, Putin also claimed that Russia has never had private military companies due to the absence of relevant legislation, describing the case of the Wagner Group as "awkward." Therefore, it appears that Putin acknowledged that Wagner was an illegal armed group: it possessed weapons and participated in combat activities without any legal basis.

On Oct. 4, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was published, confirming six extrajudicial executions of captured Ukrainian military personnel. In particular, the report included the story of two AFU servicemen who were captured by an "armed group linked to the Russian army" in the Donetsk region (presumably referring to the Wagner Group, which was operating in that area) in August 2022 . For three months, the Ukrainian captives were forced to deliver ammunition and other equipment to Russian positions, navigating minefields under enemy fire. They were also required to retrieve wounded soldiers from the battlefield. One of the captives was wounded by stepping on an anti-personnel mine and was shot, while the other was executed for refusing to obey orders. At least five other Ukrainian prisoners of war forced to transport ammunition were wounded.

In addition, this report confirmed the authenticity of the video of the execution of Oleksandr Matsievskyi, who said "Glory to Ukraine!" moments before he was executed, and of a video of a prisoner beheaded with a knife.

One other significant development this week was the construction of a railroad from the Rostov region to the city of Mariupol, which could become an alternative supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine.

Studying satellite imagery, western analysts have discovered that a significant number of ships and submarines based in Sevastopol have now been relocated to Novorossiysk and Feodosia to reduce the threat from Ukrainian missiles and maritime surface drones. As we have previously noted, this relocation will have little effect on the ability of these ships to launch missiles at Ukrainian targets. However, it is likely to complicate the interception of ships carrying Ukrainian grain (despite threats, Russian ships are not preventing the recently resumed maritime grain exports).

On Oct. 4, the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine published a video in which Ukrainian special forces are seen standing in shallow water carrying a Ukrainian flag and declaring that Crimea will be Ukrainian or deserted. According to Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, these special forces were engaged by Russian soldiers after landing.

The FSB announced it had captured one of the Ukrainian soldiers, and published a video of the interrogation of one of the sabotage and reconnaissance group members. In the video, the man introduces himself as Military Intelligence Private Lyubas and reports that the goal of their mission was to hoist the flag of Ukraine and say that “the Main Intelligence Directorate had entered Crimea.” On Oct. 5, on the Crimean coast, the body of a soldier in a wetsuit was found, along with assault rifle magazines—he was most likely also a member of this sabotage and reconnaissance group.

On Oct. 5, CIT released the second installment of its series on mobilization in Russia, developed in collaboration with our team of volunteers (the first installment was released in June). The findings from this dossier are derived from a year’s worth of mobilization summaries. This research piece helps to better understand the current situation on the frontlines and the overall state of the conflict.

Many journalists, when describing the situation in particular sections of the front, continue to believe that advancing Ukrainian forces are met by elite Russian Airborne Troops on the battlefield. However, as our investigation demonstrates, these assertions have in large part lost their relevance. From the very beginning of the invasion, Airborne Troops, along with naval infantry units, have been employed in unconventional roles, suffering great casualties, which ultimately led to an urgent need for their replenishment with mobilized soldiers. However, as our research shows, the primary criterion used for allocating draftees to units experiencing personnel shortages was geography, as opposed to qualification or passed military experience. For example, mobilized soldiers from Russia’s constituent Republic of Buryatia were sent to the 5th Tank Rifle Brigade, and other local units, regardless of where, and in what capacity, they had previously served as contract soldiers or conscripts.

Similarly, in the Ryazan region, mobilized soldiers were being assigned to airborne units stationed in the region even if they did not meet the physical standards and had no prior experience as paratroopers. Furthermore, the training of mobilized soldiers in Airborne Troops training centers, as well as in regular units, often focused primarily on the most basic personal skills with minimal joint combat training exercises at the unit level. Therefore, as of now, if one were to randomly choose a hundred soldiers from the Airborne Troops and another hundred from a typical motorized infantry regiment, there would likely be barely any difference in the level of their military training. Thus, in our view, there is now no basis for calling the Airborne Troops "elite" units as in regards to combat readiness, they present almost no difference to other units of the Russian Army.

We have also compiled a table with full information (including the units’ numbers, the names of the commanders, places of formation, regional diversity of personnel, and known locations at the front) that we were able to gather about 123 new units known to us at this point. Based on the information presented in the table, it is possible, for example, to track the most likely route of a mobilized soldier if it is known in which region they were drafted or in which training center they underwent training. The table will be updated as new information is obtained.