A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines.
Instead, the two-day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now emerging, turned decisively against the Russians. Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces, which comprised local volunteers and the professional military, eliminated most of a Russian battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3.
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Russian survivors of the Voznesensk battle left behind nearly 30 of their 43 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple-rocket launchers and trucks, as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. The helicopter’s remnants and some pieces of burned-out Russian armor were still scattered around Voznesensk on Tuesday.
Russian forces retreated more than 40 miles to the southeast, where other Ukrainian units have continued pounding them. Some dispersed in nearby forests, where local officials said 10 soldiers have been captured.
“We didn’t have a single tank against them, just rocket-propelled grenades, Javelin missiles and the help of artillery,” said Vadym Dombrovsky, commander of the Ukrainian special-forces reconnaissance group in the area and a Voznesensk resident. “The Russians didn’t expect us to be so strong. It was a surprise for them. If they had taken Voznesensk, they would have cut off the whole south of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian officers estimated that some 100 Russian troops died in Voznesensk, including those whose bodies were taken by retreating Russian troops or burned inside carbonized vehicles.
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Mr. Rudenko was on the phone with a Ukrainian artillery unit. Sending coordinates via the Viber social-messaging app, he directed artillery fire at the Russians. So did other local Territorial Defense volunteers around the city. “Everyone helped,” he said. “Everyone shared the information.”
Ukrainian shelling blew craters in the field, and some Russian vehicles sustained direct hits. Other Ukrainian regular troops and Territorial Defense forces moved toward Russian positions on foot, hitting vehicles with U.S.-supplied Javelin missiles. As Russian armor caught fire—including three of the five tanks in the wheat field—soldiers abandoned functioning vehicles and escaped on foot or sped off in the BTRs that still had fuel. They left crates of ammunition.