Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 27
Kateryna Stepanenko, Katherine Lawlor, Grace Mappes, Riley Bailey, and Mason Clark
September 27, 8:30pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Russian authorities in occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts completed their falsified annexation “referenda” on September 27 and implausibly claimed that each sham referendum received between 87 and 99% approval from Ukrainian residents. Russian officials pre-ordained and falsified the approval ratings and alleged voter participation rates for the sham referenda while coercing Ukrainian civilians in occupied territories to performatively vote for Russian annexation, as ISW has previously reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely announce the Russian annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory on September 30. The completion of the performative referenda marks the last prerequisite for Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare the Russian annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory. The UK Ministry of Defense reported that Putin will likely make the declaration before or during an address to both houses of Russia's parliament on Friday, September 30. Putin followed a similar approach when he illegally annexed Ukrainian Crimea in 2014: a sham referendum, followed by a presidential decree of recognition and a treaty of accession that the Russian Federal Assembly formally approved within five days of the sham Crimean referendum. The Russian proxy leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Denis Pushilin, told Russian media on September 27 that he previously asked Putin to approve the results of the referendum before it was held and would travel to Moscow to sign an agreement. The head of Russia’s proxy Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Leonid Pasechnik, announced on September 27 that the LNR will join Russia “very soon” and that he will travel to Moscow on September 27 or 28 to ask Putin in person to approve the results of the sham referenda. ISW previously forecasted that Putin will annex occupied Ukrainian territory by or soon after October 1 to enable the forced conscription of Ukrainian civilians into the Russian military in the normal autumn conscription cycle.
Russian forces are reportedly committing newly-mobilized Western Military District (WMD) men to the Kherson and Kharkiv Oblast frontlines without prior training. A mobilized servicemember of the 1st Tank Regiment of an unspecified unit recorded a video plea stating that his unit will not receive training prior to deploying to Kherson Oblast on September 29. RFE/RL’s Mark Krutov geolocated the serviceman’s surroundings to the 2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division’s base in Kalininets, Moscow Oblast. ISW previously reported that Russian forces have committed elements of the 147th Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division to Kherson Oblast in late August, and are likely attempting to reinforce units in the south (that have operated in Kyiv and Kharkiv Oblasts) in short periods with untrained, newly-mobilized men. Elements of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division previously based out of Izyum asked to leave their positions on August 30 due to moral exhaustion. Russian opposition outlet Mediazona also reported that mobilized men of the 237th Tank Regiment of the WMD’s 3rd Motor Rifle Division based out of Valuyki are deploying to Donbas frontlines after only one day of training. ISW cannot independently verify Mediazona’s report, but the 237th Regiment also operated around Izyum since late March. Mobilized men with a day or two of training are unlikely to meaningfully reinforce Russian positions affected by Ukrainian counteroffensives in the south and east.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely announce the Russian annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory on September 30 after Russian officials completed their falsified “referenda” on September 27.
- Russian forces are reportedly committing newly-mobilized Western Military District (WMD) men to the Kherson and Kharkiv Oblast frontlines without prior training.
- Ukrainian forces are consolidating their positions on the eastern bank of the Oskil river and made further gains on the outskirts of Lyman.
- Ukrainian forces continued to target Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) as part of the southern counter-offensive interdiction campaign, particularly disrupting Russian efforts to build barge crossings.
- Russian forces continued unsuccessful offensive operations around Bakhmut and west of Donetsk City, increasingly leveraging penal units.
- Russian forces inflicted severe damage on a Ukrainian airfield in Kryvyi Rih and continued routine air and missile strikes across southern Ukraine.
- Russian authorities are establishing checkpoints at Russia’s borders to forcibly mobilize Russian men who are seeking to avoid forced mobilization by fleeing the country.
- Russian officials are setting conditions to forcibly mobilize or conscript Ukrainian civilians in soon-to-be annexed areas of occupied Ukraine.
- The Russian annexation of occupied Donetsk and Luhansk will likely exacerbate tensions within DNR and LNR forces, who regularly mutiny when asked to fight outside the borders of their own oblasts.
- Russian officials may attempt to reframe their invasion of Ukraine and occupation of soon-to-be-annexed Ukrainian territory as a “counterterrorism operation.”
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Southern and Eastern Ukraine
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and two supporting efforts);
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)
Eastern Ukraine: (Vovchansk-Kupyansk-Izyum-Lyman Line)
Ukrainian forces conducted operations to consolidate their positions on the eastern bank of the Oskil River north of Kupyansk on September 27. Ukrainian officials confirmed that Ukrainian forces liberated Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi (just east of Kupyansk), which reportedly serves as one of the largest railway nodes in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces also continued to advance in the direction of Tavilizhanka (approximately 18km northeast of Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi on the Oskil River’s eastern bank) and have secured positions northwest of the settlement. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued to shell Kucherivka and Petropavlivka (east of Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi) and Dvorichna (west of Tavilizhanka). Social media footage also showed the aftermath of a Russian strike on Kupyansk.
Ukrainian forces continued to advance northwest of Lyman on September 26 and September 27. Ukrainian local officials announced that Ukrainian forces liberated Pisky-Radkivski (approximately 35km northwest of Lyman) on September 26, but noted that Ukrainian forces are still clearing the settlement. Local officials stated they could freely travel between Lozove and Rubtsi, which further indicates that Ukrainian forces have secured some positions northwest of Lyman. Ukrainian journalist Andrii Tsaplienko reported that Ukrainian forces have liberated Ridkodub (20km north of Lyman), and geolocated footage depicts Ukrainian forces moving through the settlement. Russian milbloggers also claimed that Ukrainian forces recaptured Katerynivka and secured their positions in Nove, both east of Ridkodub. Geolocated footage also showed Ukrainian forces entering Korovii Yar, about 20km due northwest of Lyman.
Russian sources are reporting that Ukrainian artillery fire is successfully interdicting Russian forces’ last logistic route to Lyman, running through Svatove-Makiivka-Terny north of the settlement. Russian milbloggers also claimed to witness Ukrainian reconnaissance and sabotage groups in Torske and Yampil, 14km northeast and 13km southeast of Lyman, respectively.
Southern Ukraine: (Kherson Oblast)
Ukrainian military officials maintained their operational silence on September 27 and stated that Ukrainian forces are continuing their interdiction campaign in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian military officials noted that Russian forces are continuing to regroup units in the area and have closed entry and exit to Kherson Oblast, possibly to prevent individual Russian deserters and Ukrainian men of fighting age from fleeing to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command noted that Ukrainian forces struck Russian barges operating over the Dnipro River and continued to target Russian efforts to repair the Kakhovka Bridge. Geolocated footage published on September 26 also showed that Ukrainian forces reportedly struck a Russian ferry crossing near Kherson City. Some Ukrainian social media users also reported that Russian forces restarted their efforts to establish a barge crossing near the Antonivsky Bridge, but did not provide visual evidence. Ukrainian forces also continued to strike Russian ammunition depots and key positions in central and northern Kherson Oblast. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command noted destroying a Russian air defense system in Beryslav Raion. Ukrainian forces also reportedly struck four ammunition depots and four Russian weapon and equipment concentrations in Beryslav and Kherson raions. Ukrainian forces also struck Russian military equipment concentration areas in Kakhovka Raion. Ukrainian military officials stated that Ukrainian forces have increased their pace of shooting down Russian aircraft in Kherson Oblast, shooting down six planes and helicopters in the past week.
Ukrainian and Russian sources provided limited information regarding kinetic activity on the Kherson Oblast border. The Ukrainian General Staff noted that Russian forces continue to shell and strike Ukrainian positions southeast of the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, northwest of Kherson City, and south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border near Potomkyne and Osokorkivka. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) also claimed that Russian forces struck Ukrainian command posts near the bridgehead and shot down Ukrainian aircraft in Osokorkivka. Geolocated footage also showed Ukrainian forces targeting Russian positions and military equipment in between Maksymivka and Kyselivka (east of Mykolaiv City), Davydiv Brid on the T2207 highway, and the southern part of Pravdyne (about 30km northwest of Kherson City).
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued unsuccessful ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast on September 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks northeast of Bakhmut near Soledar and Bakhmutske, and south of Bakhmut near Kurdyumivka, Zaitseve, and Mayorsk. The New York Times cited reports by Ukrainian military personnel that Wagner Group forces in the Bakhmut area are deploying men from penal colonies as cannon fodder who often surrender to Ukrainian forces on contact, confirming previous reports of Wagner Group employing poorly trained prisoners. The article states that more experienced Wagner fighters only advance a certain amount before sending the former prisoners forward with little support amid Ukrainian artillery fire. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted failed ground attacks northeast of Avdiivka near Kamianka and west of Avdiivka near Pervomaiske on September 27. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are trying to advance in the directions of Pervomaiske, Pobeda, Pavlivka, and Novomykhailivka, all west and southwest of Donetsk City in western Donetsk Oblast. A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a failed assault against Russian positions in Marinka.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces inflicted severe damage on a Ukrainian airfield in Kryvyi Rih and continued routine air and missile strikes against Ukrainian positions in southern Ukraine on September 27. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that a Russian cruise missile inflicted heavy damage on airport infrastructure in Kryvyi Rih on September 26, rendering the airfield inoperable. Russian forces continued to conduct routine shelling and air and missile strikes elsewhere in Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts on September 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted air and missile strikes on Mykolaiv City, Ochakiv, and Zaporizhia City. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces conducted six S-300 and two Smerch multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) missile attacks against Mykolaiv City on September 27, striking the industrial zone and civilian infrastructure. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that Russian forces conducted a high-precision air strike against Ukraine's 59th Motorized Infantry Brigade in Mykolaiv City, killing up to 50 personnel and destroying five vehicles. The Russian Ministry of Defense also claimed that Russian forces conducted an air strike in the vicinity of Zaporizhia City that killed 100 personnel of the Ukrainian 9th Special Forces Regiment and 50 “foreign mercenaries.” ISW cannot independently verify the Russian Ministry of Defense’s claims.
Russian forces continued to use Iranian-made drones to attack Ukrainian forces and cities in Southern Ukraine on September 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces carried out more than 50 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sorties on September 27 throughout southern Ukraine and that many of those sorties used Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. Ukrainian sources reported on September 27 that Ukrainian forces shot down three drones conducting operations over Ochakiv and eleven Russian drones conducting operations in Odesa Oblast. A Russian milblogger claimed on September 27 that Russian forces conducted drone attacks on September 26 targeting Ukrainian howitzers in Mykolaiv and Kherson Oblasts. The Russian milblogger also claimed that Russian forces used drones to strike a Ukrainian armed forces barracks, a Ukrainian air defense command post, a guard company headquarters, and a fuel storage depot in unspecified locations in Mykolaiv and Kherson Oblasts on September 26.
Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign against Russian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast on September 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces destroyed ten pieces of military equipment and killed more than 20 Russian personnel in Melitopol. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on September 27 that Ukrainian forces also destroyed a Russian S-300 system and five other pieces of military equipment and wounded more than 50 Russian personnel in Tokmak and Chernihivka.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian authorities are establishing checkpoints at Russia’s borders to forcibly mobilize Russian men seeking to avoid forced mobilization by fleeing the country. The Russian minister of internal affairs for North Ossetia-Alania, Police Lieutenant-General Andrei Sergeev, announced on September 27 that officials plan to create a mobilization point for the military recruitment office at the Upper Lars checkpoint on the border between Russia and Georgia “in the near future.” Social media footage showed Russian military vehicles moving toward the border, reportedly to establish the mobilization checkpoint. A Russian online outlet reported on September 27 that border officials began to check mobilization lists at the checkpoint, but claimed they were only checking for names of North Ossetian reservists. Sergeev also reported that North Ossetian border officials met with the border department of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to address concerns about increased traffic across border crossings into Georgia and agreed to allow foot traffic over the border in an attempt to alleviate traffic backups and a ”tense” situation. A Finnish writer claimed on September 27 that FSB officials at the Russian-Finnish border are checking names against a mobilization list and detaining men whose names appear, citing an unidentified source.
The Russian Ministry of Defense denied rumors on September 27 that Russian officials asked the governments of Georgia, Kazakhstan, and other states to forcibly extradite Russian men fleeing mobilization back to Russia. Kazakhstan’s internal affairs minister, Marat Akhmetzhanov, told reporters that Kazakhstan would only extradite men who had committed a crime that is also illegal in Kazakhstan and were placed on an international wanted list but did not explicitly refute the rumor. Ukrainian outlets framed his response as a confirmation that Kazakhstan would extradite Russian citizens for evading mobilization if they were prosecuted in Russia.
Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on September 27 that parents of first-year military cadets at the Kuznetsov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg—Russia’s premier naval staff college—protested the possibility that their children might be sent to fight in Ukraine. The GUR reported that academy personnel have placed the cadets under constant surveillance to ensure that they do not leave or contact their parents and that the leadership of the academy has refused to meet with the parents of the cadets. Resistance to mobilization at one of Russia's premier military academies, not just among regular civilians, indicates the steep deterioration of morale among personnel the Kremlin intends to deploy to Ukraine.
Russian officials continued to set conditions for the forced mobilization or conscription of Ukrainian civilians in soon-to-be annexed oblasts to fight against the Ukrainian military on September 27. Ukrainian Telegram channel Mariupol Now shared a screenshot of a text from a person who appeared to be a Russian occupation administrator or military recruiter, inviting the recipient to vote in support of the sham annexation referendum and then report to military headquarters with their passport and personal belongings in compliance with Putin’s partial mobilization order. The recipient told the channel that he was a resident of Mariupol who left in May and said that his phone number is linked to his passport. The Russian-appointed head of the Kherson Occupation Administration, Vladimir Saldo, incongruously claimed on September 27 that all Kherson residents who received Russian passports will not be liable for Russian military service or subject to mobilization. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces would likely forcibly include Ukrainian civilians in occupied areas in their autumn mobilization cycle, which is set to begin on October 1. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast head Serhiy Haidai reported on September 27 that Russian officials began consulting lists of medical school graduates in Luhansk to forcibly mobilize doctors to assist Russian forces. The Russian-appointed head of the Zaporizhia Oblast Occupation Administration, Evgeny Balitsky, told Russian media on September 27 that mobilization in Zaporizhia Oblast “is not envisioned in the next few years” after annexation. However, Balitsky noted that “volunteers” could fight on behalf of Russia, nodding to the coercive volunteer battalions his administration has already formed in Zaporizhia Oblast.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of occupied areas; set conditions for potential annexation into the Russian Federation or some other future political arrangement of Moscow’s choosing)
Russia’s illegal annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory will require the establishment of new bureaucracies that Russian officials will struggle to create, and will likely exacerbate bureaucratic infighting and tensions between occupation officials in newly-annexed parts of Ukraine. Russian and occupation officials may be beginning to solidify plans to federally administer newly-annexed parts of Ukraine. One Kremlin-sponsored Russian outlet reported that the former deputy prime minister for defense and former head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, may become the head of, or presidential envoy to, a new Crimean Federal District that will encompass illegally occupied Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts. Federal districts do not have much authority as administrative bodies, suggesting that each annexed oblast may operate like a Russian oblast.
The Russian-appointed head of the Kherson occupation administration, Vladimir Saldo, shared a report on September 27 alleging that Kherson oblast will have its own governor and its own executive government and will maintain border controls with Crimea—an unusual arrangement for two entities within one federal district. Saldo claimed that border controls with Crimea are still needed due to Ukrainian “saboteurs” regularly entering Kherson Oblast. He also claimed that Ukrainian territories that are currently under Ukrainian control will soon join Russia. Saldo did not clarify whether he was referring to Ukrainian-controlled parts of Kherson Oblast or larger swathes of Ukraine. Russian officials have previously set conditions to administer newly annexed territory under other types of administration, such as re-establishing the Russian Empire-era “Tauride Governate,” an administrative unit including much of Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory but excluding Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kremlin (and local officials) retain the flexibility to enact different forms of administration and may alter occupation structures over time.
The Russian annexation of occupied Donetsk and Luhansk will likely exacerbate tensions within DNR and LNR forces, who regularly mutiny when asked to fight outside the borders of their own oblasts. DNR head Denis Pushilin signaled on September 27 that deployments beyond their oblast borders will increase immediately following the sham referendum. Pushilin told Russian media that DNR forces will deploy all along “the line of combat contact” because they are already “practically part of Russia.” That decision will likely worsen already terrible morale among proxy forces and could lead to infighting as they more formally integrate into and co-locate with the Russian military.
Russian officials may attempt to reframe their invasion of Ukraine and occupation of soon-to-be-annexed Ukrainian territory as a “counterterrorism operation.” Russian-appointed Crimean Occupation Administration head Sergey Aksenov said on September 26 that Russian officials may temporarily close down the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) while conducting their counterterrorism operations in newly-annexed territories, citing a Russian federal law that allows for the suspension of radiological facilities during counterterrorism efforts. Russian forces could use a full shutdown of the plant, the reactors of which are already offline, to attempt to transition the ZNPP onto the Russian energy grid and away from Ukrainian control. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on September 27 that the situation at the Russian-occupied but Ukrainian-run ZNPP remains tense. The General Staff reported that ZNPP employees do not want to cooperate with Russian forces but are unable to leave occupied Ukrainian territory due to Russian border closures and restrictions on civilian movement.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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