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In the annals of Soviet military history, the Russian 4th Guards Tank Division is legendary, its reputation forged in Stalingrad and during the liberation of Poland from the Nazis. On Saturday, he was taken to Trostyanets, a town 350 kilometers east of kyiv. If it were necessary to prove that Vladimir Putin’s invasion was faltering, the images of burnt-out howitzers and tanks from the elite division would surely shake resolve even among the Kremlin’s staunchest supporters.

Just 24 kilometers from the Russian border, Trostyanets was attacked at the start of the invasion and seized by Russian troops on March 1 after a week-long battle. The armored vehicles drove through the main square, their movements captured on cellphone footage by residents and posted on social media.

Cars drive past a destroyed Russian tank. PA

And now, almost four weeks later, the same tanks and artillery units of the 4th Tank Division that were filmed maneuvering in the town square, are set on fire and Russian forces are captured or killed by Ukrainian troops and local “guerrilla” forces.

After 25 days under Kremlin control, Trostyanets once again flew the Ukrainian flag yesterday. The importance of victory should not be underestimated.

Trostyanets is on a main road 50 kilometers south of Sumy, a city that has been under siege for almost a month. The counter-offensive to reclaim Trostyanets offers the hope of opening a supply route – of military reinforcements as well as food and medicine – to Sumy and its 250,000 inhabitants.

To the south is Okhtyrka, a major city that was bombed by Russia but refused to surrender, helping to keep open a direct route between Kyiv and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

Recapturing Trostyanets removes a Russian springboard for further assaults and raises serious questions about the Kremlin’s ability not only to conquer territory, but also to hold it.

Footage online yesterday showed Ukrainian troops advancing in the Sumy area, soldiers on foot in full combat gear behind the cover of an armored vehicle firing at Russian positions. The firefight ends with a huge explosion after a Ukrainian tank fires at the enemy. In the next scene, about 10 Russian soldiers, each wearing red armbands, are filmed lying face down in a field or yard with burning houses in the background.

The soldiers’ arms are outstretched as each in turn is searched by their Ukrainian captors.

“Trostyanets is liberated from Russian occupation,” proclaimed the Facebook page of Ukraine’s 93rd Mechanized Brigade, named Kholodny Yar after the last piece of Ukrainian territory incorporated into the Soviet Union, four years after the Russian Revolution.

Photographs on the page showed Ukrainian military leaders shaking hands with liberated townspeople and posing in front of a burnt-out 2S19 Msta self-propelled howitzer, a huge cannon based on a tank hull, capable of firing 152.4mm shells 24 kilometers away. The howitzers had been deployed by Putin during the Second Chechen War and during his 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine.

In another photograph, four soldiers in combat fatigues pose in front of stacked and newly captured Russian ammunition crates.

Other images showed the devastation and destruction after a month of fighting.

The page continued: “Today the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, with the help of Territorial Defense Forces and local partisans, liberated Trostyanets in the Sumy region from Russian occupation.

“The Kholodny Yar fighters managed to drive out the Russian “elite” ground troops, the 4th Guards of the Kantemyr tank division. This was preceded by the defeat of the command post and leadership of the 96th separate reconnaissance brigade in the early days of the defense of Okhtyrka and the battles for Trostyanets.

“The Russian army fled Trostyanets, leaving behind weapons, equipment and ammunition that the 93rd Brigade will use to liberate other Ukrainian towns.”

The Russian occupation of the city will be the subject of war crimes investigations and the Sumy regional prosecutor’s office has opened a case after it was claimed that Russian troops threw hand grenades at civilians protesting the March 18 Kremlin takeover. The explosion killed two men.

A Ukrainian special police officer walks by a destroyed building as he patrols during the night curfew in Kharkiv on Sunday. PA

Philip Ingram, a former colonel in British military intelligence, said: “Trostyanets is a town on an important north-south route between Sumy and Okhtyrka. If Ukraine controls this route, you seriously restrict Russia’s ability to maneuver. Any routes Ukraine takes back have an impact on Russia’s ability to move. The Russians are constrained to roads and controlling crossroads gives you firing positions directly at them.

It is still unclear where Ukraine’s defensive positions are in the region, but their ability to mount counterattacks a month after the invasion suggests that Russia has failed to land any knockout blows even in areas close to its border where supply lines are shorter and logistics in theory less so. problem. Ingram said a combination of man-portable anti-tank weapons supplied by the West, primarily javelins and next-generation anti-tank light weapons (NLAWS), were causing damage to Russian forces as well as drone strikes. Ukrainian armored infantry still seem able to maneuver along the battle lines as the Kremlin fails to gain air superiority and is unable to eliminate Ukrainian tanks.

Russia lost about 10,000 soldiers and another 30,000 to 40,000 wounded, according to Western officials, a quarter of its fighting forces.

The 4th Guards Tank Division – also known as Kantemirovskaya, after a village it liberated from the Germans during its “baptism of fire” in 1943 – suffered “significant” losses, according to various reports. Photographs on social media of burned or abandoned vehicles involved in fighting on Sumy Road back up the claims.

In one video, a mobile food truck, containing potatoes and onions and even a drawer full of jars of pickles, was left abandoned as Russians appeared in places to flee the battlefield.

Sofrep, a US-based military website, describes the 4th Guards as “one of the most elite armored divisions in the Russian ground forces” comprising two tank regiments, a motorized rifle regiment and its own air defense regiment. .

The division is revered in Russia so much that a Moscow Metro station is named Kantemirovskaya in its honor. The unit participated in the Battle of Kursk and the capture of Berlin during World War II.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, it remains unclear whether Russia has ever managed to cut supply lines as videos posted online show a large group of Russian soldiers being taken prisoner. In unverified footage from Kharkiv, released by Kremlin supporters, it was claimed that Russian prisoners of war were shot in the leg by Ukrainian troops after their capture.


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