Buoyed by its recent success in retaking the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine has pressed its counteroffensive in the eastern province of Luhansk even as winter approaches.
But the fighting there over villages and roads outside the Russian-held cities of Svatove and Kreminna has slowed to a grind in recent weeks, and military experts say that both sides have started to adapt their approach as the weather worsens.
Each has claimed to have taken territory in recent days, as well as to have repulsed attacks, though it was not possible to assess the claims independently.
Direct combat has ended, for now, in the Ukrainian village of Makiivka, but a local official gave a sense of the scale of destruction: “There is not a single living soul on the streets, and there is almost no surviving house. Not even the cellular tower survived.”
Ukraine said it had recaptured the village close to the front line in Luhansk’s north in recent days, but Serhiy Haidai, the regional military governor, said Russian forces continued to rain shellfire on to it. He posted photographs on the Telegram messaging app of abandoned and damaged houses, and the bodies of some Russian soldiers who had died in the battle for the village.
“Ukraine’s further offensives are going to be more challenging,” said Michael Kofman, research program director for Russia studies at CNA research group. “They will take more time. They will take more ammunition. They’ll be more costly, potentially,” he said on the Brussels Sprouts podcast.
Ukraine has won a series of battlefield victories in recent weeks that have shifted the momentum in the nine-month war. In September, it took a large slice of territory in Kharkiv in the northeast. It then struck farther south, taking the city of Lyman in Donetsk Province. Last week, its forces swept triumphantly into the city of Kherson in the south of the country.
Military experts say that those victories have increased morale and provided a trusted counteroffensive strategy, and that Ukraine would seek to maintain the momentum in Luhansk and Donetsk Provinces, collectively known as the Donbas. In addition, it could now transfer some forces and artillery from the south to its campaign in the east.
Russian commanders seem to be increasingly pursuing a “defensive strategy,” Mr. Kofman said. Moscow appears to have improved its ability to match its resources to its military objective, citing what he said was a relatively orderly withdrawal of Russian forces from an exposed position on the western bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region.
Russia could benefit from the influx of newly mobilized troops and could transfer some of the forces it withdrew from Kherson to the Donbas region. The British Ministry of Defense noted on Friday that Russian forces had been digging new trench systems near the Siversky Donets River between the Donetsk and Luhansk Provinces, suggesting that they were making preparations “in case of further major Ukrainian breakthroughs.”
One area of the Donbas where Russian forces are most obviously on the offensive is Bakhmut, a city around 50 miles south of the fighting in northern Luhansk region. There, Moscow is pressing an offensive led by the Wagner Group, a private Russian military force, which has close ties to President Vladimir V. Putin.
Fighting over the largely abandoned city, which is in Donetsk, has been continuing for months and has become a symbol of the Kremlin’s objective, announced in April, of securing the whole Donbas region, though analysts say it offers little strategic value.
“Reports and messages from Donetsk region are unchanged,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said a speech. “Fierce battles continue at the same points as before. We hold our positions despite dozens of attacks.”