Russian Troops Keep Rolling Into The Same Kill Zone Outside Vuhledar

There’s a road intersection, a few hundred yards outside the town of Mykilske in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, that has become a bizarre death trap for Russian troops.

The Ukrainian army has mined the intersection. Ukrainian troops armed with rockets and anti-tank missiles, and their drones, lurk nearby. It’s such a notorious kill zone that it’s becoming a meme on social media.

But that hasn’t stopped the Russians from trying to cross the intersection. Repeatedly. After weeks of ambushes, the intersection now is littered with the hulks of a dozen or more destroyed tanks and fighting vehicles.

The latest victim of the killer intersection, a BMP-2 fighting vehicle, tried to cross on or before Monday—and first ran over a mine before also eating an anti-tank missile.

It’s obvious why the Russians first tried to force the intersection late last year. The front line in this sector of Donbas runs east to west along the To509 highway, which bisects the Russian-held towns of Pavlivka and Mykilske.

The nearest Ukrainian stronghold, Vuhledar, lies a mile to the north via secondary roads. The Kremlin has targeted Vuhledar as part of its ill-fated winter offensive, which might succeed in finally capturing the blood-soaked free city of Bakhmut, 60 miles to the north.

Everywhere but in Bakhmut, the offensive has ground to a halt. That intersection just north of Mykilske helps to explain why. The Russians fail, then stubbornly double, triple and quadruple down on that failure.

The Russians already had been making moves toward Vuhledar for a few weeks when the Ukrainians staged what might have been the first complex ambush at the Mykilske intersection.

On or before Feb. 5, part of a Russian naval infantry battalion with tanks and fighting vehicles—T-80s and BMP-2s, apparently—rolled through the intersection and over Ukrainian mines. Possibly Soviet-vintage TM-62s.

The result was a fiery pile-up as vehicles took hits and their crews and passengers bailed out. A tank tried to escape but took a hit from a Ukrainian team firing a rocket-propelled grenade. One out-of-control BMP apparently ran over a hapless soldier standing in the road.

The twisted metal remains of that ambush still were evident when, around two weeks later, another Russian formation trundled across the same intersection and, unsurprisingly, also struck mines. It happened again apparently a couple of days later with that latest BMP-2.

Experts aren’t shocked. “The Russian military has a tendency to reinforce failure,” analysts Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds explained in a study for the Royal United Services Institute in London.

The RUSI analysts blamed Russian commanders for being stubborn and inflexible. But junior officers closer to the front lines might also be at fault. “In the interval when higher headquarters seek to formulate a plan, paralysis tends to grip lower echelons if their initial orders do not reflect the position on the ground.”

All that is to say, Russian battalions and companies tend to keep doing whatever they already were doing—however disastrous—until some colonel or general at the brigade or division level specifically instructs them to stop and do something else.

So amid a near-total collapse in leadership, Russian crews have kept driving their tanks and fighting vehicles into that lethal intersection on the road to Vuhledar. And have kept getting blown up by mines and missiles.

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