May 28, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 28, 2023
May 28, 2023, 3pm 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.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Note: The data cutoff for this product was 12pm ET on May 28. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the May 29 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.
Russian forces conducted the largest Shahed drone strike against Ukraine since the start of the war overnight on May 27-28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 59 Shahed-131/136 drones, of which Ukrainian forces shot down 58.[i] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat characterized this strike as the largest drone strike since the start of the war and stated that Russian forces chiefly targeted Kyiv.[ii] Zhytomyr Oblast Head Vitaliy Bunechko reported that Russian drones struck an unspecified infrastructure facility in the oblast.[iii] The Russian allocation of aerial munitions to targeting Kyiv rather than prioritizing infrastructure or military facilities continues to constrain this limited Russian air campaign’s ability to meaningfully degrade Ukrainian offensive capabilities for the upcoming counteroffensive, as ISW has previously assessed.[iv]
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that the Russian relief in place operation in Bakhmut may continue past his initial June 1 deadline and last until June 5. Prigozhin stated on May 28 that Wagner’s withdrawal from the city may take a few more days because Wagner is not able to transfer all equipment in good condition by June 1.[v] Prigozhin stated that Wagner forces intend to fully withdraw from Bakhmut to rear field camps by June 5.[vi] The Washington Post reported on May 28 that Ukrainian personnel in the Bakhmut area have observed Wagner forces leaving Bakhmut City itself and regular Russian personnel taking responsibility for Wagner’s previous positions in the city.[vii] The Ukrainian personnel reportedly stated that they cannot confirm that regular Russian forces are replacing Wagner throughout Bakhmut City, however.[viii] Russian sources amplified footage on May 27 and 28 purporting to show elements of the ”Nevsky” volunteer battalion and the irregular 1st ”Wolves” Sabotage and Reconnaissance Brigade operating on the flanks in the Bakhmut area.[ix] ISW has previously assessed that the “Wolves” Sabotage and Reconnaissance Brigade was operating in the Avdiivka area, further suggesting that Russian forces may be transferring irregular forces and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) elements from around Avdiivka to the Bakhmut area.[x] ISW previously assessed that the Russian transfer of these elements to Bakhmut may decrease the tempo of Russian offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.[xi]
The tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut remains notably low. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 28 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut), west of Khromove (immediately west of Bakhmut), and in the direction of Ivanivske (6k west of Bakhmut).[xii] Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported on May 28 that only one combat clash occurred near Bakhmut City in the past 24 hours.[xiii] Geolocated footage published on May 28 indicates that Russian forces made marginal gains west of Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut).[xiv] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are counterattacking west of Klishchiivka but that Ukrainian forces maintain their current positions in the area.[xv] A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counterattacks near Orikhovo-Vasylivka on May 27, where Russian sources claimed Ukrainian forces advanced up to one kilometer on May 26.[xvi] Ukrainian personnel in the Bakhmut area reportedly expressed optimism that the decreased tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut may facilitate further limited and localized Ukrainian counterattacks.[xvii] ISW previously assessed that the decreased tempo of Russian offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and the ongoing relief in place operation are likely providing Ukrainian forces in the area the initiative to launch a new round of operations around the city if they so choose.[xviii]
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have again indirectly undermined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority and regime. Prigozhin responded to a journalist’s question about Russian state media banning any discussions about Wagner forces, stating that unnamed Russian bureaucrats will only benefit from such censorship in the near term of one to three months before the Russian people will push back and start hating the bureaucrats.[xix] Prigozhin stated that Russian officials would have been able to enjoy their historic ability to censor Russian society if Russia had not started the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin then gave advice to an unnamed official: “if you are starting a war, please have character, will, and steel balls - and only then you will be able to achieve something.” Prigozhin implied that accomplishing real achievements would let the official avoid lying about the construction of new buildings, metro stations, and bridges in an effort to look good. Prigozhin notably shifted the discussion from talking about unnamed Russian officials to directly addressing a single man. Prigozhin’s comments are likely targeted at Putin whom the Russian state media has routinely portrayed as a leader minutely involved with small infrastructure projects and the lives of ordinary Russian people. Putin used to host annual hours-long “Direct Line” press conferences with constituents in which he often responded to inquiries that are best suited for local governments, for example.[xx]
Prigozhin may be attacking Putin for failing to give Prigozhin some promised reward for seizing Bakhmut. Prigozhin’s previous attack on Putin’s character occurred on May 9 – a symbolic holiday that Putin may have wanted to use to portray Russia’s claimed victory in Bakhmut as an achievement equivalent to Soviet Union’s drive on Berlin in 1945.[xxi] Kremlin state media compared the seizure of Bakhmut city to the Soviet victory in Berlin on May 21, which likely indicates that the Kremlin was preparing to associate the victory in Bakhmut with Victory Day.[xxii] Prigozhin claimed that Wagner had effectively captured Bakhmut by May 10 and cleared the city by May 20, and attempted to blame the delay in Wagner’s capture of the city on the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD’s) withholding of ammunition.[xxiii] Prigozhin also claimed that his ”Bakhmut meatgrinder” offensive operation killed half of the Ukrainian army, a statement that Russian ultranationalist Igor Girkin declared to be false.[xxiv] Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner opened a springboard for further offensive operations in Donbas and sarcastically noted that Russian regular forces subordinated under the Russian MoD will be able to reach the Dnipro River, capture the territories of the four annexed regions, and capture Ukrainian strongholds west and north of Bakhmut.
Prigozhin’s jabs at Putin and the Russian MoD - in combination with his bragging about Wagner’s accomplishments – may suggest that Prigozhin is frustrated that he did not receive some promised compensation for his victory in the Battle for Bakhmut. The Russian MoD may have deliberately sabotaged Prigozhin days or weeks prior to May 9th to prevent Wagner from capturing the remaining few blocks in western Bakhmut before Victory Day, as Prigozhin suggests. Putin may have deliberately overlooked such MoD sabotage efforts to avoid having to fulfill whatever promise Prigozhin thinks Putin had made to him. Prigozhin has previously stated that if he was given 200,000 personnel, Wagner would have made further great advances on the frontlines.[xxv] Prigozhin’s May 28 statement and his previous behavior may indicate that he had envisioned expanding Wagner at the expense of Russian conventional forces or replacing Russian military officials with Wagner-affiliated personnel.[xxvi] ISW previously assessed that Putin is a risk averse actor who is concerned over the health of his regime and thus unlikely to fully satisfy Prigozhin’s radical demands.[xxvii]
The Wagner Group held a reportedly illegal pro-Wagner rally in Yekaterinburg on May 28 despite the reported banning of the rally by Yekaterinburg authorities. Approximately 100 to 150 cars of Wagner personnel and supporters held a procession from Yekaterinburg to a cemetery in Berezovsky, Sverdlovsk Oblast, where the supporters laid flowers at a Wagner monument.[xxviii] Some Russian opposition sources claimed that local authorities explicitly banned Wagner from holding the rally and that Wagner held the rally in direct defiance of the ban.[xxix] Footage shows luxury cars participating in the procession, suggesting that some local elites may be supporting Wagner.[xxx] Sverdlovsk Oblast is a notable Russian defense industrial base (DIB) hub, and Russian authorities recently conducted several prominent arrests there of individuals including Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich on charges of espionage.[xxxi] Gershkovich notably travelled to Yekaterinburg to report on Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s criticisms of the Yekaterinburg History Museum Director Igor Pushkarev.[xxxii] Prigozhin has also notably feuded with Russian regional officials over allowing dead Wagner personnel to receive burials equivalent to those of regular Russian military personnel.[xxxiii]
Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov criticized former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin on May 27. Solovyov accused Girkin of discrediting the Russian military and stated that Russian authorities should have already imprisoned Girkin.[xxxiv] Solovyov complained that authorities have prosecuted other Russian milbloggers for discrediting the Russian military but have not touched Girkin. Girkin responded on May 28, noting that Solovyov is criticizing him despite his extensive military experience. Girkin highlighted that Solovyov has not criticized Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin despite Prigozhin’s criminal record and control over a “mercenary army.”[xxxv] Rumors of an investigation into Girkin for discrediting the Russian military previously gained prominence in mid-April, during which Prigozhin may have tried to pressure Girkin and his patronage networks as part of an ongoing feud to compete for influence and patronage.[xxxvi]
- Russian forces conducted the largest Shahed drone strike against Ukraine since the start of the war overnight on May 27-28.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that the Russian relief in place operation in Bakhmut may continue past his initial June 1 deadline and last until June 5.
- The tempo of Russian operations around Bakhmut remains notably low.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have again indirectly undermined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority and regime.
- Prigozhin may be attacking Putin for failing to give Prigozhin some promised reward for seizing Bakhmut.
- The Wagner Group held a reportedly illegal pro-Wagner rally in Yekaterinburg on May 28 despite the reported banning of the rally by Yekaterinburg authorities.
- Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov criticized former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin on May 27.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces conducted limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.
- Russian forces continued to fire on areas in Southern Ukraine.
- The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) asserted that Russia is now demanding that Russian citizens make additional sacrifices to support the war effort.
- Russian occupation officials continue to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of summer camps.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these 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 the Ukrainian 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.
- Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied areas
Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on May 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Masyutivka (13km northeast of Kupyansk) and did not conduct operations in the Kreminna area.[xxxvii] Russian Western Group of Forces (Western Military District) Spokesperson Sergei Zybinsky claimed that assault units of the 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District) destroyed Ukrainian positions near Masyutivka.[xxxviii] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced from Masyutivka and expanded their zone of control in the area, although ISW has still not seen visual confirmation of these advances nor confirmation that Russian forces control Masyutivka.[xxxix] A Ukrainian serviceman serving near Kreminna reported that Russian forces regularly conduct unsuccessful ground attacks and fire prohibited gas cylinders on Ukrainian positions near Kreminna.[xl] A Russian news aggregator claimed that Russian forces advanced southeast of Bilohorivka (10km south of Kremmina), while a milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful operations near the settlement.[xli] ISW has not seen visual confirmation supporting a Russian advance near Bilohorivka.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian Objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Click here to read ISW’s new retrospective analysis on the Battle for Bakhmut.
See topline text for Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front on May 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Sieverne (6km west of Avdiivka), Pervomaiske (11km southwest of Avdiivka), and Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka).[xlii] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces regained lost positions south of Pervomaiske but sustained losses while doing so.[xliii] The milblogger claimed that positional battles occurred near Vodyane (7km southwest of Avdiivka).[xliv] The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia published footage on May 28 purporting to show elements of the DNR 87th Regiment repelling a Ukrainian counterattack on the outskirts of Avdiivka on an unspecified date.[xlv] A Russian source claimed that Russian forces attacked in the direction of Novokalynove (13km north of Avdiivka) and Krasnohorivka (8km north of Avdiivka) and repelled a Ukrainian counterattack near the H-20 (Donetsk City to Kostyantynivka) highway on May 27.[xlvi]
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on May 28.[xlvii]
Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a failed raid across the Dnipro River on May 28. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces detected and fired on Ukrainian forces as they prepared to cross the Dnipro River near the Antonivsky Bridge.[xlviii] This report is consistent with reports of periodic Ukrainian raids across the Dnipro River.[xlix]
Russian forces continued to fire on areas in southern Ukraine on May 28. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian forces shot down two Shahed drones over Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts and struck Beryslav, Kherson Oblast, with glide bombs.[l] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted airstrikes against Chervone, Zaporizhia Oblast and Zmiivka, Kherson Oblast.[li] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian artillery units conducted 70 fire missions targeting Kherson City and its environs.[lii]
Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
A local Sakha Republic outlet indicated that the regional “Bootur-1” volunteer battalion is part of the BARS-2 (Russian Combat Reserve) volunteer battalion.[liii] Sakha Republic established the Bootur-1 volunteer battalion with 100 volunteers in late July 2022 under the command of local community member Alexander Kolesov.[liv] About 90 volunteers from the Bootur-1 battalion deployed to the frontlines near Kharkiv City in July-August 2022, where the unit merged with the BARS-2 battalion.[lv]
The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that Russia is now demanding that Russian citizens make additional sacrifices to support the war effort.[lvi] The UK MoD reported that Russian state media and business groups have petitioned the Russian Ministry of Economy to authorize a six-day work week for workers without offering additional pay in order to satisfy the demands of the wartime industrial complex. The UK MoD added that Kremlin propagandist Margarita Simonyan noted that citizens should work for two extra hours in munitions factories after their daytime jobs.[lvii]
Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian occupation officials continue to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of summer camp programs. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Military Administration Head Artem Lusohor reported that Russian occupation authorities announced the creation of a vacation summer camp in Russia for Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied Shchastia Raion in Luhansk Oblast.[lviii] ISW has previously reported on Russian occupation authorities using children’s camps as a guise to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia.[lix]
The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation officials plan to open regional “Defenders of the Fatherland” branches in June that will offer a Russian state support fund for participants of the “special military operation.”[lx] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation officials will attempt to use these regional offices to collect data on residents to support expanding United Russia’s popularity in occupied Ukraine.
Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine is extraordinarily unlikely).
Belarusian opposition leader Valery Tsepkalo claimed on May 27 that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was rushed to a Moscow hospital following a closed-door meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.[lxi] Belarusian opposition outlet the Hajun Project stated that it could not confirm Tsepkalo’s claims, however, and stated that Lukashenko returned to Minsk from Moscow on May 25.[lxii]
The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continue to arrive in Belarus to train before deploying to Ukraine.[lxiii]
ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.
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.
[ii] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/05/28/taktyka-voroga-zalyshayetsya-nezminnoyu-vin-namagayetsya-zavdavaty-udariv-po-obyektah-krytychnoyi-infrastruktury-yurij-ignat/
[iv] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-14-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-20-2023
[xii] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0Su1tscfRnjvhQsNoBi81vsCNc5mLTzcJynPLHK1h1SUFQqYCgmESypCN5Ra4fZHsl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0dkcUjzi9qfnavSaRYoFogjMGG3U8mAthkM2rqydT4vVwXD5bfe8hhajUTN9d9qvNl
[xiii] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/05/28/na-bahmutskomu-napryamku-intensyvnist-vorozhyh-atak-znachno-znyzylasya-sergij-cherevatyj/
[xx] http://en.kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/65973
[xxxi] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-30-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Offensive%20Campaign%20Assessment%2C%20April%205%2C%202023%20PDF.pdf; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-13-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Offensive%20Campaign%20Assessment%2C%20April%2018%2C%202023%20PDF.pdf
[xxxiii] https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Offensive%20Campaign%20Assessment%2C%20March%2018%2C%202023.pdf; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-17-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-18; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-20-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023
[xxxiv] https://t.me/strelkovii/5097 ; https://www.pravda dot ru/news/society/1838873-igor_strelkov/
[xxxv] https://t.me/strelkovii/5098 ; https://t.me/strelkovii/5100
[xxxvii] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0Su1tscfRnjvhQsNoBi81vsCNc5mLTzcJynPLHK1h1SUFQqYCgmESypCN5Ra4fZHsl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0dkcUjzi9qfnavSaRYoFogjMGG3U8mAthkM2rqydT4vVwXD5bfe8hhajUTN9d9qvNl
[xlii] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0Su1tscfRnjvhQsNoBi81vsCNc5mLTzcJynPLHK1h1SUFQqYCgmESypCN5Ra4fZHsl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0dkcUjzi9qfnavSaRYoFogjMGG3U8mAthkM2rqydT4vVwXD5bfe8hhajUTN9d9qvNl
[xlvii] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0Su1tscfRnjvhQsNoBi81vsCNc5mLTzcJynPLHK1h1SUFQqYCgmESypCN5Ra4fZHsl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0dkcUjzi9qfnavSaRYoFogjMGG3U8mAthkM2rqydT4vVwXD5bfe8hhajUTN9d9qvNl
[xlix] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-18-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-1-2023
[liv] https://yakutia-daily dot ru/komandir-otryada-bootur-o-tom-kak-vyvel-iz-pod-ognya-50-bojczov-prosbe-k-bogu-i-boevom-bratstve/?read
[lv] https://ysia dot ru/komandir-dobrovolcheskogo-otryada-bootur-vse-nashi-bojtsy-stoyali-ochen-stojko-i-hrabro/
[lix] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-17-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-31-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-28-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-13-2023
[lx] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/rosiyany-namagayutsya-informatsijno-vplyvaty-na-meshkantsiv-tot/
[lxi] https://twitter.com/ValeryTsepkalo/status/1662397252411830272/history ; https://t.me/sotaproject/59760