Ukraine finally gets what it needs to defend Kharkiv

The most important thing Ukraine needed to protect its second-largest city wasn’t more missiles, more artillery, or even F-16s. It was permission to use weapons from the United States on targets across the border in Russia.

Ukraine quietly got that permission this week, as President Joe Biden agreed to allow Ukraine to target Russian forces near the northern border where Russia is making its latest push into the Kharkiv district. But officials told The Associated Press that this permission is conditional, as medium- and long-range weapons like ATACMS are only to be used for “counterfire purposes in the Kharkiv region.”

That’s a long way from ideal. It means Ukraine still can’t use these weapons to go after critical infrastructure used to position and support Russian forces. And Ukraine can’t use them to attack Russian forces assembling beyond its border for attacks on other regions of its country.

But it’s certainly better than not being able to use these weapons on forces that were firing into Kharkiv from the Russian side of the border. Until this week, Ukraine was aware of Russian positions that were directing missiles, aircraft-launched weapons, and MLRS fire into towns and villages along the northern border. Still, Ukraine’s leaders couldn’t do anything about it.

Now they can.

For more than six months, Republicans blocked funding and access to American weapons that Ukraine needed to sustain its fight against a much larger Russian opponent getting a fresh stream of supplies from China, Iran, and North Korea. That finally changed, and the effect can be seen in the drastic slowing of Russian advances on every part of the front.

Bakhmut area

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had planned to capture the critical town of Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut, in time for Russia’s May 9 Victory Day military parade. That didn’t happen. In fact, the front line near Chasiv Yar has barely shifted in the last week. The original push down the highway to the east hasn’t moved in two weeks. To the south, Russia has secured positions taken around Ivanivske on May 20, but that’s the extent of their advance.

Ukrainian forces continue to use artillery and drones to protect their position on high ground from Russian forces attempting to press in from the east and south. Russia is still pounding this area, and the troops defending Chasiv Yar are in a tough position, but they are holding on.

The same pattern holds in the villages north of Kharkiv. Russia still hasn’t managed to capture the critical road and rail crossroads at Vovchansk. Elsewhere on the northern front, Russia hasn’t made a significant advance since May 18. Ukraine has even managed to claw back control of some of the disputed areas.

What looked like a potentially devastating assault by a large mass of Russian soldiers pouring across the border on May 10, now appears to have made very few gains after the first few days of fighting. Russia is still on the offensive, but for the moment, at least, that offensive appears to be stalled.

Russian forces have not reached the point where they can pump conventional artillery into the city of Kharkiv, though they continue to attack the city with missiles, drones, and aircraft-launched glide bombs. Overnight, the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russia attacked the city of Kharkiv with C-300 missiles from the Belgorod region, Iskander short-range missiles from the Kursk region, and Iranian Shahed drones from the Yeysk region. It’s unclear which of these areas could be targeted for a counterstrike based on the revised U.S. policy.

However, if Ukraine can’t use ATACMS and other long-range weapons in Russia at its discretion, it can make good use of these weapons on Russian-occupied positions inside Ukraine. 

On Wednesday evening, Ukraine launched an attack near Kerch. At first, there was excitement that this might be another attack on Putin’s favorite bridge as early reports indicated traffic across the bridge had been halted. Analysts were disappointed when the bridge reopened after only a brief outage, assuming that Ukrainian missiles had missed their target. But it seems the real target was a pair of rail ferries that have been particularly important since the rail line on the bridge was damaged in 2022.

Ukraine also took out four Russian patrol boats in the area using its increasingly effective fleet of sea drones. The Russian boats were small but important for protecting Russian assets and helping Russia spot Ukrainian drones.


Attacks in the area continue, with drones reportedly taking out a Russian oil depot near Kerch.


Meanwhile, Russia continues to throw men and machines at Ukraine in an effort to capture the remainder of the Donbas, racking up more huge losses including tanks that had been modified into “moving sheds.” This is Russia’s latest attempt at building armored vehicles that are attack-proof against FPV drones. It doesn’t seem to be working.

The losses of tanks and artillery remain high, but one striking feature of recent lists from both Andrew Perpetua and the Ukrainian General Staff is the scarcity of MLRS systems. Is Russia doing a better job of protecting these systems and using them at a distance, or have they become much more rare? It’s hard to tell based on looking at the broken remains of equipment that has been smashed. Maybe these statistics will change now that Ukraine can direct fire over the border near Kharkiv and search out nests of Russian troops firing into Ukrainian towns.

Reported Russian losses
Ukraine’s official tally of Russian losses

Soon. Very soon now.


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