Near Donetsk, Ukrainian volunteer battalions backed by a limited number of regular military units continued to fight for control of Ilovaisk, from where the Ukrainian offensive would have been able to push farther north to encircle Donetsk. However, ongoing separatist counterattacks in this location, which have included the use of armor and heavy artillery, combined with a lack of reinforcements for pro-Kiev forces, have bogged down this attempt. At the same time, a separatist offensive to the southeast from Mospyne materialized Aug. 24 and managed to encircle Ukrainian forces in Ilovaisk and near Amvrosiivka. Some support for this counteroffensive (at the very least, supplies) reportedly came directly from Russian territory.
The Ukrainian military has suffered significant losses over the last few months since separatist forces encircled the spearhead of its offensive near the Russian border. The overwhelming firepower delivered by Russian rocket and tube artillery in this border region has led to significant attrition. That the Ukrainian military has been forced to stretch its forces to conduct its offensive has also continued to leave parts of it open to being surrounded and cut off. At this point, over 2,000 Ukrainian forces are believed to be located inside the separatist envelopment. Cut off from supplies and reinforcements, these forces may have to fight their way out on their own if Ukraine is unable to free up the necessary resources to break the encirclement.
At the same time, pro-Russian separatists have mounted a counteroffensive that could disconnect Ukrainian forces fighting in and around Luhansk from their supply lines. The separatist forces allegedly have been able to threaten Ukrainian positions on the Seversky Donets River, where only a limited number of bridges allow a connection between the Ukrainian forces around Luhansk and the other elements of the Ukrainian offensive. The Ukrainian envelopment of Luhansk seems to be fragmenting further after significant separatist reinforcements were observed making their way into Luhansk.
Further south, near the town of Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol, separatist elements crossed from the Russian side of the border into Ukraine early Aug. 25. Ukrainian volunteer and regular army forces supported by air assets claim they are holding the assault back. However, commanders of these forces have made conflicting statements on their ability to continue securing the area as the fighting continues. While fighting in this particular area does not directly affect combat near Donetsk, it is significant in terms of tying down Ukrainian resources. Not only will Ukraine be forced to allocate resources to the defense of Mariupol, which it secured earlier in the summer, it will have to focus more of its resources toward securing wider sections of its border with Russia, since separatist forces equipped and supplied by Moscow are now launching such cross-border offensives.
Overall, it appears that the Ukrainian military's re-establishment of supply lines into the main separatist-held areas has allowed a buildup of opposition forces significant enough to push back against Ukrainian operations. Continued support from Russia has increased the separatists' capabilities and provided tactical options that could further stretch Ukrainian military resources. Apart from equipment such as armor, heavy artillery and supplies, Russian support to the separatists also seems to have made the way they operate and organize their forces more effective. As it continues to face the danger of being surrounded while mounting offensives, the Ukrainian military may be forced to limit the depth of its attacks into separatist-held territories, which will allow the separatists to continue receiving significant materiel and tactical support from Russia.