In the snowy woods outside Kiev, a column of Ukrainian troops moves, identifiable by the soldiers’ yellow armbands.
In the rare footage, captured by Maryan Kushnir, a journalist with Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian service, one of the soldiers says they will rid an unidentified village of ‘orcs’ – slang for Russian troops rapidly surrounding the capital Ukrainian – who occupied it with armored vehicles. A commander warns that two tanks are coming, and as the men seem to retreat to a better position, there is a heavy firefight. The end of the video is as sudden as it is inconclusive.
Other videos that have surfaced in recent days show similar scenes. Urban troopers crunch through debris or traverse dark countryside for a planned ambush that is seen through night vision goggles, their friendly force beacons flashing ghostly green on their helmets.
The images are one piece with many others circulating on social media and elsewhere, and important for what they represent.
They show Ukrainian troops in combat, usually on foot, exploiting tangled woods or streets to set their ambushes, inevitably armed with anti-tank weapons, including British-supplied NLAWS and German Panzerfausts.
And with Russian forces dramatically tightening their siege of major Ukrainian cities in recent days, including concentrating around 21-22 battalion tactical groups around the capital Kiev, these are images that show how the conflict has quickly become the story of two very different ways of waging war.
On the Ukrainian side – in tactics reminiscent of Finnish resistance during the Winter War of 1939, when Soviet forces were fought to a standstill by vastly outnumbered Finnish troops – Kiev’s successes rested on Highly mobile lightning attacks on the slow-moving and congested Russian military columns.
And as more and more anti-tank weapons poured in from the west for the defense of Ukraine, Russia’s tactics shifted to a kind of slow and brutal siege warfare in response, designed to encircle and smash the Ukrainian cities and force the Ukrainian army to adopt a more static defensive posture. positions where they can more easily be overwhelmed.
In a warning about what Russia’s new military tactics could mean for Ukraine’s defenders, Andrzej Wilk and Piotr Żochowski of the Warsaw-based think tank Center for Oriental Studies noted the emerging challenge for defenders of Ukraine in their latest daily update on the war. “In most directions, Russian offensive operations have turned into positional combat, in which the aggressor tries to encircle Ukrainian forces in major urban centers and displace them from smaller towns.
“[The Russians] will work to completely close the encirclements of towns and cities where this has not yet happened and push Ukrainian troops to the built-up areas, regardless of how many casualties they will have [Russians] to suffer.”
Whether that succeeds – and how Ukrainian forces adapt – may well be key.
An already eerily familiar model of what the next phase of the war predicted by Wilk and Żochowski will look like has already been provided by the nearly two-week Russian siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, where at least 1,500 people have died. in a constant bombardment that trapped defenders and civilians in basements. On Saturday, as Ukrainian officials reported that Russia had bombed a mosque where 80 people were sheltering, the UN humanitarian office presented its latest update on the status of the city. “There are reports of looting and violent clashes between civilians over the few basic supplies that remain in the city,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. “Medicines for deadly diseases are running out, hospitals are only partially functioning and food and water are in short supply.”
While Britain’s Ministry of Defense warned on Friday that Russian forces could target Kiev within days, evidence of the feared coming storm saw artillery pounding the northwestern outskirts of the city on Saturday. as two columns of smoke – one black and one white – rose in the town of Vaslkyiv after a strike on an ammunition depot.
New commercial satellite images also emerged capturing artillery fire on residential areas that lay between the Russians and the capital. Images from Maxar Technologies showed muzzle flashes and smoke from large guns, as well as impact craters and burning houses in the town of Moschun, 20 miles from Kiev, the company said.
The inequalities of combat have also been highlighted in different ways, with US defense officials saying Russian pilots – despite well-documented casualties – fly an average of 200 sorties per day, compared to 5-10 for Ukrainian forces.
And there is growing evidence that the reach of the war is widening. Until recently, Russian troops had made their greatest advances on eastern and southern cities, while struggling in the north and around Kiev. Last week, however, Russian forces also began targeting areas in western Ukraine, where large numbers of refugees have fled. Frankivsk “out of action”.
Russian airstrikes also targeted Dnipro, a major industrial hub in the east and Ukraine’s fourth largest city, with around one million inhabitants. One person was killed, Ukrainian officials said.
Faced with the challenges of Russia’s new reliance on siege warfare, some analysts believe Ukrainian defenders will have to adapt again to deal with the new threat that arises, amid dire warnings that an already dire conflict could still get worse.
“It’s already ugly, but it’s going to get worse,” said Nick Reynolds, a war analyst at the Royal United Services Institute.