Today (well, actually, yesterday) some important news from the battlefront. Looks like the Russian army have started their long-anticipated big offensive. (I could be wrong, but this looks to be the real deal.) People have been laying bets where the offensive would begin, and it looks like the winner is Zaporozhie. A lot of military analysts have been saying this is the best way to split Ukraine and the Ukrainian/NATO army into two pieces: by slicing up from the South.
Looking at the map, recall that the Russians control Melitopol and a chunk of the Zaporozhie Oblast, but the Ukrainians control Zaporozhie City itself, which sits astride the Dniepr River. The goal is to take all of Zaporozhie, thus cutting off supplies of Western equipment flowing in from Poland. Most military analysts that I have been listening to, say this is a better strategy than cutting down from the North (Kiev) or Northwest (Lvov).
Recall that Vladimir Rogov is a political leader and military expert working out of Melitopol. In an interview with TASS, he described the new offensive operation of the Russian forces:
Rogov: Russian forces broke through the Ukrainian defensive line and are crushing Ukrainian troops in the towns of Orekhov [yalensis: I circled on the map above, the Ukrainian spelling is Orikhiv], Gulyai-Pole, and Kamenskoe.
Etymological sidebar: The Russian word Orekhov literally means a nut. As in a walnut, say. This can be traced back to the Eastern Slavic word орѣхъ (orěxŭ), from Proto-Slavic *o(b)rěxъ, from Proto-Balto-Slavic *rēks‑, from Proto-Indo-European *areyis-
In Indo-European this word seems to have meant specifically a “walnut”, see Ancient Greek ἄρυα (árua, “walnut”), Latvian riẽksts, Lithuanian riеšаs. although now it can mean any type of nut. And interesting, it does not appear to be related to the English word “nut” which comes from a completely different root, see Proto-Germanic *hnut– (source also of Old Norse hnot, Dutch noot, Old High German hnuz, German Nuss “nut”), from PIE *kneu– “nut” (source also of Latin nux; as in the word nucleus, in its sense of “kernel”).
Anyhow, this nutty town of Orekhov is the key to capturing Zaporozhie. Back to Rogov: Our artillery and tanks are demolishing all the Nazi positions. The first key victory [on Friday January 20] was to capture the village of Lobkovoe, which stands on the heights and is 9 kilometers away from Kamenskoe. By doing this, we cut off the roads between Kamenskoe and Orekhov, which Ukrainiains were using to transport men and supplies. We thus achieved operational control over all 4 populated suburbs of Orekhov. The Kiev regime sees that we are getting closer to Zaporozhie, and they are starting to panic. We have reports of panic in the office of the so-called “Governor” of Zaporozhie.
Rogov believes that the Ukrainian have inadequate supplies of artillery and drones in this area. Other military analysts have posited that the Ukrainians focused too much of their forces around Bakhmut, which led to the weakening of their defensive line in the Zaporozhie region. Russian forces were able, opportunistically, to take advantage of this and break through the lines in Lobkovoe.
Speaking of interesting toponyms, another town in the area which Russia must take (in order to succeed) is Gulyai-Pole, whose name literally means “Walk-About Field”. This town has a very interesting history. The name itself comes from its history of holding open-air fairs and markets, to which people from other regions would come to purchase animals and other goods.
After the Russian Empire captured this area from the Crimean Khanate (Tatars), Empress Catherine the Great populated it with farmers, other free settlers and Cossacks. The job of the latter was to guard this Western flank of the Russian Empire. Many of the regular people living there were freemen at first. Later, as the laws of serfdom became harsher under Catherine’s rule, she dissolved the Cossack Sich and enslaved many people back into serfdom.
During the Russian Civil War, Gulyai-Pole changed hands no fewer than 16 times (Austro-Hungarian Empire, Red Army, Ukrainian Peoples Republic, Hetmanate, Denikin’s White Army, Makhno insurgency, and many, many others.) To this day, the city, by its very history and its very name, is reminiscent of the Makhnovshchina and the notion of “freedom” as anarchy.