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Ukraine’s Race to Hold the Line

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Ukraine’s Race to Hold the Line

Source: Satellite imagery from Copernicus

This defensive line in southern Ukraine runs a staggering 27 miles. Two months ago, it didn’t exist.

Russia built something very similar in late 2022 to repel a Ukrainian counteroffensive. But now the tables have turned.

Ditches. Concrete obstacles to funnel enemy tanks into positions where they can be more easily attacked. Trenches for soldiers to fire from.

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It all adds up to the Ukrainians’ grim new reality: Russia appears ready to keep advancing despite suffering heavy casualties, and all they can do is try to slow it down.

After the failure of a much-heralded counteroffensive and another winter of fending off Russian attacks, Ukrainian troops are exhausted and facing severe shortages.

The government has signed off on a conscription plan to replenish the ranks, and European countries have promised to send more vehicles and missiles, among other critically needed supplies. Ukraine received a much-needed boost on Saturday, when the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $60 billion military assistance package that will provide more weapons to their war effort.

But what Ukraine really needs is time.

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Training those new troops will take months, and the European equipment will arrive gradually, over the course of the year.

Analysts believe that Ukraine is unlikely to start a major counteroffensive this year, choosing instead to spend the time reconstituting its forces. But it will still need to try to stave off Russian attacks and to keep any small enemy gains from becoming full-fledged breakthroughs.

That is where the ambitious defensive lines that are frantically being built come in.

These ditches are usually at least 10 feet wide, so tanks cannot cross them.

Reuters/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy

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Rows of concrete obstacles block vehicles from advancing across open fields.

Reuters

A new reinforced trench in Zaporizhzhia provides cover for the infantry.

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Reuters

The Ukrainian government has allocated about $800 million to building fortifications along about 600 miles of front line this year, and construction is well underway.

The defenses shown above are just a small part of what Ukraine has been putting in place, much of which can be seen in publicly available satellite imagery from Copernicus, part of the European Union’s space program.

American military analysts in Wiesbaden, Germany, drawing on satellite imagery and other intelligence, have been working closely with Ukrainian liaison officers to identify gaps in Ukraine’s defenses, officials say.

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Since the start of the year, Ukraine has built long defensive lines across two regions in the south, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Source: Territory held by Russia based on data from the Institute for the Study of War with American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project

Note: Based on analysis of satellite imagery. The defensive lines only include larger fortifications, such as long anti-tank ditches, and do not include smaller defenses like infantry trenches.

As well as the new defenses in the south, Pentagon officials and independent analysts also pointed to ones beyond Avdiivka in the east.

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The Ukrainian military is eager to prevent a repeat of what happened around Avdiivka in February, after that city was captured by the Russians. Meager Ukrainian defenses allowed the enemy to keep pushing west.

So far, four officials said in interviews, the results have been mixed. A robust, multilayer tiered defense is still weeks away, if not months, they said.

But the top U.S. commander in Europe, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, expressed optimism.

“I think that their defenses are going to be very strong, and are strong,” General Cavoli said in a brief interview. “And with continued support, they’re going to be in a good position.”

But on the ground, it has not been easy.

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On the outskirts of one embattled town, Chasiv Yar, exhausted troops are holding onto terrain around a canal. But their defenses are poorly constructed and should have been fortified with concrete months ago, a Ukrainian commander said.

Now the Russians are close to fighting street to street.

The defenses going up in eastern Ukraine are markedly different from many of those in the south. In place of broad defensive lines are installations meant to fortify urban areas that are in Russia’s sights.

One of them is Kurakhove.

The city lies on a main road 10 miles northeast of Marinka, which Russia began trying to capture in 2014, when it was making incursions into Ukrainian territory.

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Marinka finally fell late last year. Satellite imagery now shows Ukraine working to protect Kurakhove.

Defenses built around Kurakhove this year

Source: Satellite imagery from Copernicus

This effort indicates that the Ukrainians are directing their resources to the most defensible terrain, with the idea of making ground advances as costly as possible for Russia.

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The defenses also point to a strategy across much of the front line that involves keeping Russian forces off guard with small attacks and seeking to exploit flaws in their defenses, officials said.

For now, with minefields and fortifications making it difficult to attack and maneuver without big losses, both sides are relying heavily on well-prepared entrenchments.

These can include deep trenches fortified with cement, overhead protection, heating and sleeping areas. They require extensive manpower to build and to defend. With Ukraine’s ranks thinned by casualties, it remains unclear if it is up to the task.

James Rands, a military analyst with Janes, a defense intelligence company in London, said the defenses Ukraine built during earlier conflicts with Russia were exceptional. In Donbas, he said, the bunkers were dry and protected with overhead cover, fire-proofing and ballistic protection. The trenches were reinforced.

With Russia now mounting a full invasion, Ukraine is unlikely to be able to do that again, Mr. Rands said.

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“The positions they have fallen back to are not in the same league by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “Ukraine now needs to build a series of defensive positions whilst in contact — which is difficult.”

Methodology

We detected newly built fortifications in Ukrainian-held territory by comparing satellite imagery taken between December 2023 and April 2024. All of the satellite imagery used for the analysis was publicly available Sentinel-2 imagery from Copernicus, part of the European Union Space Agency.

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Clashes erupt between university students and riot police outside Egyptian embassy in Beirut

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Clashes erupt between university students and riot police outside Egyptian embassy in Beirut

Clashes erupted on Monday between pro-Palestinian university students and riot police outside the Egyptian embassy in Beirut. Dozens of university students gathered outside the embassy, holding Palestinian flags and calling on the Egyptian government to open the Rafah border crossing and allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.

Clashes erupted on Monday between pro-Palestinian university students and riot police outside the Egyptian embassy in Beirut. Dozens of university students gathered outside the embassy, holding Palestinian flags and calling on the Egyptian government to open the Rafah border crossing and allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.


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Israeli excavators discover 2,300-year-old gold ring at City of David site

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Israeli excavators discover 2,300-year-old gold ring at City of David site

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Israeli researchers digging in Jerusalem’s City of David archeological site have uncovered an “exceedingly well-preserved” 2,300-year-old gold ring that is believed to have belonged to a boy or girl that lived in the area during the Hellenistic period. 

The piece of jewelry, which is “made of gold and set with a red precious stone, apparently a garnet,” has “accumulated no rust nor suffered other weathering of time,” the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Monday. 

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“I was sifting earth through the screen and suddenly saw something glitter,” Tehiya Gangate, a City of David excavation team member, said in a statement. “I immediately yelled, ‘I found a ring, I found a ring!’ Within seconds everyone gathered around me, and there was great excitement.”

“This is an emotionally moving find, not the kind you find every day,” she added. “In truth I always wanted to find gold jewelry, and I am very happy this dream came true – literally a week before I went on maternity leave.”   

EXPEDITION TO ‘HOLY GRAIL’ SHIPWRECK FULL OF GOLD, EMERALDS BEGINS IN CARIBBEAN SEA 

The Israel Antiquities Authority says because of the ring’s small diameter, “researchers estimate that it belonged to a boy or girl who lived in Jerusalem during the Hellenistic period.” (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Israel Antiquities Authority says the ring was “recently found in the joint Israel Antiquities Authority-Tel Aviv University excavation in the City of David, part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, with the support of the Elad Foundation.” 

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It will be put on display to the public in early June during Jerusalem Day. 

“The ring is very small. It would fit a woman’s pinky, or a young girl or boy’s finger,” the IAA cited Dr. Yiftah Shalev and Riki Zalut Har-Tov, Israel Antiquities Authority Excavation Directors, as saying. 

Tel Aviv University Professor Yuval Gadot and excavator Efrat Bocher added that, “The recently found gold ring joins other ornaments of the early Hellenistic period found in the City of David excavations, including the horned-animal earring and the decorated gold bead.”   

WOMAN OUT FOR A WALK STUMBLES UPON ONCE IN A DECADE DISCOVERY 

Gold ring found at City of David

A researcher poses with the ring after it was found in Jerusalem’s City of David. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

“Whereas in the past we found only a few structures and finds from this era, and thus most scholars assumed Jerusalem was then a small town, limited to the top of the southeastern slope (“City of David”) and with relatively very few resources, these new finds tell a different story: The aggregate of revealed structures now constitute an entire neighborhood,” they said. 

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“They attest to both domestic and public buildings, and that the city extended from the hilltop westward. The character of the buildings – and now of course, the gold finds and other discoveries, display the city’s healthy economy and even its elite status. It certainly seems that the city’s residents were open to the widespread Hellenistic style and influences prevalent also in the eastern Mediterranean Basin,” the researchers added. 

Gold ring discovered in Jerusalem

Those involved with the excavation say the ring helps “paint a new picture of the nature and stature of Jerusalem’s inhabitants in the Early Hellenistic Period.” (Israel Antiquities Authority)

 

The IAA says “Gold jewelry was well-known in the Hellenistic world, from Alexander the Great’s reign onward” as “his conquests helped spread and transport luxury goods and products.” 

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The Take: Why all eyes are on Rafah

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The Take: Why all eyes are on Rafah

Podcast,

The aftermath of a deadly Israeli attack on a tent camp for displaced Palestinians in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah.

Days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to stop its operation in Rafah, Israel hit a tent camp there, killing more than 45 displaced people. As the world condemns the attack, Israel’s war on Gaza continues.

In this episode: 

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  • Akram Al Satarri, freelance journalist
  • Imran Khan, (@ajimran) Al Jazeera senior correspondent

Episode credits:

This episode was produced by David Enders and Khaled Sultan, with Manahil Naveed, Catherine Nouhan and our host Malika Bilal.

It was edited by Amy Walters.

Our sound designer is Alex Roldan. Our lead of audience development and engagement is Aya Elmileik and Adam Abou-Gad is our engagement producer.

Alexandra Locke is The Take’s executive producer. Ney Alvarez is Al Jazeera’s head of audio.

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