It’s also another clue about the importance of drones in modern warfare, as well as the Russian approach to combat and recent resistance to Ukrainian units.
The drone video shows that every property in the city center has been destroyed or damaged. Most of them appear to have been hit by Russian artillery or missile fire.
“The Russians are not only destroying Pupasna. They are removing it from the map of the Luhansk region,” said Serhiy Heidi, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration.
The drone video was originally posted on the pro-Russian Telegram channel and appears to have been taken by a Russian drone.
The drone appears to have been used to help the Russian infantry hunt down the last Ukrainian defenders of the area. In the end, you hover over the place where the Ukrainians are trapped and surrender.
CNN has geolocated and verified the video. It is not clear exactly when the video was filmed, but fierce battles have erupted in Popasna in recent days, as the Russian advance has clashed with Ukrainian defenses in the city.
The video begins with an artillery bombardment falling near a trench just north of the center of Popasna. At least one Ukrainian soldier was seen leaving the trench and taking refuge in what appeared to be a nearby shed.
At least four Russian soldiers are advancing towards the shed. A number of explosions were seen, among them two explosions with grenades thrown into the shed by a Ukrainian soldier.
The drone video shows a Russian soldier throwing at least four grenades into or near the shed where Ukrainian forces are sheltering. It is unclear whether any Ukrainian soldiers were killed or injured in the blasts.
A later clip shows a number of Ukrainian soldiers lying on their stomachs outside. Once again, the drone is used to survey the immediate vicinity, apparently looking for any movement or additional Ukrainian soldiers.
It then shows at least six Ukrainian soldiers being led away, hands on their heads, and placed in Russian custody.
Some pro-Russia social media accounts say the Russian soldiers are in fact private military contractors with the Wagner Group — a private military contractor with ties to the Kremlin that has sent agents to Syria, Libya and several African countries — that have been involved in the Donbass conflict since 2014. CNN has been able to verify this, but Western intelligence agencies have said that Russian forces employ private contractors or mercenaries in the conflict.
The video also provides a glimpse into the Russian method of warfare, according to which ground attacks must be preceded by massive “indirect fire” from artillery and missile systems. Russian forces have a tremendous advantage over the Ukrainians in such systems, and Ukraine does not have enough air power to make a serious impact on it.
In addition, the geolocation of Russian combat helicopters in the region has been established in the past few days.
As indicated by a recent study by the US Defense Research Corporation RAND, Russian combat groups are littered with artillery. The report predicted that “the main effort of a large Russian offensive operation is likely to have maneuvering units backed by an equal or greater number of artillery units. It will use large quantities of cluster munitions and artillery-fired mines.”
Some analysts believe that Russia has more than 50 tactical battalions, each of which will have about 1,000 soldiers, in the arc from Popasna to Izyum in the north. It’s a massive concentration of power.
Despite weeks of bombing and missile attacks, Ukrainian forces refused to cede territory to the Russians in several towns in Luhansk and Donetsk. Only when they have nothing left to defend do they make a tactical retreat to prevent capture.
This is what happened in the town of Karmina in April.
“In our vineyard, we realized that if we held on to the ground, the boys would die, and the enemy would do no harm, so we regrouped and left,” Heidi said.
But for at least a handful of Ukrainian soldiers in Popasna, running away was no longer an option.
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