Urban warfare: The 'combat in hell' on Ukraine's streets

Forces News has explored the unique nature of urban warfare facing the streets of Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion.

Colonel John Spencer, Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, West Point, described advantages held by defenders of the territory but maintains the fighting is "catastrophic" to all parties.

Recent conflicts have been "pulled into cities" as those first to the area have the upper hand in certain contexts, said Col Spencer.

"It's the toughest environment you could ask the military to fight in," he explained on the fourth day of Russia's offensive.

Defenders, such as Ukraine, "can occupy any building, they can set up ambushes, they can block roads", he continued, adding that a huge amount of troops and ammunition is required for attacking forces to be successful.

Tanks and armoured personnel carriers are required to protect troops going "house-to-house", he said.

"Some people say cities are the sponges that soak up troops.

"Even most recently, if you look at the Battle of Mosul in 2016, it took 100,000 Iraqi security forces to pry out 5,000 irregular militia, out of Mosul – and nine months to do it."

Two forces "colliding on urban terrain" leads to casualty figures unlike any other environment, Col Spencer added.

"It's nasty. It's combat in hell."

Thumbnail and cover image: Ukrinform/Alamy Live News.

Related topics

Join Our Newsletter


First Fusiliers train to lead Nato battlegroup in Estonia

Is Ukraine's counter-offensive under way?

Is Ukraine using an aircraft-imitating missile to confuse Russian defences?