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After Kherson, Ukraine’s army ponders new push south and east


A Ukrainian soldier in the entrance to a bunker at a military position in the Zaporizhzhia region on Nov. 30. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post).
A Ukrainian soldier within the entrance to a bunker at a army place within the Zaporizhzhia area on Nov. 30. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Put up).

Remark

ZAPORIZHZHIA REGION, Ukraine — The trail to a Ukrainian victory — or no less than the obvious path — will most likely minimize south, by way of the muddy and flat fields of the Zaporizhzhia area.

Following Russia’s retreat from the town of Kherson — the one regional capital captured by Moscow for the reason that begin of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion — Ukrainian forces have restricted choices for his or her subsequent massive push to proceed recapturing occupied territory and, finally, to expel the invaders.

A lot consideration is now shifting right here, to the southern entrance line lower than 100 miles north of the Azov Sea, the place Ukrainians are desirous to sever the “land bridge” connecting mainland Russia to Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014. Kyiv can also be intent on liberating cities akin to Melitopol and Enerhodar, the place the Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy plant is situated.

Russian forces, in flip, are digging into extra fortified defensive positions, clearly anticipating a combat.

“Everyone seems to be speaking about Zaporizhzhia. Everybody,” mentioned Konrad Muzyka, president of Rochan Consulting, a army evaluation agency based mostly in Poland.


After Kherson, Ukraine’s army ponders new push south and east

Ukrainian-reclaimed territory by way of counteroffensives

Ukrainian troopers have indicated that

they’re tasked with defending Freeway 15.

Nuclear energy plant

at Enerhodar

Russia controls this

street that creates a

“land bridge” to Crimea.

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Accomplished in 2018, the

Crimean Bridge was the one hyperlink

Russia needed to Crimea. An explosion

broken the bridge on Oct. 8.

Management areas as of Dec. 2

Sources: Institute for the Research of Conflict, AEI’s Important Threats Challenge

After Kherson, Ukraine’s army ponders new push south and east

Ukrainian-reclaimed territory

by way of counteroffensives

Ukrainian troopers mentioned

they had been tasked with

defending Freeway 15.

Russia controls this

street that creates a

“land bridge” to Crimea.

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Accomplished in 2018,

the Crimean Bridge

was the one hyperlink

Russia needed to Crimea.

An explosion broken

the bridge on Oct. 8.

Management areas as of Dec. 1

Sources: Institute for the Research of Conflict, AEI’s Important Threats Challenge

After Kherson, Ukraine’s army ponders new push south and east

Ukrainian-reclaimed territory

by way of counteroffensives

Ukrainian troopers mentioned

they had been tasked with

defending Freeway 15.

Russian management of

this street creates

a “land bridge”

to Crimea.

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Accomplished in 2018,

the Crimean Bridge

was the one hyperlink

Russia needed to Crimea.

An explosion broken

the bridge on Oct. 8.

Management areas as of Dec. 1

Sources: Institute for the Research of Conflict

However for all of the logical hypothesis, the roads and army positions close to the entrance line present little proof of a buildup of troops, and there are not any indications that the Ukrainians need to mount an offensive in Zaporizhzhia area anytime quickly, Muzyka and different analysts mentioned.

Victor Dadak, 35, a deputy battalion commander for Ukraine’s territorial protection, wouldn’t say if the nation’s forces would launch their subsequent massive offensive right here. “It’s a army secret,” Dadak mentioned. “However I feel in a couple of days the army secret can be revealed.”

Final summer time, rumors swirled for weeks of an imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson area to the south. As a substitute, there was a shock, lightning push within the northeast Kharkiv area.

For now, Ukrainian troopers within the Zaporizhzhia area look like in a little bit of a ready mode — ready, in muddy circumstances, for the bottom to freeze.

It was the coldest day but for the Ukrainian troopers stationed right here, and the primary day Dadak observed the bottom start to harden, he mentioned. However the filth was nonetheless slick sufficient for army autos to slip and get caught. Dadak mentioned he hoped that within the subsequent couple of weeks their autos would acquire extra traction.

A few mile from the entrance line, Dadak marched by way of a discipline towards a gaggle of troopers taking cowl in the one place they might — a skinny row of leafless bushes that did little or no to dam the biting wind. The brilliant solar was deceiving; temperatures had dropped close to freezing. The troopers took turns warming up in a dugout with a wood-burning range and simply sufficient room for 2 small beds.

Their important focus was to carry a defensive place, simply behind the entrance line, and forestall the Russians from advancing north to the freeway that connects Zaporizhzhia to the Donetsk area.

However the long-term aim, Dadak mentioned, was to push south to the Azov Sea. With the best momentum, Ukrainian forces might encircle the troops now on the east financial institution of Dnieper River after surrendering the town of Kherson and cities on the west financial institution.

About 30,000 Russian troops are on the east financial institution of the river within the Kherson area, based on tough intelligence estimates, Dadak mentioned.

However the fast challenges are fierce. The bottom is even muddier than within the Kherson area, Dadak mentioned. And, after abandoning Kherson metropolis, Russia redistributed its troops to the east, boosting its presence in Zaporizhzhia. Shelling has intensified ever since, Dadak and his troopers mentioned.

Russia’s pressure density has elevated, Muzyka mentioned, that means it has extra troops per sq. mile than it had initially of the struggle. “So if Ukrainians do assault, it won’t be simple,” Muzyka mentioned.

Whereas the comparatively flat terrain and lack of rivers within the Zaporizhzhia area will make it simpler for Ukraine to push south right here, it’s going to additionally give the troops fewer locations to cover.

“I feel that Ukrainians are most likely taking a look at a few areas the place they will doubtlessly conduct a counterattack,” Muzyka mentioned. “Zaporizhzhia is the obvious one, which most likely means it won’t occur there.”

One of many Ukrainian army’s long-term targets seems to be an offensive that cuts south to occupied Melitopol, mentioned Michael Kofman, a Russian army analyst on the Heart for a New American Safety, a Virginia-based analysis group.

The Russian army has been making ready for a Ukrainian offensive in Zaporizhzhia since summer time, Kofman mentioned. The Ukrainians, nonetheless, carried out offensives in Kharkiv and Kherson, west of the Dnieper River.

“Whether or not they can do that someday later within the winter or subsequent spring stays very a lot a query,” Kofman mentioned.

Ukraine has sought to stabilize the road within the battered metropolis of Bakhmut, within the Donetsk area, and a second set of forces is making an attempt to push again the Russian army within the Luhansk area.

The query is whether or not Ukrainian forces have the out there troops and artillery ammunition to drag off a southern offensive within the coming months, particularly after taking casualties combating in Kherson.

The Ukrainian cities closest to the entrance line seem almost deserted for many of the day, with residents rising from their bunkers solely within the morning, when Russian shelling briefly pauses. Within the city of Huliaipole, well-known for being the birthplace of Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary Nestor Makhno, a missile strike on metropolis corridor a couple of month and a half in the past killed the city’s deputy mayor and certainly one of his aides. One other current strike destroyed a big public library, leaving a mountain of rubble.

Steps away, baggage of sand surrounded a statue of Makhno, defending it from the onslaught of shelling.

Dadak has seen the Russians utilizing extra helicopters right here than they used to, he mentioned. A close-by unit just lately acquired rockets for the only real goal of capturing down Russian helicopters.

Close by booms of mortars and artillery have turn out to be extra frequent, mentioned a gaggle of 4 Ukrainian troopers based mostly a couple of mile behind the entrance line, whom The Put up agreed to establish solely by their first names due to safety dangers.

“That is our state of affairs, day and night time,” mentioned one soldier, Volodymyr, who deliberate to move to the entrance line on Thursday, his forty seventh birthday. The shelling has turn out to be worse for the reason that liberation of Kherson, he mentioned, smoking a cigarette in a darkish and cramped bunker.

With the temperatures dropping, Volodymyr mentioned he wasn’t frightened concerning the winter. The army had been making ready the troopers with loads of heat gear, he mentioned. “Crucial factor is to have a chilly winter, not a muddy one,” he mentioned.

Perhaps then, the troopers mentioned, they might see some motion.

“The momentum in Kherson gave us a lift in morale, and hope that we might additionally do one thing like that right here,” mentioned one other soldier, Ihor, 36.

However Serhii, 26, mentioned he had no clue whether or not it will occur within the coming weeks.

“We could possibly be right here all winter,” Serhii mentioned.

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