What was to develop into a broad-based attack in southern Ukraine over the course of Monday began a few hundred kilometers to the east. In the Donbass, Ukrainian troops attacked a number of villages and tied down Russian forces, especially in the air, a member of the Ukrainian military told the British “Economist”.
On Monday night, Ukrainian troops in the Cherson region attacked Russian camps, command posts and river crossings with US rocket launchers. Russian defensive positions directly at the front were also fired at with Himars. Then, on Monday afternoon, Ukrainian ground forces struck in several places.
As a Ukrainian soldier reported in a video, the path led partly through mined terrain. Russian drones would have bombed them on the way. Apart from the communication between the individual units, everything went well, he says. Photos and videos circulating on social media on Monday show Ukrainian infantry advancing, supported by tanks.
As a result, there were probably numerous breakthroughs in the first Russian line of defense along the front. For example, northwest of the city of Cherson. There, pro-Russian troops are said to have fled the Donbass after receiving no support from a unit of Russian paratroopers.
Ukrainian MP Dmytro Natalukha tweeted four successful breakthroughs; a total of twelve points on the front were attacked.
On the day after the Ukrainian troops attacked, however, much remains unclear. How far could the units advance? How many villages could they conquer? Did they decisively weaken individual Russian units?
As Ukrainian media and the US TV station CNN reported on Monday, the Ukrainian troops were able to capture seven towns. Five of them in the north of Kherson, but two also in close proximity to the city of Kherson, including Tomyna Balka, which is 30 kilometers from the city center and Pravdyne. CNN quoted his informant as saying: “We’ll see how far we get. Our goal is Kherson.”
Other media reports contradicted this representation; Tomyna Balka, for example, is still competitive. Russian military bloggers, in turn, reported on a Ukrainian advance of around six kilometers at one point on the front, which would be a comparatively large gain in terrain.
Volodymyr Zelenskyj addressed the Russian occupiers on Tuesday night with the following words: “If they want to survive, then it’s time for the Russian soldiers to flee.”
The Ukrainian President announced that there would be no official details of the operation. The daily situation briefing by the Ukrainian general staff on Tuesday gave no indication of possible gains in territory.
Where questions about the specific situation at the front are still unclear, a consistent picture of the overall military situation in Cherson emerges.
After weeks of Ukrainian attacks, the two major bridges over the Dnipro River are impassable. The Ukrainians also destroyed makeshift crossings. Only ferries supply the Russian troops on the west side of the river with any degree of reliability.
Up to 25,000 Russian soldiers are said to be currently in the Cherson region on the west side of the river. However, according to expert estimates, the individual deployed Russian battalions have been greatly reduced.
An interesting detail: the troops fleeing the Ukrainians, according to reports on Monday, belonged to the 109th regiment of the pro-Russian Donbass separatist army. At the end of June, the regiment published an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which it described itself as a force-mobilized unit, complained that there were no rest periods and that supplies were poor. The morale of the pro-Russian troops fighting outside the Donbass has long been considered poor.
How exactly the recapture of Cherson is supposed to look like is so far unclear. According to the US Department of Defense, the Ukrainian forces in the south are similar in strength to the Russian ones; something that is still not the case in the Donbass in the east. The fact that Ukraine believes in its strength in the south is also shown by the fact that it openly announced its offensive more than four weeks ago. Moscow then moved numerous troops from the east to the south.
As the British Ministry of Defense wrote in its situation assessment on Tuesday, “it is not yet possible to assess the size of the Ukrainian offensive.” The US Department of Defense also did not want to specify whether an offensive would take place or whether it would only be individual advances. A press briefing only confirmed the increase in “kinetic activity” in the south, another word for hostilities.
Experts consider it almost impossible that Cherson will be recaptured very quickly. Because behind the first Russian line of defense there are two more, which are also more extensively developed and occupied by better equipped units than the positions on the front line.
The statements made by the Ukrainian military over the past two days also suggest that there will be no classic, large-scale counteroffensive. Most observers believe that Ukraine lacks soldiers and material for this.
On the other hand, the situation of the Russian troops is now precarious. Because the troops are not only cut off to the east. Also on the western bank of the Dnipro they are divided into southern and northern parts, which can no longer support each other because the Ukrainians destroyed the only bridge over the Inhulets River. In other words, the Russian troops are trapped.
Fighting also erupted in the region on Tuesday. Gunshots can be heard in videos from Kherson Tuesday morning, indicating fighting either in or near the city. Reports speak of partisan attacks on Russian troops. Partisans are also said to have blown up the car of a local police chief.
Rocket fire from Ukrainian troops also continued on Tuesday. Targets in the city of Kherson were hit, including the Antonivka Bridge over the Dnipro.
In the meantime, even the Russian occupiers seem to have doubts that Moscow can hold the territory in the south. The Russian-appointed administrator for the Kherson region, Kirill Stremusov, fled to Russia, as suggested by a video he took.
The city and region around Kherson is central to Ukraine. It was the first and is still the only regional capital that Russian troops have been able to capture. The area around the city is the bridgehead to the port city of Odessa and then on to Russian-occupied Transnistria.
At the same time, the Dnipro River acts as a natural line of defense. If Ukrainian troops were to recapture the west bank of the Dnipro, thousands of troops would be available for further offensives in the south.
In the Russian-occupied parts of Cherson and the neighboring Zaporizhia region, the Kremlin is pursuing a policy of Russification with a view to possible annexation. Moscow has introduced the ruble as its currency there and is encouraging residents to obtain Russian passports.