On the southern front of Ukraine, soldiers hope to reach Kherson in winter

On the southern front of Ukraine, soldiers hope to reach Kherson in winter


Charred, rusting skeletons are all that remains of three Russian rocket launchers destroyed near the front lines in southern Ukraine, where Kiev’s forces pushed back Moscow’s invading forces.

Emboldened by their recent successes in retaking territory in the Kherson region, Ukrainian soldiers are now hoping to reach the region’s eponymous capital during the winter, a key city that fell into Russian hands shortly after the February 24 invasion began.

Nearly a week after the Soviet-designed BM-27 Uragan multiple rocket launchers were struck by Ukraine, the site still smells of smoke.

Several rockets are intact in the barrels of one of the huge eight-wheeled machines.

“They were reloading when we met them,” a Ukrainian soldier told AFP.

In a case of the rocket launcher there are still a few cans of “Baltic Fish”.

There is a frying pan on the floor next to the machinemiraculously escaped the flames.

Not far away, a truck stands abandoned, its Russian license plate lying on the grass next to it.

But its precious cargo is still in good condition: a dozen Uragan heavy rockets, which the Ukrainian army needs.

“They will soon be loaded and transported to us,” added the soldier.

Another trophy snatched from the Russians, Gunpowder Barrels, has already been delivered to nearby Ukrainian troops. Other empty barrels are scattered on the floor.

– “Low” morale among the Russians –

“The Russians say they organized their withdrawal. But if someone organizes their retreat, they don’t leave guns, pants or pillows,” said an EMS worker, who introduced himself as “Doc.”

Another soldier says morale among Russian troops is “low”.

“The world’s second army is afraid of the 22nd,” he said, using his nom de guerre “kappa,” meaning mouthguard.

“We should increase our speed even more, instead of reducing it, pushing it across the river,” Kappa said, overlooking the Dnieper River.

In recent weeks, the Ukrainian army has been advancing west of the Dnipro River while the Russians have a firm grip on the opposite bank.

But Moscow’s troops regrouped behind a new line of defences, heavily reinforced and in some cases even cemented.

Many Russian soldiers were also called in as reinforcements.

The Russians lost territory north of Kherson in early September when their troop levels were low in that area with few villages, said George Barros of the Institute for the Study of War.

But now Russian lines are getting “narrower”, making their defense easier and making Ukraine’s advance more difficult, Barros added.

According to French military expert Michel Goya, it becomes “extremely dangerous” for Kyiv to place a sixth or more of the total Russian armed forces, which are “among the best,” in southwest Kherson.

– Possible “disaster” –

“The position is paradoxically solid, but fragile because it can explode under pressure,” which would “represent a disaster perhaps decisive for the fate of the Russian Expeditionary Force in Ukraine.”

A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Army Command, Natalia Gumeniuk, said Ukraine’s chances were being boosted as Moscow’s soldiers were “looking for ways to announce their desire to surrender” and that Russian logistics routes had been “significantly damaged”.

For months, Kiev’s forces have been attacking Russian warehouses carrying ammunition and infrastructure that enable them to supply their troops, such as bridges.

The Crimean bridge, which Gumeniuk said provided 75 percent of the Kherson region’s military supplies, was hit by a large blast over the weekend, which Moscow blamed on Kyiv.

Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

But “the Russians don’t have any supply problems yet,” said French expert Pierre Grasser.

If the situation was “critical,” they would “do a lot more air deliveries,” he said.

For Ukraine, Kherson – a city of strategic and symbolic importance – is the long-term goal, he added, but it may not be achievable before or even during winter, he said.

It remains to be seen what will become of Kherson next. Taking the city by force would mean casualties on both sides and heavy destruction.

Grasser suggests a possible “barter” between Kyiv and Moscow, with Ukraine giving up its claims to the eastern Donbass region and Kherson returning “in good order”.

But for Barros, the only possible outcome is a full Ukrainian victory.

“The Russians lost the war in March and we are now seeing the extended version of it,” he said.

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