- Ukrainian forces are approaching Russian-controlled Kherson
- Recapturing the city would be a major victory in the war
- Kherson serves as a gateway to Crimea, which was annexed in 2014
- The soldiers in the trench anticipate a tough battle ahead
FRONTLINE WEST KHORSON, Ukraine, Nov 4 (Reuters) – Oleh, the commander of a Ukrainian mechanized infantry unit dug into trenches in western Kherson, is confident his Russian enemies will be forced to abandon the strategic port because of winter weather, logistics Leave logistics. Threat of siege
But neither he nor his men think the Russians will go quickly or quietly, and they have no intention of letting them.
His remarks raise the specter of bloodshed in the coming weeks for control of a key city on the west bank of the Dnieper River that serves as a gateway to the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
“They will continue to fight. As long as they have the ability to do so,” said Oleh, 26, a veteran major who has risen through the ranks since enlisting as a teenager 10 years ago. They will defend their positions.” “It’s going to be a tough fight.”
Kirill Stromusov, deputy head of the Russian-based administration in the Kherson region, said on Thursday that he hoped Russian forces would fight.
“If we leave Kherson, it will be a big blow,” he added in a statement broadcast on Russia’s RT TV.
The contest for the only provincial capital captured by Moscow in a full-scale offensive on February 24 may be one of the most consequential of the war so far.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is another setback after a series of significant battlefield casualties since mid-August.
Military experts said that by controlling the west bank of the Dnieper, Ukrainian forces would have a springboard from which to seize a bridgehead to the east to advance on Crimea.
Crimea is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and Kyiv has made the recovery of the peninsula its sworn goal.
Experts added that if Kherson fell in the counterattack, it would also be a political humiliation for Putin, as Kherson is one of the four semi-occupied regions of Ukraine that he declared would be part of Russia forever, with much fanfare at the time. did September 30.
“It will be a big blow, primarily politically,” said Philip Ingram, a retired senior British military intelligence officer. And this will cost him (Putin) militarily. If the Ukrainians can have a bridgehead east of the Dnipro, it will be worse for the Russians.”
Retired US General Ben Hodges, the former commander of US forces in Europe, said the Ukrainians “could hammer the Russians who defend their approaches to Crimea”.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russians appeared to have already begun an “organized and phased withdrawal” from the west bank of the Dnipro.
Itching to attack
Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from the city and its surrounding areas to the east of the Dnipro in recent weeks after Russian-appointed occupation officials warned of the dangers posed by Ukrainian advances.
On Friday, Putin publicly confirmed the evacuation, which Kyiv says involves the forced expulsion of civilians out of Russian-occupied territory – a war crime – which Russia denies.
The occupation authorities have also moved administrative offices and documents to the East Bank, and a Western source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said most Russian commanders have also moved their bases.
The U.S. official and Ukrainian commanders said the Russians had reinforced their front lines, including deploying recently mobilized reserves, in an effort to better protect the retreat.
According to the US official, some Ukrainian soldiers believe that Russian-trained reservists are being sent forward “like lambs to the slaughter” while more experienced troops are digging into the rear defenses.
An orderly withdrawal could be challenging for the Russians, requiring coordination, deception to conceal movements, communication discipline, and heavy artillery barrages to suppress Ukrainian advances.
But Ukrainian forces could also face serious obstacles that could halt their takeover of Kherson, including booby traps and concentrated Russian artillery and rocket fire from the east bank, Hodges said.
As the sides engaged in intermittent artillery duels on Friday, Oleh’s 100-strong unit braved the mild weather to clean weapons and install floorboards in earth-and-wood shelters covered with thermal insulation and portable generators and wood-burners. have used Ovens
The unit, with six armored personnel carriers, occupied its positions in September after the Russian forces were pushed back by the Ukrainian forces to the Kherson border with the Mykolaiv province.
Oleh said the Russians are running out of time because, in January, ice floes are approaching the Dnipro, which could block shipping activity.
He was eager to strike at the enemy’s weak points to create panic among the reserves that could turn into a skirmish.
“If we don’t launch an attack, they’re just going to sit there,” he said. Mobilized are good for us because they create terror. Panic is like a contagious disease. expands.”
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington. Edited by Mike Collett-White and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.