Ukraine spent weeks laying the groundwork, amassing forces and weapons, and now it says it is making strides in the south of the country.
Backed by newly acquired long-range weapons from the West, the country’s armed forces, which have long promised to launch a counteroffensive, have destroyed key Russian targets in the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Russian troops are “virtually cut off” from the counter-offensive, which is “gaining momentum,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing Thursday.
At least three bridges on the Dnipro River were damaged, it said, adding that the strategic Antonivsky Bridge, used to transport supplies to the southern city, is likely “unusable”. As a result, Russia’s 49th Army, stationed west of the river, was “highly vulnerable,” it said.
Retaking Kherson, which was seized by President Vladimir Putin’s forces early in the invasion, would be “a major blow to the Russian war effort,” Udi Greenberg, a professor of modern European history at Dartmouth College, told NBC News on Thursday the Signal messaging app.
As a port city, he said, “it has great strategic and economic values.”
Greenberg added that the counteroffensive “has the potential to be very important” because Ukraine “has been largely on the defensive so far” and “would test the country’s ability to shift the balance in this military conflict.” “.
It would be the first time a major city has been recaptured by Ukrainian forces since the conflict began on February 24.
Buoyed by the success of the recent attacks, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has called on Russian troops in Kherson to retreat, warning that if they remain in the city they will be “annihilated”. “The choice is yours,” the ministry tweeted on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to rebuild the destroyed bridges in a late-night video address published on his Telegram channel on Wednesday. But he insisted that his forces “do everything possible to ensure that the occupiers have no logistical options on our land”.
The Kremlin has not commented on the attacks, but Kirill Stremousov, who serves as deputy head of the Russian-backed military-civilian administration of Kherson, denied that the bridge attacks had affected the city’s supplies. They would “in no way affect the outcome of hostilities,” he told Russia’s state news agency RIA.
The move south to Kherson comes after fighting intensified in eastern Donetsk province in recent days as Russian forces appeared to be emerging from a reported “pause in operations” after capturing neighboring Luhansk.
Valeriy Akimenko, senior researcher at the UK-based Conflict Studies Research Centre, said he doesn’t think Ukraine can win back the two industrial regions that made up Donbass.
But, he said, fighting there “may open up other opportunities to poke holes in what appears to be a very thin Russian line in southern Ukraine.”
However, Ukrainian defense officials have warned Russia not to rally forces to counter the counteroffensive.
“The enemy is now concentrating the maximum number (of forces) precisely in the direction of Kherson,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in a televised address on Wednesday, warning of “a very large movement” by Russian troops .
He added that he was “cautious” in assessing the timetable for a possible counter-offensive. “I would really like to have it much faster,” he said, adding that “the enemy is now concentrating the maximum number (of forces) right in the Kherson direction.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, Russian forces launched a missile attack on the Kyiv area for the first time in weeks and also bombed the northern Chernihiv region, Ukrainian officials said.
Associated Press contributed.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/russia-ukraine-war-counteroffensive-kherson-south-donbas-zelenskyy-rcna40391 Ukraine launches a counter-offensive to break Russia’s hold on the southern metropolis