In the first few days after Russia’s invasion, the bridge on the north side of Kherson became famous as a sign of Ukrainian resistance. Recognizing the importance of that bridge to one of Russia’s strategic objectives—capturing Mykolaiv and Odesa—Russian forces had moved quickly to take the bridge in the first two days of fighting. But then Ukrainian forces took it back. Then Russia seemed to have control. Then Ukraine took it again.
It started to look as if Kherson might use the natural defense of the wide Dnipro River to hold out indefinitely. If things got tough, they could always blow up the critical bridge, greatly complicating Russia’s advance and forcing them to move north to fight again for the bridge at Nova Kakhovka.
Then, suddenly, Ukrainian forces were gone. Russia rolled into Kherson, bridge intact, while the troops that had fought over, and twice retaken, that bridge moved completely out of the city and hurried up the M14 highway to Mykolaiv. Russia had the city. And the bridge. One day later, they also had the Nova Kakhova bridge 40 miles upstream.
With these two wide crossings in hand, Russia was ready to move westward and complete the task of cutting off Ukraine from the Black Sea. In Odesa, mass evacuations began as citizens feared the Russians would roll into the city in a matter of days.
Exactly what happened in Kherson still isn’t clear. How did the Russian military suddenly gain such a decisive upper hand, and why did forces that had been fighting them so successfully suddenly abandon not just the bridge, but the entire city? The answer seems to be: Treason. Officials there were apparently on the Russian bribery dole. As a result, they undermined the local territorial defense, refused to provide assistance to troops fighting to hold the city. Those officials ultimately fled the city—possibly running into the open arms of the Russian forces to hand them more information. The details won’t be known until the conflict is over, but betrayal certainly seems to be at the core of how Russia established a beachhead on the west side of the Dnipro.
In the days after Russia took Kherson, the fears of citizens in Odesa seemed justified. Russian troops consolidated their position, captured an 80 mile long swath of territory on the western bank, and began to move toward Mykolaiv from two directions—directly up the M14 from Kherson, and from the east along a smaller highway from Snihurivka.
And that’s where things got less happy for Team Russia. Having fallen back on Mykolaiv, Ukrainian troops joined up with other forces and territorial defenses that were already in place in that city. They repulsed repeated attempts by Russia to capture Mykolaiv. When Russia attempted to set up artillery positions around the city, Ukrainian forces managed to sally out and attack those positions, preventing Mykolaiv from becoming besieged. It didn’t hurt that Mykolaiv sits on a peninsula jutting far out into the wide-as-hell Southern Bug River. That essentially means it can only be attacked from one side. If you were going to design a fortress town to withstand an assault, it would be hard to do better than Mykolaiv.
Here, take a look.
Getting a force into Mykolaiv and across it’s crucial bridge means moving through that narrow choke point on the city’s eastern side, then pushing through the entire city center, to reach the possibly still intact bridge. Russia didn’t come close to making it. Instead, it exhausted its forces in one attempt after another to approach the city from the south or east. Russia brought in large numbers of helicopters and planes, positioning them at the Kherson airport just 20 miles to the south. If there was anywhere that Russia had something like decent air support, this was the place.
It still did not allow them to advance through Mykolaiv’s defenses. It’s also likely that those hold-out forces at Mariupol prevented Russia from moving all the forces they wanted to place on the western edge of the advance.
Russia then attempted to bypass Mykolaiv, and raced up the Southern Bug river to the next bridge at Voznesensk, where supposedly elite VDV airborne troops were dealt one of the most crushing defeats of the war, defeated by territorial defense forces and farmers. It was a turning point, as Ukrainian forces swept back back towns and villages not just along the Southern Bug river, but also along the roads south and southeast of Mykolaiv, pushing Russia artillery beyond range of the city. On March 15, Ukraine had advanced far enough to land an artillery barrage on Kherson airport. That not only destroyed a large number of Russian helicopters in place, it forced Russia to move the remainder to a more distant location.
From that moment, Russia’s attempt to capture Odesa by land was likely done. And since multiple attempts to conduct an amphibious landing had already proved futile, the push back from Mykolaiv likely ended any chance of Russia achieving one of its primary strategic objectives. At least in this round.
Since then, Ukrainian forces have been moving from place to place in the area. On Tuesday of last week, Ukraine managed to retake a number of locations at the northeast side of the area Russia had occupied above the Nova Kakhovka bridge. Surprisingly, Russian forces responded by moving back into Snihurivka, which gave the appearance of a fresh advance on Mykolaiv, but may have actually been Russian troops falling back from positions to the north.
For a few days, things seemed to go quiet. That was until Friday, when there were signs of fighting on the south side of Kherson proper. Civilians in the center of the city reported that they could clearly hear explosions and gunfire. There have also been widespread reports of Russians looting and loading up vehicles with consumer goods, which many see as a sign they are about to get the hell outta Dodge.
Before dawn on Saturday in Ukraine, rumors began to circulate that a big action is about to take place. The suggestion here is that the battle in the south isn’t over after all. Ukrainian forces may be more focused on taking Kherson—which remains the only large urban area captured by Russia since the war began, and where over 250,000 Ukrainian citizens are thought to remain — but Russia may have another goal.
Russia may respond by blowing the bridge at Kherson (there have been images showing that Russia has mined the bridge in preparation for taking it down). This would limit any effort to pursue Russian forces across the Dnieper, because this, like the Bug, is a very wide river at the southern end.
That would leave the bridge at Nova Kakhovka. If Ukraine could move quickly toward that bridge from north and south, they could potentially cut off a large Russian force, stranding them on the west side of the river. On the other hand, there are suggestions that Russia intends to press more troops across the river at that point, resuming the attempt on Mykolaiv from the east. Which … good luck on that. See map above.
As of early on Saturday, the battle for Kherson appears to be underway with Ukrainian forces moving toward the southern part of the city both along the M14 from Mykolaiv, and by pushing along the river bank up the narrower T1501.
This still places a significant distance (about 15 miles, depending on the route) between Ukrainian forces and the Kherson bridge. In between, the Ukrainians have to do what Russia has found so difficult—capture a city center. And Ukraine will likely make this attempt without even thoughts of using artillery or MLRS systems that would have to be aimed into their own city. If Russia contests Kherson, the fight could get extremely difficult, and the city could face a level of destruction that has so far been avoided with fighting vehicles and tanks duking it out in the streets.
But it’s not clear Russia will contest the city. The Ukrainian military has stated they expect the city to be captured “within days,” so expect an advance, but don’t expect a lightning advance. The presence of those Russian troops around Snihurivka and the suggestion that more forces could move across the Nova Kakhovka bridge to join them, certainly means that some Ukrainian forces are still in place around Mykolaiv to guard against a move on the city. There hasn’t been any news over the last few days about Ukraine recapturing more towns or villages on the north of the western bank “bulge,” so those troops may have moved into defensive positions. Or they could be preparing an advance to the south. We don’t know.
But if Ukraine can recapture Kherson, it will mean that Russia has lost the only city it managed to take, and that one came more through treachery than military prowess. If Russia blows the bridge, those forces at Kherson won’t be able to cross to attack forces north of the Crimea, and they won’t be able to restore the lock and dam that could limit water to the Crimea, which has been critical in restricting Russian development there. But if Russia blows that bridge, the Ukrainian forces in Kherson simply won’t stay in Kherson, because there will be no point.
They’ll move somewhere else, and continue the fight.
On March 14, it was estimated that 22 Russian Battalion Tactical Groups in Ukraine had been rendered ineffective through losses. That was about 20% of all the forces in theater.
Now that percentage has increased to more than a quarter of all Russian BTGs.
As Kos has made clear several times, the BTG structure was intended for one purpose only — increasing opportunities for grift. It makes the Russian command structure, which is already top-heavy and fragile, even more so. And it means that a BTG can become unworkable when a few key pieces are taken out.
Bringing these groups up to speed quickly is something that can’t happen by plugging in raw conscripts. It would more likely requiring cannibalizing BTGs outside Ukraine to find the right skills and equipment. And it probably means that when Russia claims it is now concentrating all its force in the east and south, that force is considerably weaker than what it brought to Ukraine at the outset of the invasion.
Meanwhile, in Mariupol. as Kos pointed out yesterday, Ukrainian forces inside the beleaguered city aren’t limited to just a small area of the city core, but are continuing to operate at multiple locations, including some surprising close to the Russian forces encamped around the city. For example, look at the location of this mortar fire that takes out a pair of Russian trucks.
Boris Johnson talking with Zelenskyy in Kyiv. Hopefully that’s a shopping list they are browsing.
Even as Russian forces have lost the Battle of Kyiv and retreated from northern Ukraine, Russian state media and Russian officials have been increasingly using language that dismisses the whole idea of Ukraine as a “legitimate state.”
Russia originally justified its invasion of Ukraine as a defense of the separatist states in Donetsk and Luhansk. Now they’re claiming that Ukraine isn’t an actually country, because it “illegally withdrew from the USSR.”
Logic or consistency never applies to these situations, but Russia’s claim here is one that should certainly concern every former Soviet republic — and a large number of nations around the world.
Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv, and made this announcement. The 120 armored vehicles are the Mastiff armored personnel carrier, and was previously announced. The anti-ship missile is a new announcement, and unrelated to the unfounded rumor that had circulated a few days ago.
Everyone wants to see Russia’s Black Sea Fleet sent to the bottom of the ocean, but the question is … with what? The UK is phasing out its Harpoon anti-ship missiles, so great! Send those! Except that British Harpoons are all ship-fired, and there’s no Ukrainian navy left. So how would they be fired?
There’s a brand new coastal battery version of the missile, however, as far as we can tell, only Taiwan currently fields it, and there’s no way they’re giving up any defensive capabilities with a frisky China breathing down their neck.
The UK also has the Sea Venom anti-ship missile, but it is helicopter-launched, and Ukrainian aircraft don’t have the necessary equipment to field it. Maybe mods can be made.
Oh, this might be it:
According to official sources, the Harpoon system is due to go out of service (OSD) in December 2023. It is installed on 13 (thirteen) Type 23 frigates, 3 (three) Type 45 destroyers and 3 (three) land-based reference systems.
Not sure what a “reference system” is, but maybe it was used for testing and training? Whatever the case, there’s three land-based launchers for a system slated to go out of service next year. And all the rockets.
Captured. Russia is putting all of NATO to shame with its military contribution to Ukraine’s defense.