As the lines get drawn a bit more clearly up in Kharkiv Oblast, there are signs that a big eraser is about to redraw everything down at the far end of the line in Kherson. That includes the Ukrainian military announcing that some of their forces are now holding an unexpected town in a very difficult position.
It was Kherson where the first rumblings of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive began in August. In the space of just over a week, Ukraine used HIMARS and other long-range precision weaponry to damage or disable both of the bridges that Russia used to move forces back and forth over the broad Dnipro River. Then Ukraine used the same weapons to slice up the bridges across the Inhulets River, cutting the Russian-occupied area in half. Since then, Russia has made various efforts to sustain its forces west of the Dnipro with barges or pontoon bridges. None of them seem to have been very effective, or lasted very long.
In the last week, as Ukraine was taking back Kharkiv Oblast, there were reports that Russian forces in Kherson were so starved for ammunition that they were either A) trying to pull back to a small perimeter around Kherson city, or B) negotiating with Ukraine to withdraw from the area entirely, so long as they got to keep their weapons. Neither of those things has happened so far, and considering how much investment Russia has placed in the idea that “Kherson is Russia forever,” the idea that they would decamp from the city without even an exchange of fire seems wildly unlikely.
Still, Ukraine has pressed against the lines in Kherson. So has Russia. Things there seem to be at a slow boil at the moment, with indications that anything like a stable front line is transient at best.
The biggest change in the northern part of the area in weeks if not months is the liberation of Vysokopillya by Ukrainian forces, which the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense made official on Sep. 12. This area was heavily fortified, strongly defended by Russian forces, and acted as both a supply and command center for Russian movements toward the city of Kryvyi Rih, 40 kilometers to the north. Kryvyi Rih is President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s home town, and Vladimir Putin has all but announced it’s a very special target for Russia. Surrendering Vysokopillya was more or less surrendering any home that Russia would ever get to Kryvyi Rih. Pushing Russian forces from Vysokopillya was a big deal.
However, to the south of Vysokopillya two other towns—Olhyne and Arkhanhel's'ke—both of which had at one time be cleared of Russian forces—seem to be in dispute again, with Russian troops reported in at least part of both towns. This shows that Russia hasn’t given up on holding positions in this area, and the level of fighting suggests that Russia is not about to put down its weapons.
Ukraine’s bridgehead across the Inhulets River persists, aided by the capture of a Russian pontoon bridge that Ukraine used to capture Blahodativka. Russia has made daily attempts to push back on this area, but instead Ukraine seems to have solidified its hold. Just how many troops Ukraine has over the river isn’t known, but it’s enough to withstand everything Russia has sent at them so far.
In the area to the south and west of the Inhulets River, Snihurivka remains Russia’s biggest fortress town. Rumors that Russia was about to abandon it or that Ukraine was very close to liberating the town have all, so far, proven false. More than any other point on this or any map, Snihurivka seems to be a place where Ukraine is acting like Russia: launching daily assaults on the same position. Making daily retreats after suffering casualties.
To the south, Russia has captured the town of Blahodatne and is threatening that over Kyselivka. This bulge of Russian control has been slowly growing for weeks, and Ukraine doesn’t seem to be all that concerned. Maybe that’s because just to the south of that, Ukraine is growing its own pocket of control, liberating a number of small villages north of … also Kyselivka. Ukraine appears to be currently pressing in at this point, hitting towns like Bohordytske, which is part of Russia’s primary line.
When it comes to Kyselivka, it seems there is still no one there. Russia has left, Ukraine hasn’t come in. Something similar seems to be happening at Klapaya, where Russia forces are streaming away, with no sign that Ukraine is taking their place. Maybe this is a sign that Russia is repositioning forces closer to the city, but so far that only seems to be happening at this one spot.
Okay, now we get to the weirdness. The Ukrainian command has announced that its forces have moved into Sofiivka. See Sofiivka? It’s way down there at the bottom. And way over in the red.
Russia has another of its heavily fortified (i.e., lots of trenches, lots of mines, lots of pre-built pillboxes) at Tomyna Balka. Despite a false report from CNN as the Kharkiv counteroffensive was breaking loose, Ukraine doesn’t seem to have seriously threatened Tomyna Balka.
And yet … there they are at Sofiivka. Or at least, so says the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
How did they get there? It would have to be a cross-country trip. But then, the area is flat as a pancake and there are no villages between area held by Ukraine and that position at Sofiivka. So apparently they just got in their armored carriers, or possibly tanks, and headed across the country to grab this spot.
If Ukraine actually holds Sofiivka, it puts enormous pressure on the towns of Stanislav and Shyroka Balka in that southern tip of the area. Ukraine was already pressing in from Oleksandrivka on the west, but holding this area seemed almost impossible without cover and with too easy access from both sides.
Maybe this is Ukraine’s answer to the “who has Oleksandrivka today?” problem. If Ukraine can actually take the whole coastal region around to Sofiivka, that whole southern area might be more defensible. It also puts them on the flank of all that digging in Russia has down at Tomyna Balka.
Whatever the immediate goal, the positioning of forces at Sofiivka is daring—and possibly represents a heating up of the counteroffensive in Kherson.
Remember how, all the way back about … 12 hours ago? When I was talking about how Ukrainian forces had apparently pulled back behind the Oskil River, and as a result Kupyansk was split down the middile?
This makes it difficult to believe that the river will long remain an effective boundary to Ukraine’s eastward push.
A few updates on the situation in Kharkiv (you’ll need to do the “open in another tab” bit to see all these locations). Multiple reports indicate that Ukraine has in fact liberated the towns of Studenok and Sosnove southwest of Lyman. Ukrainian forces have reportedly pressed forward and struck Russian troops at Rubtsi. In the same area, there are some reports that Yarova has been liberated, but this is not yet confirmed.
Further north, as seen in the tweet above, Ukraine has successfully crossed the river at Kupyansk and taken the eastern half of that city. There are also reports that Ukrainian forces have advanced some distance south along the eastern bank of the Oskil.
And at the very top of the map, there are reports of Ukrainian troops making another river crossing at Dvorichna, possibly liberating a pair of villages on the east side of the river.
So far, the Oskil River is seeming like a very porous, and temporary boundary. There are reports again that Russian forces are moving back to a new line, one that runs north-south through Svatove. But this would, if anything, be even less defensible than current positions. Take this news with a whole shaker of salt.
There are multiple videos up on Twitter and elsewhere showing mass graves around Izyum, one of which seems to be mostly civilians, and another Russian troops shot for reasons not yet understood.
My advice: Don’t go looking for these. I’m seen a lot of awful things on the screen during this invasion. I didn’t last thirty seconds this time.