The Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kherson region has achieved its objective: pushing Russian forces from the western bank of the Dnipro River. The Russian Defense Ministry’s announcement of a troop withdrawal from the city represents the biggest organized retreat of Kremlin military personnel since the successful defense of Kyiv in the early stages of the invasion. Ukrainian forces initiated an offensive campaign in August with the aim of expelling occupying troops from the Kherson area without the need for a direct, large-scale confrontation on the front lines. A strategy of attacks against supply depots, logistics centers and staging areas for Russian troops has made the situation untenable for the occupying forces, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The US think tank views the Ukrainian offensive as being well-planned and executed, leaving Russian forces with few options other than staging massive ground attacks in response or retreating, which the current evidence appears to suggest is the case. An Armed Forces of Ukraine spokesman said on Thursday that Kyiv has not yet been able to confirm the Russian withdrawal from Kherson but added that Ukrainian troops had advanced more than four miles on the front over the past 24 hours, liberating 12 towns and villages.
Kherson is the only provincial capital captured by Russia since the Kremlin launched its invasion on February 24. The battle for control of the region, though, is far from being concluded. According to the ISW, the withdrawal from Kherson is an indicator that a new phase has begun, in which Moscow will concentrate on an organized and controlled retreat instead of attempting to stop the Ukrainian counter-offensive altogether.
Ukrainian forces have been targeting supply depots and ammunition dumps on the eastern bank of the Dnipro for several months, where Russian forces occupied strong defensive positions. The combination of these strikes, the ISW notes, with attacks directed against bridges that allowed the occupying forces to cross the Dnipro, has made the continued supply of food and weapons to the troops in Kherson unviable, leading to the Russian withdrawal from the western side of the river.
Kyiv has so far remained tight-lipped about the developing military situation and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged caution and avoided triumphalism. Russian commanders will now attempt to slow the Ukrainian advance to carry out the troop withdrawal to a successful conclusion and the ISW has ruled out the possibility of a ruse on the part of Moscow designed to trap Kyiv’s forces in an ambush.
Images analyzed by the ISW show that retreating Russian troops have destroyed bridges around the city of Snihurivka, to the north of Kherson, which points to a controlled retreat as opposed to what occurred when Moscow’s forces were pushed out of Kharkiv in September, leaving behind vast stockpiles of weapons, equipment and ammunition.
Previous Days | October 18
Russia is seeking to sow panic among the civilian population in Ukraine with attacks using drones. These Iranian-made devices, known as suicide or kamikaze drones due to their single-use deployment, have been used in attacks on Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia on Monday and Tuesday, and have also targeted other cities across Ukraine including Vinnytsia, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv. Attacks on civilian targets and energy supply installations are in line with Moscow’s recent strategy of creating a state of psychological terror among Ukraine’s population with strikes that are of no military advantage, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Since October 10, Russian air strikes have turned their attention away from the front lines and the Ukrainian counter-offensive to target civilian and infrastructure objectives with the aim of cutting off power as winter sets in. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched this latest offensive in retaliation for the partial destruction of the Kerch Bridge, the only land link between Russia and the illegally annexed Crimea region. Kyiv has described Moscow’s tactic as a war crime and has called on the international community to provide the Armed Forces of Ukraine with more air defense systems to counter Russian missiles and drones.
Yuriy Ignat, spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Forces, said on Monday that of 43 drones launched by Russian forces against targets in southern Ukraine, 37 had been shot down. However, five unmanned Shahed-136 drones hit Kyiv on Monday, killing at least three people and injuring 20 more in strikes on an office building and an apartment block.
Russian strikes have targeted some 40% of Ukraine’s power grid and caused outages in major cities including Lviv. However, Ukrainian state energy company Ukrenergo has been working around the clock to patch up the damage and keep the electricity supply flowing. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian attacks has caused “massive power cuts” and described the bombing campaign as “another type of terrorist attacks.” Power supply to thousands of residents in the northern city of Zhytomyr was cut off and further attacks targeted electrical facilities in Kyiv and an apartment block in Mykolaiv.
According to the ISW, Russian attacks against essential infrastructure are designed to cause damage and result in civilian deaths but carry no military value other than spreading panic and suffering among non-combatants. Moscow is now using this tactic and bombing non-military objectives in cities across the country at the same time as Ukrainian forces are making progress on the eastern and southern fronts.
“The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us,” Zelenskiy said Monday on social media.
The Russian army on Monday attacked the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, where missiles have killed at least five people and wounded a dozen more, according to the police. The projectiles hit the city center and the headquarters of the Ministry of Education, among other targets. The attack on the Ukrainian capital, the first in the city since June, took place a day after Moscow accused Ukraine of causing the explosion on Saturday that partially destroyed the Kerch bridge, the only road link between Russia and the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy on Monday accused Moscow of wishing to sow “chaos and panic” by targeting civilian facilities. On the messaging service Telegram, he said Russia “wants to erase Ukraine from the map.” Russian President Vladimir Putin responded during a meeting of the Kremlin’s security council that further attacks would be launched if any other infrastructure or installations on what Moscow considers Russian soil are targeted by Kiev.
Zelenskiy also announced that he had been in contact with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron in the aftermath of the attacks, with the three heads of state agreeing on the need to convene an emergency meeting of the G7, which is slated to take place as early as Tuesday. “I have agreed with Chancellor Scholz, who holds the presidency of the G7, on an urgent meeting of the group,” Zelenskiy wrote.
Meanwhile, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has accused Kyiv of preparing an “attack” against his country and announced the formation of a joint military group with Russia in response to an “escalation of tensions” on the borders with the West. Zelenskiy said on Telegram that 83 missiles also fell in 12 other regions, including Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Sumy and Zaporizhzhia. This latter city has been under constant attacks in recent weeks: at least 13 people died on Sunday in a bomb attack against a residential area, and 20 more the previous Thursday. In late September, 30 people died in an attack against a caravan of civilian evacuees in areas occupied by the Kremlin. By midday on Monday, when air raid sirens were still sounding over Kyiv, the death toll in the latest attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets had risen to 11, with 64 people wounded.
These attacks can be viewed as the Kremlin’s response to its most critical moment since it launched the military campaign last February. For the past month, Russian troops have been withdrawing on the southern and eastern fronts as Ukrainian forces push forward. Moscow has been forced in recent weeks to mobilize tens of thousands of reservists to stop the successful counter-offensive by Kiev. Over the past month, the Ukrainian army has regained control of large tracts of land in the eastern and southern parts of the country. In the east, Russian defensive lines occupying large parts of the Kharkiv region collapsed in September, leaving even Lyman, a railway junction essential to the occupation, in Ukrainian hands. The front line is now close to the administrative border of Luhansk, one of the two separatist regions that form the Donbas region.
Another region where Kremlin troops have suffered a setback at the hands of the defenders is Kherson, under Moscow’s control since the beginning of the invasion and one of the four regions illegally annexed by Putin recently. The Ukrainians managed to penetrate the Kremlin’s defense lines in the direction of the Dnipro River in early October, and forced the invading forces to retreat.
Previous days | October 3
In the past two days, the Ukrainian army regained control over large tracts of land in the east and south of the country. The advance of Kyiv’s troops was documented both around the eastern city of Lyman, a crucial railway junction for the Russian occupation, and in the southern region of Kherson.
In Lyman, Ukrainian forces continued to advance eastwards towards the border of Luhansk, one of the four provinces illegally annexed last week by Russia, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Russian troops withdrew from Lyman over the weekend after being encircled by Ukrainian forces. Based on geo-referenced images, it can be inferred that Ukrainian soldiers are heading towards the town of Kreminna.
According to the ISW, the Russian troops deployed in Lyman were largely made up of what were considered elite units of the Russian army prior to the start of the war. Their apparent inability to hold defensive lines in the face of Ukraine’s forces seems to indicate that even the best-trained units are suffering from war fatigue. Images collected by the ISW show Kyiv forces in at least six towns along the eastern front that were under Russian control.
The ISW believes elite Russian army units were also deployed in Kherson, another area where Ukrainian troops have made gains. The city has been under Moscow’s control since nearly the beginning of the invasion, and was also illegally annexed by Russia last Friday. The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that Ukrainian forces had broken through the Kremlin’s defensive positions near Dudchany, a town on the Dnipro River, and pushed its troops back to a new line. According to the ISW, Ukrainian sources are keeping quiet about their operations in the area.
Ukraine recaptured the important hub town of Lyman on Saturday. The town, located about 108 miles (175 km) south of Kharkiv, had been the scene of intense fighting following Ukraine’s counter-offensive, which was launched at the beginning of September.
Losing control of this town is a major blow for Moscow, which on Friday illegally annexed four occupied Ukrainian provinces: Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the borders of the territories annexed by Russia had not yet been defined, stating just that the so-called people’s republics of Luhansk and Donetsk proclaimed independence in 2014. For Russia, Lyman’s role as a railway junction has been key in transporting supplies to troops deployed in eastern Ukraine.
By taking control of Lyman, Kyiv has regained an important communications hub, which it can use as a base to launch attacks on Russian-controlled towns in Luhansk.
In the south of the country, in the provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, the front line remained stable on Saturday, despite constant fighting. In Zaporizhzhia, at least 30 people were killed, and 88 others wounded in a missile attack on a civilian convoy. Kyiv blamed the attack on Moscow, which in turn said Ukraine was at fault. It is the largest single civilian fatality count of the war since the massacre at the Kramatorsk train station in Donetsk on April 8, which left more than 50 people dead.
Ukraine’s forces on Wednesday continued to attack towns controlled by Russia in eastern Ukraine. The two sides have been fighting for control of territories located on the borders of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Moscow-backed, pro-Russian separatists declared two independent people’s republics in 2014.
Ukrainian troops have taken control of Bilohorivka, a small town in the Luhansk region, said the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). In response to Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive, which has liberated many cities, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial military mobilization following recent setbacks in his war against Ukraine.
Russian troops on the Donbas front have been trying to secure defensive positions against the Ukrainian advance, and are also maintaining ground attacks, particularly in the cities of Donetsk and Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region.
Fighting has also been taking place is the Kherson region, in the south, which has been under Russian control since the first weeks of the offensive.
The Ukrainian army has been trying to extend the counteroffensive it launched over a week ago to towns in Donetsk and Luhansk, two regions in the eastern Donbas where pro-Russian separatists, with support from Moscow, proclaimed independent people’s republics in 2014. Oleksii Arestovych, one of President Volodymir Zelenskiy’s advisers, said in a video on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops were trying to retake the Donetsk town of Lyman, about 175 kilometers south of Kharkiv (which was recaptured 10 days ago).
“An assault on Lyman is going on right now,” Arestovych asserted, adding that troops were also trying to reclaim territory in the neighboring Luhansk, both under Russian control. Several military bloggers following the war reported that Russian forces were defending themselves against Ukrainian attacks in Lyman, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The successful counteroffensive launched in the northeast of the country in the last week has allowed the Ukrainian army to recapture about 8,500 square kilometers since September 6, according to Kyiv. Troops are still working to consolidate their control over the areas recaptured in the last days in the northeastern province of Kharkiv, according to a UK intelligence report from Thursday.
The ISW considers that the recapture of Izyum, in the Kharkiv region, has dealt a severe blow to Russia’s ability to carry out artillery attacks in the area, as it was being used as a base to hold the line of defense on the Donbas border. This organization believes that Russian forces have been unable to erect a new line of defense from which to hold their positions in the area, and said the remaining units have retreated to other flanks.
The northwest, however, is not the only battle zone. In the southern Kherson region, under Russian control since the beginning of the conflict, fighting has also been raging in recent days. The sustained counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces in Kherson is damaging Russia’s combat capability in the area, the ISW says.
September 12 | Recapturing Kharkiv
The recent counteroffensive launched by Ukraine has forced Russian forces to abandon their positions in the eastern region of Kharkiv, which borders Russia and is the gateway to the coveted Russian-speaking Donbas region. The rapid counteroffensive has inflicted a “major operational defeat on Russia,” according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). In the face of the Ukrainian advance, Moscow has ordered its forces to withdraw from the entire Kharkiv region to the east of the Oskil River, according to British intelligence, meaning Russia’s troops have been pushed back to Donbas.
The withdrawal order on the eastern fringe – which represents the biggest withdrawal of Moscow’s troops since the army pulled back from the outskirts of Kyiv – is an unparalleled military success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. By regaining of control of the key city of Izyum, Ukraine has dealt a severe blow to Moscow’s goal to control Donetsk, one of the two breakaway regions that make up the northern Donbas axis. Russia used Izyum as its westernmost post to launch attacks on Donetsk, according to the ISW. The report from ISW is supported by the latest update of the Russian Defense Ministry’s map of the conflict, which reflects the withdrawal of troops. When Kyiv announced that it was planning operations against Russian forces in Kherson, in the south of the country, Russia moved its troops away from the areas that were hit by the Ukrainian counteroffensive on the weekend.
According to the ISW, Russian forces are “not conducting a controlled withdrawal and are hurriedly fleeing southeastern Kharkiv Oblast.” The US organization reported that images shared on social media, showed abandoned tanks and military equipment near Izyum, indicating that the Kremlin’s forces were trying to escape the encirclement of the city.
According to the ISW, the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive means that Ukraine can choose where the next battles will take place – unless Moscow finds a way to regain the upper hand. The counteroffensive, however, will not end the war, warns the organization, as Russia is likely to build a new defensive line. The ISW report indicates the war in Ukraine is set to last another year.