Ukrainian forces advance in southern Ukraine

Ukrainian forces advance in southern Ukraine

Ukrainian troops liberate Khreshchenivka.

Photo of the Ukrainian army

Just a day after the liberation of Lyman, a key supply hub for Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian forces are also moving south. As in Lyman, Russian troops are increasingly cut off from supplies – and acutely threatened with encirclement.

With each successive phase of their dual counteroffensive that began a month ago in the south and east, the Ukrainians are refining a strategy to defeat a Russian army larger on paper along many sectors of the frontline.

That strategy requires patience, discipline and precision, three qualities that define Ukrainian operations as Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine enters its eighth month.

The Ukrainians first use long-range missiles to sever Russian supply lines and disrupt command, then scan the Russian defenses for weaknesses before exploiting those weaknesses and penetrating into Russian rear areas, triggering a rout that begins with the retreat the Russians made vast swathes ending territory and abandoning enormous amounts of usable equipment.

Ukraine’s Operational Command South began its counter-logistics campaign back in May, shortly after receiving new American howitzers and highly mobile wheeled artillery-missile systems. For more than three months, the Ukrainians targeted bridges, railroads, supply dumps and command centers in and around Kherson, a strategic Black Sea port anchoring Russian-held Kherson territory between the Inhulets and Dnipro rivers.

The Russian 49th Combined Arms Army in Kherson began to buckle. Desperate to hold the oblast – and eventually incorporate it into Russia proper – the Kremlin rushed reinforcements from east to south. This thinned out Russian defenses east of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.

In the last days of August and the first days of September, the Ukrainians took advantage of the imbalance in the Russian army. Ukrainian brigades attacked east of Kharkiv and south towards Kherson. The eastern counterattack quickly liberated more than a thousand square miles of eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region and created conditions for Ukrainian forces to advance into the separatist Luhansk Oblast.

The southern counteroffensive was slower and more costly for Ukraine – and it’s obvious why. “Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson,” according to the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, DC explained. Russian President Vladimir Putin “downgrades the priority of defending Luhansk Oblast in favor of holding occupied territories in southern Ukraine.”

Southern Ukraine is flat, largely treeless and riddled with water hazards. It’s unfortunate terrain for any attacker. The drumbeat of Ukrainian losses in the south — dozens of trucks, combat vehicles and tanks, and even a priceless Su-24 bomber — underscored the intensity of the fighting.

But the Russians seemed to be losing more men and equipment than the Ukrainians. And perhaps more importantly, the Ukrainian supply lines to the south were intact, while the Russian supply lines were frayed under relentless attacks from Ukrainian rocket launchers and gunners.

It took Ukrainian forces longer to break through Russian lines in the south than in the east. This breakthrough is said to have taken place on Sunday. Videos from the front confirm the arrival of Ukrainian troops Zolota Balka and Khreshchenivka, on the right bank of the three miles wide river Dnipro. There were reports that the Ukrainians had advanced to Dudchany and were driving Russian troops to Beryslav.

If confirmed, it means the Ukrainians have invaded as much as 15 miles into territory the Russians held as recently as last week. Worse for the Russians, the Ukrainians are able to encircle Russian units on the western side of the Dnipro, eventually trapping them between Ukrainian positions and the broad river. “Not a good place for them [Russians] be,” pondered Mark Hertling, a retired US Army general.

The envelopment leads to disaster for the encased forces. Consider what happened in Lyman last week. Ukrainian brigades surrounded the city from three directions. When the Russian garrison retreated at Lyman, they had only one way out – along a narrow road to the east. But the road was within range of Ukrainian guns. There is ample evidence that the Russians suffered heavy casualties during the evacuation.

Whether the Russian army in the south suffers a similar disaster depends on how much fighting power Ukraine’s Task Force South has in reserve, whether the Russians have their own reserves in the area, and whether Putin will allow commanders in the south to withdraw before the situation becomes untenable.

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