Ukraine looks to be gambling on a hard fight across a key river to kick-start its struggling counteroffensive

  • Ukraine's troops have been conducting operations on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River across from Kherson.

  • A Ukrainian official confirmed on Monday that troops had established a "foothold" in the area.

  • But progress is slow, as Ukraine's soldiers are outnumbered and face stiff Russian resistance.

Ukrainian troops have crossed the Dnipro River, a natural barrier that has been working to Russia's advantage, and appear to be making a risky play to kick-start a struggling counteroffensive.

But while the progress could be promising, Ukraine's grip on the area, which includes a few villages around the eastern bank of the Dnipro, is anything but firm. Ukrainian troops hunker in hastily made trenches, facing stiff defenses and overwhelming numbers of Russian forces, recent reporting indicates.

During a visit to Washington, D.C. on Monday, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak confirmed troops had established a presence on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, with smaller groups reinforcing a larger Ukrainian operation there.

Ukrainian forces had gained a "foothold" on the left bank of the Dnipro, he said. It was the first public acknowledgement of Ukraine's movement across the Dnipro, but there had been unconfirmed reports of the operation, as well as pictures and videos of Ukrainian soldiers crossing the river, in the days prior.

On Wednesday, Vladimir Saldo, a Russian-installed governor in a part of occupied Kherson, acknowledged that small groups of Ukrainian troops had crossed the river and spread out over a 12-mile area including the region's railway bridge and the Krynky village but said they only numbered around one and a half companies.

"Our additional forces have now been brought in. The enemy is trapped in Krynky and a fiery hell has been arranged for him: bombs, rockets, heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells and drones," Saldo said, according to a Reuters translation of his remarks.

The goal of the Ukrainian operations appears to be to amass a larger number of infantry and armored vehicles in the area, allowing Ukraine to strike Russian forces and push into territory where defenses are less extensive and fortified. As the AP noted in a report Wednesday, Ukraine could possibly outflank Russia and relieve pressure on Ukrainian forces in Zaporizhzhia to achieve a breakthrough.

But building up that offensive and maintaining momentum is proving to be a daunting challenge.

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 123rd Territorial Defense Brigade stands guard on a position next to the Dnipro River, in an undisclosed location in the Kherson region, on November 6, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A Ukrainian serviceman of the 123rd Territorial Defense Brigade stands guard on a position next to the Dnipro River, in an undisclosed location in the Kherson region, on November 6, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.ROMAN PILIPEY/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian soldiers confirmed the dire situation to The Wall Street Journal, saying they were hiding in the basements of wrecked houses and trenches while Russian artillery and drones constantly fired and buzzed above them. One private in Ukraine's 38th Marine Brigade who'd been across the river since the start of November said Ukraine's forces were vastly outnumbered. "For every fighter we have there, they have 10," they said.

Krynky, an area where Ukraine managed to position forces, is a little more than 18 miles northeast of Kherson, which Ukraine successfully recaptured last November in a major blow to Russia. Whether or not the gains translate into larger movements remains to be seen. An expert who recently returned from Ukraine told the Journal that "we need to be realistic about what can be achieved here."

Ukrainian activity on the other side of the Dnipro is Kyiv's latest play in its counteroffensive, which has slowed down in recent weeks as the conflict settles into a kind of stalemate. Earlier in the offensive, Ukraine made some promising advances in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, breaking through parts of the formidable Surovikin Line. There was hope they would be able to open an area wide enough to push down to the Sea of Azov, splitting Russian occupied territory.

But operations in Zaporizhzhia eventually stalled, and while Ukraine has maintained offensive activity in a few key areas along the front lines, little territory is being regained.

In the lull, Russia has launched new offensives, but it too is struggling to gain new ground. In Avdiivka, Russian troops have amassed a major force, largely surrounding the Ukrainian defenders, but they've suffered staggering vehicle and tank losses over the past month.

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