Russia has begun withdrawing troops across a key river to escape a Ukrainian counter-offensive, officials claimed yesterday.
Vitaliy Kim, the Ukrainian governor of Mykolaiv district, said the entire Russian command staff was retreating from the west bank of the Dnipro, which flows through the occupied city of Kherson in the south-east.
If confirmed, that would leave an estimated 20,000 or more Russian soldiers isolated from their commanders and cut off from supply lines by the half-mile-wide river, where the main bridges have been damaged by Ukrainian missile attacks.
“I feel just a bit sorry – but not much – for the stupid orcs who had been abandoned on the right bank of the Dnipro,” Mr Kim said in a message posted to the Telegram social media app, using his favoured derogatory term for Russian soldiers.
“All of the commanders are moving to the other side.”
Early in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces surged north from the annexed Crimean Peninsula and quickly seized territory to connect with separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.
They also advanced westwards, hoping to link up with pro-Russian separatists in Moldova, creating a land bridge that would entirely cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea.
While Russian forces seized Kherson, the only regional capital to have fallen in the invasion, their advance halted east of Mykolaiv, leaving a vulnerable pocket of Russian-controlled territory sandwiched between front lines, the wide Dnipro river to the east and the Black Sea to the south.
Since then, Ukrainian forces have repeatedly targeted the bridges across which nearly all Russian resupplies must pass.
Video of explosions shared online yesterday suggested the Antonovsky bridge in Kherson’s suburbs had been targeted again on Saturday night, while Ukrainian forces reported striking another bridge on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam again on Saturday, reportedly rendering it impassable for heavy vehicles.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that the two main road bridges to the Russian-controlled pocket “are now probably out of use for the purposes of substantial military resupply”.
Regional official Sergey Khlan told Ukrainian television that the only way for Russian soldiers to cross the river was by using pontoons near the Antonovsky bridge and said that “cannot totally meet their needs”.
Russia was moving its command centres to the left bank of the river knowing that they would struggle to evacuate them if fighting escalated, he added.
While the bridges remain passable on foot, their inability to handle heavy traffic could spell eventual defeat for Russian troops west of the Dnipro, according to the Institute for the Study of War.
“Russian forces on the west bank of the Dnipro will probably lose the ability to defend themselves against even limited Ukrainian counter-attacks,” it said in an analysis.
“Bringing ammunition, fuel and heavy equipment sufficient for offensive or even large-scale defensive operations across pontoon ferries, or by air, is impractical if not impossible.”
In a bid to relieve pressure, Russian forces may be increasing attacks northeast in the Donbas region in a bid to divert the attention of Ukrainian forces preparing a major counter-offensive in southern Ukraine.
Russia’s priority over the past week had probably been to re-orient units to strengthen its faltering campaign in southern Ukraine, the British MoD said yesterday.
Russian-backed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in the Donbas continued to attempt assaults to the north of Donetsk city, according to the intelligence update.
Ukraine’s military command on Saturday said “fierce fighting” continued in Pisky, an eastern village which Russia had earlier said it had full control over. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)