All eyes on Kherson as Ukraine tightens the noose

All eyes on Kherson as Ukraine tightens the noose

July 30, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

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A Ukrainian soldier somewhere on the front lines. Looks like Kharkiv region

After a flurry of activity the last few days, things have settled down, if by “settled down” we mean “back to HIMARS systematically degrading Russia’s ability to wage its war.” Last night, the Russian-occupied cities of Ilovaisk, Nova Kakhovka, Brylivka, and Kherson all enjoyed dramatic fireworks displays at the expense of a great deal of Russian ammunition.

Illovaisk is a valuable railway hub for Russian logistics in Donetsk oblast, about 40 kilometers from the front lines. 

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This ammo dump might’ve been feeding Russian artillery currently pounding Avdiivka, north west of Donetsk on the this map. Too bad, for Russia, they’re going to have to push out those ammo dumps even further away from the front lines. 

Ilovaisk was also the location of the bloodiest day in Ukraine’s 2014 war, where treacherous Russians offered surrounded Ukrainian troops a “green corridor” to withdraw, then opened fire.

Negotiations were going on and a humanitarian corridor was being prepared for them to leave, they were told, and yet their withdrawal was repeatedly postponed.

Then, on the morning of 29 August 2014, came the command to gather and leave Ilovaisk in two columns […]

They began to move, they passed the first ring of encirclement smoothly but within a few kilometres their column came under fire.

“It was just a shooting range and we were the targets,” he said […]

According to official Ukrainian data, 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Ilovaisk battle.

The true figure may be at least 400, when you include soldiers registered missing or unidentified by their relatives.

The other three targets were all in Kherson Oblast, where Ukraine continues to shape the battlefield in preparation for a promised offensive that some say has already begun. Ukrainian presidential advisor Aleksey Arestovych clearly laid out the strategy

There won’t be a single day, when you will be able to tell, that it had started. In a way – it already has started. It will be accurate destruction of Russian forces top-down, starting from operational, then operational-tactical, then tactical levels. Decisive forces – artillery (guided 155mm shells) , rocket artillery (HIMARS), aviation.

Ukraine will not throw solders in one large assault, they will first make sure Russia has no fuel, no ammo, no command, only then approach with infantry. Of course, there will be manoeuvres, forcing Russia to respond and deploy defence. This is not yet NATO level, when most damage can be done remotely, but close to that. Most emphasis is on remote fire, isolation of battlefields, and incremental destruction.
Ukrainian objective is for its infantry to encounter weakened Russian forces without supplies, fuel, ammo, command.

Russia shapes the battlefield by leveling everything in its path with artillery. The United States and NATO do so using aircraft to establish air superiority, then supporting infantry by surgically targeting and suppressing defenses from the air.

Ukraine doesn’t have the aircraft, and has no interest in leveling its own cities and killing civilians. So this is their version—using HIMARS and 155mm precision guided munitions to eliminate Russia’s ammo, fuel, supplies, and commanders, then denying them the ability to either resupply or retreat. Civilian partisans inside Kherson city and other defensive zones will feed target coordinates to Ukrainian artillery, allowing the erosion of those defenses from afar. Russia’s response will be their usual “spray it” style of artillery … until they run out of shells. No barge can keep hungry howitzers fed for long, and given the daily reports out of Kherson oblast, that Russian artillery is still blasting away. Here’s is last night’s report from Ukrainian General Staff. (The “South Buh” is Kherson oblast, referring to the South Bug river which flows down from Poland, around Mykolaiv, and into the Black Sea.)

In the South Buh direction, shelling from tanks, barrel and rocket artillery was recorded in the areas of the settlements of Ivanivka, Tokarevo, Kariyerne, Osokorivka, Blahodatne, Kobzartsi, Chervona Dolyna, Lepetiha, Andriivka, Velyke Artakove, Vesely Kut, Partyzanske, Shevchenko, Myrne, Shyroke , Prybuzke, Luch, Posad-Pokrovske, Lyubomyrivka, Stepova Dolyna, Tavriyske and Oleksandrivka. The enemy carried out airstrikes near Velike Artakove, Bilohirka and Potemkino.

That’s a lot of shelling. No one’s told them the bridges are out? Hopefully they burn through their entire ammo supply ASAP. Ukrainian infantry won’t be able to push forward until Russian guns run empty. When that happens, Russian defenders will have three choices—swim across a river in retreat, leaving equipment behind, surrender, or die for the dumbest stupid reason. Either option A or B will start looking really good before long. 

None of this is breaking news, but Ukraine needs Kherson. It was the first real city to fall, the only regional capital in Russian hands since the start of this phase of the war. It was captured through treachery and treason. And while Russia isn’t pushing through to Odesa and Transnistria (in Moldova) anytime soon, its control and current efforts to annex the region feeds into Putin’s grand delusions. 

Militarily, taking Kherson would pull this entire chunk of territory out of the war, allowing Ukraine to reposition forces in Zaporizhzhia oblast:

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It would further cut off a major supply route from Crimea, leaving Russians between Nova Kakhovka and Melitopol reliant on a single route from Crimea (which Ukraine will sever) and from a single rail line from the east which Ukraine can cut at Tokmak

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Green lines are rail lines.

Taking Kherson would crush Putin’s grand delusions about Novorossiya (New Russia) stripping Ukraine of its entire Black Sea coast (and thus its main economic connection to the world). Crimea itself would be in danger of once again losing its water supply at Nova Kakhovka. 

Ukraine would earn the ultimate propaganda victory, one that might break Russian support for the war. Arestovych noted that “Russian public opinions are going insane, seems like everyone got permission to write bad news.” Pro-Russian military bloggers are certainly voicing fierce criticisms of the war effort, and are themselves mocking Russian claims of “diversions” and “good will gestures” to explain away humiliating retreats. 

“The first Ukrainian victory will be hard, but when it happens (and it will happen), the fall of Russia will be terrible,” Arestovych further predicted. “All Russian [morale] holds on them being able to exert pressure, when it stops, Russians would start questioning – why did we lost 50k solders, if land can be lost like that?”

Russia’s is gasping out a few last efforts in Donbas, but they are struggling to take small hamlets en route to more heavily fortified towns and cities. It won’t be long before their efforts “culminate,” that is, they run out of energy for offensive operations and dig in to defend what they’ve taken. 

Russia’s best bet is to hunker down, defend their territory at all cost, and then sue for “peace,” a cease-fire that would lock their gains indefinitely into place. Then they’d hope for one of two things—Ukraine’s own counteroffensive efforts sputter, and both sides stalemate, exhausted and depleted, or Russia holds out into the winter when energy extortion might push skittish Europeans to demand a cease fire. Don’t blame the Europeans, we saw here how people lost their minds over a trip of cloth. Heck, Republicans are hoping that $5 gas is enough to win them the midterm elections. We are not a resilient people.

As for Ukraine, it has already functionally surrounded Kherson. It’s now a matter of how much punishment the Russian garrison will suffer before waving the white flag.

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The last couple of days I’ve been trying to determine the status of Pasika, a small settlement in the Izyum approach toward Sloviansk. The town is adjacent to an important pontoon river crossing—now gone—that was supplying attacks on Bohorodychne. 

There is nothing particularly strategic about either Pasika or Bohorodynche (which has a story I will get around to telling someday soon). It is interesting mostly because of rumors that the Russian garrison at the river crossing looted the two towns opposite the river and hightailed it out of there. But there have been conflicting reports, including from Ukrainian General Staff, over what’s going on, so I’m still looking for closure. Yesterday’s General Staff reports (morning and evening) didn’t mention any of those towns for the first time in a while, so that wasn’t helpful. 

The OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) crowd is similarly confused. DefMon made his call:

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Bohorodychne wasn’t quite fully occupied—Russians had the heights on one side, Ukraine had the heights on the other side. I really need to write the story of that town. It’s as great a story as Dovhen’ke. But regardless, seems clear that if the status of Pasika is contested, then all of Bohorodychne is likely cleansed of its Russian presence.

This isn’t as exciting a conclusion as “Russians are fleeing their posts,” or “Russians are being pulled from Izyum to support other fronts.” But it’s militarily the best possible outcome. We want Russians strung out and weak everywhere. Every Russian stuck in Izyum, on a front that hasn’t moved in 2-3 months, is a Russian that isn’t moving forward in Donbas, or reinforcing Kherson defenses (or those of Nova Kakhovka, Melitopol, etc). 

But wait … what’s this? 

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This is four updates in a row in which I used photos of female Ukrainian soldiers to illustrate the update, while taking care not to gender the caption. Ukraine claims around 40,000 women bravely serving in combat roles in the war effort, and I want the focus on their service. 

I find it particularly salient given American conservative hostility toward women serving in our military. People like Ted Cruz praising the supposed manliness of the Russian army, while claiming ours is weak because of “woke culture.” Ukraine puts that bullshit to bed, not just with the women serving in its ranks, but with gay soldiers very publicly sewing unicorn patches on their uniforms to denote their pride. 

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To hell with any conservatives who impugn anyone’s service as somehow less effective or honorable than white straight men. 



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