Taking out the Dnipro River bridges creates opportunities that go way beyond KhersonJuly 29, 2022
Ukraine has launched long-range artillery or HIMARS rockets into the Antonivskyi Bridge east of Kherson for a third night in a row, causing additional damage and closing the bridge to any kind of vehicular traffic. At Darivka, east of Kherson, the bridge across the Inhulets River that connects the city to traffic coming across the Kakhovka Bridge is also down, and the pontoon bridge which Russia had constructed there appears to be completely gone. The Kakhovka Bridge does not appear to have been subject to additional attacks on Wednesday evening, but was already likely impassable to heavy equipment and large trucks.
Russia is constructing an elaborate concoction of pontoons and barges, meant to span the 1km wide Dnipro River near the damaged Antonivskyi Bridge, but the idea that it will ever serve as a means of passage for significant levels of equipment or supplies seems laughable—not to mention that the entire effort seems like an open invitation to test the accuracy of Ukraine’s latest weapons. Russia still doesn’t seem to have gotten the message that, with GPS-guided shells and HIMARS rockets, Ukraine can actually hit whatever they aim for, rather than just spraying shells around a field.
The impassability of the Kakhovka Bridge can be seen in the extraordinary efforts Russia is taking to bring equipment across at that location. Russia has built a makeshift floating structure using segments of pontoon bridging, which is being towed across the river as an ersatz ferry. But each crossing of the river takes well over two hours, plus the time necessary to load or unload the “ferry” at each end.
As kos covered on Wednesday, military blogger Def Mon did the math on just what it will take for Russian forces on the west side of the Dnipro to stay in the game now that they’ve been effectively cut off from resupply. The answer comes out to around 225 supply trucks’ worth of ammunition, parts, and military expendables each day—and that’s assuming that the Russians are able to locate food and other personal needs without having it shipped across the river.
If Russia wants to keep these troops supplied without the major bridges, they’ll need to have at least four barges running around the clock. Targeting those barges in transit might be a challenge, even for HIMARS—but then, they don’t have to. Russia will have to locate landing sites on both sides of the river that give them access to unload trucks and vehicles. There are not a lot of these places. And those landing spots would instantly become locations for long queues of vehicles—and subject to the kind of bombardment that turned Russia’s attempted river crossing at Bilohorkivka into such a massive disaster. Right now, the only place Russia is even attempting to float equipment across is at Kakhovka, and that still leaves everything some 50km away from Kherson, with another downed bridge in between.
Even that assumption that Russian forces on the west side of the Dnipro River will also take care of their own food and other supplies is important because, while yes, these forces are located in towns and cities where they can find all they need, at least in the short term, armies in the field which do not have a steady stream of supplies headed their way are forced to devote a good percentage of their manpower and time to foraging. Even when that means taking over the local grocery store rather than dragging livestock out of fields, it’s just another logistical challenge for an army that is logistically challenged just rolling down the street.
Russia might also try to airlift supplies to its forces in Kherson oblast, but that’s likely to be limited to what can be ferried across the river in helicopters. The large airport at Kherson long ago came in range of Ukrainian guns, forcing Russia to relocate all aircraft out of the area, and the runway there is in no condition to allow the landing of a large plane.
If Ukraine can keep the bridges across the Dnipro inoperable—and there’s no reason to think they can’t—Russia will be going into each day of the conflict in Kherson oblast with less than the day before. Less equipment. Less materiel. Fewer troops. But even as Russia attempts to get extra equipment into Kherson in anticipation of a coming onslaught, there’s another big advantage Ukraine gains by taking down those bridges: Russian forces also have a hard time getting out of Kherson.
Multiple analysts have pointed out that Russia seems to have trouble operating in more than one or two locations at a time. Their well-known issues with both logistics and command mean that even their grind-it-out-in-spite-of-heavy-losses strategy requires moving around troops to create a concentration of force. With the closing of those bridges, whatever force Russia manages to get into Kherson, is not easily, or quickly, coming out. They can’t load those troops onto trains and use them to bolster a new attack in the Donbas, or even run that equipment back into Zaporizhia oblast to hold back a Ukrainian counteroffensive on that front.
By cutting off the bridges over the Dnipro, Ukraine can now attack forces in Kherson oblast and know that they will be getting very limited resupply. Or Ukraine can attack somewhere else in southern Ukraine and know that the forces in Kherson are safely off the table.
Meanwhile, Ukraine controls multiple bridges over the Dnipro River, including one that runs right through Zaporizhzhia. They can effectively move their forces to either side of the river. Russia can’t.
Taking out those bridges didn’t just put what happens next in Kherson under Ukraine’s control; it gives them options for how the whole next phase of the war is prosecuted. And that phase may not be in Kherson. For instance, either Melitopol or Mariupol is less than 70km away from current front-line positions. Ukraine could move in those directions, threatening not just Russia’s “southern land bridge” but the control of Crimea.
Let Russia move more forces into Kherson. Then let them try to get them out.
This video of a near miss by a Russian drone attacking a Ukrainian vehicle that started circulating this week has been geolocated and compared to images of the area, showing that it actually dates from several months ago, probably around the end of April. So when they’re looking for video to show off their drones, Russia comes up with what appears to be a successful strike. Three months ago.
If you’ve become a philatelist during the invasion of Ukraine (and hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of), it’s time to fight Ukraine’s frequently overwhelmed online shop for a new series of stamps celebrating the 101st Fighting Farmers and their legion of tank-towing tractors. If you’re in Kyiv … get in line because people are already standing in long queues to buy this one.
Despite current conditions, Russia is continuing to push the idea that the whole south of Ukraine is “Russia forever.” That includes these billboards going up near Nova Kakhovka that certainly make it seem as if the Soviet propaganda bureau survived the fall intact.
But if Russia is busy putting up Stalin-era billboards, the resistance inside Kherson has some more direct messages for the occupiers. A pair of these posters poke Russia in the HIMARS fear bone, but the best of the bunch: “We’re coming for our watermelons.” Kherson is apparently famous for its watermelons, and harvest time is coming soon.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has also helped set the tone for things to come by presenting this artistic homage that mingles a classic image with their prediction for the fate of Russian forces who remain in Kherson.
A transcript of statements from one of Zelenskyy’s advisors making it clear that Ukraine understands just what an advantage they now enjoy.
“Ukraine will not throw away soldiers in one large assault. They will first make sure Russia has no fuel, no ammo, and no command. Only then will they approach with infantry. … This is not yet NATO level, where most damage can be done remotely, but it’s close.”