After the Russian withdrawal, the Ukrainian military is planning the next step

KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian sniper adjusted his scope and fired a .50-caliber bullet at a Russian soldier across the Dnieper River. Earlier, another Ukrainian used a drone to search for Russian troops.

Two weeks after withdrawing from the southern city of Kherson, Russia bombards the city with artillery as it digs in across the Dnieper.

Ukraine is hitting back at Russian troops with its own long-range weapons, and Ukrainian officers say they want to capitalize on their momentum.

Russia’s withdrawal from the only provincial capital it had captured in nine months of the war was one of Moscow’s most significant losses on the battlefield. Now that its troops are holding a new front line, the army is planning its next move, Ukraine’s military said through a spokesman.

Ukrainian forces can now penetrate deeper into Russian-controlled areas and potentially bring their counteroffensive closer to Crimea, which Russia illegally seized in 2014.

Russian troops continue to establish fortifications, including trench systems near the Crimean border and some areas between the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to the east.

In some places, new fortifications are as much as 60 kilometers (37 miles) behind current front lines, suggesting Russia is preparing for more Ukrainian breakthroughs, according to the UK MoD.

“Ukraine’s armed forces took the initiative in this war some time ago,” said Mick Ryan, military strategist and retired Australian Army Major General. “You have momentum. They definitely don’t want to waste that.”

Crossing the river and pushing the Russians back further would require complicated logistical planning. Both sides have blown up bridges across the Dnieper.

“This has cut off Russian supply lines, and it will also complicate any further Ukrainian advance beyond the left bank of the river,” said Mario Bikarski, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In a key battlefield development, Kiev’s forces this week attacked Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit, a gateway to the Black Sea Basin, as well as parts of the southern Kherson region still under Russian control. Retaking the area could help Ukrainian forces push into Russian-held territory in the Kherson region “under significantly less Russian artillery fire” than if they crossed the Dnieper directly, said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based company think tank. Control of the area would help Kyiv mitigate Russian attacks on Ukraine’s southern seaports and allow it to step up its naval activities in the Black Sea, the think tank added.

Some military experts say there is a possibility the weather could disproportionately hurt ill-equipped Russian forces and allow Ukraine to take advantage of frozen terrain and move around more easily than during the muddy autumn months, ISW said.

Russia’s main task, meanwhile, is to prevent further withdrawals from the wider Kherson region and strengthen its defense systems over Crimea, analyst Bikarski said. Ryan, the military strategist, said Russia will use the winter to plan its 2023 offensives, stockpile ammunition and continue its campaign targeting critical infrastructure including electric and hydroelectric power plants.

Russia’s daily attacks are already increasing. Last week, a fuel depot was attacked in Kherson, the first time since Russia left. At least one person was killed and three injured by Russian shelling this week, according to the Office of the President of Ukraine. Russian airstrikes damaged vital infrastructure before Russia left and created a terrible humanitarian crisis. This, along with the threat of attack, adds an extra layer of stress, say many who survived the Russian occupation and are now leaving or contemplating it.

Ukrainian authorities this week began evacuating civilians from recently liberated parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions amid fears that lack of heat, electricity and water from Russian shelling would make the winter unlivable.

After boarding a train on Monday, Tetyana Stadnik decided to leave after waiting for the liberation of Kherson.

“We’re going now because it’s scary to sleep at night. Grenades fly over our heads and explode. It’s too much,” she said. “We will wait until the situation improves. And then we come home again.”

Others in the Kherson region have decided to stay, despite living in fear.

“I’m scared,” said Ludmilla Bonder, a resident of the small village of Kyselivka. “I still sleep fully clothed in the basement.”


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