Daily Kos Staff
Wednesday July 27, 2022 ·
Ding dong, the bridge is dead. The Antonivskyi Bridge east of Kherson was hit by a fresh volley of rockets overnight, and while the previous shots on the bridge were spaced out in a neat pattern to demonstrate to Russia just how much precision Ukrainian forces had when hitting that critical link, this time Ukraine took a very different approach. They picked one point and cut straight across. While the shots didn’t bring down a span of the bridge, they have certainly made it impassable without major repairs.
Since Ukraine first reached out and touched these bridges last week, the whole tenor of the war in Kherson Oblast has taken a radical shift. By demonstrating that they could cut off Russia’s access to resupply and reinforcement at any time, Ukraine sent a strong signal that if Russia wanted its forces to leave Kherson anywhere near intact, it was time to move. Since then, Ukraine has liberated several villages on the fringe of Russian control in the area and began a series of attacks against other bridges along the Inhulets River with the intention of further isolating Russian forces.
The overnight strike on the Antonivskyi Bridge cuts off the major line of supply for Russian forces which have occupied the city of Kherson since the second week of the invasion. There is another bridge over the wide Dnipro River, the Kakhovka Bridge west of Nova Kakhovka, but Ukraine has hit bridges on the Inhulets River between Kherson and Nova Kakhovka. It’s not clear at the moment whether supplies brought through Nova Kakhovka can reach Kherson. And the Kakhovka Bridge is already carrying its own set of pockmarks, a reminder that it could also be closed at any moment. There is also a railroad bridge across the dam at Kakhovka, but Ukraine has so far restricted their actions to a single blast taking out the tracks. Neither side wants to see that dam go down … but Ukraine is making it clear this is also a possibility.
Whatever forces Russia still has in Kherson are likely to be what they’re going to have. And now they have no choice but to wait as Ukraine drives its counteroffensive toward the city.
A close up look at some of the damage on the bridge shows that this is not going to be remedied quickly with a little patching. There is daylight visible through these holes. It is still possible to move foot traffic across the bridge, and may be possible to guide light vehicles across carefully, but it’s certainly not a path that allows heavy equipment. Also … there’s no guarantee that Ukraine won’t send along another pod of missiles if there are signs Russia is still able to make use of this bridge.
There are already reports of some serious panic going on among the Russian forces left in the city, with rumors that Ukrainian forces are already coming their way are leading to some extremely serious nerves. And there are reports of the kind of mistakes soldiers make when they are waiting, and terrified.
For some days now, the FIRMS data in the areas surrounding the city of Kherson have been wild enough that it’s hard to say just how much artillery is being lobbed into the area. It’s clearly a lot. On Wednesday, explosions are reportedly being felt in the suburb of Chornobaivka, just two kilometers west of the city, where a Russian command post was previously taken out using HIMARS.
Some videos of the area show shots striking what appears to be the M14 highway, which circles around the city of Kherson, and which Russian forces have been using for deployment. Ukraine seems to be preparing for their assault by pinning down Russian troops, limiting their abilities to move, and making it difficult for Russia to shift forces around the battlefield.
Some sources have taken the precision of the shots being made on Wednesday to indicate that Ukraine now feels confident enough about their control of the area to use the HIMARS system during the day. However, the location of the shots is well within range of what could be M777 or other precision artillery fire. HIMARS has become the Russian boogeyman.
The big question for the moment is … what is Russia doing? On Monday, there were multiple reports of units leaving the area of Melitopol and heading west in the direction of Kherson Oblast. However there doesn’t seem to be a clear sighting of those forces moving into the city or across the bridge at Nova Kakhovka. Russia has also attempted to replace some of the bridges over the Inhulets River with hastily erected pontoon bridges, but at least one of these seems incapable of carrying heavy trucks or armor and any of these bridges is subject to rapid reduction by artillery. The most critical position, at Daryivka, appears to still be closed to any movement of armor or supply trucks, though the pontoon bridge there is being used by civilian cars and soldiers on foot. Russia was working on this bridge again on Wednesday.
Inside Kherson, attacks on Russian collaborators are reported to be increasing. Not just in the form of bullets coming out of the darkness, but of bombs.
It’s unclear just how many Russian forces are on the west bank of the Dnipro River at the moment, but it could be as high as 15,000 including the forces occupying Kherson and those scattered across the front. Many of these entered the oblast only in the last three weeks as Russia took recruits from the Donbas region and sent them to bolster the ranks in Kherson. What was called an “endless convoy” carried conscripts from the east through Melitopol to Kherson on July 13.
If more forces are coming in now, they’re having to cross the Kakhovka Bridge, and may find it difficult to make their way down to Kherson. It’s that stretch of highway, between the two bridges, rather than the city itself, that many analysts expect Ukraine to target as it begins an attempt to retake Kherson.
Ukraine may lay siege to the city, trapping Russian forces between the Ukrainian military knocking them off from the outside (and dropping nightly missiles into any place they try to make into a base) and a hostile populace inside the city that outnumbers the Russian forces 25 to 1. Like Stalingrad … if everyone in Stalingrad hated the soldiers.
What may be most astounding about what’s happening now in Kherson isn’t the precision of those HIMARS strikes or any of the villages Ukraine has freed from Russian occupation. It’s just how quickly Ukraine has reversed the narrative. They are in control of what happens next in Kherson. Russia can only react. As the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense says …
Right now, Russian forces could still turn east and march out of the city across that pockmarked bridge. They may even be able to get some equipment out.
Neither of these things is guaranteed for tomorrow.