29 August 2022, 5:05pm
The almost 200 years old Speccie has a new star writer; a Ukrainian journalist based in the UK. The following is her take on the dramatic events of yesterday:
The southern city of Kherson, which fell to Russian forces in the first few days of the war, is one of the places Ukraine would need to liberate if Putin’s army is to be repelled. But what realistic chance is there? Many argued that the Russian occupation is a one-way process: that having taken Crimea, Putin would extend his reach northwards and westwards – with the only question being how long Ukraine could hold off an offensive from its far-bigger enemy.
But that conversation is changing, and fast. This morning, the Ukrainian army broke through the first line of the Russian defence in Kherson region – a move that was only recently seen to be beyond the capability of Ukrainian troops. Senior military officials in Kyiv had been saying that they didn’t have the strength, and other Ukrainian forces were saying that they lack the troops and air cover. All of that now looks like a bluff, ahead of today’s counter-offensive.
The game-changer has been the Himars, high-precision missile launchers supplied by the United States. These missiles, crucial in the liberation of Snake Island, have now been used to destroy almost all large bridges connecting Russian troops in Kherson to the rest of the occupying forces: the Antonivsky railway bridge, the road bridge and Novokakhovsky bridge. ‘The word Himars has become almost synonymous with the word justice for our country,’ said Zelensky recently.
There’s no formal statement from Moscow but a Russian soldier has posted a video saying ‘the first line of defence is broken,’ (my translation): ‘they are shelling using tanks, aviation and artillery’. Ukrainian officials say the 109th regiment of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ has been forced to withdrawfrom its positions. A fire has been reported in the Beryslav machine-building plant, where Russia had been storing its weapons.
For weeks now, Ukraine’s army has been seeking to destroy the bridges linking Kherson region to the rest of Russian troops. Ukraine would shell, then the Russians then seek to rebuild. But now, only crosswalks remain. This means the Russian army on the west of Kherson is cut off from the supply of weapons and personnel from Crimea.
For Ukraine, this is the first piece of good military news in a long time – but will come at a cost. The offensive will cost more lives of Ukraine’s soldiers than defence. Citizens had earlier been asked to evacuate the region or to stay in the bomb shelters during hostilities. For their part, Russian commanders started leavingthe right bank of the Dnipro river weeks ago.
Earlier, Ukraine’s Major General Dmytro Marchenko said , ‘history and military experience show that for an army to succeed in an offensive, it needs to have at least three times the number of troops that the defending enemy has.’ The Economist had taken this to mean that such a move was impossible (‘If Ukraine ever had such an advantage, it no longer does.’) This, it seems, underestimated Ukraine’s real position. Much will depend on how the next few days pan out.
Svitlana Morenets writes a weekly email, Ukraine in Focus, for The Spectator. Sign up for free here.
WRITTEN By Svitlana Morenets
Svitlana Morenets is a Ukrainian journalist currently at The Spectator and writes Ukraine in Focus, a weekly email with last updates on the war.