AP / NOS / Harm Kersten
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 17:31
Ukraine has ordered the forcible evacuation of families with children from more than twenty places in the Kherson region. According to the country, the coercive measure is necessary due to the increased Russian attacks on the west bank of the Dnieper River. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops have been holding positions on the occupied east bank of the river for a week.
The front around the river seems to be moving. The water has been the front line in the south for almost a year. After the liberation of the city of Kherson in November 2022, the Ukrainian advance was stopped by the water barrier. Conversely, the Russians have made no serious attempts to recross the river, although Russia considers the entire Cherson region to be Russian.
Ukrainian units have regularly crossed the river in recent months, always for small attacks. Now troops appear to have a foothold. According to the American think tank ISW, Ukrainian marines managed to cross the river in boats. Russian military bloggers also confirm continued Ukrainian presence.
Ukrainian operations are reported in these places:
NOS / Harm KerstenThe front near Cherson
Spokesperson Natalia Humenyuk admits that the Ukrainian army is active on the east bank, but does not want to reveal any further details. “We are pushing the enemy back, with targeted actions,” she said yesterday. Today it reported the elimination of 37 Russian soldiers, several combat vehicles and two boats in the Kherson region.
Lightning fast and unobtrusive
The landing operation was prepared long in advance, says Carel Sellmeijer. He is an assistant professor of Land Operations at the Dutch Defense Academy and is active in the Army as an engineering officer, the department that deals with the logistical support of military operations. “Such a so-called bridge operation is preceded by a lot of reconnaissance. For example, with divers who search for mines unnoticed, and special units that gather information inland.”
The crossing must then take place inconspicuously and very quickly. “Nowadays you are quickly seen,” says Sellmeijer. “You also have to take this into account in your preparation, for example by deciding late where you will go ashore.”
The river landscape has changed drastically due to the breach of the Kachovka dam last June. The river, sometimes kilometers wide, has turned into a partly dried-up area. The river has become narrower, but that does not make the crossing easier, says Sellmeijer. “It can be unexpectedly swampy. That is why preparation is important here too: you have to find out where the river can be ‘forded’.”
The drying up of the Dnieper is clearly visible on satellite images. Not only on the riverbed, but also on the dry landscape because irrigation of the agricultural land has stopped:
Copernicus / NOS / Harm KerstenSatellite image of the river course near Kherson, before the dam breach (above) and the current situation (below)
In recent months, Ukraine has received amphibious vehicles and mobile bridge components from Germany, among others. However, the landing on the east bank appears to have been carried out mainly with small boats, as images show.
A resident of Kherson says that boats have been delivered to the region on a large scale. He cannot see where they cross the river. “Ordinary city dwellers like me don’t go to the riverbank. It’s way too dangerous there.”
In order to advance further, the Ukrainian positions must be strengthened. “If it is safe enough, the ferry service can be converted into a permanent bank connection, for example a pontoon bridge,” says Sellmeijer. Then heavier equipment can make the crossing, such as tanks. As far as we know, this has not yet happened.
The Russian army has stepped up attacks on the west bank of the Dnieper in recent days, possibly in response to the Ukrainian operation on the east bank. A record number of airstrikes were reported in the region this weekend, supplemented by artillery bombardments.
For this reason, the voluntary evacuation call for villages on the riverbank has been converted into a coercive measure. Free transport and, if necessary, accommodation in safer parts of Ukraine will be arranged for children, the head of the region said. There is no evacuation obligation for the city of Kherson.
These places are being evacuated:
NOS / Harm Kersten
For the time being, Ukraine will keep its cards close to its chest about the bridge operation. The question therefore remains whether and where the offensive will be continued. “Deception is very important in a war,” says Sellmeijer. “You want to draw attention to one place and strike in another.” It is therefore also an option that Ukraine wants to have Russian troops move to Kherson, away from the front elsewhere, for example near the hard-fought city of Avdiivka.
Lieutenant Colonel Sellmeijer would find it “quite logical” for Ukraine to strike near Kherson, due to its location on the Black Sea and its proximity to Crimea. “But the Russians will think of that too…”