The ongoing news blackout from Kyiv has forced military and intelligence analysts to triangulate reporting from NATO briefings, local social media, and Russian press releases. Each of these sources have their own agendas, and when assessing them it’s often necessary to shift fact from hope, and even lies from truth.
By cross-checking reportage and confirmations across differing media, some facts present themselves. Though operational security prevents reporting the location or strength of Ukrainian combat units, the following information provides a general picture.
A Multi-pronged Offensive
Before the Kherson offensive, the approximate line of contact ran from the town of Snihurivka, 60 kilometers north of Kherson, then southwest to the coastal city of Oleksandrivka, 50 kilometers to the east of Kherson’s urban area. For much of the summer, this front was stable; occasional Russian probes were limited to platoon or company-sized operations and were generally rebuffed by Ukrainian defenders.
On the 29th of August, Ukraine opened a broad offensive against a 160 Kilometer (100 mile) front in Kherson Oblast. These attacks, though long anticipated, appear to have caught the occupiers by surprise. According to Russian communication intercepts, Ukraine is pressing attacks against four axes.
In the south, Ukrainian formations are reported to be operating on both sides of the M-14 highway in a pair of mutually supporting thrusts toward Kherson. These attacks are known to have made progress in heavy fighting.
Points of Data: Points of Contact
On 2 September, a Ukrainian General Staff briefing stated that Russian artillery had shelled the village of Myroliubivka, a place formerly occupied by elements of the Russian 42nd Combined Arms Army. This information would correlate Russian reports of heavy fighting in and around the villages of Tomyna Balka and Novodmytrivka. Taken together, these reports strongly suggest that Ukrainian forces on the south flank have advanced as much as 10 kilometers since the start of the offensive.
North of the M-14 highway, Ukraine has launched a third attack against the Russian occupied town of Snihurivka. At Snihurivka, Russia’s line of defense bends ninety degrees, roughly following an easterly turn of the Inhulets River. Here, a fourth Ukrainian thrust has also made significant progress.
Ukraine’s Deep Threat
Twenty-five kilometers east of Snihurivka, near Male Artakove, Russian intercepts indicate that Ukrainian forces have effected a crossing of the Inhulets River. NATO Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) E-3 reconnaissance aircraft have been surveilling this sector. Their missions reveal that Russian units have been driven back from the Inhulets River and have been forced out of the villages of Lozove, Andriivka and Sukhyi Stavok. Exploiting this breakthrough, Ukrainian units have driven east, taking the town of Osokorivka, and with it, an additional 10 kilometers of the north of the Dnieper.
These gains threaten to flank the Russian occupied city of Snihurivka, which many analysts see as the apex of Russia’s western line of defense. Of all of Ukraine’s reported successes, the crossing of the Inhulets east of Snihurivka is likely to be the most important, as it has the potential to unhinge the northern half of Russia’s Kherson defenses.
Truth or Silence?
Analysis is impossible without an adequate picture of this rapidly changing battle space, and already reporters are growing frustrated at the lack of official information. What’s been stated here will not be news to the Russians; they know where they are being attacked. As their ammunition dumps and logistics depots go up in flames around them what the Russians do not know is what the Ukrainians plan to do next.
Ukraine’s operational plans should, and will, remain secret. Ukraine has the right to request that the media report responsibly on the Kherson offensive. The exact locations, intentions and strength of Ukrainian units need not be reported, but the government has an obligation to inform the Ukrainian people, and the nations that support them, of the progress of the war.
Without official briefings, Kyiv runs the risk that the people of the world will forget the sacrifices made by Ukraine’s fighting men and women. The victories won by Ukraine in Kherson deserve to ben known. Ukraine’s fight for freedom is too important to unfold in darkness.
A US Department of Defense briefing this week said crisply, “Some Russian units are retreating”. That understatement is confirmed by what little the Ukrainian General staff has reported, and what the Russians have inadvertently revealed.
The Russians will be the first to learn what happens next.
Comment: This opinion piece and map are, in my opinion, the best guess of what’s happening on the Kherson front. There are a few photos and videos coming out, one showing a Ukrainian tank on the advance taking out a Russian BMP at close range. I think both the attackers and defenders are spread out over a wide open battle area. Massed troops and armored vehicles are easy targets for either side’s artillery. That’s reflected in the blended, intermixed forward edge of the battle area. There is no edge. Both defenders and attackers are dispersed. I know Colonel Lang advised that “Ukraine should seek a decisive battle which breaks Russian will to continue.” I do think the immediate objective is to reach the Dnipro at Nova Khakova, but that advance is certainly not a massed speedy thrust. I do not think such an immediate and concentrated thrust to the river would break the Russian will. It would likely give the Russians the clarity of a well identified mass target for their artillery which, apparently, is still formidable.
The situation brings to my mind Rommel’s actions in the cauldron at the Battle of Gazala in 1942. He held that on a confused battlefield, the better organized and led side would prevail. I believe that’s what’s happening in Kherson. Exactly what effect will forcing the Russians to the far side of the Dnipro have on the war? Will that break the Russian will to continue? I think it may take more than this. The next offensive should strike south from Zaporizhzhia towards Melitopol and the Azov Sea. That might do the trick.