War for the south: Ukraine aimed at the return of cities and towns lost by Russian troops

Outside, the garden shed is lined with javelins and other portable anti-tank guns.

The owners of the house, who fled to Poland after the start of the war at the end of February, are happy that their village is again in the hands of the Ukrainians.

Senior Lieutenant Andrey Pidlisny was one of the soldiers who pushed the Russians out two months ago. “At first it was a defensive operation to stop them,” he says. “After that, we found some good places where we can carry out offensive operations and return our territories. And now we’re doing it.”

The Ukrainian military go across the Nikolaev area in the middle of June.

Pidlisny commands a 100-man unit tasked with identifying Russian positions, often using drones. Then they call in artillery.

On his computer, he displays videos from CNN’s body camera taken at the start of the war. He’s had a few close calls, but says his morale is high after recent successes. American equipment helped.

One video shows Pidlisny sitting in a trench using his drone to determine the positions of Russian tanks. “Summon an American gift,” he says over the radio.

Russian troops are currently on the defensive in this part of the south, as opposed to the east, where Ukrainian troops are forced to give ground.

But here, too, there is a dead end. The goal of soldiers like Pidlisny is to seize small strategic pockets, high ground overlooking the occupied Ukrainian cities in the distance, from where further gains can be made.

“I’m not sure we’ll win [by] by the end of this year,” he says, referring to the return of Russian-occupied territories in southern Ukraine. “Maybe not until the end of next year.”

Ukrainian troops claim to have recaptured part of the territory. They say that at the beginning of this week they ousted the Russians from two more villages on the Nikolaev-Kherson border.

But this is a large area of ​​open, hilly farmland where any advancing force would be exposed, and the Russians had several months to build up three echelon defensive positions across the region.

And the Ukrainians have limited assault forces – they played defensively for most of this conflict, and this has led to the weakening of some of their best units.

The weapons provided by the Western allies are by and large not intended for ground offensives, and the Ukrainians lack air cover for any advancing forces.

Ukrainian forces are also taking heavy losses in the south, although the military rarely gives details.

There are growing signs that the Russians are beefing up their military presence in Kherson, determined to keep it as a vital part of the land bridge to the Crimea and as the main source of water for the peninsula.

Over the past two weeks, large convoys have been moving west from Mariupol through Melitopol to Kherson.

Armored truck with the pro-Russian letter

Many civilians have already fled. Ukrainian officials estimate that nearly half of Kherson’s population has left the region for Ukrainian-held territory.

They accuse the Russians of preventing more people from leaving cities like Melitopol, in the occupied Zaporozhye region, so they can be used as human shields in the event of a Ukrainian offensive.

Shifts on the battlefield

Ukraine’s southern front begins near Nikolayev, a port city north of the Russian-held city of Kherson. It is hit by rockets and shells almost every day.

In the south and east, the front line runs in a winding line from the Black Sea coast through farmland to the Zaporozhye region.

The area is far from the calcified Donetsk Front, which has been fought over since 2014, but is now only part of a battlefield stretching over 1,000 kilometers.

Along the line, artillery pieces collide, in battles one Ukrainian soldier called “ping-pong with guns.”

It was like that for several months.

Now the Ukrainians say they have an advantage: donated weapons, notably the U.S.-supplied HIMAR missile system, are destroying critical depots, command posts and ammunition depots deep in Russian-held territory.

Firefighters put out a fire after being hit by Russian troops in Nikolaev on July 14.

This month, Ukraine said it had destroyed at least two ammunition depots in Novo-Khakov, Kherson region. Ukraine also struck three bridges across the Dnieper River and even a vehicle carrying Russian S-300 missiles, a modernized anti-aircraft missile that caused consternation in Mykolaiv.

On Thursday, the UK Ministry of Defense said Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the western bank of the Dnieper, “looks very vulnerable right now” after Ukrainian long-range artillery hit three bridges.

“One of them, the 1,000-meter Antonovsky bridge near Kherson, was damaged last week,” and after another strike this week, “it is very likely that the crossing is now unusable,” the Defense Ministry said.

It argued that “the city of Kherson, the most politically significant settlement occupied by Russia, is now practically cut off from other occupied territories.”

However, the Russians still control large areas northeast of the city and are able to resupply forces on the west bank with pontoon bridges and river ferries across the Dnieper. And more Russian iron will replace what is lost.

Russia claims to have liberated southern Ukraine, but hundreds of people flee every day

CNN has obtained an exclusive video filmed by partisans showing S-300 rockets at the Dzhankoy railway station in occupied Crimea. Satellite images and analysis provided by Maxar indicate that up to 50 S-300 missiles were in train cars at the station on Thursday, July 21. Just one S-300 can destroy a building somewhere in Ukraine.

Yet for all the might of the Russian war machine, Ukrainian military leaders have said this month’s strikes against Russian depots and supply routes could turn the tide on the battlefield.

Now, several soldiers on the front line have backed this up – according to CNN, they believe the Russians have noticeably less ammo to fire on them.

“We had about two to three weeks when they didn’t have enough ammunition to fight us with artillery, rockets, and so on,” says Senior Lieutenant Pidlisny.

Elsewhere on the southern front, Ukrainian Armed Forces captain Volodymyr Omelyan told CNN that pinpoint strikes behind enemy lines are part of an ongoing modernization effort. Strategy of Ukraine.

“We believe that the Russians will surrender much faster, especially in the Kherson region, when we have already hit three main bridges, two road and one railway,” says Omelyan, who was a politician before serving in the army.

Omelyan says successes on the battlefield are being achieved “day by day,” but Ukraine prefers not to advertise them: “It’s a good policy for our commanders to talk about what happens after it has already happened.”

Getting ready for a long fight

In the southern industrial city of Krivoy Rog, Ukrainian forces are being tested: reservists and National Guardsmen, armed with shotguns, must storm the house. The Ukrainian police are one level up, playing the role of the Russians.
Smoke rises over the horizon of Krivoy Rog at the end of June.

After an hour of simulated combat, the trainees were unable to capture the top floor, a sign of how dangerous and difficult hand-to-hand urban warfare is.

Their commander Oleksandr Piskun was seriously injured pushing pro-Russian separatists out of towns in eastern Donbas in 2014 and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

“Street fighting, the battle to storm the settlement is the hardest fight,” he says. “It is more difficult, because we are not seizing settlements, we are liberating settlements. These are our cities, these are our people.”

So far, the battles on the southern front are dominated by artillery rather than street battles. The Ukrainians say that the future will bring the assault on Kherson, but first you need to fight a long-range battle and win.