Ukraine Situation Report: What Comes Next After Kherson?
While Ukrainians are jubilant about the liberation of Kherson City, the road ahead remains perilous.
Ukrainians are jubilant over the liberation of Kherson City. President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a “historic day” on his Telegram page.
And several social media accounts, official and unofficial, have posted compilations of videos showing grateful residents greeting triumphant troops.
And the Ukrainian MOD poked fun at Vladimir Putin and his military for losing Kherson, urging Russia to just "go home."
But there are still significant dangers lurking in that key port city and surrounding areas. And of course, some fierce fighting in the east and much land still to be cleared of invaders.
“It will not be unnecessary to remind you that the invaders could leave ‘surprises’ in Kherson,” Serhii Khlan, a deputy of the Kherson Council, said on his Facebook page Friday after Ukrainian troops entered Kherson. “For example, mine[d] strategic objects that have not been blown up. Therefore, [Kherson residents] need to be especially careful and wait for official information.”
The Russian Defense Ministry (MOD) said it evacuated some 30,000 troops from the west bank of the Dnipro River. The question now, is, what becomes of them?
Last month, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR), Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, told The War Zone that the troops defending Kherson were among Russia’s best.
“The most trained and most capable Russian units are currently in Kherson,” he said. “A large share of them are from airborne troops of the Russian Federation, Russian special operation forces and the naval infantry, so the most capable units that Russia has. Those units form the backbone of the grouping.”
Once withdrawn, those troops would “partially be relocated to the Zaporizhzhia direction but part of them might move northwards to Belarus and create a threat there. So we have to be cautious about it. “
Friday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov echoed Budanov’s prediction about Zaphorzhzhia, telling Reuters some of those troops could relocate there.
But there is another alternative as well.
With Russia putting a tremendous amount of effort into trying to take the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk and continued intense battles in Luhansk, some of those troops could relocate there.
That may have been part of the deal Russian Gen. Sergey Surovikin, commander of forces in Ukraine, made to recommend evacuation posited by one former Ukrainian defense minister.
“The only way Surovikin could realistically sell the idea of the Kherson retreat to Putin was by offering the promise of assured success in the east,” Andriy Zagorodnyuk, now chairman of the Center for Defence Strategies, wrote in the Atlantic Council blog. “Ukraine must therefore brace for a major escalation in the Donbas region in the coming weeks. Russia can also be expected to retaliate by expanding its ongoing campaign of airstrikes against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.”
Then again, with Ukraine eyeing the return of Crimea, if Kyiv's forces can somehow cross the Dnipro, that might change everything.
The taking of Kherson and the west bank of the Dnipro in the area puts Ukrainian HIMARS operators nearly within range of Crimea and in range of most Russian forces in occupied Ukrainian territory to the southeast of Kherson that it took after Feb. 24th.
Before we head into more of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage of the war here.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, the fighting remains fierce. Outside of the Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts, there have been no major territorial gains or losses. Here are some key takeaways from the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War:
- ISW does not assess the fighting in Ukraine will halt or enter a stalemate due to winter weather, despite faulty Western assumptions.
- Ukraine holds the initiative and is in the process of securing a major victory in Kherson. A ceasefire would provide the Kremlin with the pause it desperately needs to reconstitute Russian forces.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin is increasingly wrestling with St. Petersburg officials over expanding Wagner Group recruitment in the city.
- Ukrainian Air Force Command spokesperson Yuriy Ignat stated that Russian force will likely slow the pace of their campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure.
- Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensive operations on the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk.
- Russian forces began constructing second line fortifications in Crimea and southern Ukraine.
- Russian citizens continue to oppose Russia’s war in Ukraine through protest, social media dissent, and desertions from the military.
- Russian mobilization efforts are channeling personnel to the Wagner group.
- Russian occupation officials are continuing efforts to erode Ukrainian national identity while mobilizing residents in Russian-occupied territories.
Though Russia's full-on war began in February, Ukraine and Russia have been fighting since 2014, when Moscow invaded the east and illegally annexed Crimea.
A new study showed "that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety were more likely in adolescents exposed to war than those living outside the war-affected region in Ukraine." Conducted by the Research Centre for Child Psychiatry of the University of Turku, it is "the largest epidemiological study using standardized measures that examined the impact of the Russia–Ukraine war 2014 on the mental health of adolescents."
And even as the fighting goes on, the two sides are still exchanging prisoners. Another 45 found freedom today.
While Israel has come under a lot of fire for not providing air defense systems to Ukraine to combat the influx of drones from its arch-enemy Iran, the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group noted the first spotting of Israeli-made military vehicles, like this GAIA Amir MRAP, currently rolling around Kherson Oblast. It is not yet known how those vehicles got to Ukraine.
As Ukrainian forces push their Kherson counteroffensive, more destroyed Russian military equipment is being found, like these armored vehicles wrecked in previous battles.
And this 9A331 transporter for a Tor-M1 air defense system.
War is not just hell, it is also frequently bizarre, like this circular argument by Russian troops over who is a real "Nazi."
That's it for now. We will update this story if there is anything major to add until our next new update is published.
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