Ukraine Situation Report: Bridge Busting Campaign Persists In Kherson

Russian forces continue to be put under pressure in the city of Kherson as Ukraine’s precision bridge attacks relentlessly strangle the invading country’s military supply routes. 

According to assessments from the British government and independent defense analysis organizations, the Antonivsky road bridge, which has been a primary target for Ukrainian strikes, was struck again over the weekend rendering it totally unusable for the transportation of military equipment. The Ukrainian Army’s Operational Command South posted on Facebook claiming that the road bridge above the Dnieper River at the Nova Kakhovka dam in south Kherson was also put out of action again by Ukrainian artillery, and satellite imagery appears to show deliberate targeting of key points in the latter crossing’s structure. The other bridge in the area over the Dnieper River, the railway bridge counterpart a few miles up the river from the Antonivsky road bridge, has also been pummeled by HIMARS strikes, putting it out of action, as well. Keeping these crossings out of action has been a top priority of the Ukrainian military.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) also confirms the latest attack has now left all three bridges leading into the Kherson region inoperable. This achievement could give Ukrainian forces the upper hand in their revitalized counteroffensive nearby. 

In a recent defense intelligence update, the U.K. Ministry of Defense outlined that Russia has only succeeded in making minor repairs to the damaged Antonivsky road bridge and the same will likely take place at the Nova Kakhovka bridge. However, all of the structures will surely remain a high-profile target for Ukrainian shelling considering their logistical importance. 

This reality has made it so that Russian forces have had to rely on a number of pontoon ferries to transport personnel, equipment, and civilians across the Dnieper River in an attempt to maintain the flow of supplies.

“With their supply chain constrained, the size of any stockpiles Russia has managed to establish on the west bank is likely to be a key factor in the force’s endurance,” noted U.K.’s Ministry of Defense. 

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant Update

In a joint statement dated last Friday and then shared with the public on Sunday, all 27 countries in the European Union (EU) in partnership with an additional 15 nations implored that the Russian Federation remove its troops from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The same day the EU published the statement, a Zaporizhzhia employee was reportedly killed from shelling carried out in close proximity to the plant. 

According to the EU, the statement was released in full support of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Seven Pillars of Nuclear Safety and Security as outlined by its Director General Rafael Grossi who has been very outspoken about the dangers of what is currently unfolding at the plant. Grossi has said that the actions of Russian forces now occupying the plant either compromise or are in direct violation of all of these pillars, including maintaining the safety and security systems and equipment as well as allowing the operating staff to fulfill their safety and security duties.

The Russian occupation of Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant located near the city of Enerhodar, has stalled the process through which IAEA officials typically gain access to the facility to conduct otherwise routine safety inspections, preventing experts from making the trip. Not only that, but various reports over the last couple of weeks have detailed that Russian forces wired the energy units of the plant with a number of explosives on top of launching continued attacks from within the confines of the plant or nearby. Heavy weaponry has also been stored nearby sensitive components of the plant. 

According to Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company, the latest round of shelling has resulted in the death of a Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant employee. Energoatom posted to the organization’s official Telegram channel on Sunday revealing that shop foreman Marko Maksym Petrovych had been killed after “Russian occupiers fired at least six shots” toward Enerhodar. The post went on to explain that two additional workers had been injured in the attack and are being treated at a local hospital.

Such actions have inspired widespread calls to demilitarize the Zaporizhzhia plant as soon as possible, and it would appear that Russia is now in talks with the United Nations (UN) regarding the country’s presence there. According to AFP News Agency, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has conducted telephone negotiations with the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss the safe operation of the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The War Zone will be sure to provide an update once the results of the negotiations, if any, are revealed.

Before heading into the rest of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here

The Latest

Unconfirmed reports from an obscure news outlet specializing in Middle Eastern politics have claimed that Russia purchased 1,000 drones from Iran to expand the level of strategic cooperation between the two countries. If true, this number would be an increase from the initial claims that Russia would be receiving “several hundred” Iranian drones. While Iranian drones have yet to show up above the Ukrainian battlefield, they could provide Russia with a significant upgrade in capabilities that would be bad news for Ukraine’s forces. You can read our full analysis of the issue here.

As stalled as Russian forces are in Kherson, it would appear that they’re gaining, even if slowly, in the east. The ISW has reported that the Russians have waged a number of ground attacks north of Kharkiv city, northwest of Slovyansk, east of Siversk, and made unspecified gains around Bakhmut.

The Associated Press also reported that at least three Ukrainian civilians were killed in these attacks and that another 20 were wounded. Residential buildings and civilian infrastructure in the area are also said to have suffered extensive damage.

Russia and North Korea have announced that the two countries will be expanding “comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts,” as reported by Pyongyang’s state media. According to Reuters, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for Korea’s liberation day explaining that strengthening the two countries’ ties would be in both of the powers’ best interests.

This development was revealed a day before reports began to circulate detailing that Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora claimed North Korean workers could be tasked with aiding in the reconstruction of Donbas. The region is comprised of the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, meaning that the proclamation is yet another instance where North Korea has cemented itself as one of only three countries — including Russia itself and Syria — to recognize the two breakaway entities.  

It also comes as a previous claim from a Russian talk show cited that a deal for an army of North Korean ‘volunteers’ could be reached to help Russia in Ukraine. While North Korea exports its labor in exchange for much-needed hard currency, some fear that such a deal, if it would ever come to pass, could eventually include North Korean troops. You can read our previous report on this matter here.

Speaking of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s latest Ukraine intelligence update has reported that Denis Pushilin, head of the DPR, has said that the date of a referendum on the DPR joining Russia will be announced after the DPR’s “complete liberation.” Evidence of the referendum was first revealed in June when investigative journalists published findings showing that at least 70 percent of votes were in favor of the DPR joining Russia.

The ministry, however, notes that it is unclear if a final decision to go ahead with the vote has been reached. 

All the while, footage of a purported Russian DPR soldier donned in quite the sad excuse for a uniform has begun to circulate online. Instead of combat boots, the unnamed man is wearing athletic sneakers and explains that he wasn’t even given shoes to begin with.

The video goes on to examine the supplies and uniforms of other DPR soldiers, most of which are tattered, ripped, or unusable. One DPR separatist did actually manage to acquire a pair of combat boots, but in the clip, he explains that both shoes are different sizes.

A decree recently signed by Putin would reestablish the “Mother Heroine” award that existed in the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1991. It was awarded to mothers who gave birth to 10 or more children and offered a one-time reward of 1 million rubles.

The sudden reenaction of the award has led some to believe that it is in direct response to the significant amount of Russian personnel losses. According to The Kyiv Independent’s periodical tracking of Russian losses, approximately 42,300 troops have been killed since the start of the conflict. Other estimates range widely, including a U.S. estimate of about 15,000 killed and over 45,000 wounded as of late July, according to Reuters. Russia had a notoriously shrinking population before the war so it is unlikely this is due just to the war, at least primarily.

Photos were shared on Twitter today purportedly showing the crew of a towed LNR 2B9 Vasilek auto-loading mortar firing the weapon at Ukrainian positions from the back of a Ural truck. 

The pictures initially surfaced on Telegram, where the caption explained that the unit is “of the OBTF of the Ministry of Internal Affairs” and was stopped to calculate the positions of Ukrainian forces located in the Kharkiv region, which would line up with the recent attacks in the area.

Ukrainian forces reportedly struck a Wagner Group base in Popasna on Sunday. Various media outlets are reporting that Ukrainian troops were able to use photos of the base that were openly shared on a Russian propagandist’s Telegram channel to geolocate the area and launch the attack.

While many of the details surrounding this strike are unverified, several reports note that it may have been carried out through the use of the famed U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). 

Ukrainian forces continue to make use of the weapon systems and artillery that have been donated to them from countries across the globe since the beginning of the conflict. Most recently, the Latvian government is confirmed to have donated two Mi-17 and two Mi-2 helicopters further illustrating the immense support coming in from Ukraine’s neighbors, even those who don’t necessarily have all that much to give.

Some of Ukraine’s incredibly diverse arsenal of equipment is reportedly beginning to buckle under the weight of war. Newsnpr published an article elucidating that German MP Marcus Faber has said, “10 out of 15 PzH 2000 self-propelled guns that had been given to Kyiv were damaged because of excessive use.”

“I was informed by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine that only 5 out of 15 PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers are capable of operating,” said Faber. “The cause of the failure is not from Russian fire, but because the Ukrainian army uses them too massively.” 

While it is not unheard of for extreme use to wear out howitzer barrels far sooner than might otherwise be expected, as noted in this previous War Zone article, the degradation negatively affects the system’s accuracy and increases the risk of catastrophic failure.

Amaël Kotlarski, the infantry weapons editor for Janes, explained that the PzH 2000 was designed to fire about 100 rounds a day, which is a cap that Ukrainian forces have been significantly exceeding due to the demands of combat. The issue certainly raises the question about the sustainability of this conflict as well as the capacity for donated weapons systems to keep up.

We will continue to update this story until we state otherwise. 

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