Ukraine Situation Report: Intel Chief Says Russia Is Reinforcing Kherson City

Russia is building up defenses in the key port of Kherson City, which straddles the Dnipro River, ahead of a looming Ukrainian assault there, according to claims made by the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate.

That build-up comes even as Russia says an evacuation is underway, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said Monday in an interview with Ukrainian Pravda.

He added that he believes Ukraine will recapture Kherson City by the end of the year.

“In many aspects, this is an information operation and manipulation,” Budanov said of evacuation efforts in Kherson City. Banks, hospitals, occupation leaders and civilians are being taken out of that city to “create the illusion that everything is gone,” said Budanov. “And at the same time, on the contrary, they bring new military units there and prepare the streets of the city for defense.”

Last week, Ukraine’s Operational Command South reported that Russia was moving some 2,000 recently mobilized reservists to bolster its forces in Kherson, which are under heavy attack by Ukraine.

Budanov said any Russian defense of Kherson City is precarious at best. 

“They understand that if we take at least control over the Kakhov dam, which is the only transport artery that is fully functioning now, they will have to make a decision very quickly,” he said. 

We’ve written about attacks on the roadway over the dam, as well as on the main bridge in Kherson and the new pontoon barge bridge Russia constructed over the Dnipro River. You can read more about that here.

The Russians will “either very, very quickly leave the city and get out, or they risk ending up in the same situation that our units in Mariupol found themselves in earlier,” said Budanov, a reference to the troops who defended the Azovstal Steel Plant there and faced repeated brutal attacks with dwindling food and ammunition before finally surrendering. “The situation is a little different, but conceptually it will be very similar.” 

The Russians, he said, “are preparing the groundwork so that, if necessary, they can get out of there very quickly. However, they are not preparing to exit now, they are preparing to defend.”

Budanov echoed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s claim last week that Russians mined the dam, but said they only mined part of it, and that took place in April.

Such a move would create “an environmental disaster” but would not do much to slow down Ukraine’s advance.

It would “make it difficult for us to advance for a certain period of time,” said Budanov. “And this, by the way, is not a very long period of time, it will be somewhere around two weeks.” 

Monday morning, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters, including from The War Zone, that in Kherson, “Ukrainian forces continue to make deliberate and calibrated operations in support of their counter-offensive along three main axes. We assess that Russian forces are largely digging in to strengthen their defensive lines in this sector.”

As for “Russian movements around Kherson,” the official said, “we do have indications that some Russian units are essentially relocating, in terms of the repositioning,” but declined to offer further details about how many troops are involved.

In some cases, the Russians are “digging trenches, setting up defenses in depth in terms of being able to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive.”

And they are apparently doing what they can to degrade the city’s infrastructure.

Ukrainian citizens, meanwhile, have largely opted to stay in the city.

Before we head into more from a busy day in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

Russia continues to perpetuate a bizarre narrative about Ukraine readying a dirty bomb for use. They have offered no evidence or even a believable train of logic behind such claims. You can read our full report on these developments here. Meanwhile, even Russian state media guests are saying much of what the world is thinking:

Bellingcat and its investigative partners The Insider and Der Spiegel on Monday published the results of a six-month investigation into “a hitherto secretive group of dozens of military engineers with an educational and professional background in missile programming” behind Russian cruise missile strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets and infrastructure.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, “Ukrainian forces continue to consolidate their lines in support of their counter-offensive with both sides trading artillery fire,” the senior U.S. military official said Monday morning. “We do assess that the Ukrainians have liberated some villages in the [Kharkiv] region to continue to make advances as they pressure toward the east. Russian forces in this area are largely focused on reinforcing their defensive lines.”

“Near Bakhmut, fighting remains heavy and dynamic, with Russian forces attempting to take the city are being contested by Ukrainian forces.”

In its latest assessment, the Institute for the Study of War says fighting continues to rage across the south and east and offered several key takeaways:

  • Ukrainian and Russian sources reported fighting near Siversk, Soledar, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka in eastern Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
  • Russian forces struck Zaporizhzhia City, Mykolaiv City, and other areas in Mykolaiv Oblast with Shahed 136 drones and S-300 missiles. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces targeted Nikopol and Marhanets with multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) strikes.
  • A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command claimed that Ukrainian forces have shot down a total of 273 Iranian-provided Shahed-136 drones since Russia began using them in Ukraine on September 13.
  • A Ukrainian government source reported that Iranian instructors in Belarus (in addition to previously reported instructors in Crimea) aided Russian forces in the coordination of previous Shahed-136 drone strikes against Kyiv Oblast and northern and western oblasts in Ukraine.
  • Russian outlets continued to set conditions to blame Ukraine for the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, which Russian forces will likely destroy to slow advancing Ukrainian forces.
  • Russian sources widely discussed the construction of defensive positions in Kursk Oblast.
  • A Ukrainian source reported that Russian authorities in Krasnodar Krai have “indefinitely” extended the “vacations” (meaning forced abductions as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign) of children from Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian sources reported that private businesses are offering to train mobilized men on privately owned military and medical equipment in exchange for money.

It can be tough to picture the scope of the amount of territory that Ukraine is trying to recapture. So the Ukrainian Defense Ministry offered some visual aids, showing that 1,500-mile front lines are “almost the entire length of the US border with Mexico” among other comparisons.

On the ground, however, the intensity of the fighting is obvious, as this video of Ukrainian forces advancing through the hellscape of Kherson shows.

The video below shows the eery aftermath of a battle, in a location and date undetermined.

Then there is this moody view of the trenches that make up so much of this conflict.

Rare footage of the Russian side of the fighting in Kherson Oblast has emerged, showing Russian troops moving under heavy small arms fire as they shoot back.

And Ukrainian troops managed to down another Russian Ka-52 Alligator helicopter with a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).

More video has emerged of new Ukrainian strikes in Kherson City, said to be the work of guided M31 rockets fired by a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). 

A TV crew from BBC traveled with Ukrainian forces and was able to capture some of the fighting in Kherson.

New video is emerging of an older Ukrainian capture in Kharkiv of a Russian 9P149 Shturm-S anti-tank guided missile carrier.

And we get another look at the Ukrainian pilot who intercepted a Russian missile over Odesa. We previously wrote about claims that a Ukrainian pilot shot down five Shahed-136 drones and a couple of cruise missiles before crashing in Vinnytsia about 150 miles northwest of Odesa. It is unclear if those incidents are related but it is known that the Ukrainian air force has prioritized counter-drone and missile operations in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, Ukraine also managed to destroy another Russian BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle in Donetsk, this time with a drone-dropped munition.

And when they aren’t using their own drones to attack Russians, Ukraine is having some success against drones used by Russia. In this case, the UkrArmyBlog claims that Ukrainian forces used an anti-drone gun to take out two Russian drones at once.

Also on the drone topic, one of the Iranian-built Muhajar-6 drones Russia operated over Ukraine and was subsequently brought down and captured is shown to contain an Austrian-built Rotax engine. You can read all about this development and its implications in this recent piece of ours.

The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group displayed what is claims to be the “first detailed look” at an Iranian Shahed-131 loitering munition reportedly shot down by Ukrainian troops. Ukraine has teams that work to collect the wreckage of these and other craft, especially since the onslaught of Iranian-built drones began in September.

So far, Russia has used 330 Iranian Shahed-136 drones, with about 30% hitting their targets, Budanov said in his Ukrainian Pravda interview.

Much has been made already about Iran supplying drones and in the future short-range ballistic missiles to Russia. But a recent opinion piece in Defense News claims that Russia has traded 60 Su-35 to Iran for several thousand drones. We have discussed this possibility before and, if true, it would have significant repercussions. This will include drawing the ire of Israel who so far has enjoyed a dilapidated Iranian fighter threat for many years.

Ukraine claims Iran is providing Russia with body armor, as well.

And despite claims that Russia is running out of its own weapons, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said Russia is boosting production of all types of weapons from tanks and guns to high-precision missiles and drones, according to the official Russian TASS news agency.

But claiming a boost in war materials is not all that Medvedev did. He made implicit threats to bring officials from the country’s state-run defense industries up on criminal charges for failing to meet production goals. You can read more about that in our recent reporting here.

Still, it appears Russia is sending another tranche of T-90M tanks to Ukraine.

The amount of munitions Russia has used in the all-out war it launched Feb. 24 is staggering and can be hard to visualize. But the folks in Kharkiv have created a “graveyard” of all the Russian missiles dropped on the city, said to contain more than 5,000 ‘artifacts.’

As recently as Monday, U.S. officials have repeated vows to continue supporting Ukraine in its fight against the invading Russian forces.

“Our focus remains on continuing to work with the international community to provide Ukraine with the security assistance and support they need to defend their country,” a senior U.S. official told reporters, including from The War Zone, Monday.

But a group of 30 liberal Democrats from the House of Representatives is urging President Joe Biden to radically alter his strategy on Ukraine and pursue direct negotiations, according to a letter obtained by the Washington Post.

The letter “could create more pressure on Biden as he tries to sustain domestic support for the war effort, at a time when the region is heading into a potentially difficult winter and Republicans are threatening to cut aid to Ukraine if they retake Congress,” the Post reported.

That letter came even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, was in Croatia to take part in a forum on the future of Crimea, which has been illegally occupied by Russian troops since 2014.

And finally, anyone who has watched movies about Vietnam like “Apocalypse Now” or “Forrest Gump” has heard Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” which appeared in 19 movies about that war.

Now it seems that Ukrainian forces have adopted the song as their own.

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

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.