Ukraine Situation Report: Noose Tightens Around Russian-Occupied Kherson

Ukrainian troops remain focused on cutting off the Russians’ only way out of Kherson as part of its southern offensive.

byStetson Payne|
Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.


Ukrainian forces are back on the move in Kherson Oblast, with reports of fierce fighting at the frontlines and varying stages of panic among Russian Telegram channels.

Reports indicate the offensive remains focused on the Dnipro River’s west bank in an effort to trap Russian forces in a rapid drive to take river crossings.

The Russian position in Kherson has reportedly weakened enough to where some western officials believe Kherson could be liberated within the week. If Ukraine's offensive continues down the river bank, they could take or cut off the oft-targeted crossings at Nova Kakhovka and both Antonivksiy bridges long before entering the city of Kherson itself. Their capture with the Russians still in Kherson would indicate a massive encirclement.

The move forces Russia to choose between maintaining its broad frontline or retreating out of the city and across the river. The prospects of encirclement apparently have many Russian mil-bloggers and Russian occupation officials in a panic.

There's also the choice to surrender as Ukrainian forces close in. New video shows a Russian soldier surrendering somewhere in Kherson Oblast, a tense exchange that's growing more common as Ukraine pushes on and more hastily mobilized Russians face the frontline.

The supply situation for these troops remains hamstrung after the October 8 attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge. Things won’t be improving anytime soon, as bad weather at the critical chokepoint has reportedly suspended ferry service and repairs to the bridge, which could take many months to complete. 

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

Here are the latest control maps from the Institute for the Study of War, as well as the latest intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense.

Russian troops are arriving in Belarus as part of Moscow’s regional group of forces in its client state. Reports from @MotolkoHelp suggest Russian forces arrived at three rail stations in north and west Belarus, not in areas near the border with Ukraine.

Video from one of the railyards showed troops unloading trucks and other equipment from rail cars in the early morning fog. 

However, as Russian troops head to Moscow’s client state, Belarusian tanks are headed for Russia. It’s believed the T-72s seen on these rail cars in Orsha, Belarus, will go to replace continued Russian losses on the Ukrainian frontline. Russia has become desperate for functional armor. Case in point, there is now an initiative underway to restore and upgrade hundreds of decades-old Cold War-era T-62 tanks, a process that will take years to fully complete.

Despite these moves, there is a report of Russian troops massing in the southeastern city of Gomel, immediately across the border from the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. Ukraine has had concerns about Belarus' formal entry into the war since Russia staged its multi-pronged invasion from the country in February. However, any attack could be strictly diversionary to take pressure off the deteriorating situation for Russian forces in Kherson.

The ongoing saga of Starlink satellite internet service for Ukraine may be resolved, if Elon Musk's Saturday tweet is to be believed. Musk tweeted "To hell with it ... even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we'll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free" days after reports emerged that SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon last month saying it couldn't continue free Starlink service for Ukraine as it has since the war began.

The satellite internet debacle began earlier this month when Musk tweeted a much-lampooned "peace plan" that drew immediate criticism from Ukraine and its backers. This, coupled with reports of Starlink outages put the network's service in doubt.

Russia’s only reported gains this fall have been near the Donbas city of Bakhmut. Video from the frontline shows an apocalyptic scene at a trench-line besieged by Russian troops for months. 

It’s difficult to process the level of damage wrought to men, machine, and earth in months (or even years) of attacks, evoking the horrors of trench warfare in World War I. Sending wave upon wave of infantry and artillery against fortified positions creates a lot of casualties, and observers believe the mortality rate among Russian wounded is exceedingly high.

Russian forces in Luhansk have built a heavy defensive line of trenches and concrete tank traps, likely spurred by Ukraine's mechanized successes in the last month.

In the city of Bakhmut itself, Russian incendiary munitions, likely from 9M22S “Grad” 122mm rockets, started numerous fires.

Things continue to go boom in Belgorod across the border from Kharkiv as Ukrainian strikes on local infrastructure continued. A huge plume of black smoke and flame rose from an oil depot hit on Saturday.

The continued strikes have Russian air defenses trying to keep up, with the remains of a missile used by the S-400 system found after one such engagement. 

Russia’s "partial" mobilization is still looking rather pear-shaped, with personnel problems and few gains on the battlefield despite the unrest it created across the country. Russian Telegram accounts report mobilized units are taking whatever people they can get, regardless of specialty. Those mobilized are reportedly turning to YouTube to learn combat skills otherwise taught in specialized training.

For what looks like quite a few mobilized soldiers in southern Russia, military units have refused them entry on account of not having the correct stamps on mobilization papers. The result is a large number of draftees stuck outside the base gate and forced to camp in the woods. 

On that note, it appears prominent Russian mil-blogger Igor Girkin may have traded in the keyboard for a rifle. A Russian Telegram channel is claiming Girkin, a central figure in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the Donbas separatist governments, is headed to combat in a volunteer unit. Girkin's reported deployment led some Ukrainians to put an alleged, and growing, $50,000 bounty on his capture alive.

The turnaround from conscription to frontline, and subsequent death or capture by Ukrainian forces, remains short for those mobilized by the Russian Armed Forces. The Moscow Times reported men had been killed in combat within two weeks of mobilization.

There remains considerable and understandable unrest in Russia over mobilization, with a draft officer reportedly found hanged in a town outside Vladivostok in the Far East. A conscription office also burned in the city of Cherkessk in the north Caucasus.

There was also a reported firefight at a Russian base in the Belgorod region. The Russian Ministry of Defense reported two gunmen "from CIS country" were killed in the attack, with 11 servicemen dead and 15 more wounded. It's not immediately known whether the shooters or victims were part of mobilized Russian forces.

The quality of equipment coming with mobilized Russian troops to the frontlines remains poor, as evidenced by the rusty AZP S-60 57mm anti-aircraft guns seen headed to Ukraine. In no way effective in there circa-1940s anti-aircraft role, they are at best only viable as fire support against soft vehicles and infantry. That's also assuming they aren't rusted solid.

The Ukrainian Air Force remains active, with two clips showing Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers maneuvering at low altitudes with the air war still contested.

Russian drones and loitering munitions are still threatening Ukrainian targets, however. A Lancet-2 loitering munition struck a pair of valuable Ukrainian S-300 SAM launchers far behind the frontline, despite an attempt by an unknown man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) to intercept it.

The drone threat may well get even more serious for Ukraine. Reports claim Iran will soon send ARASH-2 attack drones to Russia. More similar to a cruise missile than a drone, Iran claimed the type was designed to strike “Tel Aviv and Haifa” when it was unveiled in September. And don't expect any immediate sanctions from the European Union over Iran's drone deliveries, either.

The Russian strikes have the Ukrainian power grid struggling to keep up after hits on infrastructure. Kyiv is reportedly in the dark on Saturday as a result, and if the Bastion-P missile launches from Sevastopol are any indication, the long-range attacks have continued, at least at a much slower rate.

Ukrainian air defenses and fighter aircraft have been chasing Iranian-made drones since Russia adopted their widespread use in September. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense tweeted a picture purporting to be the MiG-29 pilot, named Vadym, who is claimed to of downed five Shahed-136 drones and a pair of cruise missiles before ejecting on October 12. 

We wrote about this claimed ace-in-a-day achievement, which you can read more about here

On the topic of foreign aid to Ukraine, there's also footage of a German Flakpanzer Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft gun in Ukrainian service. While the clip doesn’t show the Gepard’s radar active or letting loose with its 35mm Oerlikon autocannons, they’re probably getting their money’s worth with continued drone and cruise missile attacks.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly pledged $400-million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Riyadh appears to be walking the center line on the war, mediating prisoner exchanges and providing aid despite angering the U.S. over the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production last week.

Last but certainly not least, for fans of Her Majesty's Cold War armored cars, we have a formerly British Ferret Mk 1 scout car in use with Ukrainian forces. This model is also sporting an Italian MG42/59 buzzsaw chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. We first spotted Ferrets in Ukraine back in August, but this is the first we have seen one operating.

Russian state TV commentators are at it again, this time with a galaxy-brain idea to proliferate weapons to American enemies in a bid to force negotiations over Ukraine.

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

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