Ukraine Situation Report: Russians Cede Bridgehead Into Occupied Kherson

Just in time for the nation’s Statehood Day celebrations, a Ukrainian offensive pressing south is gathering steam and recapturing at least a portion of the Russian-occupied Kherson region, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense. 

Ukrainian forces “have highly likely established a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River, which forms the northern boundary of Russian-occupied Kherson,” the U.K. MoD said in its latest intelligence assessment of the war. 

The Kherson offensive is the most significant advance Ukrainian forces have managed against the Russian onslaught in the south and east that largely devolved into an artillery slugfest fought from trenches, at times resulting in situations similar to World War I. Now Ukraine seems to have mustered enough combat power to push back along the southern front. 

Ukrainian forces pushing south fits with the Institute for the Study of War’s recent assessment that Russian forces can attack only along disparate fronts in the Donetsk region to the northeast of Kherson.

As the offensive gathers momentum, Russian forces find the bridges across the Dnipro River, which they have relied upon to supply troops in Kherson, have been repeatedly attacked by Ukrainian long-range artillery. At least three of those bridges have been damaged, including the 1000-meter-long Antonivsky bridge near Kherson city, the U.K. MoD said. 

That bridge was struck last week and again on July 27 and it is likely that the crossing is now “unusable,” the U.K. MoD said. That leaves Russia’s 49th Army stationed to the west of the Dnipro without a bridge for resupply or retreat.  

“Kherson city, the most politically significant population center occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from the other occupied territories. Its loss would severely undermine Russia’s attempts to paint the occupation as a success,” the U.K. MoD said. 

Alert to the threat of their supply lines being cut, Russian forces have begun constructing a pontoon bridge alongside one of the damaged spans. They also appear to have begun operating a ferry across the Dnipro River at Kherson. 

Cutting Russian forces off from resupply with a river at their back could be a significant opportunity for Ukraine. Russia has struggled with river crossings in this war, to say the least. Whether an advance or a tactical retreat, crossing even small waterways without an intact bridge is a notoriously complex operation for modern armies with heavy equipment. The Russian military has shown inexperience at the maneuver and Ukrainian forces already have taken advantage of that vulnerability

Before we get into the other latest developments, take a moment to catch up on our rolling coverage of the war in Ukraine here.

The Latest

More than 75,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in five months of war in Ukraine, Biden administration officials told members of Congress on July 27. 

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan, told CNN that Biden administration officials provided that casualty assessment during a classified briefing in which they also said 80 percent of Russia’s land forces are “bogged down” as a result of the invasion. Casualties of that magnitude are rare in modern combat and are extremely high for the Russian military, which considered itself a juggernaut prior to the current conflict. Ukraine is certainly suffering heavy military and civilian casualties as well, but 75,000 killed or wounded definitely puts the sustainability of the invasion in question.

Today is Ukraine’s inaugural Statehood Day national holiday, which was declared by President Volodymyr Zelensky during the country’s 30th Independence Day celebration in 2021. July 28 is traditionally celebrated as the date in the 10th century when Kyiv was officially baptized. Marking the date as Statehood Day in 2022 is a direct rebuke of Russian propaganda that the country belongs to Moscow or should not exist as an independent state. Zelensky marked the occasion in one of his nightly video addresses, where he said “we will not surrender. We will not give up. We can’t be intimidated. Ukraine is an independent, free, indivisible state and will be that way always.” 

Russian forces on the same day launched their own assault on Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka in the Donetsk region. Su-25 multirole fighters were seen headed to the fighting, likely to provide close air support to ground forces. 

Admiral Igor Osipov, commander of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, appeared on video touting his service’s contributions to the ongoing war. “The combat activities of the Black Sea Fleet in the course of a special military operation made it possible to gain dominance over the enemy in the Azov Sea and establish control over the NW part of the Black Sea,” he said. Conveniently left out of the admiral’s address were the historically embarrassing losses the Russian Navy has suffered elsewhere in the Black Sea, notable is the loss of the flagship Moskva and its inability to hold Snake Island

Though the Russian Navy has suffered some embarrassing setbacks, it continues to successfully blockade Ukrainian Black Sea ports and prevent the maritime export of huge quantities of grain. Russian warships also have launched missiles against cities inside Ukraine and apparently, they are proud of having done so. Photos emerged July 28 of Russian Buyan class corvettes sporting “strike marks” noting how many times they have launched munitions against targets in Ukraine. 

More images have surfaced of Russian vehicles decked out in Mad Max-style improvised armor. Parked in what looks like a stable, the trucks are sporting welded-on rusty metal armor around their cabs to protect drivers from Ukrainian fire. Whether the armor is at all effective against advanced anti-vehicle weaponry is debatable, but could be useful at stopping small-arms ambushes. In such a lethal environment as Ukraine has turned out to be for Russian military vehicles, the idea seems to be that every bit of protection helps. 

Another novel approach to improvised armor, as seen in the below photo, is strapping full-sized tree trunks to the top of military trucks. As with cage armor added to the top of tanks, these Russian troops are likely trying to protect the vehicle and its occupants from top-attack, though logs are unlikely to stop advanced anti-tank guided missiles in top-attack mode. Tree trunks could be useful protection against small unmanned aerial vehicles dropping bomblets onto the truck, but it would depend on the potency of the particular munition dropped. 

Ukrainian forces are showing proficiency at dropping ordnance from small quadcopters and other commercial-off-the-shelf UAVs. The below video is yet another example of using a relatively small, modified grenade to damage an armored vehicle by dropping it right through the hatch.

Another video showed a significant explosion from dropping a relatively small mortar round on a Russian BTR-82 armored personnel carrier. This sort of effective use of small, inexpensive UAS against high-end armored vehicles is a common occurrence in the Ukraine conflict. The drones are relatively easy to acquire, operate and replace and capable of taking out targets that are much more expensive and difficult to field.

Here’s how they do it, at least in one instance. The below video shows a commercial quadcopter carrying two 40 mm grenades, allowing the operator to adjust aim after the first grenade is dropped or potentially strike two targets during a single sortie. 

According to the Ukraine Weapons Tracker account on Twitter, an M430A1 40 mm grenade can penetrate up to 76 mm of steel, which makes them potentially lethal to even well-armored vehicles when dropped from directly above. The same type of grenade can be seen doing significant damage to a T-80 tank in the video below from earlier in the war.

These drones can fly high enough that they are hard to hear and spot with the naked eye. Even when spotted, they are difficult for ground troops to shoot down or disrupt, especially at higher altitudes.  

Grenades are not only for dropping from drones, of course. Here is a video of a Ukrainian soldier pulling the pin and tossing a live U.S.-donated M67 fragmentation grenade. 

Russian forces have their own offensive UAS and are making increasingly effective use of them on the battlefield, according to recently published video accounts. In the below footage, a Russian Lancet loitering munition, also called a suicide drone, targets what appears to be a control-signal repeater for a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 drone. If a successful strike, as it appears to be, it could disrupt the beyond-line-of-sight control of one of the drones, which have become a popular mascot of Ukrainian resistance and a scourge on Russian forces. 

Russia also continues to launch S-300 air-to-air missiles (SAM) at land targets, this time in Kharkiv where a 26-year-old policeman was killed when a power plant was struck, according to the Kyiv Independent news service. Kharkiv’s mayor told the Kyiv Independent the city was struck twice overnight with S-300s, which have also been used against other cities.

Russian border guards appear to be using a mobile truck scanner in northern Crimea, though the purpose is unclear. It could be used to scan for Ukrainian fighters or weapons being smuggled south into Russian-held territory or to detect unauthorized military equipment, personnel, or humanitarian aid heading north into Ukraine.

Turkish UAS manufacturer Baykar, which builds the Bayraktar TB2, has again pledged to donate one of those drones to Ukraine after Polish citizens raised millions of dollars for the aircraft through a crowdfunding campaign. As it did when Lithuanians completed a similar crowdfunding campaign, Baykar declined the cash and instead donated the TB2 and allowing the funds raised to go to humanitarian relief charities. 

There is flying low to avoid enemy air defenses and then there is flying so low that the blades of the helicopter are nearly harvesting the wheat field below. Behold some how-low-can-you-go maneuvers from Ukrainian Mi-8s.

One of the most bizarre instances of a vehicle being repurposed for military use just popped up in Ukraine. A limousine painted in green camouflage appears to be ready for the fight against Russia. A local blogger is said to have donated it to the cause. How official this is isn’t clear. It is also unclear what practical use the limousine would have in rubble-strewn urban combat settings, but the vehicle likely has room for several stretchers, as commenters have pointed out. It could also ferry around troops in what would likely be very welcomed luxury.

Often in war, as Ukraine is demonstrating daily, you have to fight with what you’ve got, even if it means looking like you are driving to a military-themed prom.

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

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