Ukraine Situation Report: Russia’s Kherson Pontoon Bridge Attacked

Ukrainian forces struck at a key crossing on the Dnipro River late Thursday night local time and may have tried to hit it again on Friday. Video evidence of the scene appears to show that Ukraine targeted, at least in part, the makeshift pontoon bridge Russia had just completed and is seen as essential for both resupply and potential retreat of Russian forces in Kherson. The pontoon bridge, made of a series of barges, sits right beside the Antonovsky bridge that has been unusable for months due to repeated precision rocket attacks. You can read all about the completion of the Pontoon bridge and why it is so critical to Russia’s operations in Kherson in this recent article of ours.

Russians say the attack by guided M31 rockets fired by a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) killed four civilians and wounded about a dozen more, while Ukrainian officials say no civilians were killed.

Kremlin-installed Kherson officials said Ukrainian shelling of a Dnipro River ferry crossing killed two journalists working for a local TV station they set up under occupation, according to the Associated Press. At least two other people were reported killed and 10 members of the broadcast crew and their relatives were wounded, AP reported, citing Russia’s Tass news agency.

“It has been established that the civilian column was crossing from Kherson to the other side of the river when Ukrainian nationalists deliberately struck with American MLRS HIMARS with cluster munitions,” Russia’s investigation committee said, according to Reuters.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern operational command, confirmed the Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge near the crossing but only during an overnight curfew Russian-installed officials put in place to avoid civilian casualties, AP reported.

Russian forces “are trying to hide civilians from the movement of their equipment by ferry crossings,” Ukraine’s Operational Command South (OCS) reported on its Facebook page. “They continue the evacuation campaign of locals, including offering to leave in their own cars surrounded by military equipment on crossings, knowing that the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not strike civilians.”

The attack came two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law while local authorities began a desperate effort to evacuate tens of thousands of residents ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive on that important riverside city.

It also came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia had mined the Kahkovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam located upriver from Kherson, a move the Institute for the Study of War suggested Russia was planning as a cover for their evacuation of Kherson City.

While civilians are being evacuated, Russia is pouring an additional 2,000 recently mobilized troops into the area as reinforcements, OCS reported.

It is unclear how close Ukrainian forces are to the city. Ukraine has been guarded about its southern counteroffensive. Friday, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said on his Telegram page that Ukraine had liberated 88 villages in its Kherson counteroffensive. By most indications, Ukrainian forces are just on the outskirts at this time.

On Friday, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh declined to offer many details, saying only that Ukraine is making progress in both its southern and eastern counteroffensives while the Russians are “pushing hard.”

And it seems Ukraine, which had rendered the Antonovsky Bridge across the Dnipro, as well as a roadway atop the dam upsteam, impassible, remains intent on disrupting Russian logistics at the river crossing.

“Kyiv troops again tried to shell the area of a civilian crossing near the Antonovsky bridge in Kherson, the attack was repulsed by air defense, the emergency services of the region said,” the Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti reported on its Telegram channel around midnight local time.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine.

Still, if Ukraine wants the barge bridge gone, it could unleash more HIMARS attacks to see that it can’t be effectively used for any prolonged length of time.

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

Earlier Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called his counterpart, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu for the first time in months.

“Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine,” is how it was described in the official Pentagon readout.

Speaking to reporters later Friday morning, including from The War Zone, Singh declined to offer more specifics, other than Austin initiated the call.

“Today just provided a good opportunity and the right opportunity for this call to happen amidst an ongoing war,” she said. “This was the day that provided the best opportunity to connect.”

Austin also spoke with his “good friend” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov “to reiterate the unwavering U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ability to counter Russia’s aggression,” according to the official Pentagon readout.

“Secretary Austin also underscored the international community’s continued support in building Ukraine’s enduring strength and safeguarding Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the future, as demonstrated by the security assistance commitments made by allies and partners at the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on October 12.”

“The two leaders pledged to remain in close contact.”

Reznikov said he discussed “enhancement of air defense capabilities” and the “security situation” with Austin.

Though Austin tweeted out his call with Shoigu before his call with Reznikov, Singh declined to say which one of his two foreign counterparts he spoke with first on Friday.

While a lot of attention has been focused on the fight in Kherson, bloody fights are taking place in the east as well, particularly in the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, where Russians are pushing hard against Ukrainian defenders.

In its latest assessment, ISW suggested that Russia is working to make it seem like they are achieving a victory against a continuous slog of battlefield defeats.

Here are some of their key takeaways:

  • Russian forces are likely setting conditions to remove military and occupation elements from the west bank of the Dnipro River in anticipation of imminent Ukrainian advances.
  • Russian sources continued to claim that Russian forces are consolidating limited regained positions in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast on October 20 despite Ukrainian reports that Ukraine has liberated all but 1.8% of Kharkiv Oblast.
  • Russian sources indicated that Ukrainian troops have advanced in northern Kherson Oblast as Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground assaults in Donetsk Oblast but Russian sources contradicted their own claims on control of Bakhmut. Russian forces are likely continuing to falsify claims of advances in the Bakhmut area to portray themselves as making gains in at least one sector amid continuing losses in northeast and southern Ukraine.
  • Russian regional governments and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continue to blame each other for military administrative failures.

Taking a page out of the Ukrainian meme playbook, which has lionized the Javelin man-portable anti-armor system, a pro-Russian artist has created a “St. Shahed” meme, in honor of the Iranian Shahed-136 drones wreaking havoc across Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the fight in Bakhmut remains horrific.

Adding it all up, Ukraine’s people and infrastructure are taking a beating to the tune of $127 billion, the Kyiv Independent reported.

But Ukrainian forces are also inflicting damage.

In Kherson, Ukraine destroyed a Russian BM-27 Uragan 220mm MLRS and captured its 9T452 transporter.

And foreign-donated weapons continue to show up on the battlefield for Ukraine, like this Swedish RBS-17 missile, a shore defense adaption of the AGM-114 Hellfire which can also be used for ground targets. You can read our full report on the system finally showing up in video here.

Despite their struggles, Ukrainians are making do the best they can, like building a frontline sauna.

And ordering food deliveries to bomb shelters during air raids.

Of course, it helps when the force is with you. Actor Mark Hamill, who starred as the iconic Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, announced that he has spearheaded the donating of 500 drones to Ukraine.

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.