The Ukrainian fight to establish a foothold across the Dnipro River in Russian-held Kherson Oblast has been brutal and futile, troops involved in that mission told The New York Times.
With its counteroffensive in the south and east bogged down into a bloody stalemate, Ukraine has been pushing troops across the Dnipro. The hope is that with enough of a presence there, they can threaten the so-called land corridor to Crimea. Last month, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs boasted about the advance of Ukrainian troops there and even Russian milbloggers have worried about that presence.
The troops interviewed by the Times, however, paint a dire view of that situation.
“Waves of Ukrainian troops have been struck down on the river banks or in the water, even before they reach the other side,” the publication reported after interviewing several troops involved in this effort. “Conditions are so difficult, a half-dozen men involved in the fighting said in interviews, that in most places, there is nowhere to dig in. The first approaches tend to be marshy islands threaded with rivulets or meadows that have become a quagmire of mud and bomb craters filled with water.”
The soldiers and marines gave only their first names or asked for anonymity for security reasons, and commanders declined almost all media requests to visit military units in the Kherson region.
They spoke to journalists “out of concern about the high casualties and what they said were overly optimistic accounts from officials about the progress of the offensive,” according to the Times.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that it was not immediately possible to comment on the soldiers’ accusations but that it would provide a response in due course.
As we have reported frequently, some of the heaviest fighting has been in the village of Krynky, on the east bank 20 miles upriver from Kherson city, where Ukrainian troops seized a narrow strip of fishermen’s houses — the only place where they managed to establish a toehold.
“Fresh troops arriving on the east bank have to step on soldiers’ bodies that lie tangled in the churned mud,” said one of the Ukrainians, Oleksiy, an experienced soldier who fought in Krynky in October and has since crossed multiple times to help evacuate the wounded.”
Oleksiy also pushed back against claims that the Dnipro operation has been successful.
“There are no positions. There is no such thing as an observation post or position,” said Oleksiy. “It is impossible to gain a foothold there. It’s impossible to move equipment there.”
“It’s not even a fight for survival,” he added. “It’s a suicide mission.”
Oleksiy blamed the Ukrainian commanders’ poor preparation and logistics for decimating his battalion. Wounded men were being left behind because of a lack of boats, he said, and the brutal conditions were degrading morale and soldiers’ support for each other.
Another Ukrainian interviewed by the Times pointed out that despite the losses, these attacks have “unnerved Russian commanders, who brought back an airborne unit from the Zaporizhzhia front to bolster the defense.”
Ukrainian artillery and drone units were well placed along the river’s western bank, which has the advantage of having higher elevation than the eastern bank and allows access to supplies, electricity and logistics, that marine told the Times.
“They are very scared that Ukraine this month, or in the spring or the summer, will increase its territory to expand and liberate” the east bank, he said, adding that he followed radio intercepts of Russian communications, among other sources of intelligence.
Even small territorial gains would give Ukraine the ability to strike Russia’s supply routes into Crimea, he said. But for now, the cross-river operation was focused not on a breakthrough but on drawing in and killing as many Russian troops as possible, he said.
How much longer Ukraine, experiencing great battlefield losses in Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and even Kharkiv oblasts, can afford to conduct these missions remains to be seen.
Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Little has changed on the battlefield over the past several days.
Ukrainian forces claimed a small victory in the village of Snivkivka, about two miles northeast of Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast. The Russians, however, have the initiative across a large front, making small gains in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- German outlet BILD stated on December 14 that unspecified intelligence findings and sources indicate that Russia plans to occupy Ukrainian territory beyond the four (illegally) annexed Ukrainian oblasts throughout 2024-2026.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threateningly urged Ukraine to negotiate with Russia sooner rather than later in framing consistent with the ISW assessment that Russia intends to achieve its maximalist objectives in Ukraine through military means.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations near Kupyansk, northeast and near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and made confirmed advances in several areas.
- Kremlin newswire TASS reported on December 14 that “Grom” special units (elite anti-drug special units of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs [MVD]) will fully transition to being subordinated to Rosgvardia in early 2024.
Ukraine's spy boss on Saturday pushed back against claims that Russia destroyed a Patriot air defense battery recently donated by Germany with 9-S-7760 Kinzhal missile, known in the West as the AS-24 Killjoy, carried by adapted MiG-31K Foxhound-D interceptors.
"It's not true," Lt. Gen. Kyrlylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate, told us about claims made on social media that "a battery of Patriot air defense systems sent by Germany to Ukraine was destroyed by a Kinzhal missile near Zhitomir, west of Kyiv."
On Thursday, Germany announced it sent Ukraine one more Patriot system, spare parts and an unrevealed number of unspecified interceptors. Germany has previously provided Ukraine two Patriot launchers as well as an entire battery in combination with the Netherlands.
We’ve seen multiple videos of mine-clearing vehicles being used in the Ukrainian war, especially the Russian UR-77 Meteorit that fires a rocket-assisted line charge from a launcher fitted to the vehicle’s hull. Each line charge is essentially a rope made up of high explosives. They are fired into a desired area and then detonate. The overpressure from the blast then sets off any nearby mines, helping to create a safe corridor for friendly forces to pass through.
A new development in this field, however, is an uncrewed ground vehicle that’s similarly equipped for mine-clearing operations. The video below shows a test of the Ukrainian design, with the vehicle trailing behind it a UZP-77 mine-clearing line charge.
Also deployed by the UR-77 Meteorit, the UZP-77 can create a ‘lane’ through a minefield that is between 80 and 90 meters (262.5 feet and 295 feet) long, respectively, according to a 2016 U.S. Army manual on foreign military capabilities.
The high risk posed to crewed mine-clearance vehicles, especially to drones and drone-delivered munitions, has very likely helped drive the Ukrainian development of uncrewed mine-clearing vehicles like this one.
Returning to the battlefield are Ukrainian Leopard 2 tanks that have undergone repairs in Lithuania.
Back in October, we reported about how the first batch of German-made Leopard 2 tanks used by Ukraine had been overhauled in Poland and returned to their units. The work was undertaken at a specialized maintenance and repair hub that was set up in Poland, with German assistance.
According to the Kyiv Independent, the first Leopard 2s processed in Lithuania are expected to reach Ukraine next month.
Lithuanian Minister of Defense Arvydas Anusauskas praised the Lithuanian military and German defense industry for their work on the tanks.
Next up, a scene that would have been entirely unthinkable when the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine started: An M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle is dragged through the snow by a Soviet-era T-64 tank.
The scene in question records a Ukrainian T-64BV, one of the later models of the tank, with upgraded armor, recovering a presumably battle-damaged M2A2 ODS-SA. The date and location have not been recorded, but the weather conditions suggest it’s likely a recent video.
Details continue to emerge about Russia’s extemporized UMPK guided glide-bomb packages, that have been added to standard ‘dumb’ bombs, reducing the exposure of Russian tactical aircraft to Ukrainian air defenses.
Conflict Armament Research (CAR) investigators working in Ukraine have looked at the wreckage of two of these weapons and discovered that both included components with markings that were deliberately obliterated. This suggests that they were likely foreign-sourced components, which Russia hoped would not be able to be traced — either by foreign intelligence or perhaps also by the manufacturers responsible for making these parts. Overall, this points again to Russia’s continued reliance on foreign components, especially for high-technology and precision military applications, such as weapon guidance systems, as well as optics.
The Ukrainian Air Force base at Starokostiantyniv was the probable target of Russian Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles on Thursday.
According to a report from Reuters, the Ukrainian Air Force said that Russian MiG-31K fighters carrying Kinzhal missiles struck targets in central Ukraine just 10 minutes after taking off from Savasleyka airbase in the Nizhny Novgorod region.
Ukraine claimed it shot down one Kinzhal missile over the Kyiv region, while another two hit Starokostiantyniv district, where their likely target was the airbase of the same name that has also come under repeated previous attacks.
Another video has appeared showing the Russian Scalpel loitering munition in use in Ukraine. A Russian soldier interviewed about the weapons says “We still have issues with the catapult launch. Our drone is cheaper than Lancet and of course, has a more limited function than the Lancet.”
As we have described before, the Scalpel is basically a smaller and cheaper version of the Lancet. Accounts on the Telegram messaging app last month claimed that the first batch of these new loitering munitions was ready for use in eastern Ukraine. The same accounts suggested that the Russian Armed Forces has a lack of Lancets, something that the delivery of the Scalpels is intended to help address.
Naval warfare analyst H. I. Sutton describes the BBKN Dandelion as reportedly able to reach a speed of 43 knots and with a range of 108 nautical miles.
According to Russian reports, the Dandelion will “soon” be deployed to the Black Sea.
With little in the way of crewed Ukrainian Navy vessels to target, the Dandelion is presumably intended as a direct counter to Ukrainian USVs, suggesting the imminent possibility of uncrewed surface vessels battling against each other in the Black Sea.
The latest in a relative flurry of videos from the perspective of first-person view (FPV) drones is one of the most dramatic to date. It reveals the significant threat that these new weapons pose on the battlefield, the victim in this case being a Russian tank. Despite a low battery, the Ukrainian FPV drone flies directly into the tank via an open turret hatch, and despite an anti-drone screen, or ‘cope cage.’ It appears likely that the tank had already been abandoned at this point.
An image of a Russian vehicle sporting unusual camouflage was posted by the Ugolok Sith Telegram channel.
"The loaf is in maximum camouflage kit and with an anti-drone visor on the entire roof," it said of the kit, which appears to be strings of dried straw-like material.
A video appeared yesterday purporting to show a dramatic near-miss, after a pair of Russian Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft overflew a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher just as it was discharging its 122m artillery rockets.
Further details were not immediately forthcoming, but now, it seems, there is a companion video from the cockpit of one of the jets, as well as a recording of the radio chatter between the pilots.
“The Grad fired right before the number eight [the tactical callsign for the other aircraft],” one pilot is heard to say. “Right before. Let them know. This is so wrong. Tell them I’m coming to fire at them!”
And finally, meet Ukraine's newest secret weapon, the Trench Kittens.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
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