On Tuesday, it was reported that Ukraine had broken through Russian defenses at the fortress town of Snihurivka and occupied the north end of that location. It’s unclear if that was because Russia had already begun pulling forces away from the outer defensive line around the city of Kherson, or if that event triggered a Russian panic. Either way, what followed were a series of reports that Russia has left positions it had long defended on the west side of the Dnipro River and relocated forces either across the river, or to a new defensive line.
Then on Wednesday, Russian state media announced that Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu had ordered a complete withdrawal of Russian forces west of the Dnipro River. This was rapidly followed by reports from local citizens and nearby Ukrainian forces that Russia had withdrawn from a number of locations in northern Kherson, particularly towns along the line from Bruskynske to Mylove which has represented the front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces following a rapid Ukrainian advance last month. At the same time, Ukraine reportedly began advancing south of Snihurivka, both in the area of Pravdyne and along the highway at Kyselivka.
Over the hours that have followed, Ukraine has reportedly liberated all of Snihurivka, Pravdyne, and the village of Kalynivske. That last one may be a small location, but it stands very near a point that would represent the joining of Ukraine’s northern and southern forces in Kherson. In the north, Ukraine has reportedly liberated Borozenske and Pyatykhatky.
Still, there are absolutely reasons to be cautious in reading all these exciting, and upbeat reports. For one, the end of October estimate by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense put the number of Russian forces west of the Dnipro at somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 men. That’s an enormous force, and it’s unlikely that a significant number has retreated across the Dnipro in the last week, especially with Ukraine working to keep transportation across the river unreliable.
Vladimir Putin has not yet officially said anything about the withdrawal from Kherson — an area he recently dubbed “Russia forever” after taking the results of a mock election. Russia had a huge political investment in Kherson. They’ve been encouraging Russians to go there not just as soldiers, but as part of the government, as school teachers to indoctrinate Ukrainian children, and as settlers. This is the largest city and only regional capital that Russia has taken in this invasion. They don’t want to give it up.
Of all these reports of liberated towns, only Pravdyne and Kalynivske have been accompanied by clear evidence of Ukrainian soldiers walking around in the formerly occupied location. Snihurivka has famously been seen with a Ukrainian flag flying overhead, but there are no Ukrainian soldiers in the image, or video to show that Ukraine has full control of the town. So there’s still some possibility that things are not quite as good as they seem.
But this time … they probably are. Because if there’s evidence that Russia is lying about their withdrawal, or laying some kind of trap, that evidence sure hasn’t emerged at this point.
At the time of writing, it’s after 11PM in Kyiv. One reason we’re not seeing a lot of Ukrainian flags flying over newly liberated towns and villages at the moment is because not even the people on the ground can see them. It’s dark. However, if the reports of today are accurate, we’re likely to see the results in about 8 hours. If there is a rapidly growing list of liberated towns at that time, then this is real. If that sunrise doesn’t bring some fresh news … then it’s likely Russian forces haven’t moved as much as the current flood of tweets and telegraphs insist.
One other cautionary note: While there are reports of many towns and villages abandoned by Russian forces, it’s far from all locations. And while some of the reports indicate that Russian forces are withdrawing across the river, many Russian Telegram reports of movement along the northern line speak to forces being repositioned at a new defensive line closer to Beryslav.
Don’t assume that things are going to be a cakewalk. Don’t equate every report that a location has been abandoned by Russia with it being liberated and under Ukrainian control. And definitely don’t assume that the city of Kherson is going to fall without a fight. That way, you won’t be disappointed.
If Russia really is retreating, the sheer size of their forces in the area means just getting them out of their is likely to take weeks. In the meantime, their forces will have to try and maintain some semblance of a defensive line, or be completely overrun. The smart thing for Ukraine is likely to continually harry the Russian force, looking for weakness, carving off any isolated force, and capturing any left behind equipment, while not engaging in a nose to nose fight with desperate men whose back is literally to the river.
Now. Let’s wait for sunrise.
Expect a lot of reports like this in coming days.
Still seeing such reports. Russia will need some kind of defensive line if they’re going to get people out. Don’t expect Ukrainian forces to be in Beryslav before morning.
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