Russia has conceded for the first time that Ukrainian forces have crossed the vast Dnipro River into occupied areas of the Kherson region – as Kyiv tries to open up a new line of attack against Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Ukraine said on Tuesday it had secured a foothold on the eastern bank of the Dnipro “against all odds”, in a potentially major setback for Russian occupation forces in the south where Kyiv is trying to open a new line of attack.
A Ukrainian military spokesperson said on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops were trying to push Russian forces back from the eastern bank of the river, which serves as a formidable natural barrier on the battlefield.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of the part of Kherson that Moscow controls, acknowledged in a statement that Ukrainian forces had managed to cross the river but said they were taking heavy losses.
Ukrainian forces, he said, were operating in small groups spread over an area from the region’s railway bridge to the village of Krynky, across a distance of around 12 miles (20km). He said they numbered around one and a half companies.
“Our additional forces have now been brought in. The enemy is trapped in [the settlement of] Krynky and a fiery hell has been arranged for him: bombs, rockets, heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells and drones,” said Mr Saldo.
Citing what he said was first-hand information from Russia’s “Dnepr” military grouping, he claimed Ukrainian forces were pinned down. The village of Krynky lies close to the Dnipro around 20 miles northeast of the city of Kherson, which Ukraine recaptured almost exactly a year ago.
Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, described the frontline as “fairly fluid” and said Kyiv’s forces had been putting Russian troops under pressure along the river.
“The pushback from our side is taking place on a line from three to eight kilometres along the entire bank from the water’s edge,” she said. “For now, we will ask for informational silence ... which would allow us to report later on great successes,” she said in televised comments.
Progress by Ukraine along the vast frontline across Ukraine has been slow, but an advance in the occupied Kherson region could spread Russian defences thinner and ratchet up the pressure.
“Against all the odds, Ukraine’s defence forces have gained a foothold on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro,” president Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff said on Tuesday.
The official, Andriy Yermak, said that Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which it launched in June, was “developing” and that Kyiv knew “how to achieve victory”.
Russia’s military said last week its forces had thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to forge a bridgehead on the eastern bank and nearby islands, inflicting heavy losses.
Mr Yermak made his remarks during a trip to the United States, a key ally of Kyiv that has provided vital military assistance since the February 2022 invasion, although questions now swirl over the sustainability of such aid.
While cautious not to compromise any of its operations, Kyiv has been eager to tout its battlefield successes after the much-vaunted counteroffensive, now more than five months old, has retaken a series of villages but has slowed.
Russian troops seized Kherson region in the early days of their invasion but retreated a year ago from the city of Kherson and other positions on the western side of the river.
This week, in a highly unusual incident, two Russian state news agencies published alerts saying Moscow was moving troops to “more favourable positions” east of the river, language it has used in the past to describe retreats. The agencies quickly withdrew the news report, which Russia’s Defence Ministry said was false.