Kherson Factor

Representatives of ruling party of Russia United Russia were among the first to leave the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson after the Ukrainian attack on the Antonov Bridge over the Dnieper River on 28 July, which is considered the “bridge of life” of the Russian occupation forces in the capital of Kherson region. Politicians from United Russia have declared that they can no longer carry out “humanitarian activities”.

The press centre of the Department of Strategic Communication and Information Policy under the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine pointed out that the Russians were indeed engaged in collecting personal data of Kherson citizens as part of the pseudo-referendum on the organisation of the region’s accession to Russia.

An obligatory component of the geopolitical subplot is that the Russians are desperate to hold “referendums” in southern regions of Ukraine Kherson and Zaporizhya on joining Russia, so that, if they “win”, they will be declared “Russian”, with the possibility of defending them by any means, including nuclear weapons.

Kherson came under Russian occupation at the beginning of the aggression of Moscow against Ukraine on 3 March. Since then, the occupation authorities have repeatedly announced their intention to incorporate the region into Russia. Kirill Stremousov, whom the Russian official press refers to as the deputy director of the region’s military-political administration, stated as early as the end of June that a ‘referendum’ on the issue was planned for the autumn.

On 23 July, the occupation authorities in Kherson and Zaporizhya issued orders for the formation of “referendum election commissions”. According to the documents governing the “referendum” in Kherson, which were taken over by the Ukrainian Security Service (UST) on 1 August, the main organisational burden is to be borne by the pro-Kremlin organisation “Russian Volunteers”.

For example, it is obliged to organise 140 synchronous pro-Russian pickets in Kherson (30 of them in the centre of the region). The Kremlin-controlled media and bloggers will have to cover these agitations. All of them are already being transferred to the region.

According to the UST, a new name is also being considered for the “referendums” entity, the most likely option being is Greater Russia.

On 30 July, deputy chairman of the Kherson Regional Council of Ukraine Yuriy Sobolevsky, reported that under the pretext of the “referendum”, the occupation authorities are stepping up the procedures for filtering locals and trying to manipulate public opinion through public events such as the Forum “We are together with Russia”.

In parallel to the occupiers, terrorising southern Ukrainians, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch has documented 42 cases of enforced disappearances and enforced detentions in Kherson and Zaporizhya until 1 August. Torture of three territorial defence volunteers was documented, two of whom died.

Returning to the Antonov Bridge, according to the Department of Strategic Communication and Information Policy, of Ukraine, the attack on it had both a logistical and a psychological effect. The bridge was also attacked by the Ukrainian armed forces on 19 and 20 July. Following the attacks, car traffic was temporarily suspended, as the Russians announced.

Kherson region has three bridges over the Dnieper – the Antonov Bridge, a railway bridge six kilometres away, and the Kakhov water storage embankment in Novaya Kakhovka, 50 kilometres from the centre of the region.

The Antonov Bridge is the most important for supply of the occupying army because it is the largest and closest. Kherson is on the right bank of the Dnieper, with the Antonov Bridge is beyond it, which is the road to Crimea. Kherson, the only centre of the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region, is just over 100 kilometres from the administrative border with Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

According to Nataliya Gumenyuk, head of the press coordination centre of the Yug (South) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), the Ukrainian Armed Forces are controlling strategically important transport routes in the Kherson region under fire, thus preventing the occupying forces from supplying the occupying forces with weapons and reinforcements in the field.

“We are not destroying infrastructure, only plans of the enemy.” – Nataliya Gumenyuk points out that the Antonov Bridge is being attacked in such a way that it is not completely destroyed, but “only” rendered unusable for the heavy military equipment of Russia.

There have been rumours for some time that Ukraine is planning to repatriate Kherson. The US Institute for the Study of War indicated on 23 July that a counter-attack is under way and may have already begun.

It was announced in Ukraine at the time that its military had liberated 44 of the 600 population centres in the area, and it was predicted that the entire region would be liberated by autumn.

However, the counter-attack is considered to be complex by the West, requiring significantly more troops and weapons than Ukraine currently has. In addition, there are reports that Russia is moving troops through Crimea into southern Ukraine.

Before the strikes on 26 July, the Minister of Defence of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikoff stated that 50 American HIMARS artillery missile systems were needed for his country’s defence and 100 for the offensive.

Chairman of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, stated during a visit to Kiev on 23 July that the US and its allies could provide Ukraine with additional 25-30 HIMARS systems and their analogues.

At that time, the Ukrainians had 12 of these artillery rocket systems, and by 26 July they had received four more, giving them a total of 16 at the end of July-August.

According to the Ukrainian military expert Mykhailo Samus, there are two Russian military groups with up to 30,000 troops deployed on the right bank of the Dnieper River. One was deployed in and around Kherson, while the second was ready to attack Kirov Rog in the north-east.

A non-statutory advisor to Andriy Yermak, Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office Oleksiy Arestovych stated on 28 July on the Internet channel feigin LIVE that the operation to liberate Kherson “has begun, so to speak”, and that the Ukrainian armed forces are using high-precision missiles and artillery to ensure that the enemy will be left with no storage facilities, no ammunition, no fuel, and no communications at first.

The Ukrainians will then clear the territory of living force of the enemy, leaving the Russian soldiers with the choice of retreating, surrendering if possible, or being destroyed.

According to the Russian military analyst based in Prague Yuriy Fedorov, a look at the map shows that the Ukrainian armed forces are slowly but surely advancing into the Kherson region, with HIMARS and other artillery rocket systems steadily destroying the Russian ammunition depots.

According to Ukrainian military expert Sergiy Grabsky, it is still premature to talk about a counter-attack, because even in the face of battles of limited intensity – as at the beginning of August – the manoeuvring options of the Russian forces are increasingly limited and they will continue to retreat due to the increasing difficulty in obtaining full reinforcements.

The Ukrainian side will not ease the pressure.

According to Sergiy Grabskyi, news of new liberated areas in Kherson reached every day at the end of July, and the enemy was forced to retreat, which required additional ammunition resources and resulted in the loss of manpower.

Hopes of the Russian occupation forces (there were some) to build a pontoon ferry parallel to the 1,366-metre-long bridge are not even science fiction according to the Ukrainian military analyst.

Theoretically, this is possible, as it was done in the Soviet era during military exercises on the Dnieper, but it should also be pointed out that in the current circumstances, a pontoon ferry is a perfect target because it is a mobile, moving object; the destruction of a single link eliminates the entire structure.

If you attack when/if a tank battalion is moving through the ferry…

The Belarusian portal Zerkalo managed to ask some Kherson residents at the turn of July-August how they live under occupation.

According to 23-year-old Alexandra (name changed), who lives near the city centre, the people around her are well aware that the Russians are firing on other Ukrainian cities from Kherson, so they are happy when the occupiers are getting their revenge, even though it may sound cynical – it’s their city and it’s not right to be happy about other people’s deaths.

According to the girl, the locals were not like that before, but the occupation has changed everything – the Russians are strangers to the people of Kherson, and nobody will feel sorry for them after what they “did” during the occupation.

Tatiana, 43, who lives near the Antonov Bridge, says the damage to the bridge was great news for her. At least Russian military equipment from Crimea will not use this road and Mykolaiv will not be attacked by missiles (the Russians attacked this town, which is on the road to Odessa from the east, with particular brutality in early August).

The woman also said that Russian soldiers, security agents (from the FSB) have started to appear more often on the streets of Kherson dressed in civilian clothes  and try to find out the mood of the locals, but also because they don’t feel safe as there are Ukrainian guerrillas in the city.

The Law on National Resistance was adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament before the invasion of Moscow on 27 January. The lawmakers defined the components of national resistance as territorial defence, resistance movement, and training of citizens for resistance.

Non-violent action against the occupier is an important element. This is what the Centre for National Resistance, founded in March, is doing. The Centre has the task of preparing all adults to resist the invaders. The Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine coordinate the resistance movement.

They are mostly professional military personnel on combat duties in temporarily occupied territories, who do not reveal too much about their activities. Information about their tasks is a state secret.

Only once did the Special Operations Forces Command report a bridge bombing in southern Ukraine. The reaction of the collaborators showed that this was frightening. Representatives of the occupation authorities in Kherson walk through the streets wearing bulletproof vests and with security.

A good illustration of limited – propaganda of Russia rather than actual – resources is the so-called Odessa Battalion fighting on the Russian side. Its commander Igor Markov, like most of its soldiers, has lived in Moscow for a long time, so they are not liberators, but “just” newcomers, strangers to Ukraine.

“A documentary by Elizaveta Tatarinova about the life of Kherson citizens under the occupation, and how they resist it, is available on YouTube. According to the filmmaker, Russian propaganda tries to paint a picture of a “peaceful life” in the occupied south of Ukraine, when in reality emissaries of Moscow are busy kidnapping people, keeping the region in informational isolation, and preventing them from leaving. Kherson still holds on, does not give up.

To summarise, Kherson is a symbol of the resistance of the Ukrainian nation as a strategically important city.

Arūnas Spraunius

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Autorius: Voras.online