Ukraine steps up effort to retake Russian-held south with airstrikes

  • Ukraine is trying to squeeze Russia from the south of the country
  • Try to disrupt supply lines, bomb bridges
  • Target Russian forces with airstrikes
  • Russia says it is shelling Ukrainian infantry
  • Kyiv says Russia is redeploying forces to the south

Kyiv, July 28 (Reuters) – Ukraine stepped up its push to retake the country’s Russian-held south by trying to bombard and isolate Russian troops in hard-to-reach areas, but said it saw evidence that Moscow was redeploying its forces to defend the territory.

Kherson region in southern Ukraine, which borders Russia-annexed Crimea, fell to Russian forces shortly after they began what Moscow calls a “special military operation” on February 24.

Ukraine, which describes Russia’s actions as an imperial-style war of conquest, said on Thursday that its planes had hit five Russian strongholds around the city of Kherson and another city in the area.

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British military intelligence, which helps Ukraine, said it was likely that Ukrainian forces had also established a bridgehead south of a river that runs along the northern border of the Kherson region.

“Ukraine’s counter-offensive in Kherson is gaining momentum,” he said in a statement.

Ukraine says it has retaken some small settlements in the far north of the region in recent weeks as it tries to push back Russian forces, a possible prelude to what Kyiv has described as a major counteroffensive to retake the south.

Russia said on Thursday it was not uncomfortable, with the defense ministry saying its jets had attacked a Ukrainian infantry brigade in the far north of the Kherson region, killing more than 130 of its soldiers in recent 24 hours

Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-appointed civil-military administration that runs the Kherson region, has also rejected Western and Ukrainian assessments of the situation on the battlefield.

“Zelenskiy’s (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) statement that the Kherson region will be liberated in three to six weeks is … a lie. All these counter-offensives resulting in large numbers of Ukrainian casualties are being wasted Stremousov told Russia’s RIA. news agency Wednesday.

“Massive Russian Redeployment”

Ukraine has used Western-supplied long-range missile systems to severely damage three bridges over the Dnipro River in recent weeks, making it difficult for Russia to supply its forces on the western bank.

British intelligence said the strategy was beginning to isolate Russian forces in the Kherson region.

“Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River, now appears very vulnerable,” he said in an intelligence bulletin.

The city of Kherson was practically cut off from the other territories occupied by Russia.

“Their loss severely undermines Russia’s attempts to paint the occupation as a success,” he said.

A Ukrainian strike on Wednesday at the Antonivskyi Bridge, the only section serving the city of Kherson, caused its closure to traffic. That forced Russia to open a ferry service, the route of which it said would constantly change for security reasons.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted that Russia was concentrating “the maximum number of troops” in the direction of the Kherson region, but gave no details.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Zelenski, said Russia was conducting a “massive redeployment” of forces from east to south in what was a strategic shift from attack to defense. Read more

RIA reported on Thursday that Russian security services had uncovered a group of Ukrainian agents in Kherson who had been paid to transmit map coordinates to Russian forces in Ukraine for artillery targeting.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine would one day rebuild the Antonivskyi Bridge over the Dnipro and other crossings in the region.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure that the occupying forces have no logistical opportunity in our country,” he said in a speech Wednesday evening on the eve of Ukraine’s annual State Day.

Oleksiy Gromov, a senior member of the General Staff of the Ukrainian army, told a press conference on Thursday that the bridge was of great importance to Russia’s defensive effort and to the offensive attempt of ‘Ukraine.

“We have repeatedly hit the Antonivskyi Bridge… There is significant damage to the bridge structures,” Gromov said.

Russia continues to carry out its own daily attacks against targets throughout Ukraine.

Five people were killed and 25 injured in a Russian missile attack on a flight school in the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi on Thursday, the regional governor said. Read more

Fierce fighting is also taking place in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is trying to take control of the entire industrialized Donbas region.

Ukraine confirmed late Wednesday that Russian forces had captured the Soviet-era Vuhlehirsk coal-fired power plant, Ukraine’s second largest, in what was Moscow’s first significant gain in the Donbas in more than three weeks Kyiv downplayed the setback. Read more

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Reuters bureau reports; Written by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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