One month after Ukraine started their counterattack in Kherson, the Ukrainian Ground Forces are now having difficulty pushing Russian forces back.
Both parties are reportedly deadlocked, with Kherson being the most pivotal location in the war. Ukraine has made progress in cutting down supply routes for Russia and isolating its forces in the northern and southern parts of Kherson. Still, recent Russian advances in the eastern Donetsk region pushed them back.
Some experts believe the standstill is caused by exhaustion, with the war waging on its 24th week.
“Given how much attrition the Russians have suffered, the most they can hope for is to take the rest of Donetsk. I don’t think they have the capacity to take Mykolaiv, let alone Odesa,” Panagiotis Gartzonikas, a former armored division commander in the Hellenic Army and lecturer at Greece’s National Defence College, told Al Jazeera.
“The Ukrainians, with the rocket artillery they’ve received, have achieved some goals, but I think they cannot take Kherson … The Russians are south of the Dnipro river and the Ukrainians north. To take Kherson they have to cross the Dnieper, which involves a lot of things apart from rocket artillery.”
In the last 24 hours, the Ukrainian Ground Forces (UGF) have been preparing to free the southern part of Kherson, where Russian occupiers are trying to settle down. The current strategy reportedly holds really high risks for the UGF, but if they’re successful, they could fully retake Kherson in the coming weeks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeatedly emphasized the importance of retaking Kherson, and Ukrainian military leaders continued to bombard Russian forces with advanced artillery. However, the UGF understands the mission is highly complex, especially since they would need three times their current force to launch a confrontation that would ultimately push Russian troops out of Kherson.
They’re looking at an alternative to bait Russians in a while using high-precision artillery like the HIMARS.
Retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel John Nagl told WSJ that Ukrainians are not flashy when it comes to their attacks, but their smaller, more targeted offensives have been effective so far.
“If the Ukrainians just wanted to push the Russians out of Kherson, they wouldn’t broadcast what they’re doing. It looks like the Ukrainians are baiting the Russians, and they’re taking the bait.”
Western analysts agree. The more Ukraine pushes for Kherson; the more Russia will be inclined to send as many forces possible to support their remaining soldiers in Kherson. Once Russian troops intersect in Kherson, Ukraine will ultimately implement a long-range battle.
“If the Ukrainians can trap several companies worth of defenders, that would be the nightmare scenario for the Russians,” said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales.
Nagl also agreed, saying Russia’s ego has been their weakest link.
“The smart play for the Russians is to redeploy across the Dnipro and use the river as a defensive position,” said Nagl. “Instead they’re doubling down on stupid by reinforcing Kherson.”
Locals Stepping In
At the same time, locals are helping the Ukrainian government defend smaller regions in Kherson by posting “warning signs” to Russian soldiers who are looking to occupy houses and buildings in the area.
“Russians! We Will Turn You Into…” one poster notes with a picture of hamburger meat as a highlight.
There are also posters giving instructions to Russian soldiers to follow a “QR code” generated by the Ukrainian government in case they want to surrender.
“We have prepared instructions for those who do not want to fight with their homeland,” one poster says.
A guerilla movement is also powering the opposition in Kherson. Andriy, a 32-year-old guerilla coordinator, said they want to prevent the occupiers from taking their land.
“Our goal is to make life unbearable for the Russian occupiers and use any means to derail their plans,” he said.
Another growing community, the Yellow Ribbon movement, also explicitly threatens Russian authorities and Ukrainians working as spies. For example, there are posters instructing people on how to make a Molotov cocktail.
Just five days ago, the Yellow Ribbon movement announced they are launching a newspaper called the “Voice of the Partisan,” and this will be distributed locally.
“We are giving the Ukrainian military precise coordinates for various targets, and the guerrillas’ assistance makes the new long-range weapons, particularly HIMARS, even more powerful,” Andriy told the AP. “We are invisible behind the Russian lines, and this is our strength.”