The Kherson oblast in Ukraine has seen some of the fiercest fighting since Russia’s full-fledged war on the country in early 2022. Initially wanting to use the oblast as a stepping stone to launch an assault toward Odesa, Ukraine stopped the Russian advance at Mykolaiv in the spring of 2022.

Reversing Russian gains, Ukraine launched a major Southern offensive on the right bank of the Kherson oblast in the autumn of 2022, liberating the city and forcing the Russian military into a humiliating withdrawal. Nevertheless, the most crucial fight will be a liberation of the left bank of the Kherson oblast, a gateway to putting Crimea under effective fire control.

Russia’s Foothold on the Left Bank

Then, under the command of “General Armageddon,” Suvorikin, Russian Forces immediately withdrew from the right bank of Kherson across the Dnipro River in early November of 2022. The garrison set an effective line of defense there and would continue to shell Kherson City across the river. The consistent shelling has caused numerous civilian casualties in the oblast’s capital.

Russia’s orderly withdrawal was critical for their war effort, as much of their electronic radar and air defense systems were ferried before the Ukrainian army (ZSU) captured them. Before the Ukrainian counteroffensive, numerous Russian conscripts were deployed to the left bank to reinforce the depleted professional army.

Ukrainian Sniper
Ukrainian Sniper from Reuters

Ukraine’s Preparations to Retake the Rest of the Oblast

Ukraine has taken a calculated approach to cross into the left bank into Kherson eventually. As the Dnipro River is wide with little concealment, probing operations have occurred for the past few months.

Immediately after Kherson City’s liberation, the ZSU began preparations for probing and scoping operations towards the Kinburn Spit. The spit is a strategic location where Russian Forces have placed numerous artillery and electronic warfare systems that the ZSU must destroy to keep the civilians and troops safe on the left bank. Ukrainian reconnaissance forces have been active against the Russian garrison on the Kinburn Spit for the last several months.

Compared to the Zaporizhzhia oblast, the left bank of Kherson isn’t as fortified, and a potentially successful amphibious assault by the ZSU would allow Kyiv to have a straight shot at cutting off Crimea from the rest of the Russian military. The threat of amphibious assault was one of the reasons why Russia ultimately mined and detonated the Nova Kakhovka Dam on June 6th.

Immediately after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam and flooding throughout the Kherson region, Russian Forces moved several garrisons towards Zaporizhzhia and Bakhmut to reinforce the defense lines. By flooding the area, Moscow hoped it would deter an amphibious assault by the ZSU and force Ukraine to prioritize humanitarian rescue efforts over military operations. In truth, the ZSU would find another way to cross that Russia had never calculated—the Antonovsky Bridge.

A Ukrainian Special Forces soldier stands at the Gostomel airfield near Kyiv. The unit has reportedly inflicted heavy losses upon Russian troops. Image Credit:
A Ukrainian Special Forces soldier stands at the Hostomel airfield near Kyiv. The unit has reportedly inflicted heavy losses upon Russian troops. Image Credit:

Ongoing Antonovsky Bridge Operations

Taking advantage of Russia’s dispersed reserves, Ukrainian reconnaissance units have moved into the left bank of Kherson, establishing a sizable force near the Antonovsky Bridge.

Initially having a force of only a few dozen reconnaissance operators, the ZSU has been able to bring in electronic warfare systems (EWS) for jamming radars to deter airstrikes. The sturdy bridge, built in the Soviet era, has thick concrete at its end, allowing for cover and concealment from Russian close air support.

Using the swampy terrain of villages near the Dnipro, Russian Forces have had difficulty dislodging the small ZSU reconnaissance force, even after the conventional Iskander ballistic missile strike in early July.

Recently, Russian military bloggers, such as notorious war criminal Igor Girkin have expressed their displeasure at the operations on the left bank, stating that the ZSU reconnaissance units have brought in more troops and logistics, setting the stage for an even bigger function in the future.

Ukraine Displays the Need for Reconnaissance Units

Ukraine’s ongoing Dnipro River operations have exemplified the need for reconnaissance battalions. Kyiv’s surveillance, also known as SSO, has set up future operations and identified weak points along the Russian defensive lines.

Akin to Ukraine’s SSO, Western reconnaissance units, such as the US Marine Recon units, also scope the battlefield for battalion commanders. Pinpointing key targets, such as ammunition stockpiles, fuel depots, high-value targets, and command and control centers, is what reconnaissance units do best while preparing for amphibious and air assaults for the central units.

The majority of Ukraine’s offensive operations in the war thus far were due to the SSO’s ability to scope the battlefield for the central units to strike at weak points. Likewise, in previous wars, reconnaissance units have played a vital role in the US military by preparing the battlefield for battalion commanders in various fields of engagement.

Successful probing operations by Ukraine’s reconnaissance units have given Kyiv critical intelligence to prepare for a future offensive along the left bank of the Kherson oblast. Reconnaissance units, whether Ukrainian or Western, play a significant role in shaping the battlefield and giving commanders crucial information for command decisions making, which allows for unit success.