Russian troops continue their withdrawal and Melitopol is the new key city

Ukrainian soldiers pour mortar fire on Russian defense lines near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. (Iryna Rybakova/Press Service of the 93rd Independent Kholodnyi Yar Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS) (UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES/)

Russian forces intended to use the wide river dnieper as a line of defense on the southern front. Three weeks ago they lost the city of Kherson after eight months of occupation and equipped themselves on the eastern shore. They planned to stay there for the winter. In that region in the next three months any artillery advance is almost impossible. But in the last hours there were signs that the russians can no longer hold that position and that they withdraw further into the territory towards the Black Sea and the border of your country.

The government of Moscow Already ordered civilians to leave towns within 15 km of the river and withdrew its civil administration from the city of Nova Kakhovka, in front of Kherson, which is where they planned to organize the government of the occupied zone. Ukrainian military sources were speaking this week of a withdrawal of Russian heavy artillery near the river to safer positions. Now, everything indicates that the Ukrainian defense could continue its advance and keep reconquering territory. Since the beginning of the counteroffensive, already recovered 55% of the land occupied by the Russians in February. Kremlin forces have been retreating for three months.

“A decrease in the number of Russian soldiers and military equipment is observed in the settlement of oleshky”, the Ukrainian army said in a statement, referring to the area where a major unit of tanks and missile launchers had been concentrated. “Enemy troops were withdrawn from certain settlements in the oblast (province) of Kherson and scattered in strips of forest along the section of the Oleshky – Hello Prystan road,” the report continues, referring to a 25 km stretch of road that runs through scattered riverside villages on the eastern bank of the Dnieper. According to the Reuters agency, this is a movement of troops recently mobilized by Moscow and an indication that the most professional Russian units are already safe inland.

Kherson - Russia Ukraine War
Positions abandoned by the Russians on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, near the city of Kherson. (ukraine.osintukraine)

Ukraine is on the offensive throughout most of the almost thousand kilometers of the front line. Russia is in a defensive position in the south and northeast, while it continues to attack in a city in the east, Bakhmut, which is where the toughest fights are now recorded. In any case, Western military strategists believe that the Ukrainian forces will slow down their advance. “If it goes ahead, Ukraine faces significant obstacles: While it has pushed more Russians into a smaller space, this means that the battles ahead will be against more heavily defended territory, on difficult terrain,” explained a former three-star general of the Pentagon in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Ukrainian forces are currently fighting in the swamps and the islands of the delta at the mouth of the Dnieper River. He maintains a line of multiple trenches in the snowy steppe of the Zaporizhzhia region in the south. And holds a shaky front along the so-called line Svatove-Kreminna, in the pine forests of north-eastern Ukraine. With the worst of winter ahead, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to keep all three fronts open. The wheat fields, coal mines and farming towns of the wealthy Donbas region of eastern Ukraine remain contested terrain, and an area where Russia is trying to turn the tide on its failures. according to the general Oleksiy Hromov, a member of the Ukrainian General Staff, the eastern front remains the most difficult. Between November 12 and 17, he said, they occurred in that region more than 500 fights.

The reports of the Russian correspondents who accompany the troops of their country speak of bloody fighting for control of Bakhmut. The city is of relative strategic value, but if the Russians manage to hold their own it would open a path to other, more important cities in Donbas. In addition, there in Bakhmut the mercenaries of the private Russian military contracting company are fighting. Wagner. Wagner’s soldiers are very expensive for the Kremlin and so far they have not fulfilled the promises of glory that the owner of the company, the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhinhe made his personal friend Vladimir Putin.

Queues to get drinking water in the reconquered city of Kherson that was in the hands of the Russians for eight months.  (REUTERS/Anna Voitenko)
Queues to get drinking water in the reconquered city of Kherson that was in the hands of the Russians for eight months. (REUTERS/Anna Voitenko) (STRINGER/)

Ukraine, for its part, has been reluctant to cede any city without a fight, as the month-long battle for sievierodonetska city near Bakhmut and eventually taken over by the Russians, and Mykolaiv, in the south, still held by Ukraine. The Ukrainian generals believe that they are in any case “The beginning of the end of the war” which will have its most intense moment in March and April when the Ukrainians launch a final offensive to drive the Russians to the Black Sea. They still need to reconquer a fifth of the territory of their country.

Ukraine’s advances mean that more of Russia’s supply lines in the south are now within range of defense weapons and rockets. But, as has been the case since the invasion of February 24, Russia’s weakness continues to be in its troops. “Russian ground units have suffered from low morale, poor combined arms execution, insufficient training, poor logistics, corruption and even drunkenness”Wrote Seth G. Jones, director of the International Security Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, in his latest report.

A Ukrainian municipal worker removes rubble from a Donetsk residential building hit by a Russian missile.  (REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)
A Ukrainian municipal worker removes rubble from a Donetsk residential building hit by a Russian missile. (REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko) (ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/)

With these latest advances on the east bank of the Dnieper, Ukrainian long-range precision missiles can now reach deeper into Russian-controlled territory, with almost everything northern Crimea within range. The Russians are already digging trenches on that peninsula they invaded and annexed in 2014. The Russians are also adding new lines of defense in the southern city of Melitopol, which was occupied by Russia in the first days of the war. It is located at the crossroads of the main roads to the south, which makes it perhaps a the most strategically important city under Russian control. If the Ukrainians manage to breach that barrier, they could split the Russian forces in two, with one front in the east and one in the south, but no contact between them.

It is likely that in the coming days scenes taken from the Dunkirk evacuation, when hundreds of small British ships went out in support of the royal navy to withdraw more than 200,000 British and 100,000 French and Belgian soldiers after France was defeated by the Nazi army. Now, it will be something much less epic, and in the opposite direction. Ukrainian troops will cross the Dnieper River with small barges and fishing boats to try to position themselves on the eastern shore while waiting for the moment to continue the offensive.

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