Ukraine expressed a heightened sense of urgency over its looming counteroffensive in the south on Thursday as it said Russia was racing to bolster its forces in the region and taking further steps to solidify its political hold in the territory it controls.
Russia directed dozens of missiles at targets across Ukraine, including 25 fired from Belarus, according to the Ukrainian military, even as it moved soldiers and equipment to the southern region of Kherson. Ukrainian forces continued to hold their defensive lines in eastern Ukraine while targeting key command-and-control centers and Russian troop strongholds deep behind Russian lines.
The Ukrainians have been setting the stage for a broad counteroffensive in the south for some time, and long-range missile strikes in recent days have left thousands of Russian soldiers stationed west of the Dnipro River around the port city of Kherson in a precarious position, largely cut off from Russian strongholds to the east. But Russia is now moving “the maximum number” of forces to the southern front in the Kherson region, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council told Ukrainian television late Wednesday.
The official, Oleksiy Danilov, described “a very powerful movement of their troops” to the front in Kherson.
While Western weapons continue to arrive in the country, they are needed on multiple fronts and ammunition remains limited. And even though Ukraine’s Western allies are racing to train Ukrainian soldiers on new equipment, that, too, remains a work in progress. The Russians have also had months to fortify their defensive lines, and the Ukrainians have yet to launch any major land-based counteroffensive.
Mr. Danilov’s comments reflected the urgency for the government in Kyiv to show progress as it continued to build expectations in a nation hungry for positive developments after months of brutal fighting.
The deputy head of operations of the Ukrainian general staff also said on Thursday that “our troops are going on gradually liberating Kherson region.” The official, Oleksii Hromov, cited a village in the northwest of the Kherson region as the latest to be retaken.
The most promising front for the Ukrainians for any possible major advances is in the western part of Kherson, where they are aided by the nation’s geography.
The Dnipro River runs the length of Ukraine, bisecting the nation into east and west. The Kherson region is itself divided by the river, with the regional capital and critical port city of Kherson on the western bank.
Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts said the strikes this week on a key bridge across the Dnipro and other critical roads and bridges in recent days had left the Russian occupation forces around Kherson city particularly exposed. A British intelligence report said on Thursday that Russia’s main fighting force on the western side of the river “now looks highly vulnerable” because of the strikes on the bridge.
“Kherson city, the most politically significant population center occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from the other occupied territories,” the report said. “Its loss would severely undermine Russia’s attempts to paint the occupation as a success.”
The head of the Kherson military administration loyal to Kyiv said that Russia’s supply channels of weapons and food to the front line had been cut off. “Panic is growing among the occupiers,” said the official, Serhii Khlan.
The Russians will probably try to repair the bridge, he said, but will have to contend with “the raging flow of the river, which makes it impossible to build the crossings.”
The Russians may also try to set up a system to ferry equipment across the river, he said, but an announcement by local officials in Kherson loyal to Moscow that there would be no humanitarian shipments for at least three days underscored the depth of their dilemma.