The Ukrainian military plans its next move after Russia’s retreat

KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian sniper adjusted his scope and fired a.50-caliber bullet at a Russian soldier across the Dnieper River. An earlier Ukrainian used a drone for scanning for Russian troops.

Russia is now pounding Kherson, the southern city, with artillery. It digs in across Dnieper River for two weeks.

Ukraine is responding to Russian troops using its own long-distance weaponry, and Ukrainian officers are attempting to capitalize on their momentum.

Moscow suffered one of its most devastating battlefield losses when it pulled out of the only provincial capital it had gained in nine months of war. According to the Ukrainian military, now that its troops have a new frontline, the army is planning its next move.

Now, Ukrainian forces can strike further into Russian-controlled territory and push their counteroffensive closer towards Crimea, which Russia illegally seized in 2014.

Russian troops continue to construct fortifications including trench systems near Crimean border, and some areas between Donetsk region in the east and Luhansk region in the east.

According to the British Ministry of Defense, some fortifications have been built up to 60 km (37 miles) behind current front lines. This suggests that Russia is preparing for more Ukrainian breakthroughs.

“The armed forces of Ukraine seized the initiative in this war some time ago,” said Mick Ryan, military strategist and retired Australian army major general. They have momentum. There is no way that they will want to waste that.”

Complex logistical planning is required to cross the river and push Russia further back. Both sides have destroyed bridges across Dnieper.

“This is what cut Russians’ supply lines and this is also what will make any further Ukrainian advance beyond the left bank of the river more difficult,” said Mario Bikarski, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In a key battlefield development this week, Kyiv’s forces attacked Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit, a gateway to the Black Sea basin, as well as parts of the southern Kherson region still under Russian control. Recapturing the area could help Ukrainian forces push into Russian-held territory in the Kherson region “under significantly less Russian artillery fire” than if they directly crossed the Dnieper River, said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. Control of the area would help Kyiv alleviate Russian strikes on Ukraine’s southern seaports and allow it to increase its naval activity in the Black Sea, the think tank added.

Some military experts say there’s a possibility the weather might disproportionately harm poorly-equipped Russian forces and allow Ukraine to take advantage of frozen terrain and move more easily than during the muddy autumn months, ISW said.

Russia’s main task, meanwhile, is to prevent any further retreats from the broader Kherson region and to strengthen its defense systems over Crimea, said Bikarski, the analyst. Ryan, the military strategist, said Russia would use the winter to plan 2023 offensives, stockpile ammo, and continue its campaign to target critical infrastructure, including power plants.

Russia’s daily aggressions are already intensifying. Last week, a fuel depot in Kherson was attacked. This was the first attack by Russia since its withdrawal. This week at least one person was killed and three wounded by Russian shelling, according to the Ukrainian president’s office. Russian airstrikes destroyed key infrastructure before Russia left, creating an urgent humanitarian crisis. Coupled with the threat of attack, that is adding a layer of stress, say many who weathered Russia’s occupation and are leaving, or considering it.

Ukrainian authorities have begun to evacuate civilians from the recently liberated regions of Kherson, Mykolaiv this week, fearing that winter will not be livable due Russian shelling.

Tetyana Stannik boarded a train on Monday to leave Kherson.

“We are leaving now because it’s scary to sleep at night. We are being bombarded by shells that fly over our heads and explode. It’s too much,” she said. “We will wait until things improve. And then we will come back home.”

Others in the Kherson area have chosen to remain despite living under fear.

“I’m scared,” said Ludmilla Bonder a resident of the small village of Kyselivka. “I still sleep fully clothed in the basement.”

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