LVIV – On August 29, the Kakhovka Operational Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine released a video in which it said that its soldiers had broken through the first line of defense of the Russian military in the Kherson region – a move that many Ukrainians believe was the start of a major counteroffensive in the south aimed at liberating the city of Kherson. But officials in Kyiv have said little about the counterattack, and they asked citizens not to divulge any information they may have about the attack.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there would be no “specifics from any truly responsible person” about the counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, the Russian military, Mr. Zelenskyy said, should know that the Armed Forces of Ukraine “will drive them to the border; if they want to survive, then it’s time for the Russian military to flee.”
The Kakhovka Operational Group – part of the Operational Command South of the Armed Forces of Ukraine – released another video in which a Russian soldier could be heard speaking about the Ukrainian military’s success in the Kherson region.
The group also noted that the Armed Forces of Ukraine had gained ground in retaking areas around Kherson.
“The 109th regiment of the so-called DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] withdrew from its positions in the Kherson region, and the Russian paratroopers supporting them fled the battlefield,” the group said in the video.
“Ukraine has a brilliant chance to regain its territories because, with the help of HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems], almost all large bridges have already been destroyed – the Russian army was cut off from the supply of weapons and personnel from Crimea,” the group added.
The Russian Ministry of Defense admitted that there was an offensive, but said that it “failed,” and added that the Ukrainians suffered “huge losses.”
The claims made by members of the Ukrainian and Russian military could not be independently verified.
According to unofficial data from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated five settlements in the Kherson region during the first day of the counteroffensive.
In particular, according to CNN, the Ukrainian military liberated the villages of Pravdyne, Novodmytrivka and Tomina Balka in the Kherson region.
CNN’s source also said that Ukrainian forces recaptured Arkhangelsk on the eastern bank of the Ingulets River, south of the border between the Kherson and Dnipropetrovsk regions of the country.
The ISW said it could not verify those claims.
On August 29, Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Operational Command South of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, confirmed that the counteroffensive in the Kherson region had begun, but she noted that the enemy’s forces “are quite strong.”
She also stressed that the Ukrainian government did not want to reveal more information than necessary about the operation.
“Any military operation requires silence. In the conditions of a hybrid war, such a reaction to the news from the front harms the Armed Forces of Ukraine. There is news about the offensive along the southern axis, and it inspired Ukrainians. But for now it is necessary to realize that actions must first be completed; only then will they show results. Now we have to wait and understand the rules and sequence of actions of military units,” she told reporters during a press briefing at the Ukraine Media Center in Kyiv.
Though the Russian military is considered to be far superior in manpower and resources, the Ukrainian military has had success in targeting Russian warehouses, ammunition and military equipment, Ms. Humeniuk.
“Our actions have weakened the enemy, but they are still compelling. Even the fact that they are morally disoriented plays into our hands, but it is too early to relax,” Ms. Humeniuk said.
She noted that all Ukrainians who are still in Russian occupied territory should find shelter and follow safety rules issued by Kyiv.
Ms. Humeniuk said Russia was trying to bring in reserves from the left bank of the Dnipro River to reinforce their position in the Kherson region, but that they could not do so because the Ukrainian military had destroyed various bridges.
“It is because we used caution and precision when hitting the bridges, which are the main transport arteries across the Dnipro, that they became impassable for heavy machinery. This is why the enemy is trying to set up alternative crossings. But the geography of the river and this area is such that they only managed to set up a crossing downstream in the same area where [the Antonivskyy]bridge is located. That’s why they again came under our fire, in particular, and we also destroyed the alternative crossing,” Ms. Humeniuk said.
Russia was moving units between populated areas to offer the appearance of reinforcements, she said.
“The destruction of enemy logistics routes, reserves and control points continues,” she added. “The enemy is mostly demoralized but continues to resist. During the combat day, our rocket and artillery units practiced strikes on four control points of the enemy troops and four️ transport arteries – Kakhovskyy, Darivskyy, and two Antonivskyy bridges. The degree of damage limits their use as much as possible.”
The Ministry of Defense of the United Kingdom also confirmed that a counteroffensive by the Ukrainian military had begun in the south of the country.
In an intelligence note, the ministry said the Ukrainian formations pushed back the front line “some distance” in some places while encountering a “relatively weak Russian defense.”
“According to its doctrine, Russia will probably now try to close gaps in the front line using pre-assigned mobile reserve units. This will likely include some [units]from the Eastern Group of Forces,” the ministry’s intelligence note, published on Twitter, said.
Russian troops have been “in some cases” retreating in Ukraine, according to U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Patrick Ryder, though he declined to offer additional details.
“What I will say is that we are aware of Ukrainian military operations that have made some forward movement, and in some cases, in the Kherson region. We are aware, in some cases, of Russian units falling back. But again, in order to preserve operation security and to give the Ukrainians the time and the space that they need to conduct their operations, I’m not going to go into that level of detail from the podium,” he said during a briefing with the press.
A Pentagon spokesman added that the U.S. and its allies are “focused on working with the Ukrainians” to ensure they have “what they need to fight Russia on their homeland.”
In preparation for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the United States called on Kyiv to limit its operation in terms of targets and geography to avoid overstretching forces and getting “stuck” on several fronts simultaneously, according to a CNN report.
Meanwhile, U.S. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed to CNN that members of the U.S. military regular speak with members of the Ukrainian military.
“We will not comment on the specifics of these interactions. In general, we provide Ukrainians with information to help them better understand the threats they face and protect their country from Russian aggression. Ultimately, Ukrainians make the final decisions about their actions,” Mr. Ryder said.