Baltimore Sun

Ukraine digs in for a counteratt­ack

Groundwork being set to take Kherson back from Russians

- By Michael Schwirtz

KHERSON REGION BORDER, Ukraine — The road to Russian-occupied Kherson in southern Ukraine passes through a no man’s land of charred wheat fields and cratered villages. The tails of rockets stick out of asphalt and the boom of incoming and outgoing artillery ricochets off tidy abandoned homes.

Along a jagged front line, Ukrainian forces are preparing for one of the most ambitious and significan­t military actions of the war: retaking Kherson.

The first city to fall to Russian forces, Kherson and the fertile lands that surround it are a key Russian beachhead, from which its military continuous­ly launches attacks across a broad swath of Ukrainian territory. Regaining control could also help restore momentum to Ukraine, and give its troops a muchneeded morale boost.

“We want to liberate our territory and return it all to our control,” said Senior Lt. Sergei Savchenko, whose unit with Ukraine’s 28th Brigade is dug in along the Kherson region’s western border. “We’re ready. We have wanted this for a long time.”

Already, fighting on the western and northern borders of the region is intensifyi­ng, as Ukrainian forces — currently about 30 miles from the city at their closest point — lay

the groundwork for a large offensive push. For a month, Ukrainian artillery and rocket forces have been softening up Russian positions using an array of new, Western-supplied weapons like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, provided by the United States.

The strikes, some captured on video, have taken out forward command centers and key ammunition depots, which erupt in glittery fireballs when struck, Ukrainian officials say. They claim that hundreds of Russian troops have been killed and that the attacks

have disrupted Russia’s logistical infrastruc­ture. Supply warehouses and command positions have been pushed back from the front lines, they say, making it harder to keep soldiers armed and fed. Their claims cannot all be independen­tly verified.

“You could compare it to waves,” said a senior Ukrainian military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military planning. “Right now we’re making small waves and creating conditions to make bigger ones.”

Unlike in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where

a massive Russian force slowly captured a province in recent weeks, the Ukrainian military appears to have begun to turn the tide in the Kherson region, if haltingly.

After losing control over most of the region in the war’s first weeks, Ukrainian troops have liberated 44 towns and villages along the border areas, about 15% of the territory, according to the region’s military governor, Dmytro Butrii. Ukraine’s top officials have given no clear timeline for retaking Kherson, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made clear it is a top


“Our forces are moving into the region step by step,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine’s planned counteroff­ensive in the south has created debate among Western officials and some analysts about whether Ukraine was ready for such a big effort, or if it is the best use of resources when the Russian advances have come mostly in the Donbas.

Still, Ukrainian officials, and several Western intelligen­ce officials, said it was important that Ukraine try to launch a counteratt­ack. They say the Russian military is in a relatively weaker position, having expended weapons and personnel in its Donbas offensive.

Richard Moore, chief of the British foreign intelligen­ce service, MI6, predicted that the Russians would be forced to take a pause, offering an opening to Ukrainian forces.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is pressing ahead with its plan to resume grain exports across the Black Sea, a government official said Monday, in the face of a Russian missile attack on the port of Odesa that raised doubts about the viability of an internatio­nal agreement aimed at easing a global food shortage.

Millions of tons of grain in Ukraine’s ports have been held hostage by the war, but a deal struck Friday in Istanbul that involved Turkey and the United Nations appeared to offer hope, especially for the countries in Africa and the Middle East most reliant on the country’s exports.

A spokesman for the regional military administra­tion in Odesa said Monday that Ukraine would continue to work to carry out the plan. The spokesman, Serhii Bratchuk, said at a news conference that the port was “working on putting together some vessel caravans. These vessel caravans will be in charge of delivering on the commitment­s assumed within the agreements reached.”

Security remained paramount and the port would not be fully unblocked, he said.

“We are talking only about a corridor that will be functionin­g and will be utilized to export Ukrainian grain, Bratchuk said.

 ?? DANIEL BEREHULAK/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Michael Maldonado, a former U.S. Marine from Kansas who joined Ukraine’s 28th Brigade, smokes a cigarette in a trench last Friday outside Mykolaiv, Ukraine. The city is located near the Kherson region’s border.
DANIEL BEREHULAK/THE NEW YORK TIMES Michael Maldonado, a former U.S. Marine from Kansas who joined Ukraine’s 28th Brigade, smokes a cigarette in a trench last Friday outside Mykolaiv, Ukraine. The city is located near the Kherson region’s border.

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