Kyiv’s nearly month-old presence on the left bank of Dnipro River was still holding fast on Friday with sides trading air, mortar and artillery strikes, and some Kremlin-associated bloggers declaring Moscow cannot eliminate the Ukrainian Marine-held bridgeheads without deploying reinforcements and especially ground assault troops.

The first confirmed reports of Ukrainian armored vehicles being ferried across the river to beef up Marine positions appeared on Wednesday. Ukrainian troop strength figures within the bridgeheads are a Kyiv military secret. Open-source estimates generally place the total size of Ukrainian troops across the river at 300-500 soldiers and less than 20 vehicles of all types.

According to Russian military bloggers sometimes critical of Kremlin combat operations, detachments from Ukraine’s 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th Marines  are concentrated in fortifications built in two left bank enclaves, one centered around the villages of Poima, Pishchanivka, Pidstepne; and the second around the village of Krynky.

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Russian response to the Marine incursions has, according to reports from both sides, centered on mortar and artillery bombardments, and air strikes. On Friday the Russian “military correspondent” Vladimir Rogov reported first-time use by Moscow forces in sector of a TOS-I heavy flamethrower system against unspecified Ukrainian positions near Krynky.

According to the Kremlin-associated military blogger Simov Pegov, the Ukrainian Air Force ran frontline air strikes of its own against Russian positions in the vicinity, using unguided rockets fired from Mi-8 helicopter gunships. The Russian Telegram poster Romanov Lait said that Ukrainian artillery firing incendiary 122mm Hrad rockets from the right bank struck and damaged Russian trenches near the village.

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Geo-location of blogger-posted drone images showed woodland burning in multiple fires near the Krynky village center around grid N46.7376979519, E33.0861783469.

Russian air force air strikes as frequent as eight in a day were reported in the latter half of October against Ukrainian fortifications on the left bank, particularly around the village of Pishchanivka. According to some Russian sources, strong Ukrainian air defenses were undermining Russian efforts to hit the Marines from the air.

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“The entire right [Ukraine-held] bank of the Dnipro, everything east of the Antonovsky Bridge (the city Kherson), there is a very dense build-up of enemy air defense forces and weaponry… Some [Ukrainian] air defense units have [expletive) put their stuff in two or three kilometers from the river bank and they are not being attacked, but in spite of that we (Russian pilots) are being ordered to fly there,” one Russian blogger commenting on flight operations around the bridgehead reported.

According to that unconfirmed account, major Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems currently deployed to protect the bridgeheads across the river include a pair of Soviet-era Osa (NATO designator SA-8 Gecko) missile systems “in the forested area” near the village of Pridnistrovsk, and modern, Germany-manufactured IRIS-T anti-aircraft missile system at a location nearby.

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Undated video published by a Ukrainian military information platform on Wednesday and attributed to a member unit of Ukraine’s Special Operations command, showed a hobby drone dropping modified grenades onto the roof of a top-end Russian T-90 tank in a night strike, destroying the vehicle. The imagery showed the engagement took place on a road between the villages of Pishchanivka and Poima, in the vicinity of grid N46.6460906, E32.814882. 

According to Ukrainian special forces public information statements, Ukrainian small boat teams are operating in the labyrinth of canals and waterways in the region with the missions of interfering with Russian reinforcements and attacking them when possible. Led by Ukraine’s version of the British SBS, the 73rdMarine Special Operations Unit, Ukrainian commando teams have operated in the marshes and swamps of the lower Dnipro since at least July.

Both Ukrainian and Russian sources reported intense Ukrainian hobby drone operations above the bridgeheads and in adjacent airspace.

Some Moscow-associated bloggers identifying themselves as in communications with Russian troops in the sector said that Ukrainian observation, bomber and kamikaze drones seemed to be overhead almost constantly and that Russian air defenses seemed unable to counter them. Kyiv Post was unable to confirm the reports.

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Robert “Madyar” Brovdy, commander of a civil activist group supplying volunteer drone teams with aircraft, munitions and vehicles, in blog posts from Nov. 8-10 reported that “a very great many” strike units based in Kherson region were flying support missions to Ukrainian troops across the river. Recent fielding of better electronics warfare jammers had enabled operators to intercept and crash more than 300 Russian drones attempting to fly in the area, in less than a week, he claimed. The content offered video seemed to show Russian-operated drones losing way and hitting the ground. Kyiv Post was unable to confirm Brovdy’s claims in full, but, geo-location matched some video with the Kherson sector.

Ukrainian soldiers on the right bank of the river, and interviewed by the news agency AFP, said that Russian defenses on the left bank were strong.

“The Russians are throwing everything they have at us: artillery, attack drones, phosphorus,” said an army sergeant with the call sign Vozhd.

“The Russians are well prepared. They have solid lines of defense,” a soldier identifying himself as Armyanchik said.

Russian military information platforms disagreed, saying the Kremlin’s forces are unable to eliminate the Ukrainian incursion across the Dnipro because Kyiv’s troops are too well dug-in and numerous on the left bank to be dislodged by air and artillery strikes alone.

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Rogov wrote “The battles are difficult. In the south were doing everything we can to eliminate the enemy bridgehead across the Dnipro. Those efforts are not succeeding. It appears that we will need (to deploy) more forces in this sector.”

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