Now, after more than three months, if you look at a battle map Ukraine’s assault crossing of the Dnipro River seems to have stagnated - but on the ground there are daily, pitiless battles.
According to accounts from both sides, Ukrainian Marines are deeply dug-in and, backed by masses of strike drones, are firmly holding ground first captured in mid-October.
According to a number of independent observers, no matter what Russian forces try to do they haven’t been able to dislodge the Ukrainians who will “still be there in weeks and months to come.”
A Dec. 16 New York Times article described the Ukrainian Marines fighting to hold the Dnipro River bridgehead as being on a “suicide mission.” It quoted Ukrainian troops questioning the sense of holding forward positions, cut off from the rest of Kyiv’s forces by a major river, and facing brutal Russian air and artillery bombardment.
Evidence is now mounting that Russian forces have suffered such heavy losses that some troops are reportedly refusing to attack. According to multiple Ukrainian and Russian sources, Moscow’s attempts to wipe out the bridgehead employing substantial ground attacks have virtually come to a halt.
One indicator, first reported by the independent UNIAN news agency, was that Ukrainian strike drones and on-call artillery had made movement through the thick pine woods and dirt roads that crisscross the lowlands around the left bank village of Krynky and the Ukrainian Marines’ positions too dangerous.
The news agency reported on Jan. 14 that commanders of Russia’s 18th Combined Arms Army which operates in that sector, had repurposed its 17th Tank Regiment, potentially its most powerful attack formation, to use its top-end T-90 tanks to recover “dozens” of disabled combat vehicles which littered the road around Krynky.
“The fact that an entire tank regiment with potentially dozens of [Russia’s most advanced] T-90 tank have been given the role of military tow trucks, is an indicator of the intensity of Russian losses around Krynky,” the report said.
For months, 🇷🇺 occupiers have been attacking 🇺🇦 bridgehead in Krynky. The left Dnipro bank is covered in destroyed 🇷🇺 hardware.— olexander scherba🇺🇦 (@olex_scherba) January 11, 2024
All because of 300 Ukrainians holding that narrow peace of land - & their army of drones financed, among other things, by donations.#StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/Xc8bRDCQfl
Nataliya Humenyuk, press secretary for the AFU’s Joint Command South, during a television news interview on Jan. 14 claimed that Russian losses of what the Kremlin seemed to consider as being expendable assault troops had been so bloody that better trained and equipped paratroopers and naval infantry were refusing commands to continue the attacks.
“At present in our sector the number of units of the type “Shtorm-Z” [low-grade Russian units made of up older reservists and former felons, often committed to carry out human wave attacks] is falling and we are seeing more naval infantry and paratroopers. But they consider themselves ‘elite troops’ and they don’t want to go into frontal assaults like that,” Humenyuk said.
In a statement two days later Humenyuk said Russian bombs and artillery had flattened every building in Krynky village but that Ukrainian troops were holding their positions and responding with local counterattacks. She claimed that every Russian ground assault against Marine positions was suffering more than 50 percent losses.
“Our combat work to consolidate and expand the bridgehead continues in Krynky, and the enemy is trying to knock out our units. There is no longer a single surviving house, the artillery of both sides is working. In addition, the enemy bombarded this region very powerfully,” she said.
One of the highest-profile Ukrainian army officials Humenyuk’s assertion that the bridgehead battle had become an attritional fight that Kremlin forces are badly losing was not backed up by evidence to support her claims.
Some individual Ukrainian service members deployed to the Kherson-Krynky sector have, however, filed eyewitness accounts with Kyiv Post that point to signs of weakening morale among Russian troops.
“On the road the Krynky here 20 [vulgar term for Russians] just got lost. We had a radio intercept and it became clear, that they sabotaged an order and went and hit somewhere to avoid having to put in an assault. So now there’s a search operation [by Russian security troops] going on to find them,” wrote Stanislav Bunyatov, a civilian volunteer supporting the 24th Separate Assault Battalion “Aidar”, in a Telegram report published on Jan. 16.
Robert Brovi, commander of a Ukrainian attack drones battalion in direct support of Marine units across the river, made multiple public statements during the first two weeks of January saying his operators had collected hundreds of hours of video documenting poor Russian soldier discipline, morale and field skills in the Krynky sector.
A typical combat video published on Jan. 10 showed a $500 Ukrainian drone setting an abandoned late-model Russian BMP-4 armored personnel carrier worth $2 million on fire by flying into an open hatch and detonating the hand grenade it was carrying. Open-source research by Kyiv Post showed the video had been recorded in a low-lying region near the Dnipro River.
Video posted by Brovdi on Jan. 16 showed Russian armored personnel carriers, military trucks, pickups, BMP infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery being destroyed by seemingly relentless Ukrainian drone attacks. Some of the vehicles were hit while moving.
All of the strikes shown had taken place at night, with the attacks recorded by drones equipped with night vision cameras. Kyiv Post was able to geo-locate some but not all of the engagements to the Krynky sector.
Some independent estimates of Russian losses in the Krynky sector support Humanyuk’s and other Ukrainian claims that Kyiv’s defenses are holding and that Kremlin forces are taking punishing levels of casualties. In some cases, even pro-Russian mil-bloggers have complained in recent weeks about the massive Ukrainian strike drone presence over the bridgehead.
Oryx, a research group that evaluates and catalogs equipment and personnel losses by both sides since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, published analysis on Jan. 12 relating to Russian forces fighting in the Kherson-Krynky sector. According to its numbers Moscows’ forces has lost at least 20 tanks, 60+ armored personnel carriers, and 25+ artillery systems in fighting in and around the bridgehead. This equates approximately to all of the heavy weapons held by a fully-equipped Russian motor rifle brigade.
Both Oryx and the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) spokespersons have stated that actual Russian losses are without doubt greater than these confirmed figures. Experts estimate that the ratio of Ukrainian casualties to Russian losses from five to fifteen times less. Kyiv Post could not confirm any of the estimates.
A Jan. 15 report from the Washington-based ISW (Institute for Study of War) assessed that Russian forces have regained the initiative throughout most of the Ukrainian theater but have not seized the battlefield initiative in the Kherson Oblast (where Krynky is located).
The report said “Recently collected satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces have repeatedly attempted to counterattack near Krynky with small detachments along the M14 highway. Satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces now are preparing to defend the area beyond Krynky, including the M14 highway, along which Russian forces have built a 0.5-kilometer trench and other defensive positions.”
This is #Krynky, #Kherson region, south #Ukraine. This village has been the sight of heavy fighting after the Ukrainian forces have established a bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro river. #Russia|n invaders shell and bomb the village daily.— Alex Kokcharov (@AlexKokcharov) January 14, 2024
Emil Kastehelmi, a Finnish OSINT analyst, said recent Ukrainian air defense successes may have reduced the Russian firepower available to support attacks against Marine positions in the bridgehead.
“Ukrainian air defenses shot down Russian planes in December, which reportedly has caused the Russian air force to operate more carefully against the Krynky bridgehead. The number of strikes before the incident and after it is difficult to assess precisely, but there are some indications that the bombing is now indeed less intense than previously,” Kastehelmi told Kyiv Post.
A Jan. 16 account purportedly from a Marine seemed to confirm Russian air strikes against the bridgehead had stopped, following a series of air ambushes, that took out four Russian ground support and one fighter aircraft, in the sector, during late December.
“… there are things that cannot be influenced - the weather, the actions of the Orcs [Russian military], their aviation and artillery. It's difficult, but okay, one gets used to it,” the infantryman wrote in comments published by 46th Mechanized Brigade.
“But as a matter of fact, against Krynky village itself, their [Russian] aviation has stopped working, although they [the Russian air forces] have been hitting the right bank for a couple of weeks now."
In the coming weeks and months, sources told Kyiv Post, battle lines around the bridgehead are unlikely to shift much. It will most likely become a war of attrition between the Russians attempting to push troops forward in difficult terrain under skies buzzing with Ukrainian attack drones, against Ukrainian Marine entrenchments manned by tough infantrymen, dependent on supply from the other side of a very big river.
“The Ukrainians are fighting a difficult battle, but the Russians have not been able to eliminate the bridgehead, and if their tactics don't somehow improve, particularly rapid changes in the situation shouldn't be expected,” Kastehelmi said.
“A Ukrainian breakout would be a surprise too, as even though the Russians have suffered losses, they still possess superiority in terms of tanks, other vehicles and men. They have also more fortified positions in the rear, natural cover to fight in and (have) an easier supply situation.”
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