Ukrainian and Russian forces have been entrenched on opposite sides of the vast waterway in the southern Kherson region for more than a year
Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - The Ukrainian army said Sunday it has pushed Russian forces back “three to eight kilometres” from the banks of Dnipro river, which if confirmed would be the first meaningful advance by Kyiv’s forces months into a disappointing counteroffensive.
Ukrainian and Russian forces have been entrenched on opposite sides of the vast waterway in the southern Kherson region for more than a year, after Russia withdrew its troops from the western bank last November.
Ukraine has staged multiple attempts to cross and hold positions on the Russian-controlled side – with officials in Kyiv finally reporting a “successful” breakthrough last week.
“Preliminary figures vary from three to eight kilometres, depending on the specifics, geography and landscape of the left bank,” army spokeswoman Natalia Gumenyuk told Ukrainian television Sunday when asked how much progress Kyiv had made.
She did not specify how many troops or what equipment Ukraine had on the eastern side of the Dnipro.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Gumenyuk said.
“The enemy still continues artillery fire,” she added, estimating that “several tens of thousands” of Russian troops were in the area.
The battle comes after Kyiv’s much-awaited summer counteroffensive had largely fizzled, with just a handful of tiny villages retaken.
A bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro could allow Ukraine to conduct a deeper offensive
A bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnipro could allow a deeper offensive in the south, though it would require deploying more men and armour into the challenging marshy conditions.
Pushing Russia back from the river’s shores would also offer protection to Ukrainian towns and villages facing relentless Russian shelling.
- Drone attacks -
A Russian artillery attack on the city of Kherson injured five people on Sunday, including a three-year-old child, Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said.
Shelling on the northeastern Sumy region on Sunday evening killed one civilian, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said.
Russia has issued a number of contradictory statements regarding its own operations around the Dnipro.
The defence ministry has appeared to reject the claims that Ukraine has gained a foothold, but a Russian-installed official in the occupied Kherson region conceded that Ukraine was holding positions in at least one village on the river’s eastern shores.
Moscow did not comment on the situation on the eastern bank in a daily military briefing on Sunday.
AFP was not able to independently verify the claims made by officials.
Meanwhile, drone attacks, a defining characteristic of the war, have intensified this week.
Any Ukrainian offensive would require deploying more men and armour in a challenging marshy environment
Both of the capitals, Kyiv and Moscow, were targeted Saturday night, though both sides claimed to have intercepted most of the drones and no victims were reported.
After a spate of attacks earlier this year, Ukrainian drones have rarely targeted the Russian capital in recent months.
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said a drone was shot down outside the city in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Russia’s defence ministry said its own drones hit a fuel depot in Ukraine’s central Kirovograd region and an ammunition warehouse near the capital.
Kyiv said it shot down 15 of 20 Russian drones, while Moscow claimed to have destroyed 31 Ukrainian drones.
- Ukrainian orphan returns home -
Oleksiy Kuleba, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Sunday Kyiv was boosting the number of “mobile groups” that could “combat” the wave of Russian drone attacks.
A day earlier, the Ukrainian air force said Russia launched 38 Iranian-made Shahed drones at its territory – the most in a single night since late September.
Ukrainian servicemen take a break on the frontline near the town of Bakhmut, Donetsk region
Zelensky said Saturday night he expected Russia to increase attacks on Ukraine’s energy system in a bid to paralyse the heat and power supply.
“The closer we get to winter, the more Russian attempts will be made to make the strikes more powerful,” Zelensky said in his daily address.
He called on his army to be “100 percent effective, despite all the difficulties, despite all the fatigue”.
On the diplomatic front, Russia’s Vesti TV announced that President Vladimir Putin will take part in a virtual G20 leaders’ summit on Wednesday, after skipping the main in-person meeting in New Delhi in September.
Kyiv also said Sunday that a teenage Ukrainian orphan taken from Mariupol by Russian forces in the first weeks of the invasion had returned home.
The case of Bogdan Yermokhin, who turned 18 on Sunday, made headlines after Russia issued him a draft summons to report for mandatory military conscription ahead of his 18th birthday.
Ukraine says it has identified 20,000 children taken by Russia at the start of the invasion – only around 400 have since returned.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Russia’s children’s commissioner in March over the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children.