© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian soldier looks out from a tank, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in the frontline city of Lyman, Donetsk region, Ukraine April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
By Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian troops recaptured villages along the west bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine on Monday in a major new breakthrough, opening a second big front that is forcing Moscow to abandon ground just days after claiming to annex it.
The advance in Kherson province was Ukraine’s biggest in the south of the country since the war began, and follows similar breakthroughs in the east that have turned the tide of the war in recent weeks.
The Russian-installed head of the administration in occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson province confirmed that Ukrainian troops had captured a number of settlements along the river, pushing as far as the vicinity of the village of Dudchany. This would represent a startling advance of around 40 km (25 miles) in a single day.
“The information is tense, let’s put it that way, because, yes there were indeed breakthroughs,” Vladimir Saldo told Russian state television.
“There’s a settlement called Dudchany, right along the Dnipro River, and right there, in that region, there was a (Ukrainian) breakthrough. There are settlements that are occupied by Ukrainian forces,” he said.
UKRAINE KEEPS MUM
Kyiv has so far maintained almost complete silence about the situation in Kherson.
In one of the rare images apparently confirming the advance, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, posted a photo of Ukrainian soldiers posing with their flag draping a golden statue of an angel. He said it was the village of Mikhailivka, which would represent an advance of around 20 km (12 miles).
The advance in the south seems to mirror those in the east, where Ukrainian forces suddenly and swiftly seized territory mainly to gain control of crucial Russian supply lines.
Just hours after a concert on Moscow’s Red Square on Friday where Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be Russian territory forever, Ukraine recaptured Lyman, the main Russian bastion in the north of Donetsk province. That opens the way for it to advance deep into Luhansk province.
Putin has been responding to Russia’s failures on the battlefield over the past month by escalating: proclaiming the annexation of occupied territory, calling up tens of thousands of men as reservists and threatening nuclear retaliation.
In the south, Russia has thousands of troops – perhaps as many as 25,000 – on the west bank of the Dnipro, where it sent a large contingent to halt a counter-attack Ukraine announced there in August.
Ukraine has long said its aim in the south was to cut off Russia’s remaining supply lines across the river and trap the Russians on the opposite bank.
It has already destroyed the main bridges, forcing Russian forces to use makeshift crossings. A substantial advance along the river could bring those remaining crossings into artillery range.
Russian military bloggers described a Ukrainian tank advance through dozens of kilometers of territory along the bank of the Dnipro river.
“When this many Russian channels are sounding the alarm, it usually means they’re in trouble,” Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think-tank, wrote on Twitter (NYSE:).
The reports of Ukraine’s battlefield advances have come amid reports of chaos in a Russian mobilisation ordered less than two weeks ago by Putin, which has seen tens of thousands of Russian men suddenly called up into the military and tens of thousands of others fleeing abroad.
Mikhail Degtyarev, governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia’s Far East, said on Monday around half of the men called up there had been found unfit for duty and sent back home. He fired the region’s military commissar.
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