Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive in the south, aimed at pushing Russian troops back across the Dnipro river and retaking the occupied city of Kherson, local authorities announced on Monday.
“Today, there were powerful artillery attacks on enemy positions … throughout the territory of the occupied Kherson region,” local deputy and adviser to the regional governor Sergey Khlan told Ukrainian media outlets.
“This is the announcement of what we have been waiting for since spring: it is the beginning of the end of the occupation of the Kherson region,” Khlan added.
With the war in Ukraine now in its sixth month, the coming weeks may prove decisive.
Ukraine has vowed to drive Russians from the territory they have seized since the start of the invasion, including the southern region of Kherson, while Moscow has pledged to hold on to the occupied areas and take more ground around the country.
The Ukrainians have used American-supplied rocket launchers such as HIMARS to strike bridges and military infrastructure in the south, forcing Russia to divert its forces from the Donbas in the east to counter the new threat.
A key bridge near Kherson was destroyed by the Ukrainian army in the lead-up to the counter-offensive, cutting traffic across it and raising potential supply problems for Russian forces in the area.
Russia can still use a second crossing on the Dnipro to ferry supplies and reinforcements to its troops in Kherson, which lies just north of the Crimean Peninsula — annexed by Russia in 2014 — but Ukraine’s strikes have shown Russia’s vulnerability and weakened its hold on the region.
While the bulk of Russian and Ukrainian military assets are conсentrated in the Donbas, the industrial region of mines and factories, both sides hope to make gains elsewhere.
Moscow-appointed occupation officials in Kherson have talked about holding a referendum on joining Russia as early as September. Those plans hinge on Russia’s ability to win full control of those areas by then.