It’s been over two weeks since Ukraine expanded beyond the marshes along the left (south) bank of the Dnipro River. Since then:
- Russia has failed to eliminate the Ukrainian bridgehead and push the Ukrainians back into the marshes.
- Ukraine has established firm control over the village of Krynky, both on its western treeline border, and has pushed the fighting into the streets between Krynky and the neighboring strategically important village of Korsunka.
- Ukrainian drones have relentlessly targeted Russian positions south of Krynky, destroying artillery, armored vehicles, and logistic vehicles.
Let’s take a closer look.
Krynkyi is a small village on the left (southern/Russian controlled) bank of the Dnipro River in southwestern Ukraine, a little more than 30 km east of Kherson City. Korsunka is just east of it.
The two villages are important because unlike the marshes that typically line the southern bank of the Dnipro, they are near a dry spot that isn’t just a natural location for a pontoon bridge, but Ukraine has already practiced crossing there twice before.
Securing such a pontoon crossing allow Ukraine to supply a larger, more powerful force across the river, providing the firepower to liberate larger logistical hubs like Nova Kahovka or Oleshky.
With those two cities under Ukrainian control, Ukraine would have the logistical hubs necessary to advance further into Kherson Oblast, and eventually, to attack Melitopol from the rear or to march on Crimea.
Krynky is a critical first step. And as of now, Ukraine has made objectively verifiable advances, and we can use Russia’s use of TOS thermobaric rocket artillery to track progress.
TOS thermobaric rocket artillery are immensely destructive weapons with a wide area of effect, extremely effective at leveling residential areas. Russia has used these weapons extensively in urban combat since the earliest days of the war.
The thermobaric rockets come with two drawbacks. First, they are quite short ranged. Russia’s most commonly used TOS-1A only has a range of 6 kilometers, and the older TOS-1 system is even shorter ranged at just 3 kilometers. This forces TOS rocket artillery to operate extremely closely to enemy positions, potentially exposing them to counterbattery or drone attacks.
The other disadvantage is its reliance on unguided rockets with a broad and indiscriminate destructive effect. These weapons do not conduct precision strikes on a single building or structure, they lay down a barrage of rocket shells that level entire neighborhoods. This makes it very dangerous to deploy anywhere remotely close to friendly positions, requiring strikes on areas that can only be described as “enemy-held.”
These were the TOS-1 strikes at Krynky on November 11:
And here is Russia’s TOS-1 strikes on November 16:
Remember, the indiscriminate nature of TOS strikes means that Russian troops have already left that area.
The following day, Nov. 17, Ukraine let loose a flurry of drone and artillery strikes that destroyed at least three towed howitzers, a TOS-1, a Grad MLRS artillery system, a BTR Armored Personnel Carrier, and a Russian unarmored van (loaf).
Here’s video of some of those kills:
The visually confirmed destruction of so many valuable targets in this condensed area on a single day shows that Ukraine must have had this area under extensive observation by artillery spotting reconnaissance and bomber drones. It also suggests that Russia’s electronic warfare (EW) defenses have been thoroughly decimated in this area.
I have argued that Ukraine needs a 10 kilometer buffer from any pontoon bridging site to protect it from Russian artillery.
In the comments of several of my Ukraine Updates, Daily Kos contributor 22 Trucks argued that Ukraine was incapable of protecting logistical bridges from Russian air strikes, even beyond 10 kilometers, offering two recent examples.
The first was an air strike on Kostyantynivka, west of Bakhmut, on Oct. 18th.
Then, the bridge in Kupiansk over the Oskil River was struck on Nov. 15.
The distance from the front for the strike in Konstantynivka is around 9 kilometers based on Russian positions on Oct. 18th.
Similarly, the strike on the bridge in Kupiansk was from just under 10 kilometers from the front lines on Nov. 15th.
Thus, it is fair to say that neither strike demonstrates any capability on the part of Russian forces to strike a bridge asset deeper than 10 kilometers into Ukrainian territory.
Russian relies primarily on cruise missiles like the Kalibr missile, or ballistic missiles like the Iskander, for strikes deep behind Ukrainian lines. These missiles focus on large civilian infrastructure targets the size of a city block or larger, such as powerplants or major electrical substations, not bridges.
Russian glide bombs are notoriously inaccurate, though they make up for their lack of precision accuracy with their sheer destructive power. This makes them ill-suited for attacking small infrastructure targets like bridges.
This leaves laser-guided weapons as the primary guided munitions Russia could use to strike a bridge with sufficient accuracy, including laser-guided bombs or artillery shells. Still, both of these munitions require Russian drones, planes, and artillery to operate near the front lines.
Take the bridge over the Oskil River in Kupyansk.
Vilshana is just 13 kilometers from the bridge in Kupyansk. At various times in the past year, Russin troops were in Lyman Pershyi or close to Synkivka, so Russian forces were almost certainly even closer.
Kupyansk was an important logistical hub for the Russians during their occupation, and it is similarly important to Ukraine today. That bridge is critical to ensure the flow of supplies from eastern Ukraine to forces fighting along the P07 highway around Svatove.
Fighting in Marinka has been ongoing since May 2022. The bridge in question connects two significant areas of conflict—Vuhledar and Marinka, permitting Ukraine to make use of interior lines to transfer forces between the two battlefields.
Given this bridge is only 9-10 kilometers from the front lines, the only question is why Russia didn’t hit it sooner. Russia had every reason to destroy these bridges. They did not.
Either Russian commanders are stupid to the point of incredulity—or Russia was simply unable to destroy these bridges until recently. So what might’ve changed? One possible theory—Ukraine shifted its limited drone and air defenses to Kherson and deprioritized these areas.
If true, this very likely also means is that Ukraine can protect a bridge it prioritizes defense of an area that’s just 10 kilometers or so from the front lines. It did so at Marinka for 20 months. It did so at Kupiansk for 14 months.
It can likely protect a pontoon bridge over the Dnipro today given a minimal buffer zone.
So, Ukraine capturing just a few villages may be the first dominoes leading to Crimea.