Ukrainian troops cross river, secure foothold in southern Kherson region
PHOTO CAPTION: Representational photo — Ukrainian naval special forces are seen raiding a Russian-occupied island in the Dnipro river in this undated photo. (Command of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine via Facebook)
By Tom Balmforth and Yuliia Dysa
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian troops have crossed the vast River Dnipro into occupied areas of Kherson region and are operating in small groups, Russia conceded on Wednesday, saying it had dispatched more troops to stop them.
Ukraine said on Tuesday it had secured a foothold on the eastern bank of the Dnipro "against all odds", a potentially major setback for Russian occupation forces in the south where Kyiv is trying to open a new line of attack.
A Ukrainian military spokesperson added on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops were trying to push Russian forces back from the eastern bank of the river, which serves as a formidable natural barrier on the battlefield.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of the part of Kherson region which Moscow controls, acknowledged in a statement that Ukrainian forces had managed to cross the river, but said they were taking heavy losses.
Ukrainian forces, he said, were operating in small groups spread over an area from the region's railway bridge to the village of Krynky, a distance of around 20 km (12 miles). He said they numbered around one and a half companies.
"Our additional forces have now been brought in. The enemy is trapped in (the settlement of) Krynky and a fiery hell has been arranged for him: bombs, rockets, heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells and drones," said Saldo.
Citing what he said was first-hand information from Russia's "Dnepr" military grouping, he said Ukrainian forces were pinned down in basements in the day and predicted the Ukrainian assault would be thwarted.
The village of Krynky lies close to the Dnipro around 30 km northeast of the city of Kherson, which Ukraine recaptured almost exactly a year ago.
Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine's southern military command, described the frontline as "fairly fluid" and said Kyiv's forces had been putting Russian troops under pressure along the river.
"The pushback from our side is taking place on a line from 3 to 8 km along the entire bank from the water's edge," she said.
"For now, we will ask for informational silence ... which would allow us to report later on great successes," she said in televised comments.
Reuters could not independently verify either side's accounts.
Russia has largely held Kyiv's counteroffensive at bay in the southeast, but an advance in occupied Kherson region could spread their defences thinner and ratchet up pressure.
"Against all the odds, Ukraine's defence forces have gained a foothold on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff said on Tuesday.
The official, Andriy Yermak, said that Ukraine's counteroffensive, which it launched in June, was "developing" and that Kyiv knew "how to achieve victory".
Russia's military said last week its forces had thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to forge a bridgehead on the eastern bank and nearby islands, inflicting heavy losses.
Yermak made his remarks during a trip to the United States, a key ally of Kyiv that has provided vital military assistance since the February 2022 invasion, although questions now swirl over the sustainability of such aid.
While cautious not to compromise any of its operations, Kyiv has been eager to tout its battlefield successes after the much-vaunted counteroffensive, now more than five months old, has retaken a only series of villages and no big settlements.
Russian troops seized Kherson region in the early days of their invasion, but retreated a year ago from the city of Kherson and other positions on the western side of the river.
This week, in a highly unusual incident, two Russian state news agencies published alerts saying Moscow was moving troops to "more favourable positions" east of the river, language it has used in the past to describe retreats.
The agencies quickly withdrew the news report, which Russia's defence ministry said was false.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Yuliia Dysa; Additional reporting by Olena Harmash; Editing by Alex Richardson)