Ukrainian Marines Claim Multiple Bridgeheads Across a Key Russian Strategic Barrier

AP Photo/Alex Babenko, File
Ukrainian marines sail along the Dnipro river at the frontline near Kherson, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military said Friday its troops had secured multiple bridgeheads on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River in the Kherson region — a small but potentially significant strategic advance in the midst of a war largely at a standstill.

The Marine Infantry Command’s claims were the first to come directly from the Ukrainian military about advances across one of Russia’s most significant barriers. Earlier this week, Andriy Yermak, the head of the president’s office, confirmed for the first time that Ukraine had established a foothold on the eastern side of the river.

The wide river is a natural dividing line along the southern battlefront, and Moscow’s forces have used it since leaving the area around the city of Kherson in November 2022 to prevent Ukrainian troops from advancing farther toward Russian-annexed Crimea.

Troops are trying to push Russian forces away from the Dnieper to stop shelling that has routinely struck civilian areas on the Ukrainian-held west bank, the general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a report Friday.

Western officials with intelligence knowledge, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive information, said Thursday that Ukraine has portions of three brigades across the river and was expected to make small gains as the Russians have so far been unable to repel them.

“The Ukrainians have seen an opportunity there and taken it,” one official said. “What we’ve not seen is the Russians being able to push them back from that position.”

For months, Ukrainian soldiers have launched incursions into Russian-held territory in an attempt to pave the way for more troops to move across the Kherson region. An Associated Press crew in October witnessed troops setting out in inflatable boats to cross the Dnieper under the cover of fog.

Shelling could be heard in the distance followed by gunfire. At least two of the soldiers in the boats had been shot when they reached the shore.

Ukraine provided no timeline for how long it took to establish its positions across the Dnieper River or why it chose to announce its achievement this week and whether it indicated they had established a more stable foothold.

The gains that could open up a path to Crimea are considered small in the overall ground war, which intelligence officials said was essentially stalled despite a Ukrainian counteroffensive that earlier in the year had been expected to alter the momentum.

“Neither side is currently capable of mounting decisive offensive operations on the land in the foreseeable future,” one official said.

Ukraine is struggling off the battlefield for support from allies as the world’s attention has turned to Israel’s war against Hamas militants on the Gaza Strip. A U.S. funding package passed Thursday included no additional aid for Ukraine, and the European Union has said it can’t deliver the munitions it promised.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron on Wednesday lamented that the divided attention on two wars in the world had not helped his cause.

Cameron, a former U.K. prime minister who was appointed to the post in a surprise announcement this week, was in Kyiv on his first diplomatic trip to show his support for Ukraine. But the visit came with no additional military funds.

Ukrainian marines said its troops killed more than 1,200 Russian soldiers and wounded more than 2,200 in a series of operations to establish its position on the eastern riverbank. It said it destroyed 29 ammunition stores, two dozen tanks, four dozen armored combat vehicles, 89 artillery systems, watercraft, command posts and other vehicles.

Ukraine did not disclose the number of its own casualties.

Russian defense ministry spokesman Gen. Igor Konashenkov didn’t directly address the reports of Ukraine crossing the Dnieper but said in the past day that its troops had killed or wounded 460 Ukrainians and destroyed two tanks and 17 vehicles that were either on the Ukrainian-held west bank or attempting to land on islands in the river.

The Associated Press could not independently confirm either side’s battlefield claims.

Zelenskyy posted photos on social media Friday of troops in small motor boats reaching the eastern side, or left bank, of the river.

“The Kherson region’s left bank. Our warriors,” Zelenskyy wrote. “I thank them for their strength and for moving forward.”

When news of Ukraine’s advances across the river were reported earlier in the week, the Moscow-appointed governor for the Russia-occupied part of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said Ukrainian forces were facing a “fiery hell” in fighting in the village of Krynky and were being destroyed “on a large scale.”

Saldo said on Telegram that Ukraine had lost up to two battalions crossing the river and trying to maintain their hold on the east bank.

Those claims could not be independently verified.