After the liberation of Kherson and the geographical segregation of the Russian and Ukrainian forward line of troops by the Dnieper River, onlookers are wondering how the Ukrainian Armed Forces will maintain the operational advantage in Ukraine’s South. While this publication covered the buildup of Ukrainian troops along the banks of the Dnieper, the status forward line of troops in Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia may be fertile ground for President Zelensky to liberate another major Ukrainian city: Melitopol.
On February 26th, while Russian Ground Forces were racing to Kherson, forward armored elements of the 49th Combined Arms Army stormed the city defenses of Melitopol, while the 22nd Army Corps seized the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. By March 1st, 2022, Russian Ground Forces had defeated the 128th Mountain Assult Brigade in an attempted counter-offensive after initially entering the city on February 26th.
Those forces then proceeded North towards the Oblast seat, Zaporizhzhia, and Southeast to Mariupol where Naval Infantry landed at Berdyansk to encircle and eventually lay siege to the coastal city. The siege, taking much longer than expected, a whopping 2 months, 3 weeks, and 5 days, significantly slowed the progress of the 49th Combined Arms Army. Once the Azovstal Steel Plant defenders surrendered on May 20th, 2022, those forces turned North once again towards Zaporizhzhia. However, due to operational requirements near Kherson and East towards Bakhmut and Severodonetsk, there was little manpower and supplies left to launch an attack against Zaporizhzhia city. These mostly static lines showcase an ample objective for President Zelensky to exploit since manning has been stripped.
While the Southern front in Zaporizhzhia Oblast has been far from quiet, it has definitely been eclipsed by fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk, both when Russian Ground Forces seized Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in May and when the Ukrainian counter-offensive began in August.
However, the Zaporizhzhia front may be warming up again now that nearly 20k Ukrainian troops and 22k Russian troops have been freed up from Kherson city. While the Ukrainians still possess some operational momentum to attempt a crossing of the Dnieper there may have already been an attempt to probe Russian defenses on the Zaporizhzhia front.
According to Russian state-owned media:
“There was an attempt to break through the assault group at the beginning of last week. They had three companies of T-72 tanks, which were transferred by Poland, and T-64. We don’t know who was in the tanks: the Poles or the military of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Also [there were] 20 BMP-1, YPR-765 armored personnel carriers. Ours discovered them with the help of drones and worked out the VKS, MLRS. Confirmed losses: five tanks, six infantry fighting vehicles, more than 20 Turkish Kirpi armored vehicles and SUVs. There were militants of the Azov battalion (banned in the Russian Federation – Note TASS), only they are now officially considered the 98th battalion of the defense of Dnepropetrovsk,”
While this is obviously biased single-source reporting, unverified by the Ukrainians, it is striking that mere days after Kherson city falls, reports emerge of a probing attack on the Zaporizhzhia front. Analysts would do well to observe indications and warnings concerning the movement of both Ukrainian and Russian troops from Kherson Oblast in order to discern where the next push may come from. While Western nations expect the front to “freeze” come Winter, the 2014 Donbass War showed us that Ukraine’s suburban areas are still able to host large campaigns throughout the cold months.