The past 24 hours have seen a flurry of hype around Ukrainian forces crossing the Dnipro River in Kherson and setting up positions on the left bank, which is under Russian control. The development has led some to believe that Ukrainian forces have established a bridgehead and that this is the start of some sort of counteroffensive, however, this is not the case.
People are asking our opinion about the Ukrainian 'bridgehead' on left bank near Kherson:
UKR soldiers are crossing the Dnipro in this area since they took the right bank (Kherson city) back.
So there is no evidence at all, as far as we have seen, for the 'bridgehead' claims. https://t.co/NRcKuW10PB
— GeoConfirmed (@GeoConfirmed) April 23, 2023
Geolocated footage shows that Ukrainian forces carried out a small-scale amphibious assault across the Dnipro to residential areas along the left bank in the village of Dachy. The landing force was met by limited Russian artillery fire, which targeted several houses along the shoreline. It remains unknown if Ukrainian forces suffered any casualties from the strikes. Let it also be noted that there was no sign of Russian ground forces or defensive positions along the shoreline.
This operation, at face value, is nothing new or particularly significant. Since Ukrainian forces retook the city of Kherson back in November 2022, there has been continuous cross-river operations by Russian and Ukrainian forces along the Dnipro River. Russian forces have exclusively carried out shelling or targeted rocket/missile strikes across the river from positions along the left bank. One such example would be Russian forces targeting the Turkish merchant vessels “Tuzla” and “Ferahnaz” in the port of Kherson with 9M111M Fagot-M ATGMs back in January 2023. So far, there has been no evidence of Russian forces carrying out amphibious assault operations against the right bank. For Ukraine, amphibious operations across the Dnipro have been frequent, which have either targeted Russian positions or were used for recon and propaganda purposes, such as raising flags.
— Dénes Törteli ?????? (@DenesTorteli) December 3, 2022
In context to Ukraine’s operations across the river, none have established, or were meant to establish, a permanent bridgehead for some sort of offensive at this time, although it is safe to assume that they are being carried out to probe the area. The left bank of the Dnipro in the Kherson region is largely made up of marshy islands and wetlands, where small houses line the shores. There is no significant road infrastructure, cover, or strategic high grounds. Holding such an area would be extremely difficult considering the presence of Russian fire control and the lack of supply routes. In almost every instance of Ukrainian forces crossing the river, they have been met by artillery fire that has driven them back. The main crossing point over the river, the Antonovskiy Bridge, was destroyed as Russian forces retreated from the city due to both Ukrainian shelling and Russian sabotage. Due to this, the only viable way to cross the Dnipro would be barges and pontoon bridges, both of which would be easy targets for artillery. This means that the ability to both send a large-scale force over the river, as well as continuously supply it, is not feasible at this time.
This latest landing does not show that Ukraine has established a major, permanent presence on the left bank, let alone a bridgehead for a forward assault. The area is not suitable for a long-term Ukrainian presence due to a lack of cover and roads, as well as Russian fire control. The size of the landing party is also not consistent with one that would be used to secure a bridgehead and falls more in line with probing operations seen in the past.
Unpacking this assessment in our change of control of terrain around the Dnipro River delta.
This assessment uses a combination of multi-sourced Russian-provided textual reports about Ukrainian activity in this area as well as available geolocated combat footage. https://t.co/1xrkCXgRfu pic.twitter.com/K0ohYs0mQX
— George Barros (@georgewbarros) April 23, 2023
All of this is not to say that Ukraine has been successful in continuously crossing the river and preparing for larger, more frequent amphibious operations against the left bank. Russian milblogger Yury Kotyenok noted that Ukrainian forces remain “active in the Bolshoi Potemkin area and near Alyosheki, sending in DRGs on boats and regularly making their presence known on the shore.” The Russian installed governor of Kherson, Volodymyr Saldo, also commented on Ukrainian forces massing on the right bank and their “readiness to cross the Dnieper.” Some Russian milbloggers have even suggested an enduring, but limited, Ukrainian presence along the left bank has established some form of supply lines, although this would likely be small boat operations under the cover of night.
Igor Girkin, former DPR leader turned milblogger, stated on his Telegram channel that “formally, the Ukrainians have a small foothold – they caught on an island of solid land in the floodplain of the river. They put a garrison there, supply boats and boats.” He went on to explain that the presence does not constitute a bridgehead and questions its tactical value, adding that “In fact, the sense to them (except for propaganda) from this “bridgehead” is about zero. Because from it you can only step into the next floodplain swamp. Therefore, it makes no sense for them to create a bridge or a ferry to the bridgehead – there is nowhere to move equipment from it.” He finished by noting that Ukraine is preparing such a bridgehead, saying that “ the real serious landing – in order to create a real bridgehead – they, apparently, are preparing in another place. Or several.”
Interactive map, updated daily: https://t.co/hwgxTnU2Tr
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) April 23, 2023
Those monitoring the Russian invasion have been waiting for Ukraine’s Spring offensive, which will likely aim to push back Russian advances in the Donbas and press forward into Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. For any offensive in Kherson, a large-scale amphibious assault over the Dnipro will be needed unless they expect to push south along the right bank from Zaporizhzhia. Such a feat will be extremely difficult largely due to the terrain, which will make resupply efforts arduous, especially when facing artillery fire on any established bridgehead. Ukraine will need to eliminate artillery and anti-air positions on the right bank, as well as secure air supremacy over the region, in order to reduce the risk of facing heavy casualties.