For Ukraine, the Fight Is Often a Game of Bridges

KHERSON REGION, Ukraine – The pontoon bridge was only put into use for one day. The Ukrainian army hastily dispatched troops and equipment everywhere. The soldiers then watched on a drone video feed as the Russians blew up their bridge, again.

“Yes, they hit the bridge,” the drone pilot said practically, looking at the projected images from a safe distance, a mile or so.

The soldiers shrugged. It’s not a big loss.

The Ukrainians will soon build another bridge over the slender, slow-flowing Inhulets River in southern Ukraine, to replace the bridge destroyed by the Russians. It’s a cycle that repeats every day: The Ukrainian military builds pontoon bridges across the river as they attempt to advance in the Kherson area, only to find them blown up.

Colonel Roman Kostenko, commander of the garrison there, said: “We built them, they blew them up. “They built them, we blew them up. ”

The Ukrainian military has reason to be confident on this day. Fighting under the pale late-summer sun on hundreds of miles of the front line, the Ukrainian Army broke through Russian positions, retaking several villages and taking prisoners in the most significant counter-offensive since the invasion of Ukraine. Russia withdrew from northern Ukraine last winter.

While it is premature to assess the full extent of the military, Russian videos, eyewitness accounts and several reports all point to Ukraine’s motivations, including on this point. This is one of two forces Ukraine has created when pushing into the Russian line in the past week; the rest is north of the city of Izium in eastern Ukraine.

Bridge-building and destroying the enemy, while unscientific, low-tech and old-fashioned as a military art, became a central tool for both sides in the Ukrainian counter-offensive to the south.

Using long-range missiles provided by the United States, the Ukrainian Army destroyed most of the four bridges spanning the vast Dnipro River, Ukraine’s longest and largest river, cutting off some 25,000 Russian troops on the West Bank from supply source.

The Russian military responded by building pontoon overpasses, which Ukraine is also currently attacking. The plan was to probe Russia’s front lines for weak points as its army ran out of ammunition, fuel and even food.

But to do so in some locations, Ukraine had to strike across the smaller Inhulets River, build its own pontoon bridges, which then became a target for the Russians.

Bridging is a “continuous process,” said Colonel Kostenko, who is also a member of Ukraine’s parliament. No one attacking a bridge will determine the fate of the Ukrainian attack – the attack relies on both building the pontoon bridge and preventing the Russians from doing so.

During the tumultuous first days of the war, Colonel Kostenko obtained about 200 pounds of high explosives from the army, which he said he drove in a pickup truck to several bridges on the Russian route to the city. Mykolaiv. He blew up bridges, creating barriers to a Russian attack on the city still held by Ukrainian troops.

The war in the south has revolved around rivers and bridges ever since.

Colonel Kostenko says the fighting has even reached this stage – with Ukrainian troops digging into an expanding swath of territory on the east bank of the Inhulets that was previously held mostly by Russians – as a encouraging sign, said Colonel Kostenko.

“That we start moving and taking territory from the enemy, this is a very positive moment,” he said, despite the backing of a bridge, which was blown up just before he was about to deliver. it for reporters to visit. “It’s a positive start and it will show everyone we can do it.”

The Ukrainian military has withheld the details of the counter-attack, saying secrecy is paramount, and reporters are mostly barred from visiting the front lines. But the location of the pontoon bridges was well known to the Russians and was hardly a secret.

Ukraine’s push into the Russian front on the far bank of the Inhulets River is one of the provable successes of the counter-offensive to date.

A photo of soldiers flying a Ukrainian flag over the roof of a hospital in the village of Vysokopillia, north of the pontoon bridge, appeared in Ukrainian media and was later confirmed by an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky as authentic. It lifts morale in Ukraine.

At the same time, the Ukrainian Army launched an offensive in the east of the country, pushing to cut off Russian supply lines to the occupied city of Izium. Videos posted on Ukrainian social media show Ukraine advancing as far as 30 miles in the area, capturing several villages in a sudden, dramatic jab into an exposed slope; it adds to the overall sense of momentum after months of bloody, low-key defensive warfare.

Ukraine is said to need to prove it can repel Russian forces, fearing that European support for arming Kyiv will wane as the countries face inflation and high energy prices. , and before the autumn rains slow any attack on the muddy fields.

Colonel Kostenko said: “Ukraine needs a victory now.

“We need to turn the attack around,” he said. “This is a place where we can do it successfully, so everyone in the military, everyone who is mobilized and who is in training, has a taste of victory. Yes, it can be expensive. Yes, we understand it is difficult”.

The Russian side also feels the difficulty.

The Dnipro, a mighty river, forms a barrier to resupply and reinforce their troops in the area counter-attacked by Ukraine. And Russian attempts to cross the pontoon bridge or ferry were clearly seen by Ukrainian drones – and quickly hacked.

In a video filmed by a Russian soldier, a truck loaded with ammunition climbs onto a pontoon and one soldier can be heard saying, “Do it, do it.” But artillery struck the pontoon bridges, blowing the soldiers across the deck. They cursed and groaned from their wounds.

Ukraine’s counter-offensive strategy can be seen as “the death of a thousand cuts”, referring to attacks on supply lines and exploratory attacks on the front, aerial attacks on like an all-out attack but deals damage on a smaller scale.

Serhiy Grabskyi, a former colonel in the Ukrainian Army and commentator for Ukrainian media, said the strategy, at least for now, is not to take large swaths of territory but to deliver a series of blows, Serhiy Grabskyi, a former colonel in the Ukrainian Army.

“Intelligence was well established,” he said. “Our troops are eagerly waiting for the enemy to build the next pontoon bridge, because that is the number one goal.”

Rapid territorial growth is not possible.

The Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, reported that Ukraine’s goal is to “remove Russia’s military capabilities” slowly and methodically.

But it all adds up. If the offensive continues, isolating and encircling Russian forces on the west bank of the Dnipro River, Ukraine could “create a killing zone for a large portion of Russia’s best offensive troops,” said Jack Watling, a researcher and expert on land warfare at the Royal. United Services Institute in England, writes.

Once traffic through the river drops to an inefficient drip, “we will have an effective encirclement,” said Colonel Kostenko.

“Now, we hear that the enemy has a problem with ammunition,” something was seen in the barrage of Russian artillery dwindling along the front lines. He said that during intercepted Russian radio conversation, “it was nice to hear them say, ‘I’m empty, I can’t fire.'”

Two armies are fighting on a wide, flat expanse of farm fields and trees in the steppes of southern Ukraine. Clouds hovering over the field.

Armored vehicles, fuel trucks, pickup trucks and ambulances blocked dirt roads, carried ammunition and soldiers to the front and evacuated the wounded, and caused traffic jams. pine.

Ukrainian officers in Colonel Kostenko’s unit said that a pontoon bridge takes about three hours to build and on average in this location lasts about 24 hours.

“Everywhere, every day, we are doing engineering work” to build new bridges, said one of the officers using the Slon sign. The Russians attacked them with rockets, artillery and aerial bombs. “They weren’t excited about our floats,” he said.

About an hour after shelling the bridge, a truck pole carrying extra buoys hit a road toward the river.

“We will rebuild it, and the counter-attack will continue,” Colonel Kostenko said.

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