Despite recent advances near Kherson, Ukraine faces challenges in its ongoing conflict with Russia.

Ukrainian forces inspect a field for explosive devices amid the war with Russia in Kherson region, Ukraine on Nov. 9, 2023. (Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

In a new development, Ukraine has achieved a modest yet significant military breakthrough in the southern Kherson region, sparking cautious optimism amidst the ongoing conflict with Russia. This development comes after the anticipation of a major summer counter-offensive had waned, leaving observers and participants alike reassessing the situation.

The 35th Marine Infantry Brigade of Ukraine has successfully established a bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro River near Krynky. Although the territorial gains are limited, the strategic value of this position, approximately 90 kilometers from Crimea, cannot be understated.

Unverified social media images depict Ukrainian ferries transporting heavy vehicles and troops to reinforce this new position. The newly gained territory, while modest in size, opens potential avenues for advancing toward Crimea, a region of significant strategic importance.

Ukrainian servicemen load a shell into a howitzer near Bakhmut, Ukraine on March 2.Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Jade McGlynn, a research associate at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, emphasized the significance of this achievement. “They’ve crossed [the Dnipro] many times but have not been able to hold it. This is a base from which they can genuinely liberate parts of the occupied Kherson Oblast,” she said.

The Ukrainian advance has prompted a response from Russian commanders, who are reportedly reallocating troops to counter the new Ukrainian positions. However, the future utility of Ukraine’s left bank positioning remains to be seen.

This military development coincides with a period of intense reflection and reassessment for Ukraine and its Western allies. Ahead of the anticipated summer counter-offensive, European nations and the United States supplied Ukraine with substantial military aid, including Leopard 2 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery ammunition.

Ukrainian Commander in Chief Valery Zaluzhni. Photo: Euro-Maidan Press

Despite this support, Ukraine’s top battlefield commander expressed concerns about evolving into a stalemate. General Valery Zaluzhny, in a candid essay in The Economist, outlined the additional aid needed from Western governments to avert a potential loss. His requests include assistance in mine clearing, counter-battery fire, enhanced electronic warfare capabilities, and improved training for reserves. Zaluzhny also urged for support in bolstering Ukraine’s industrial and production capacities for domestic arms production.

In a revealing interview with CBC News, Ukrainian soldier Kostiantyn Denysov, who fought in key battles in Zaporizhzhia, shared insights into the challenges faced by Ukrainian forces. Denysov highlighted the need for more de-mining equipment and long-range artillery, echoing the general’s concerns. He also shed light on the psychological pressures faced by Ukrainian soldiers due to heightened expectations and the dire need for continued Western support.

US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the war between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on October 19, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP)

While the United States and Germany have been significant contributors to Ukraine’s military aid, Denysov cautioned that Western nations might overestimate the capabilities of Ukraine’s army and underestimate Russia’s.

Serhiy Grabski, a former Ukrainian air force colonel, anticipates modest changes on the battlefield in the coming months. He stressed the need for Ukraine to protect its lines, make advances, and disrupt Russian defenses. Grabski also highlighted Russia’s capacity to sustain prolonged conflict, lending urgency to General Zaluzhny’s plea for more aid.

Jade McGlynn noted Ukraine’s success in challenging Russia’s hold on Crimea through medium-range missile attacks. Despite the gradual nature of these advancements, she remains optimistic about Ukraine’s prospects in making Crimea untenable for Russia.