September 4, 2022

Institute for the Study of War: Ukrainian counter-offensive recaptures two villages in Kherson Oblast; Russia calls for negotiations but makes no concessions

Institute for the Study of War

The Ukrainian counteroffensive is making verifiable progress in the south and the east. Ukrainian forces are advancing along several axes in western Kherson Oblast and have secured territory across the Siverskyi Donets River in Donetsk Oblast. The pace of the counteroffensive will likely change dramatically from day to day as Ukrainian forces work to starve the Russians of necessary supplies, disrupt their command and control, and weaken their morale even as counteroffensive ground assaults continue. The Russians will occasionally counterattack and regain some lost ground and will of course conduct likely fierce artillery and air attacks against liberated settlements and advancing Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian forces have made substantial enough progress to begin evoking more realistic commentary from the Russian milbloggers, who had been hewing very closely to the Kremlin’s optimistic rhetoric until today.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Ukrainian forces liberated two unnamed settlements in southern Ukraine and one settlement in Donetsk Oblast on September 4.[1] Zelensky added that the Ukrainian 54th Mechanized Brigade also advanced in the direction Lysychansk-Siversk and established positions on unspecified heights. Ukrainian officials shared geolocated footage that shows Ukrainian forces raising a Ukrainian flag on a hospital building in Vysokopillya, south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast administrative border.[2] Social media sources confirmed that Ukrainian forces crossed the Siverskyi Donets River and liberated Ozerne, 20 km northwest of Siversk.[3]

Geolocated footage from September 2-3 shows Russian forces firing MLRS rounds from positions on the grounds of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) within 1km of a nuclear reactor.[4] Russian opposition outlet The Insider’s footage of Russian forces operating MLRS systems at the ZNPP reaffirms ISW’s prior assessment that Russian forces have militarized the ZNPP.[5] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on September 3 that the ZNPP has been disconnected from the power grid for the second time in its operational history (the first instance occurred on August 25), likely due to continued Russian false flag attacks and other military activities in and around the ZNPP.[6] Russian sources claimed the ZNPP has stopped providing energy to Ukraine.[7]

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Russia is ready to negotiate Moscow’s conditions for ending the Russian war in Ukraine on September 4, but the Kremlin is maintaining its maximalist goals to  “denazify” Ukraine. Peskov said that the Kremlin would discuss with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky how Ukraine would meet Russian conditions during peace negotiations and noted that Russia will complete all stated objectives of the “special military operation.”[8] Peskov also noted that all conflicts end at the negotiations table and expressed that relations between Russia and the West will improve soon. Peskov’s statement comes amidst the reports of the Ukrainian counteroffensive progress in southern Ukraine. The stated objectives of the “special military operation” include regime change in Kyiv as well as the surrender of all of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts to the Kremlin. Russian efforts to integrate occupied areas of Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Kharkiv Oblasts demonstrate that Moscow expects to keep those territories permanently as well. Peskov’s statement is thus a reiteration of Moscow‘s demands for Ukrainian surrender and offers no indication that Moscow is willing to negotiate seriously and on the basis of a realistic assessment of its prospects in a war that is turning in Ukraine’s direction.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Ukrainian forces liberated two unnamed settlements in southern Ukraine and one settlement in Donetsk Oblast. ISW has independently confirmed the liberation of the settlement in Donetsk Oblast and one of the settlements in Kherson Oblast.
  • Geolocated footage shows Russian forces firing MLRS rounds from positions on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs), ammunition depots, and key positions to exhaust Russian forces and restrain Russian combat power.
  • The Ukrainian liberation of Vysokopillya ignited critical discussions among some Russian milbloggers while the Russian Defense Ministry maintained that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct “unsuccessful attempts” to advance.
  • Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 127th Regiment of the 1st Army Corps personnel reportedly refused to fight due to a lack of supplies.
  • Ukrainian forces regained territory on the left bank of the Siverskyi Donets River in Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Bakhmut and west of Donetsk City.
  • Russian forces are reportedly moving military assets to areas situated along major ground lines of communication (GLOCS) in rear areas in Zaporizhia Oblast.

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces are continuing to make unspecified advances in Kherson Oblast and are exhausting Russian troops and logistics as part of the counteroffensive on September 4. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that “Ukrainian flags are returning to those places where they rightfully belong” and noted that Ukrainian forces liberated two unnamed villages in southern Ukraine.[9] Ukrainian officials and social media users published footage of Ukrainian forces raising a Ukrainian flag in Vysokopillya, south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast administrative border.[10] Russian milbloggers noted that Russian forces withdrew from Vysokopillya to avoid encirclement from the Olhyne and Potomkyne directions (west and east of Vysokopillya, respectively).[11] Some milbloggers noted that a lack of Russian aviation in the area (diverted, they say, to the fight around the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River) allowed for Ukrainian advances to Vysokopillya.[12]

Ukrainian officials did not name the second liberated settlement area. Kherson Oblast Administration Head Yaroslav Yanushevich reported that Russian forces shelled Olhyne, Potomkyne, Doryanka, and Novovoznesenske (southeast of Vysokopillya), while some milbloggers claimed that elements of Russian airborne forces also withdrew from Novovoznesenske, which may indicate a Ukrainian advance in the area.[13] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched airstrikes at Lyubomyrivka (approximately 28km north of Kherson City), and Russian milbloggers reported that Russian forces left the settlement.[14] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported Russian airstrikes on Sukhy Stavok, Bezimenne and Kostromka, and other settlements around the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, which may indicate that Ukrainian forces have advanced up to 12km southeast of the bridgehead.[15] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are firing artillery at Kostromka and Sukhy Stavok, where battles continued throughout the day.[16] Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Nataliya Gumenyuk noted that Ukrainian forces are advancing and liberating settlements, but Russian forces are continuing to shell newly-established Ukrainian positions from afar.[17]

The Ukrainian General Staff noted that servicemen of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 127th Regiment of the 1st Army Corps refused to fight, citing a lack of supplies such as water.[18] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian counterintelligence representatives are dealing with the 127th regiment and that its fate is unknown.[19] Russian forces formed the 127th Regiment of forcefully mobilized personnel in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast in early April, alongside four other DNR regiments: the 103rd, 109th, 113th, and 125th.[20] ISW previously reported that the DNR redeployed the 109th, 113th, and 125th Regiments to northwestern Kherson Oblast in late July, and the 109th regiment reportedly surrendered on the first day of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.[21] It is likely that Russian forces are reinforcing their frontline positions with inexperienced and forcefully mobilized elements that lack the will to fight.[22]

Gumenyuk noted that the Ukrainian counteroffensive strategy is to exhaust Russian forces and added that Ukrainian forces have enough resources and forces to restrain Russian combat power in southern Ukraine.[23] Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs), ammunition depots, and key positions to support Ukrainian ground counteroffensive efforts. Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian missile and artillery units struck a Russian ferry crossing in Beryslav (north of Nova Kakhovka), and social media users published footage of Ukrainian forces striking a segment of the Antonivsky Road Bridge on the left bank of the Dnipro River.[24] Ukrainian attacks on ferry crossings are likely in direct support of ongoing counteroffensive operations, as the disruptions generated by such strikes are more ephemeral than those caused by attacks on bridges. Continuing strikes on the bridges, on the other hand, are indicators of a long-term effort to prevent Russian forces from reestablishing GLOCs before the conclusion of the liberation of western Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian military officials noted that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian ammunition depot in Bashtanka Raion, and confirmed the destruction of a Russian ammunition depot in Oleshky (approximately nine kilometers south of Kherson City) that occurred on September 2.[25]

Social media footage also showed that Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian targets across central Kherson Oblast on September 3 and 4. Ukrainian social media footage showed a large smoke plume in Kozatske (on the right bank of the Dnipro River near Nova Kakhovka), where Ukrainian officials previously reported destroying a Russian pontoon crossing on September 3.[26]  The Russian Defense Ministry claimed to intercept Ukrainian HIMARS, HARM, and Olkha rounds in Nova Kakhovka and over the Kakhovka Hydro Power Plant, and Ukrainian social media users reported hearing explosions in Nova Kakhovka.[27]

Russian milbloggers claimed that battles continued in five directions: east and west of Vysokopillya, near the Ukrainian bridgehead, near Snihurivka approximately 60km east of Mykolaiv City, and northwest and west of Kherson City on September 4. Milblogger accounts remain largely unverifiable as Ukrainian officials have not announced additional advances outside of those mentioned above.

Milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces were unsuccessful in advancing in the Petrivka direction, southeast of Vysokopillya.[28] Milbloggers claimed that Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in street fights in Arhanhelske (on the eastern bank of Inhulets River and west of Vysokopillya), and that Russian forces still control the southern part of the settlement.[29] Milbloggers also stated that fighting continued on the southern outskirts of Olhyne, the next settlement west of Vysokopillya.[30] Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian advances southeast of the bridgehead are contingent upon their ability to accumulate more reserves and noted that Russian forces are intensely firing at Ukrainian forces in the Andriivka area.[31] Milbloggers noted that Ukrainian attempts to seize Blahodatne (west of Snihurivka) were unsuccessful and that artillery fire continues in the Snihurivka area.[32] Milbloggers noted that Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in positional battles in Posad-Pokrovske, following a Ukrainian unsuccessful attempt to conduct a counteroffensive in the area.[33] Positional battles reportedly continued in Oleksandrivka (35km west of Kherson City), and milbloggers published footage of abandoned Ukrainian military equipment in the area.[34] Satellite imagery showed Russian second and third lines of defenses in Kyselivka (approximately 18km northwest of Kherson City).[35] The satellite imagery also showed that Russian forces dug the trenches at the end of May and extended them in late August. Russian forces have extensive defenses around Kherson City International Airport in Chornobaivka. Geolocated footage showed Russian forces striking advancing Ukrainian forces south of Tavriiske (approximately 38km northwest of Kherson City).[36]

The Ukrainian liberation of Vysokopillya ignited some critical discussions among Russian milbloggers, whereas the Russian Defense Ministry maintained that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct “unsuccessful attempts” to advance in the Mykolaiv-Kryvyi Rih direction.[37] The Russian Defense Ministry changed its day-to-day recap of the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive from declaring total Ukrainian defeat on August 29, to claiming high Ukrainian losses among personnel and military equipment.[38] Milbloggers largely presented Ukrainian advances in northern Kherson Oblast as a “massacre of Kherson Oblast” due to claimed large losses among Ukrainian troops.[39] Some milbloggers noted that Ukrainian forces conducted a correct counteroffensive around Vysokopillya, and noted that Russian forces lost a tactically significant settlement.[40] This is the first occasion on which some milbloggers have broken with the Kremlin’s optimism about the Ukrainian counteroffensive and recognized Russian setbacks.

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