By Tom Balmforth and Yuliia Dysa
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian troops have crossed the vast River Dnipro into occupied areas of Kherson region and are operating in small groups, Russia conceded on Wednesday, saying it had dispatched more troops to stop them.
Ukraine said on Tuesday it had secured a foothold on the eastern bank of the Dnipro “against all odds”, a potentially major setback for Russian occupation forces in the south where Kyiv is trying to open a new line of attack.
A Ukrainian military spokesperson added on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops were trying to push Russian forces back from the eastern bank of the river, a formidable natural barrier.
Military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko told media outlet RBK Ukraine that the growing area of contested control on the eastern bank “significantly reduces the mobility and capability of the Russian occupiers”.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of the part of Kherson region under Moscow’s control, noted that Ukrainian forces had crossed the river, but were taking heavy losses.
Ukrainian forces, he said in a statement, were operating in small groups spread over an area from a railway bridge to the village of Krynky, a distance of around 20 km (12 miles).
“Our additional forces have now been brought in. The enemy is trapped in (the settlement of) Krynky and a fiery hell has been arranged for him: bombs, rockets, heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells and drones,” said Saldo.
Citing information from Russia’s “Dnepr” military grouping, he said Ukrainian forces were pinned down in basements in the day and predicted the Ukrainian assault would be thwarted.
The village of Krynky lies close to the Dnipro around 30 km northeast of the city of Kherson, which Ukraine recaptured almost exactly a year ago.
Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, described the frontline as “fairly fluid” and said Kyiv’s forces had been putting pressure on Russian troops.
“The pushback from our side is taking place on a line from 3 to 8 km along the entire bank from the water’s edge,” she said.
“For now, we will ask for informational silence … which would allow us to report later on great successes.”
Reuters could not verify either side’s accounts.
In Ukraine’s east, the head of the military administration in Avdiivka said the Ukrainian-controlled eastern town was “being wiped out” by a month of unrelenting Russian attacks.
There were now fewer than 1,500 residents remaining from a pre-war population of 32,000, with increasing numbers seeking evacuation, Vitaliy Barabash told national television.
Russian military bloggers reported fighting to the northeast, near the town of Horlivka, controlled by Russian troops and their separatists who seized the town in 2014. There was no comment from Ukrainian officials or commentators.
GAINING A FOOTHOLD IN THE SOUTH
Russia has largely held Kyiv’s counteroffensive at bay in the southeast, but an advance in occupied Kherson region could spread their defences thinner and ratchet up pressure.
“Against all the odds, Ukraine’s defence forces have gained a foothold on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff said on Tuesday.
The official, Andriy Yermak, said Ukraine’s counteroffensive, launched in June, was “developing” and that Kyiv knew “how to achieve victory”.
Russia’s military said last week its forces had thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to forge a bridgehead on the eastern bank and nearby islands, inflicting heavy losses.
Yermak made his remarks in the United States, which has provided military assistance since the February 2022 invasion, although questions now swirl over the sustainability of the aid.
While cautious not to compromise any of its operations, Kyiv has been eager to tout its battlefield successes after the much-vaunted counteroffensive, has retaken only a series of villages.
Russian troops seized Kherson region in the early days of their invasion, but retreated a year ago from the city of Kherson and other positions on the western side of the river.
This week, in a highly unusual incident, two Russian state news agencies published alerts saying Moscow was moving troops to “more favourable positions” east of the river, language it has used in the past to describe retreats.
The agencies quickly withdrew the news report, which Russia’s defence ministry said was false.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Yuliia Dysa; Additional reporting by Olena Harmash; Editing by Alex Richardson, Ron Popeski and Lincoln Feast)