Russia’s military has announced that it’s withdrawing from the western bank of the Dnieper River in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, annexed by Moscow in September.
The top Russian military commander in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, reported to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Wednesday that it was impossible to deliver supplies to the city of Kherson and other areas on the western bank, and Shoigu agreed with his proposal to retreat and set up defenses on the eastern bank.
The withdrawal from the city of Kherson is a major setback for Russia — it is the only regional capital Russian forces had seized during the eight-month war.
Elsewhere villages and towns in Ukraine saw more heavy fighting and shelling Wednesday as Ukrainian and Russian forces strained to advance on different fronts after more than 8 1/2 months of war.
At least nine civilians were killed and 24 others were wounded in 24 hours, the Ukrainian president’s office said. It accused Russia of using explosive drones, rockets, heavy artillery and aircraft to attack eight regions in the country’s southeast.
Ukrainian and Russian forces also clashed overnight over Snihurivka, a town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the southern city of Kherson. Ukraine’s army hopes to reclaim the Russian-occupied city, the only regional capital captured during Moscow’s February 24 invasion and a key target of an ongoing counteroffensive.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Kherson region’s Kremlin-appointed administration, said in a Telegram post that the Ukrainian army had “gained a foothold” along a railway line in Snihurivka’s north. In a separate post, he claimed Russian forces had repulsed the Ukrainian advance.
The Kherson region is one of four provinces of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed and subsequently placed under Russian martial law. The Russian military has concentrated much of its firepower on securing control of the others – Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated that the return of all occupied territory was a condition for any peace talks with Russia. The Kremlin is unlikely to give up its internationally unrecognized claim to the regions annexed in September or to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
The president’s office said widespread Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy system continued. Two cities not far from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant were shelled overnight, it said. More than 20 residential buildings, an industrial plant, a gas pipeline and a power line were reportedly damaged in Nikopol, which lies across the Dnieper River from the the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
Further west, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the Ukrainian governor reported “massive” overnight strikes with exploding Iranian-made drones that wounded four energy company workers in the city of Dnipro.
“Attacks on civilian infrastructure are war crimes in themselves. The Kremlin is at war with Ukrainian civilians, trying to leave millions of people without water and light (for them) to freeze in the winter,” Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said on Ukrainian TV.
In a related development, a senior Russian security official arrived in Iran for high-level talks late on Tuesday, Russian media reported.
News of the trip by Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the powerful Russian Security Council chaired by Putin, came days after Tehran admitted that it had supplied Moscow with the explosive-laden drones, after weeks of official denials.
A Washington-based think tank linked Patrushev’s visit to likely discussions over the possible sale of Iranian surface-to-surface ballistic missiles to Russia. The Institute for the Study of War said late Tuesday that the Kremlin was “continuing efforts to covertly acquire munitions for use in Ukraine, to mitigate the effects of international sanctions and backfill Russia’s ongoing depletion of domestic munitions stockpiles.”
The increasingly close military and political cooperation between Moscow and Tehran at the time of the war in Ukraine has worried the United States and other Western powers.