The Russian troops on the right bank of the river found themselves in a precarious position. Still, the download seems to have worked surprisingly smoothly. The event had to be planned well in advance.
It is no longer possible to supply the occupied city of Kherson and the adjacent areas on the right bank of the Dnieper with military supplies – this is how the leadership of the Russian army justified its decision on Wednesday to withdraw. The Russians thus gave up a strategically important bridgehead, which until recently they had defended with the greatest effort and losses.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the withdrawal was completed on Friday morning. In the afternoon, the first Ukrainian soldiers already reached the center of Kherson. This suggests that Russia started withdrawing days or weeks ago. Still, the question is: if the supplies couldn’t get in, how did all the Russian soldiers, tanks and vehicles get out?
Three bridges under fire
A glance at the map is enough to make the uncertain starting position of the Russian troops palpable. There are only three crossings across the Dnieper River, which is more than a kilometer wide in some areas:
- Antonivka bridge: This 25-meter-wide, four-lane bridge made it possible to connect Kherson with the southern regions of Ukraine, including Crimea, which has been occupied since 2014. But already in August, the Ukrainians began shelling the strategically important crossing with precision weapons. Although the Russians repaired again and again, the Ukrainians continued to shell. The bridge was barely passable for a long time.
- Antonivka railway bridge: There is a railway bridge of the same name about 6 kilometers east of the Antonivka bridge. Among other things, their tracks lead directly to the Crimea. The bridge initially played a central role as a supply line for Russian troops in Kherson. It was also heavily damaged by Ukrainian shelling in the summer.
- Kakhovka-Damm: The third Dnieper crossing is located 60 kilometers east of Kherson. The dam wall crosses both a road and a railway line. Both were in early September destroyed by Ukrainian shelling. Russians built smaller replacement bridges, but even here, crossing the river has recently been impossible – also because the dam is within range of Ukrainian artillery.
To compensate for the loss of the Antonivka bridge near Kherson, Russia built a kind of pontoon bridge, consisting of rows of flat boats, in October. But even this improvised crossing, which was built diagonally under the damaged bridge, soon came under fire. Photo from the beginning of November denotes It is not clear how many soldiers and military vehicles were able to leave Kherson in this way.
civilians as a shield
Bridges were largely out of the question for retreating from the right bank. Russia had to rely on ferries, towed fins and boats to get across the river. The first ferries were already in operation in August, as shown by pictures of the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. These photos mainly depict civilian vehicles driving on the route parallel to the Antonivka bridge. They may also be used in Russia’s forced evacuation of the civilian population in October.
Apparently this ferry service was still in operation on Thursday and Friday. videos on social networks to show how the flatboats are steered towards the left bank of the river with the help of tugboats. One comes from the well-known Russian propagandist and military blogger Alexander Koz, who documented his departure from Kherson. On the one hand, it shows the consequences of the Ukrainian shelling of the Antonivka bridge. Some damage to the pontoon bridge below is also visible. On the other hand, it is noticeable that only civilian vehicles are in motion on this ferry.
Russian war propagandist Alexander Kots announces his final departure from Kherson.
— (((Tender))) (@Tender) November 9, 2022
In fact, it is clear that the Russians did not use this ferry connection or only partially used it for their retreat. The place is exposed and obvious – the danger of shooting is great. Therefore, the Russians may have transported only a few military vehicles along with civilian vehicles at this time. The civilian population served as a protective shield for them.
Discovered ferry network
Therefore, the Russian military leadership most likely relied on a network of less obvious shipping links to gradually evacuate their troops and vehicles. Several independent Analysts, but also secret services used satellite imagery to track how this network was being built over the past few weeks and months. In this way, it was possible to identify several newly created ferry docks, including some in the center of Kherson.
The sites indicate that greater distances were sometimes covered during the retreat. There are about 12 kilometers between Kherson and the town of Hola Pristan on the left bank. The journey there and back together with the loading and unloading of the ferries must have taken several hours.
It is not clear how many ferry connections the Russians have set up – but there are a lot, explains one analyst, who wishes to remain anonymous. The transitions stretched along the entire length of the Dnieper between Hola Pristan in the west and Nowa Kachovka in the east. In addition, the Russians made sure to change anchorages between different routes to make them less vulnerable.
It can be assumed that the Ukrainians also knew about these events and reacted accordingly. view satellite images, that several jetties were shelled and some boats were also sunk – probably by Ukrainian Himar precision missiles. It is unclear how many casualties the Russian retreat actually caused.
The Ukrainians respond with artillery fire
Nevertheless, the withdrawal from Kherson appears to have been a fairly successful operation on the part of the Russians – at least according to the current state of knowledge. Although rumors of a troop withdrawal had circulated for weeks, many observers were surprised at how quickly it could actually be done.
The Russian military leadership apparently managed to withdraw most of its troops from the area without attracting too much attention. Many experts predicted on Wednesday night that the retreat could take weeks, especially since tens of thousands of troops were still in the area. Local observers now estimate that only 2,000 to 4,000 troops are still in the West Bank. However, the numbers cannot be independently verified.
The coming days and weeks will show how successful the retreat across the Dnieper really was. news and film records from the past two days indicate that the Ukrainians sent massive artillery fire at the Russian troops and also shelled river crossings near Kherson at night. The video showed that about 20 Russian soldiers were apparently forced to cross the pontoon bridge on foot.
Retreating Russian soldiers at the bridge of boats next to the Antonivsky bridge. pic.twitter.com/lXSSRr9h7F
— CHRISTMAS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) November 11, 2022
It is not clear whether and how the remaining Russian soldiers will be able to retreat. Maybe they were left behind as “collateral damage”. With the final destruction of two Kherson bridges early Friday morning, Russian troops made it clear that they will not be following anytime soon.