Ukraine seizes war-damaged Antonivsky bridge offering shortcut to Crimea

Bridgehead cut off after Kakhovka dam attack would be a crucial foothold on the Dnipro riverbank, offering Kyiv a direct route south

The Antonivsky bridge bridge destroyed by Russian army. Getty Images
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Ukrainian troops have established a crucial foothold on the east bank of the Dnipro river potentially opening a gap in Russia’s defences.

An estimated 120 soldiers, including special forces, are believed to have taken up positions on the Russian-held bank of the river that was heavily flooded two weeks ago by Moscow’s alleged destruction of the huge Kakhovka dam.

The waters have receded following the destruction of the dam, giving the opportunity for forces to be transported across the river into positions where defences, including landmines, have been washed away.

Retaining the bridgehead will potentially allow Ukrainian forces to pour more troops and armour across the Dnipro, giving them the shortest route to Russian-annexed Crimea.

Such a move could also create a dilemma for Moscow's commanders who, following the flood, moved their more effective troops from the Kherson region to the east to meet Ukraine's counter-offensive, with the flank apparently secure.

The Antonivsky bridge, directly south of Kherson city, has up to 200 metres missing as a result of the continuing conflict, making a rebuild highly challenging. But if Ukraine’s forces were able to push the Russians back beyond artillery range of the bridge it could begin reconstruction, potentially using it to transport military traffic.

Sources linked to Ukraine's military have told The National that they could not comment on whether the bridgehead might become a “main effort” as this would “potentially draw unwanted Russian attention and forces to the area”.

Brigadier Ben Barry, a Russia specialist at the IISS think tank, suggested that the Ukrainians could exploit the crossing using combat engineers to fix a temporary bridge to get personnel and armour across the one kilometre wide river.

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“This also offers more opportunities for Ukraine to pose multiple threats to better overwhelm the Russian defensive network across the 1,000km front line,” he said. “It also shows Moscow that they do not know where the next main thrust will come from.”

Ukraine announced on Tuesday that it had advanced across several sectors of the front line, including capturing a position near Donetsk held by the Russians since their 2014 invasion.

The Russian response to the gains came in the early hours of Tuesday when air strikes were followed by a strike from TOS-1 rocket flame-throwers on the small village of Dachi that was reportedly seized over the weekend by Ukraine.

Video footage showed trees lining the river bank on fire close to the houses where Ukraine forces were sheltering.

Dva Mayora (Two Majors), a pro-Russian Telegram channel, stated that Ukraine forces have held “a small foothold on our bank for at least three days”.

It added: “The units of the Russian Armed Forces withdrew from the area, as the constant action of enemy artillery and SOF [special operations forces] created a threat of encirclement of our forces.”

There are also reports that a small Ukraine force has advanced on the village of Oleshky, 7km away, although it appears to have been halted by Russian artillery fire.

The potential to reinforce the east bank will be boosted by the lowering of the water levels following the dam destruction that has now left behind a rapidly drying plain amid hot weather.

Ukraine forces have been using speedboats to cross the river, however, under cover of their own artillery and with air defences they could use ferries to transport tanks and other heavy fighting equipment across.

Military bloggers questioned whether it was a tactic to draw Russian reinforcements away from other sectors, reconnaissance-in-force or a genuine bridgehead attempt. “Either way, it seems to have reached a level of risk for the Russians in which it will serve its intended purpose,” wrote one.

Updated: June 28, 2023, 9:28 AM