Ukraine uses drones to push back Russian artillery

Kyiv trying to press in on occupied Crimea but has a long way to go from its Dnipro river beachhead

Ukrainian troops in training near Kyiv. The military is trying to push Russian artillery further out of range and threaten Crimea. AP
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Ukraine is pressing attacks across the Dnipro river using drone strikes to push back long-range Russian artillery, sources said.

During two months of intense fighting Ukrainian marines have crossed the 1km stretch of water to establish a foothold on the Russian-held east bank.

The Dnipro route is seen as the last remaining hope for Ukraine’s stalled counter-offensive to impact on occupied Crimea.

But the offensive has come at a high cost for the British-trained marines who have suffered heavy casualties in getting across the river and holding the beachhead.

Conditions are very challenging with the eastern bank’s rivulets and meadows now churned into a winter sea of mud and water-filled bomb craters.

Since October, the Ukrainians have managed to pushed about 3km inland attempting to take the village of Krynky, about 26km upriver from Kherson city.

While the summer offensive has largely come to a standstill, and with Russia attempting costly counter attacks in eastern Ukraine, the Dnipro is the one area of hope for a breakthrough.

If the Ukrainians can push deeper into Russian-held territory they will force back their opponent’s artillery, allowing them to cross the river unhindered by gunfire.

They could then build a pontoon – all bridges across the Dnipro have been destroyed – to get heavy armour across to form a spearhead force to thrust the 75km to Crimea.

Getting within artillery range of Crimea has been the main objective of the Ukraine offensive as it would be a major political blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Dnipro fight has been closely observed by Ukraine’s European and US allies to see if Kyiv can regain the initiative against Russia.

The assault has so far unsettled Moscow’s commanders who ordered elements of a well-trained and equipped VDV airborne division into the area.

While minor territorial gains would allow Ukraine to hit Russian supply lines to Crimea, the current winter objective appears to be causing as many Russian casualties as possible, according to a marine commander.

Between October 17 and November 17 Ukraine officials said that 1,126 Russian personnel had been killed and 2,217 wounded.

“The Russians are very scared that Ukraine this month, or in the spring or the summer, will increase its territory to expand and liberate the east bank,” a marine commander called Karas told the New York Times.

Multiple drone strikes had targeted Russian artillery allowing Ukrainian forces to operate more freely in rear areas on the west bank, particularly in Kherson city, he added.

Russia’s 152mm artillery has a range of 25km so every kilometre the front line is pushed back gives the Ukrainians more breathing space.

The Ukrainian artillery also has the advantage in that the west bank is higher than the east.

“The withdrawal of Russian artillery further from the Dnipro river would establish a safer position from which to conduct future operations if the Ukrainian high command so chose,” the Institute for the Study of War think tank reported.

“The reduction of Russian artillery fire on the west bank would also allow Ukrainian forces to operate more freely along ground lines of communication, deploy more critical counter-battery and air defence systems within the vicinity and more securely launch operations across the Dnipro.”

Drones and their operators have become vital to the keep the bridgehead by providing surveillance and targeting for artillery as well as kamikaze vehicles hitting soldiers and equipment. In retaliation the Russians are using long-range massive 1,400kg glide bombs.

With American and Europe threatening to cut off billions of dollars in military aid, Kyiv is desperate for a success to show it can push Russia out of the territory it seized early last year.

Updated: December 17, 2023, 8:08 PM