After Russian troops were forced to retreat from the city of Kherson two weeks ago, Ukrainian special forces are now fighting the Russians on the islands and swamps of the southwest, trying to push them out of a strategically important peninsula at the mouth of the Dnipro River where it meets the Black Sea.
Fighting is concentrated on the Kinburn Spit on the east bank of the Dnipro River, Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday. For tourists who have visited the strip of land, the spit is a site of rare natural beauty, but it could also prove crucial in the next phase of the country’s war against Moscow.
Russia seized control of the peninsula in June in one of its last notable forays south, before being placed on the defensive by a sustained Ukrainian counteroffensive. Two weeks ago the Kremlin ordered a withdrawal from the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnieper, but military experts said it will fight doggedly to retain control of Kinburn.
Control of the peninsula allows Russia to project forces deeper into the Black Sea, guard routes to ports in Mykolaiv and Kherson, and protect its forces in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. If Ukraine took Kinburn, it would put the key Russian supply lines running north from Crimea, within range of Ukrainian weapons systems.
In addition, Russian forces on the Spit can fire missiles at the port city of Odessa, about 40 miles to the west, as well as the city of Mykolaiv, a similar distance to the northeast, according to the Institute for the Study of War. a military research group. For the same reason, military experts say that if Ukraine can capture the Spit, it could outperform Russian forces, which are still setting up defensive positions east of the Dnipro.
“This particular stretch of sand is of tremendous importance because it is a doorway to the Southern Bug and the Dnieper and a gateway to the Black Sea,” said Rory Finnin, associate professor of Ukrainian studies at Cambridge University and author of a book on history the Crimea.
Vitaly Kim, head of the military administration in the Mykolaiv region, said on Tuesday via the messaging app Telegram that the Ukrainian armed forces were making progress on the Kinburn Spit. Ukrainian forces control the town of Ochakiv, less than three miles north across the water and within easy artillery range.
Russian military bloggers have claimed in recent days that Russian forces repelled attacks on the cape, while spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command Nataliya Gumenyuk told journalists after the fall of Kherson that the Spit was the next target.
At its top, the Kinburn Spit is a strip of sand a few meters across, lapped by waves. Tourist guides speak of its sunsets and the area is known for its bird life – flamingos are sometimes spotted – and swampy forests. One is named after the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote about the area.
During the Crimean War in 1855, the navies of Britain and France destroyed a Russian fortress on the peninsula, while a bitter battle was taking place there in 1787 as the Ottoman Empire attempted to regain lands lost to the Russian Empire.
Mr Finnin argued that the current fighting over Kinburn is a sign that Russia’s withdrawal to the Kherson region is making Moscow’s control of Crimea “enormously insecure”. Historically, the arid Crimean Peninsula and the more fertile lands to the north were never long divided between competing powers.
“If they are able to claim the Spit for themselves, there will be many consequences for them when they defeat Russia,” Mr. Finnin said of the Ukrainian forces.
In late October, Russian media showed images of concrete blocks they said were being transported to the Kinburn defense site. A few days later, a video circulated on the internet that appeared to show the only Ukrainian amphibious assault ship reported to have survived the Russian invasion, the Yuri Olefirenks, firing missiles at Russian positions there. The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed.