Russia has conceded for the first time that some Ukrainian forces have crossed onto the Dnipro River’s eastern bank, but has said they face “hell fire” and that the average life expectancy of a Ukrainian soldier there is around two days.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had secured a foothold on the east bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region, the first official acknowledgement of its kind. And on Wednesday the country’s military said troops are trying to push back Russian forces along the river, calling for operational “silence” along what it described as a “fairly fluid” front line.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of the part of Kherson region which Moscow controls, acknowledged in a statement that Ukrainian forces had managed to cross the river which was seen by Russia as a difficult barrier for Kyiv’s soldiers to surmount.
But citing what he said was first-hand information from Russia’s ‘Dnepr’ military grouping, he said Russian forces had pinned the Ukrainians down and were raining “Hell fire” on them and predicted they would be wiped out.
NBC News could not independently verify his assertions.
“Our additional forces have now been brought in. The enemy is trapped in (the settlement of) Krynki and a fiery hell has been arranged for him: bombs, rockets, heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells, and drones,” said Saldo.
“They (the Ukrainians) are sitting in basements and run from one basement to another at night. In the last two or three days alone, total enemy losses have totaled about a hundred fighters.”
Ukrainian officials offered a different picture.
“Along the front line, which runs along the Dnipro… The pushback from our side is taking place on a line from 3 to 8 km (2-5 miles) along the entire bank from the water’s edge,” Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for the southern military command, said.
“For now, we will ask for informational silence … which would allow us to report later on great successes,” she said in televised comments.
A day earlier Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian forces had managed to cross the river and dig in “against all odds” and that his country’s counteroffensive aimed at clawing back territory from Russia — which has so far failed to make a major breakthrough — was “developing.”
Russia has largely held Kyiv’s counteroffensive at bay in the southeast, but an advance in occupied Kherson region could spread their defenses thinner and ratchet up pressure.
Yermak made his remarks during a trip to the United States, a key ally of Kyiv that has provided vital military assistance since the February 2022 invasion, although questions now swirl over the sustainability of such aid.
While cautious not to compromise any of its operations, Kyiv has been eager to tout its battlefield successes after the much-vaunted counteroffensive, now more than five months old, has retaken a only series of villages and no big settlements.
Russian troops seized Kherson region in the early days of their invasion, but retreated a year ago from the city of Kherson and other positions on the western side of the river.
This week, in a highly unusual incident, two Russian state news agencies published alerts saying Moscow was moving troops to “more favourable positions” east of the river, language it has used in the past to describe retreats.
The agencies quickly withdrew the news report, which Russia’s defense ministry said was false.