By Yuliia Dysa and Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian soldiers out of positions on the eastern bank of the River Dnipro in the occupied Kherson region and established several bridgeheads, Kyiv’s military said on Friday.
Crossing the Dnipro and transporting heavy military equipment and supplies over the river could allow Ukrainian troops to open a new line of attack in the south on the most direct land route to Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014.
The Ukrainian Marines said on their Facebook page they had had a series of “successes”, established several bridgeheads and conducted other operations on the river’s eastern side. Russia conceded for the first time this week that Kyiv’s troops had crossed the Dnipro.
“Units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces managed to knock out the Russians from their positions on the left bank of the Dnipro and consolidate there,” General Staff spokesperson Andriy Kovalyov said on a military channel on YouTube.
“One of the main goals of this combat work is to push the enemy as far as possible from the right bank to protect the Ukrainian civilian population, in particular Kherson, from constant Russian shelling,” he added.
Kherson, once a bustling city of 300,000 that has emptied as it has found itself on the front line, has been pounded by Russian artillery for months and dozens of civilians have been killed.
The Ukrainian military retook the city and the area around it on the western bank of the Dnipro in November 2022. The river, a formidable natural barrier, became the dividing line on much of the southern front.
Russia made no immediate statement in reaction to the Ukrainian reports. Both Russia and Ukraine say they have inflicted heavy losses on the other side during operations in the area. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday posted images from the area showing the military using drones and operating on speedboats on the Dnipro.
“Our warriors. Thank you for your strength, for moving forward!” he said on Telegram messenger.
Kovalyov said Ukrainian troops were conducting sabotage and reconnaissance actions to discover and disrupt logistics for Russian ammunition and food supplies. He said the Russian military were mounting heavy resistance and had brought in reinforcements.
Very bad weather was another obstacle to Kyiv’s operations, Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for the southern military command said.
“We must be aware that in very bad weather conditions, they are complicated. This not only complicates a physical advance but also aerial reconnaissance. Because there is a thunderstorm warning,” she said in televised comments.
On the other hand, she added, the weather would not allow Russian troops to use their tactical aviation as much as earlier, something the Ukrainian military was using to “consolidate success”.
According to Ukrainian military bloggers, Ukrainian forces crossed the Dnipro in small groups in the summer to create an initial foothold around a railway bridge near Kherson and then sought to expand their presence in nearby villages on the east bank, including Krynky.
The news comes months into Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in the southeast and east that have not produced a major breakthrough. Ukrainian officials have blamed extensive Russian minefields and defensive lines, and delays in supplies of weapons from the West.
Russian forces, which occupy around 17% of Ukraine, are now again on the offensive in the east in the Kyiv-held town of Avdiivka, near the Moscow-held city of Bakhmut, and in other areas.
The Ukrainian military said in its daily update that fighting was raging along the entire frontline from the south to the east, reporting 72 combat clashes in the last 24 hours.
The fiercest battles were around Avdiivka, Mariinka and Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, it said.
Vitalyi Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, said on television that Russian forces were making a big push towards the town’s industrial zone near a vast coke plant, and bringing in reinforcements.
(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa and Olena Harmash; writing by Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones, Andrew Heavens and Jonathan Oatis)