KYIV — ‘Lenin’ can’t sleep at night after what he saw in the Rostov morgue. The corpses of the dead in Ukraine, he told his friend, “swim in a cauldron of formaldehyde”. And to make positive identifications, you have to fish them out with a stick, he says. The unidentifiable require DNA testing. “In short,” Lenin said, “I am panicking.”
Lenin is the callsign of a Russian soldier whose name is unknown but whose grim experience was recounted by one of his confidants in a phone call made on September 5 and intercepted by a Western intelligence agency.
Yahoo News cannot independently verify the identity of the speakers or what caused the carnage described. But the anecdote follows what Russian soldiers and their increasingly desperate reinforcements have been saying for days on social media. Offensives on several fronts in Ukraine, first around Russian-occupied Kherson and now, somewhat unexpectedly, around Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, are causing significant damage to Kremlin forces.
Videos showing alleged Russian prisoners of war – the latest being a lieutenant colonel – have flooded Telegram channels. Although Kyiv imposed a media blackout on reporting from Kherson at the start of its campaign last week, the government confirmed the recapture of dozens of kilometers of land.
On September 7, the Southern Ukrainian Operational Command announced that it had captured several settlements, adding to the two villages taken three days earlier. The blue and gold standard was raised to rooftops across the region. Online trackers reported an increase in Russian equipment losses, sharing numerous videos showing victorious Ukrainian troops with spoils of war left behind as the Russians retreated.
Tellingly, the Ukrainian fleet of Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones is now , no longer reserved for large careers such as command and control centers, air defense systems and logistics vehicles. The Ukrainians also used new divisions equipped with NATO weapons, including Polish T-72M tanks and a variety of Western armored personnel carriers. These divisions had been in the previous months.
The speed with which Ukrainian forces appear to be advancing has impressed Western onlookers. But the real surprise is that they also carried out a simultaneous offensive hundreds of kilometers north in Kharkiv, near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia. The city, one of the largest in Ukraine, has come under continuous bombardment since Russia launched its invasion in February.
Igor Girkin, an FSB officer and sanctioned former commander of Russian proxy forces in the occupied Donetsk province, posted on the social media site Telegram that Russian forces had been surrounded in Balakliya, a town in the Kharkiv region. Girkin obliquely praised the “exceptional audacity” of the Ukrainian attacks for their speed and aggressiveness. Girkin also complained about the poor training of the Rosgvardiya, the Russian National Guard, and the “cautiousness” of the Russian Air Force in refraining from retaliatory strikes.
At least one detachment from Rosgvardiya Spetsnaz apparently managed to get trapped in Balakliya’s encirclement. And today, “,” a Telegram channel operated by the Russian mercenary group Wagner, announced that Russian units were leaving Balakliya. “The city will probably be returned.”
The Ukrainians also seem to be trapping the Russians in the south.
All modes of transport for Russians across the Dnipro River have now been destroyed or rendered impassable for motorized traffic. by High Mobility Artillery Systems () supplied by the United States for weeks, is out of service. appears to have completely collapsed, judging by satellite images. Several other smaller crossings, including . The collective effect almost cuts the area under Russian control on the west bank of the Dnipro in two.
The push to reclaim Kherson and its provincial capital, the first major population center captured by Russia at the start of the invasion in late February, has been telegraphed for months by Ukrainian officials.
Kherson sits at the mouth of the Dnipro and serves as a major transport and administrative center. For the Russians, this is the area directly north of Crimea and so losing it gives Ukraine greater proximity from which to carry out attacks on the peninsula occupied by the Kremlin since 2014. Russia had prepared plans to hold a “referendum” to annex Kherson much. like Crimea. These plans have now been “suspended” for TASS.
Moscow’s ultimate goal in southern Ukraine has always been the creation of a strategic land corridor, stretching east from Crimea to the Russian mainland, and west through Odessa, reaching the territory unrecognized backed by Russia. This would have landlocked Ukraine, decimating the economic prospects of a country that relies heavily on maritime exports.
The drumbeat about Kherson seems to have been an information operation as much as a forecast of an upcoming military operation. This forced Russia to transfer tactical groups of battalions from other fronts to fortify its defences, placing them in the battlespace where the Ukrainians felt more confident in battle. The ploy also helps put the attacks on Russia’s Saki air base in Crimea in perspective last month.
The destruction of more than half of the naval aviation of the Black Sea Fleet, according to a Western intelligence official, prompted the Russians to move their aviation away from Kherson, no doubt contributing to the “cautious” attitude referred to by Girkin.
In an article on Ukraine’s strategic outlook for 2023, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and Lieutenant-General Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on National Security, Defense and intelligence of the Ukrainian parliament, acknowledged that a “series of successful missile strikes” had been used against Saki. This would suggest that Ukraine does indeed possess previously unseen long-range munitions capable of striking deep inside enemy territory.
So far, Ukrainian losses on the southern front do not seem overwhelming, which visited hospitals in Odessa and Mykolaiv, northwest of Kherson. A doctor working in the main emergency unit interviewed by the newspaper said an average of 15 to 30 soldiers were arriving every day. “More than usual, but not our worst nightmare.”