Ukraine troops say Russian woes could preface pullback in south

FRONTLINE NORTH OF HHERSON, Ukraine, Oct 21 (Reuters) – To Ukrainian soldiers entrenched north of the Russian-held city of Kherson, a recent drop in Russian fire and armor movement signals that their enemies have dug in a line of nearby trees. suffering from serious manpower, supply and hardware problems.

That could mean the Russians are preparing to abandon the defense of the provincial capital and retreat across the Dnipro River, soldiers said when Reuters visited their positions on Friday.

“We understand that they are low on ammunition. We understand that they are out of cannon fodder and we understand that their equipment is faulty,” said Fugas, 38, the nom de guerre of the commander of the 600-man unit deployed in the south. Mykolaiv province, bordering Kherson.

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The Russians are “constantly suffering losses in this sector and we’re trying to do everything we can to get them out of this place as quickly as possible,” continued Fugas, a stocky man who in civilian life co-owned a business agricultural in the west of the Lviv region.

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Ukrainian forces began moving in August to reclaim Kherson, a strategically important shipbuilding center on the sprawling Dnipro River. In recent weeks, they have driven the Russians back 20–30 km (13–20 mi) on parts of the battlefront.

Kherson province is one of four partially occupied regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed part of Russia on September 30, Europe’s largest annexation of territory since World War II.

Three weeks later, there are signs that the Ukrainian push may force Putin to cede ground in Kherson and withdraw his forces to the south bank of the Dnieper.

Russian-appointed occupation authorities this week began evacuating thousands of civilians from Kherson on the southern bank in what Kyiv denounced as forced deportations.

Sergei Surovikin, an air force general tapped this month to command Russia’s invasion forces, acknowledged this week that the Kherson situation is “very difficult” and Moscow “does not rule out difficult decisions.”

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The sector of the front visited by Reuters on Friday was largely quiet.

The occasional sound of an exploding artillery shell sounded across the flat fields. Flocks of bush partridges and long-legged herons sat in ponds near small villages that had been devastated by shell fire.

The Ukrainian unit was deployed in trenches dug into one of the countless tree lines dividing the fields, difficult terrain for the Russians to defend against determined well-armed troops backed by long-range artillery and heavy armor.

The Russians “have been shooting less since about three weeks ago,” said Myhailo, 42, who, like the other soldiers, withheld his last name. “And their drones are less active.”

“It’s probably been about a month where there’s been less bombing,” Sasha, 19, agreed. “This has to end at some point. Their ammunition cannot last forever.”

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It was not clear how widespread this trend was on the southern front. Ukrainian military rules prohibited identification of the unit and its location.

The men were relaxed, talking and smoking as they sat on car seats and tree stumps outside bunkers and dugouts dug into the hard ground. Their mascot, a German shepherd named Odin, sat next to an assault rifle, yawning deeply.

The troops said they would not allow the Russians to withdraw without a fight.

“We will not help them,” vowed Myhailo, who worked in civilian life as a welder in the Lviv region, where the unit is located. “They think they can come here and leave? You can’t just break into someone’s house and leave.”

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Reporting by Jonathan Landy, editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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