Kherson travel update
UPDATE 15 SEPTEMBER 2022
Krasnopol artillery systems stationed on the east bank of the River Dnipr (quite close to the city centre in Kherson) are making it impossible for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to advance towards Kherson. This is because the semi-automatic Krasnopol shelling system, that feeds enormous warheads into a semi-automatic firing system with laser guidance towards targets, is capable of shredding any advancing armed forces at a distance of 25km+.
Hence we should not expect any dramatic or fast changes of position in the Kherson oblast. It is suicide for the Ukrainians to seek to advance there in the face of the artillery systems the Russians have in place and that do not depend upon pontooning the Dnipr River for their logistical support.
UPDATE 12 SEPTEMBER 2022
We have been reliably advised that all fighting on the Nikolaev/ Kherson area has died down. The region is currently at peaceand Ukrainian and Russian authorities are cooperating over things like document checks on inter-city transit.
Travel between Nikolaev and Kherson is apparently unproblematic.
We still cannot get information about the train. Everyone crossing this route takes either a private car or a public bus or minibus. Checks in both directions are curlsry unless you are unlucky (and that cannot be excluded with a strange foreign passport). Always have a good cover story with corroborating evidence, but that is true travelling throughout Ukrainian military theatre.
Naturally these details could change at any time and we may or may not receive frequent updates on the situation. If we do, we will publish them here.
UPDATE 6 SEPTEMBER 2022
Some sources are suggesting that the imagined Ukrainian offensive in Kherson has been a 'feint' (i.e. an operation to mislead one's opponents as to one's intentions) to draw elite Russian brigades away from Kharkiv, the true object of a Ukrainian counter-attack. This would make much more sense, as Kharkiv is a more plausible candidate for Ukrainian counter-attack given that the centre of the city is held by free Ukrainian forces.
BEGINNING OF ORIGINAL ARTICLE
At the time of writing, 3 September 2022, the travel situation in Kherson is fluid. This article provides updates to a prior article about travel in Southern Ukraine. That article, although we have ceased to update it, should be read in conjunction with this article that is principally about the new offensive opened in the Kherson region at the end of August 2022.
Be cautious with this map; although contemporary at the time is writing, we do not really understand what the various symbols superimposed on the map mean nor whether, whatever they mean, they reflect reality.
We believe on the basis of cumulative evidence acquired from both sides to the conflict that contrary to some media reports, and/or political statements, the region surrounding Kherson and her twin city of Nikolaev just a few kilometres away, is thoroughly calm. We will be providing further reasons for this conclusion in the coming period as we update this webpage with additional information.
Kherson, a Russian occupied southern Ukrainian city is the only Russian controlled territory west of the Dnipr River: at least, so it is believed. Nobody is providing accurate maps, and the status of cities such as Nikopol north of Enerhodar on the Kakhovka Reservoir is unknown; they may be empty and effectively terra nullis for now but we are not certain. We note that the map above shows Russian occupation of at least a section of the north bank of the Dnipr River in the proximity of Kherson. We do not know how far that Russian occupation extends up the north bank.
Kherson, perceived as Ukraine's principal travel and logistical bridge to Crimea (occupied by Russia since 2014), was the first or one of the first settlements taken by Russia in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Kherson fell without combat; the Russian Armed Forces entered the city of some three hundred thousand plus people unopposed.
On or around Monday 29 August 2022, Ukraine announced the beginning of a military operation to free Kherson from Russian occupation.
What that operation consists of or consisted of is not entirely clear, although it appears Ukrainian forces have destroyed bridge infrastructure from Kherson over the Dnipr River to the east and south, using NATO supplied weaponry, with a view to severing the logistics and supply routes to Russian occupied Kherson from Crimea and Russian occupied territory further east from Kherson (towards Melitopol, Mariupol etcetera).
Russian Armed Forces then pontooned the river; and Ukrainian Armed Forces have been attacking the pontoons. This cycle has been repeating.
The warring parties have dug themselves into systems of opposing trenches across the front line, suggesting a war of attrition.
Western intelligence sources are of the view that Russian Armed Forces in the Kherson region maintain a substantial arsenal of modern and advanced weaponry but that Russia does not currently have enough troops on the ground in the Kherson region to defend the city. That may change. The Ukrainians may get the upper hand or Russian reinforcements may soon arrive.
The front line, between the city of Nikolaev (in normal times just a 45 minute drive west) and Kherson - Nikolaev currently (approximately) in free Ukrainian control - can nevertheless we are told still be crossed in (approximate) physical safety. There are two driving routes, albeit somewhat circuitous (each taking about two hours); and, amazingly, we are told that a daily train between the two cities may still be running (but information about this seems to vary daily, and we have not succeeded in speaking to anyone who has actually taken it so treat this information with caution). There are also public buses between the two cities.
A handful of hotels remain open in Nikolaev. The same is true for Kherson. They are we understand reliable enough. However it might not be a great idea to be staying in a hotel in Kherson on the day that Ukrainian troops overrun the city. Invading forces in a city tend to be on edge, quick to shoot, and unpredictable in the face of unexpected events.
At the time of writing it has been reported that central Kherson is falling to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and that Russian troops are surrendering 'in droves'. See e.g.: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1662108/russia-news-putin-army-surrenders-en-masse-kherson-counteroffensive-ukraine-war-update
The source of this narrative appears to be press releases from the Ukrainian government and we are unable to corroborate it. We have found this (very short) piece of footage on Times Radio that purports to be Russian troops in Kherson panicking in the face of a Ukrainian advance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B74xUUtjmjc
However it is not automatically obvious to us that this is footage of Kherson; or that it is contemporary; or that the 'panicking' troops are Russian; or that the video is about what the narrator says it is about. The narrator is not the video photographer; he seems to be talking at some length about events revealed in a very short video clip he has been provided with and we cannot establish an adequate chain of custody (for want of a better phrase). Another concern is that the constant camera angle of the footage might suggest that the footage has been staged. If this were accidental drone footage of a military incident then the angles would be all over the place.
As a general rule you can't do effective war reporting journalism from inside mediocre Kyiv hotel rooms, particularly where the front line is over 550km away.
Kherson has been rublised and its municipal government institutions Russified. The city is now run by an FSB (Russian state security service) unit of some kind.
Should control of Kherson change hands, then those changes to Kherson's municipal government previously imposed by occupying Russian forces may be reversed. There may be recriminations for collaboration. All sorts of events may follow.
However no reputable international media source is currently reporting the fall of Kherson to Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Kherson's infrastructure connections with Crimea render the city of substantial importance to the Russian project of connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland via Russian occupied South Ukraine. The project could still be maintained even if Kherson was lost by the Russians, through reliance upon Crimea's infrastucture connections to Russian occupied Melitopol to the east of Kherson. However the infrastructure connections from Crimea to Melitopol are not as extensive as those from Crimea to Kherson. Kherson was always the traditional gateway.
Hence the loss of Kherson would represent a serious setback for the Russian Armed Forces. For this reason, should Kherson be in jeopardy for the Russians or should it fall to free Ukrainian forces, we can expect a substantial diversion of Russian military forces to try to get it back.
Kherson's position on the west bank of the Dnipr renders the city a natural conflict point between the two sides if one considers the Dnipr River as an approximate natural geographical line of control (which was our prediction when the war broke out). The city of Kherson is more difficult for the Russians to maintain control of than other occupied Ukraine territorial acquisitions. On the other hand, should free Ukrainian forces take Kherson, the converse logic will apply: it will be difficult for Ukrainian Armed Forces to progress beyond the River Dnipr River upon whose west bank Kherson lies, due to the need for Ukrainian Armed Forces to pontoon across the river which weakness the Russian Armed Forces can be expected to exploit in reverse.
It is suggested that there has been some shelling in central Kherson. If Kherson starts to be placed seriously in question, then we can expect heavy damage to the city as Ukrainians try to shell the Russians out from the city centre.
The holes in the front line between Nikolaev and Kherson are truly curious and perhaps represent the fact that normal life goes on in South Ukraine, even amidst civil conflict. It is possible that those holes will be closed and travel between the two cities rendered impossible and it is surprising that this has not happened yet.
We are informed (and we do not know someone might know this) that there are several active GRU teams in the Nikolaev and Kherson regions. If that is right (and it would not surprise us), then we do not know what their active mission instructions are. Whatever they are, they'll be something no good. Remain cautious in this region. Assuming you stay away from the front line (as you should), things like GRU teams are potentially more dangerous than the shells the two sides compete at lobbing at each other. Recall that they could be carrying any paperwork or numerous sets of paperwork; and they will be in civilian clothing. They may or may not look like persons of military background.
There may be an elevated risk of signals interception in both Nikolaev and Kherson, so create a communications strategy that if uncovered will reveal nothing or something misleading.
5 September 2022: a free Ukrainian semi-ofricial website related to the government in Kyiv, Ukrinform, is reporting various military incidents in the region including successful Ukrainian attacks on Russian positions; but nothing the report says is corroborated or even re-reported at the time of writing (23:59 EET 6 September 2022), which leads us to suggest that this information should be treated with the utmost caution. https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-ato/3564989-28-russian-invaders-2-enemy-ammo-depots-liquidated-in-kherson-region.html
Map of central Kherson showing the Dnipr River flowing through the centre of the city (on the right). The point of this map is to show just how close to central Kherson the Dnipr River is. The possibilities for pontooning, even should all the bridges go down, are therefore substantial.
We will endeavour to update this page with new developments as they emerge. It is not yet clear to us whether crucial new events will take place in the immediate future or whether this will be a protracted stalemate. One thing it does revealcis the extent to which Nikolaev has been militarised by the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a front line city to launch a counter-attack upon Kherson.