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After the Russian withdrawal, the Ukrainian army is planning the next step

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KHERSON, Ukraine – The Ukrainian sniper adjusted his sights and fired a 50 caliber round at a Russian soldier across the Dnieper River. Earlier, another Ukrainian used a drone to search for Russian troops.

Two weeks after withdrawing from the southern city of Kherson, Russia is pounding the city with artillery as it digs in across the Dnieper River.

Ukraine is hitting back at Russian forces with its own long-range weapons, and Ukrainian officers say they want to capitalize on their momentum.

The Russian withdrawal from the only provincial capital it won in nine months of war was one of the most significant losses on the Moscow battlefield. Now that its troops have a new front line, the army is planning its next move, the Ukrainian army said through a spokesman.

Ukrainian forces can now push deeper into Russian-controlled areas and potentially push their counter-offensive closer to Crimea, which Russia illegally captured in 2014.

Russian forces continue to build fortifications, including trench systems near the border with Crimea and some areas between the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east.

In some locations, new fortifications are up to 60 kilometers behind current front lines, suggesting Russia is preparing for more Ukrainian breakthroughs, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

“Ukraine’s armed forces took the initiative in this war some time ago,” said Mick Ryan, military strategist and retired Australian Army major general. “They have momentum. There’s no way they want to waste that.

Crossing the river and pushing the Russians further back would require complicated logistical planning. Both sides have blown up bridges across the Dnieper.

“This is what cuts the Russians’ supply lines and this will also complicate any further Ukrainian advance beyond the left bank of the river,” said Mario Bikarski, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In a major battlefield development this week, Kiev forces attacked Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit, a gateway to the Black Sea basin, as well as parts of the southern Kherson region still under Russian control. Retaking the area could help Ukrainian forces push into Russian-held territory in the Kherson region “under significantly less Russian artillery fire” than if they directly crossed the Dnieper River, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. Control of the area would help Kiev alleviate Russian attacks on Ukraine’s southern seaports and increase its naval activity in the Black Sea, the think tank added.

Some military experts say there is a possibility that the weather could disproportionately damage ill-equipped Russian troops and allow Ukraine to take advantage of frozen terrain and move around more easily than during the muddy autumn months, ISW said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s main task is to prevent further withdrawals from the wider Kherson region and strengthen its defense systems over Crimea, said Bikarski, the analyst. Ryan, the military strategist, said Russia will use the winter to plan its 2023 offensives, stock munitions and continue its campaign targeting critical infrastructure, including power and water plants.

Russia’s daily attacks are already on the rise. Last week, a fuel depot was hit in Kherson, the first time since Russia pulled out. At least one person has been killed and three wounded by Russian shelling this week, according to the Ukrainian president’s office. Russian airstrikes damaged key infrastructure before Russia left, creating a dire humanitarian crisis. Combined with the threat of attack, that adds stress, say many who weathered the Russian occupation and left, or are considering leaving.

Ukrainian authorities this week began evacuating civilians from recently liberated parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, fearing a lack of heat, power and water due to Russian shelling that will make the winter unliveable.

Tetyana Stadnik is boarding a train on Monday and has decided to go after waiting for Kherson to be liberated.

“We are leaving now because it is scary to sleep at night. Shells fly over our heads and explode. It’s too much,’ she said. “We are waiting for the situation to get better. And then we will come back home.”

Others in the Kherson region have decided to stay despite their fears.

“I’m scared,” said Ludmilla Bonder, a resident of the small village of Kyselivka. “I still sleep fully clothed in the basement.”

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