On Oct. 19, Ukrainian marines speeded across the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast. Landing near Krynky, a three-mile-wide settlement on the Dnipro’s Russian-controlled left bank, the marines kicked off a series of infantry actions that, over the next few weeks, would result in Russian forces retreating from Krynky, and Ukrainian forces digging in.
A year after a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive liberated northern Kherson Oblast and chased the Russians across the Dnipro, a much more tentative Ukrainian counteroffensive, supported by a heroic electronic-warfare campaign, is edging the Russians away from the river’s far side.
Struggling to organize a mechanized counterattack that could, in concept, force the Ukrainian marine corps back across the Dnipro, Russian forces are resorting to massive aerial firepower. The Russian air force has been hammering both sides of the Dnipro with long-range precision glide-bombs.
If they can’t force the Ukrainians out of their Krynky bridgehead, the Russians might just try blowing up the bridgehead. Ukrainian troops fear the powerful Universal Gliding and Correction Module bombs more than they do most Russian weapons.
Now those bombs—potentially a lot of them—are hammering a tiny sliver of a settlement sheltering the most forward, and most exposed, Ukrainian forces.
Three weeks after the Ukrainian marines landed in Krynky, the Russians on the Dnipro’s left bank knew they had a problem. “A bridgehead was created in an area that, on our side, was very poorly covered by very weak troops,” one Russian servicemember wrote.
“A bridgehead has been created with the task of pulling there, and destroying, as many of our combat-ready units as possible from other areas—for example from near Robotyne,” they added.
The Ukrainian army and air-assault forces liberated Robotyne, in Zaporizhzhia Oblast east of Kherson, this summer.
As these so-called “firefighter” troops—regiments and brigades the Kremlin quickly shifts from one sector to another in order to stiffen a faltering defensive effort—arrive on the Dnipro’s left bank, the Ukrainians tend to attack in the sector the firefighters just left. Thus exploiting a new weakness in Russian lines.
“The enemy will find a weakness that will give quick success with minimal losses, which can be converted into attracting and disintegrating our last reserves,” the servicemember complained.
To break this unhappy cycle of frantic and self-defeating redeployments, the Kremlin in late October escalated its aerial bombardment of Ukrainian positions in Kherson. Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers and other warplanes, some apparently flying from occupied Crimea, have been dropping satellite-guided, winged glide-bombs from as far away as 25 miles.
Weighing between 1,100 and 3,300 pounds, the glide-bombs are crude expedients with many hand-crafted components. But they work. Glide-bombs are “one of the biggest fears” among Ukrainian troops, according to Ukrainian soldier Olexandr Solon’ko.
“The Russians use them extensively,” Solon’ko wrote. “I can’t speak to their accuracy, but the weaponry is powerful.”
According to Ukrainian minister of internal affairs Ihor Klymenko, no fewer than 87 glide-bombs struck populated areas in Kherson Oblast on Nov. 5. It was “the largest number of glide-bombs that Russian forces have launched to date since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. concluded.
“There are most likely no undamaged residential buildings left in Krynky,” the independent Conflict Intelligence Team noted.
While Ukrainian drone-operators control the air directly over Krynky, largely thanks to intensive efforts by Ukrainian electronic-warfare troops to jam Russia’s own drones, this local control doesn’t extend across southern Kherson. Russian pilots clearly have no trouble closing to within 25 miles of the Dnipro in order to lob their glide-bombs.
The Ukrainian air force protects northern Kherson with S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries. We know this because the Russians recently knocked out at least one Ukrainian S-300 launcher in the oblast.
But the 75-mile-range S-300s apparently aren’t close enough to Krynky, or dense enough in their coverage, to protect the Dnipro bridgehead. It’s not for no reason that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenksy last week promised to reinforce the air-defenses in the area.
These extra defenses could make the difference between victory and defeat for the Ukrainian marines clinging to their bridgehead in Krynky.