Moscow is shoring up the southern portion of its front line, Ukraine says, in advance of a Ukrainian counteroffensive

By Brett Forrest

Aug. 1, 2022

The Wall Street Journal


KYIV, Ukraine—Russia is repositioning troops to strengthen its hand in southern Ukraine, shifting forces from the front line in northern Donbas, according to the Ukrainian and British militaries, ahead of a planned Ukrainian offensive in the south.

Ukraine’s southern command said Russian battle groups were being deployed near Kryvyi Rih and Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukrainian cities that lie to the north of territory fully controlled by Moscow.

“Now the Russian army is trying to strengthen its positions in the occupied areas of the south of our country, increasing activity in the relevant areas,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an overnight address.

The U.K.’s Defense Ministry said Russia was reallocating a significant number of troops and likely adjusting its Donbas offensive after failing to make a decisive breakthrough under a plan Moscow has followed since April. “It has likely identified its Zaporizhzhia front as a vulnerable area in need of reinforcement,” the U.K. Defense Ministry said Monday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

After months of Russian forces making slow gains in Ukraine’s east, the focus of the war is moving south.

Ukraine has used long-range artillery and rocket systems, including U.S.-supplied M142 Himars, to halt Russia’s advances in the east, and apparently limit Moscow’s ability to supply its front lines. Now, with the help of these Western weapons, Ukraine says it is mounting a counteroffensive to take back the southern port city of Kherson, the largest population center occupied by the Russians and the first city to fall.

On Monday, the Biden administration authorized another $550 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine, bringing Washington’s security assistance for Kyiv to more than $8 billion since Russia’s invasion.

Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s defense minister said four additional Himars had arrived in the country and thanked President Biden and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for strengthening the Ukrainian army. “We have proven to be smart operators of this weapon,” Oleksii Reznikov wrote on Twitter.

Russia on Monday continued to shell positions around the regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia, the Ukrainian military said, areas that have been under attack for months.

Meanwhile, Ukraine dispatched its first grain shipment since the start of Russia’s invasion on Monday, under a deal aimed at easing global food shortages.

The ship departed the Odessa port carrying 26,000 metric tons of corn headed for Tripoli, Lebanon, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials and the Turkish government, which helped broker the deal. The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier, the Razoni, is expected to arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday, and then continue on its course following inspections.

The shipment is the first test for a deal agreed last month to allow Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, to begin shipping some 18 million metric tons that Russia’s invasion in February has trapped in the country. Senior Ukrainian officials have expressed doubt as to whether Russia will uphold its end of the deal. Russian missiles struck the port of Odessa on July 23, just hours after officials from all four parties signed the agreement in Istanbul. Russian officials said the strike targeted military infrastructure.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday that the first ship carrying agricultural products traveled via a humanitarian corridor agreed between Russia and Ukraine and that Russian officers took part in the planning.

Also Monday, Ukraine’s General Staff said it had detected the deployment of radar systems across its border with Belarus, a Russian ally that has served as an important staging ground and supply point for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia moved some troops into Belarus during its military buildup ahead of the invasion in February, but Belarusian forces so far haven’t entered the conflict.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said localized ground attacks near Izyum, a city in eastern Ukraine, could be setting the stage for a renewed Russian offensive toward Kharkiv, but added that it was very unlikely they would be able to capture the city, which is Ukraine’s second-most populous. “Russian forces may also be conducting spoiling attacks to prevent Ukrainian counteroffensives,” the institute said in its latest update Sunday.

Russia unleashed some of the most brutal barrages of the war on Ukraine’s southern port city of Mykolaiv on Sunday, killing among others the owner of one of the nation’s leading agricultural companies.

Mykolaiv, a strategic city that Russia tried but failed to seize in the first weeks of the war, has been repeatedly targeted by Russian Smerch and Uragan missiles and long-range artillery in recent weeks, with a strike using cluster munitions on Friday killing nine people at a busy bus stop.

Sunday’s predawn barrages, which lasted hours, damaged a hotel, a sports facility, two schools, a car-repair workshop and several housing blocks, causing fires in the city, the regional administration said. “Mykolaiv suffered a massive artillery strike—perhaps the biggest ever,” Mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said on social media.

Mr. Senkevich said Monday that Russia shelled a trauma center.

“The shock wave and debris also blew out windows in the nearby medical departments,” he wrote on social media, noting that there were no casualties. “It was the first medical institution building built in the last 20 years in Mykolaiv. And it was one of the most modern trauma centers in Ukraine. We will rebuild!”


Matthew Luxmoore and Jared Malsin contributed to this article.