top of page

Is the reoccupation of Kherson possible?

The facts on the ground speak for themselves in Kherson. The population of the city has been reduced from almost 300,000 before the second Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 to as few as 20,000 to 30,000 people today. There is only one mainstream supermarket functioning, and all its windows have been smashed out. You have to pass through wooden walls to enter and leave it. The supermarket shuts at 5pm, as do virtually all other shops in the town, and this is the de facto curfew hour. Nobody can be seen on the streets after 5pm. This remains until about 8am each morning. There is only one functioning hotel, and only one functioning restaurant. Virtually every building has signs of bomb damage in the centre. The waterside area is devastated. Snipers face off against one-another at this, the narrowest point on the front line, approximately 100 metres from one-another over the Dnipro River at its narrowest point. There is no civilian governing administration, aside from a handful of police cars barely directing traffic. Kherson is lawless and depopulated. Such few people as remain are just waiting for the Russians to come back.

Foreigners are now officially prohibited from entry to Kherson, even with military press passes, without the permission of the military governor of Kherson. (The civilian governor has long since ceased to matter; the civilian government is not providing any services to the citizens.) That permission is not being granted. The handful of foreigners remaining in Kherson Oblast are strongly being advised to leave. Shells rain down upon the city of Kherson every 5 to 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. The Russians are engaged in a concerted campaign of driving everyone out of the city that they can. This is why they pound the city day by day. Since the November 2022 Russian evacuation of Kherson, the Russian Armed Forces have improved their supply lines so that now the quantity of munitions they can cause to reach the south bank of the Dnipro River is virtually limitless.

Moreover the numbers of Russian troops explains everything. Despite the population of Kherson being reduced to 20,000 to 30,000, the Russians are estimated to have amassed 50,000 to 60,000 troops on the south bank of the Dnipro River opposite Kherson. This is more than twice the size of the population of the city they are standing off against. They manifestly intend, somehow or other, to reoccupy Kherson. Incidentally, it has been reported that African mercenaries, presumably hired by the Wagner Group, are amongst the Russian troops amassing opposite the city of Kherson. The Russians do not need so many troops to hold the south bank of that part of the river, which is mostly muddy marshland, unless they are intent to fighting again for Kherson having now regrouped and refreshed their supply lines. This is what a number of members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces privately think and all the evidence suggests as much.

How would the Russians cross the river to occupy Kherson? They might pontoon the river, either in central Kherson or by reconstructing the Antonov Bridge just outside the city that they destroyed when evacuating the city in November 2022. How would they get past the units of Ukrainian snipers that line the riverfront? Presumably in tanks. Once they have established their bridgehead, whatever it may be, they can be expected to engage in ferocious street-to-street fighting with the Ukrainian Armed Forces as literally every building is fought over during a period of weeks and months. This was the model in Stalingrad, the model in Bakhmut, and now in all likelihood it will be the model for the 2024 battle for Kherson.

The Ukrainians will not give up without a fight; but a tremendous redeployment of resources will be necessary if the Ukrainians are to resist. In any event there will be nothing left of the city after the battle, and it will need to be rebuilt from scratch by whoever ends up winning that war. What is the West doing in the interim, while the Russians build us such mammoth military capacity opposite the city they intend to retake? Why are NATO member state peacekeepers not deploying to Kherson immediately, to prevent the relentless Russian bombardment? Why are they not deploying their own state-of-the-art howitzers and mortars to respond to the Russian artillery? Will the West let Kherson be destroyed in the course of a creeping Russian takeover as every single thing in the city is destroyed? Maybe; but that would be a disgrace and it would not serve NATO member states’ strategic objectives to see Kherson, the jewel of Ukrainian resistance efforts early in the war, fall back into Russian hands and be completely destroyed.

All military and political logic and common sense mandates the West to take steps now, in 2024, to defend Kherson and to place NATO troops in harm’s way to act as impromptu peacekeepers. Only this will make the Russians think again about their insidious plans for Kherson. The Kremlin sees 2024 as the West’s year of weakness, and they intend to take advantage of it. We should anticipate that strategy and react as quickly as possible.


bottom of page