Ukrainian marines are on the move toward a key village in southern Ukraine. But a tough Russian airborne division stands in their way.
The battle for Kostromka could determine whether, and how quickly, the Ukrainians can advance toward Beryslav—the riverside settlement where the Russians are likeliest to make their last stand in the eastern half of southern Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast.
A dramatic video that appeared online late last week depicts Ukrainian naval infantry, apparently from the 35th Marine Brigade, emerging from their hiding spots in the narrow rows of forest lining the fields in Kherson, Ukraine’s breadbasket. The Marines rolled out in an orderly column: T-64 tanks followed by Kirpi wheeled infantry transports and BRDM scout cars.
The Ukrainians’ enthusiasm is evident in the video—and it’s not hard to understand why. In six weeks of determined fighting, Kyiv’s forces have advanced across Ukraine. A dozen eager Ukrainian brigades broke through fragile Russian defensive lines in Kharkiv Oblast in northeastern Ukraine and quickly liberated a thousand square miles of the oblast from their Russian occupiers.
In the south, a trio of Ukrainian brigades made somewhat slower progress. The 17th Tank Brigade probed Russian-occupied Kherson from the west while, on the opposite side of the sector, the 128th Mountain Brigade barreled along the wide Dnipro River, rolling over thinly spread, exhausted troops from a Russian coastal-defense brigade.
The Russians fell back toward Beryslav, a city on the right bank of the Dnipro opposite Nova Kakhovka. If Russian forces east of Kherson can’t hold, Beryslav might be the safest route across the Dnipro and off the battlefield.
The Ukrainian 35th Marine Brigade, marching south from its bridgehead on the left bank of the Inhulets River, has been trying to hasten the Russian retreat—and potentially encircle any Russian stragglers. But there’s one main road leading from the brigade’s bridgehead near Davydiv Brid to Beryslav, and one of Russia’s best surviving divisions sits astride it around Kostromka.
The 76th Guards Air Assault Division was fighting in the east until the Kremlin, spooked by Ukrainian preparations in the south, shifted five or six of the division’s battalions toward Kherson. Those battalions might be some of the best and most intact in the Russian army right now. While Russian units all across Ukraine shatter under pressure from the Ukrainian counteroffensives, the 76th GAAD has stood its ground.
Two days after the Ukrainian 35th Marine Brigade moved south, a video appeared online depicting a devastating attack on a Ukrainian formation by the 76th GAAD’s battalions around Kostromka. In the video, a Ukrainian battalion with tanks, BMP fighting vehicles, BRDMs and other vehicles gets caught in the open on a road running alongside a forest strip.
Russian artillery—possibly precision-guided shells—strikes at least two of the lighter vehicles. If the videos tell a single story—and it’s not clear they do—it’s possible the 76th GAAD blunted if not halted the 35th Marine Brigade’s assault on Kostromka.
Holding Kostromka doesn’t guarantee success for the Russians east of Kherson. Indeed, as long as the Ukrainian 128th Mountain Brigade continues to advance toward Beryslav to the east of the 76th GAAD’s positions, the Russian division is in danger of being flanked and cut off from its most direct avenue of retreat.
The disposition of forces in southern Ukraine is uneven. The Ukrainians clearly have the momentum, but the Russians still have a lot of troops in the region—tens of thousands of them, enough to match the Ukrainians one-for-one.
But the Ukrainians have short and intact supply lines. The Russians, by contrast, are increasingly isolated. Kyiv’s rockets, artillery, drones and saboteurs since May have been targeting railways, bridges and supply depots across southern Ukraine, steadily cutting off the lines of communication between Russian forces in the south and Russia proper.
The Ukrainian counterlogistics campaign may have peaked on Friday when an apparent truck bomb blew up the Kerch Bridge, the only span connecting occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland. The powerful blast seemingly wrecked the bridge’s twin rail lines and dropped two of four vehicle lanes. Unless and until the Kerch Bridge reopens, Russia has few efficient routes for resupplying forces in and around Kherson.
All that is to say, the 76th GAAD isn’t going to get a lot of fresh troops and supplies. It must hold Kostromka with the resources it already has. The Ukrainian marines gathering just north of the Russian paratroopers’ positions aren’t nearly as constrained.