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Ukraine Launches Southern Offensive, as Inspectors Head to Nuclear Plant – New York Times – 29.08.22

The scale of Ukraine’s push in the Kherson region was unclear, but it has vowed for months to mount a counteroffensive to retake territory seized by Russia - says Andrew E. Kramer for the New York Times.

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces launched ground assaults on Monday in multiple areas along the front in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, apparently stepping up a counteroffensive aimed at recapturing territory seized by Russia.

The intensifying fighting coincided with an announcement by the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency that a team of nuclear experts would visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, on another part of the front about 100 miles to the northeast, where frequent shelling has raised the threat of a disastrous radiation release.

Ukrainians say the plant’s staff — overworked and mistreated by Russian troops — has struggled to keep it running safely, motivated by a mix of duty and duress. The I.A.E.A. wants to assess the plant’s safety and the state of the workers, and establish a permanent presence there to monitor operations.

For months, Ukrainian officials have promised a broad counteroffensive in the Kherson region to push Russian forces from the western bank of the Dnipro River, a natural barrier. It was unclear if the fighting on Monday was the start of that larger effort.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has been under pressure to begin a significant operation before autumn rains leave the countryside muddy and impassable, before a feared energy crisis undermines European support, and before Russian forces can further fortify and resupply their positions.

In the fighting on Monday, Ukraine accelerated what had been sluggish movement in ground operations even as their long-range strikes into Russian-held territory picked up over the summer.

But risks abound as Ukrainian troops push forward over farm fields and irrigation canals along the northern rim of the Kherson region. After weeks of Ukraine softening up Russian positions with artillery and rockets, Russian forces west of the Dnipro are already largely cut off from resupply, as Ukraine has used the American-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which fires precision rockets, to destroy bridges across the river.

Ukrainian success would buoy morale at home and could persuade wavering allies to continue sending weapons to Kyiv. Failure could mean sacrificing lives for little or no gain, only to have the war settle into a stalemate through the winter. The government has signaled the start of offensive operations multiple times since May, but not much land has changed hands.

Fighting along the southern front escalated sharply on Monday, according to Ukrainian military and civilian officials, and the Ukrainian government said its military had “breached the occupiers’ first line of defense near Kherson” as part of a multipronged advance. The Ukrainian military also claimed on Monday to have struck a large Russian military base behind Russian lines in the Kherson region, destroying it.

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Ukraine Launches Southern Offensive, as Inspectors Head to Nuclear Plant – By Andrew E
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Andrew E. Kramer is a reporter covering the countries of the former Soviet Union. He was part of a team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on Russia’s covert projection of power. @AndrewKramerNYT

Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Druzhivka, Ukraine, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Gerogia, Dan Bilefsky from Montreal, David E. Sanger from Washington, Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong and Shashank Bengali from London.

Soldiers of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces at a frontline position near Bakhmut, in the eastern Donetsk region, on Monday. Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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