Aug 20, 2023

Ukraine Situation Report: Key Crimean Railway Bridge Targeted In Missile Strike

The railway connects Crimea to Kherson oblast, where Russian troops are trying to keep Ukraine from breaking through their lines.

New images emerged on social media showing the Chongar Strait railway bridge linking occupied Crimea with Kherson Oblast was damaged in a Ukrainian strike on Saturday. The images show a hole blasted precisely between the two sets of railroad tracks on one of the approaches to the span, with both tracks being damaged as a result.

A large crater now exists between them. A satellite image also shows the damage. Russian officials say the bridge was attacked by U.K. donated Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles. The bridge span itself was unscathed. It's always possible that Ukraine hopes to preserve the span for its own use in the future.

The images contradict earlier claims by a Russian-backed official.

On Sunday, Volodymyr Saldo, the Russian-installed acting governor of Kherson Oblast, said the bridge incurred minimal damage during the second attack on key bridges in that part of Crimea in little more than a month.

Russia, he claimed, shot down all 12 Storm Shadows aimed at the bridge.

"In one place," however, "fallen fragments of expensive foreign weapons, handed over to the Kyiv clique by the West for 'peaceful purposes,' slightly damaged the lineman's booth and the contact line. By the time I write these words, the damage has already been repaired by the maintenance crew.”

He published a photo on his Telegram channel he claimed backed his contention.

But the Russian Two Majors Telegram channel on Monday also contradicted Saldo, saying that the railway bridge was struck by at least one of the missiles.

"Judging by the scale of the destruction, one of the fired ammunition was able to reach the target: the rest were intercepted by Russian air defense systems," Two Majors wrote Monday. "The damage does not look significant and with a certain probability has already been repaired."

Even minor damage that would temporarily delay rail traffic could cause a significant logistic problem for Russia which is looking to supply its forces as they defend against a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russia moves the bulk of its war materiel via railway.

Even last month's suspected Storm Shadow strike on the Chongar Strait motor vehicle bridge about five miles to the east caused problems for Russia, which had to reroute traffic over longer routes.

“The damage to the Chongar bridge is of great importance,” Yuriy Sobolevsky, a Ukrainian official on the governing body for the Kherson region, said on his Telegram channel at the time.

“It is a blow to the military logistics of the occupiers,” Sobolevsky said of the attack. However, “the psychological impact on the occupiers and the occupying power is even more important. There is no place on the territory of Kherson region where they could feel safe.”

Adding to Russia's logistic problems, road and rail traffic on the Kerch Bridge, subject of two previous attacks, was reportedly halted Monday once again due to air raid alerts.

We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates when warranted.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive across Zaporizhzhia Oblast and the Donbas continues to make small, incremental advances while the Russians continue to try to mount a counterattack of their own in Luhansk Oblast in a push toward Kharkiv Oblast.

Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:

At least five people have been killed and dozen injured in a Russian missile strike on the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Tweet on Monday. Zelensky said two Russian ballistic missiles hit his home town.

Zelensky is likely to head to New York in September for the United Nations General Assembly, where he is expected to make the case for his “peace formula” plan, Bloomberg is reporting, citing “people familiar with the matter.”

Zelensky’s 10-point blueprint for ending the conflict calls for Russian troops to withdraw completely from Ukraine, release all prisoners of war and deportees, and ensure food and energy security. It also includes security guarantees for Ukraine once the fighting ends and aims to restore safety around the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which he says is at risk from Russian sabotage.

The Defense Ministry of Ukraine (MoD) and Turkish drone maker Baykar Makina have signed an agreement to build a drone repair and maintenance facility in Ukraine, the official Interfax news agency is reporting.

Ukraine’s MoD said this step will significantly strengthen the cooperation between Kyiv and Ankara in the defense sector and will become a substantial contribution to the defense capacity of Ukraine, Ukrainian Pravda reported.

Kostiantyn Vashchenko, State Secretary for the Ukrainian MoD, did not offer a specific date when the facility would open, but said it will be created "in the nearest future,” according to Ukrainian Pravda.

Among many other drones, the company makes the TB-2 Bayraktar, which proved a formidable weapon for Ukraine during the opening phases of this war.

Ukrainian soldier Robert Brovdy, who runs the popular Magyar Telegram channel, is claiming that the Russians have developed technology allowing them to jam the Starlink satellite communications system Ukraine relies upon heavily for relatively secure, reliable and remote comms.

Brovdy says the Russians found a way to jam the system on the Ku band of the radio spectrum the system uses.

He offered no proof or specifics, but a Ukrainian defense official we spoke with says it has already happened on a small scale.

While the Russian Army is “the world’s most capable when it comes to jamming,” the official said that “it won’t affect operations in the short term.”

“The front line is too lengthy for the present jamming capacity and power,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters.

We’ve reached out to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, owners of the Starlink system, and the Pentagon for comment.

Speaking of Elon Musk, Ukraine has received 508 Tesla Powerwall batteries, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, said Monday on his Telegram channel.

“They will provide electricity to schools, hospitals, kindergartens, etc. This is an effective solution during Russia's missile terror,” he said. “Tesla Powerwalls are charged from ordinary electricity and hold a charge for up to 14 hours. Thanks to them, doctors will save lives, teachers will conduct lessons, and Ukrainians will stay in touch with uninterrupted work of Starlink in individual locations.”

Fedorov said Ukraine received the first 50 Tesla Powerwall batteries a year ago.

Ukraine received additional good news about power supplies. After a long series of Russian attacks aimed at destroying Ukraine's power infrastructure, most of the damage has been repaired, the Kyiv Independent reported Monday in a Tweet, citing Ukraine's Infrastructure Minister.

"Almost 100% of thermal power stations damaged by Russian attacks late in 2022 and early in 2023 have been repaired," Oleksandr Kubrakov announced on July 31.

On Tuesday, Slovakia will hand over two more Zuzana 2 self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, the Slovkian Dennik news outlet reported Monday.

They will be the first of a 16-howitzer package, the production of which is financed jointly by Denmark, Norway and Germany, the publication reported.

Ukraine is also reportedly receiving Serbian munitions in the form of 120mm M62P10 high explosive mortar shells.

Ukrainian special operations forces (SSO) are still using improvised truck-mounted Brimstone anti-armor missiles, which you can see fired in this video below. This is a rare clip of one in action. To our knowledge, we have only seen one once before, not long after the Brimstones arrived last year. A new far more purpose-built mobile launching system for Brimstone is in the works, which you can read more about here.

More video has emerged from last week's Ukrainian operation to capture the Donetsk Oblast town of Staromayorsk. It shows troops from the 35th Marine Brigade patrolling through the largely ruined city that sits a long a key highway and the Mokri Yaly River.

Video also emerged from a Ukrainian attack near Svatove in Luhansk Oblast. According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff, the Russians have suffered so many losses that they have not been able to recover all the bodies, and, as a result, "an unbearable corpse smell is felt in the city."

The Supernova Plus Telegram channel posted a YouTube video of Ukrainian troops clearing the town of Kleschiivka near Bakhmut.

Damaged Ukrainian armor, including donated Leopard 2 tanks that apparently came under attack during the initial movements of the counteroffensive can be seen in this video below.

There appears to be more recent video showing a Bradley M2A2-ODS Fighting Vehicle that was destroyed in the Robotyne area of Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The Bradley was apparently outfitted with Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles (BRAT). You can read more about that in our story here.

Russian sappers were seen in a video sewing a mine field by dropping the explosive devices out of a back of a truck. It may not be the most high-tech delivery method, but however they are delivered, mines have proven a tremendous hazard to Ukrainian forces.

Georgian forces have been serving in a number of roles fighting in Ukraine against Russia, a common enemy. This video below shows the Black Eagle special operations forces unit after clearing a Russian trench.

Ukrainian forces reportedly destroyed another Russian 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled mortar system.

The official Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) Zvezda News shared video of a couple of Russian shoot-and-scoot weapons systems, a little battle buggy launching an anti-tank guided missile and the other an ATV firing grenades.

We've seen a lot of video of Russian Lancet drones hitting Ukrainian targets, but this video shows a rarely seen launch of one of those weapons.

Speaking of Russian drones, this image apparently shows a large cache of First Person Video (FPV) drones, which have been used to deadly effect by both sides.

Ukraine too is touting its domestically produced drones, in this case the Rubak, said to have a range of 500 km with a 3kg to 5 kg warhead.

Images also emerged of Ukrainian drone munitions, in this case containing scores of ball bearings.

The video below shows four Czech-donated MR-2 Viktor pickup-mounted anti-drone systems firing their two 14.5mm anti-aircraft guns. The video, however, does not show what was being targeted or the results of volley of lead blasting skyward.

Ukrainian officials have produced a video showing the work underway to remove the Soviet hammer and sickle from the shield of the Motherland statue in Kyiv, which will be replaced by Ukraine's trident symbol.

And finally, in a bizarre case of war memorabilia collecting gone wrote, Ukrainian police discovered that a man in Sumy had been hiding a Russian T-80 tank for more than a year, since Moscow's forces retreated from the region.

The tank was reportedly involved in a case of war crimes by the Russians, as it was used to shell a hospital. The prosecutor's office transferred the tank to Ukrainian military.

That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.

Update 8:15 p.m. Eastern time:

We received a response from Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, on our Starling query.

“We cannot corroborate those claims at this time," he said in an email. "More importantly, Russia could end this illegal and violent war of aggression today by pulling their forces out of Ukraine.”

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Update 8:15 p.m. Eastern time: