Russian forces are eyeing a push north from occupied southern Ukraine, authorities in Kyiv said Wednesday — and it could bring the war to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown, Kryvyi Rih.
“[Russia] has begun creating a strike group in the Kryvyi Rih direction,” Ukraine’s southern Military Command said. “It’s also quite likely that the enemy is preparing a hostile counter-offensive with the subsequent plan of getting to the administrative boundary of Kherson region.”
Kryvyi Rih, a steel-producing city with a peacetime population of more than 600,000, is 30 miles from the front lines.
The news comes days after Ukrainian forces began a massive counter-assault in the hope of routing the Russians from portions of southern Ukraine that they’ve occupied since the early days of the war. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military said it had recaptured 53 villages in the Kherson province since the operation began.
Meanwhile, the fighting drags on in the eastern industrial region of Ukraine known as the Donbas.
In his nightly address to the nation on Tuesday, Zelensky said the fighting there was “just hell.”
Despite weeks of bitter fighting, neither side has made any significant territorial gains in the region since early last month, when Russian forces captured Lysychansk, and with it claimed near-total control of Luhansk, the northern of the two provinces that make up the Donbas.
The capture of Lysychansk — and its sister city of Severodonetsk — was costly, however, and forced Russian forces into a strategic pause, during which time Ukrainians began to field their newly acquired, American-made long-range rocket launchers.
On Tuesday, Zelensky praised those systems — the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS.
“The word ‘HIMARS’ has become almost synonymous with the word ‘justice’ for our country,” he said in his nightly address.
“And the Ukrainian defense forces will do everything to ensure that the occupiers experience more and more painful losses every week thanks to these very effective systems,” he said.