Russia has begun using a makeshift ferry crossing to move military equipment across the Dnieper River to supply forces holding the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson as Kyiv’s forces press forward, an examination of satellite imagery by Schemes shows.
The crossing first appeared in images taken on August 1 by the private company Planet Labs. They appear to show six pieces of military equipment on the ferry at a landing near the village of Prydniprovske, just northeast of the city of Kherson, and four others on shore ready for crossing.
Schemes, an investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, has received copies of the images. Drone photographs contain additional evidence.
On July 30, the British Defense Ministry said it was “highly likely” that Russian forces had established two pontoon bridges and a ferry system on the Dnieper to compensate after Ukrainian forces knocked out to key two bridges – one for motor vehicles and one for trains -- with rocket attacks.
The developments came at a time when Ukrainian forces have taken back some towns and villages that Russia had seized in the Kherson Oblast, and ahead of what could be a major Ukrainian counteroffensive in the area, aimed in part to drive Moscow’s forces out of the city of Kherson.
Russian troops seized Kherson shortly after President Vladimir Putin launched a large-scale, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24. It is the biggest city they control outside the Donbas, further east, and lies in a key area near the isthmus linking mainland Ukraine to the Russian-held Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow-installed authorities are trying to consolidate Russian control over the region – which has an active resistance movement -- and prepare Kherson for a possible referendum on joining Russia later in the year.
However, military experts say Kherson is not as well defended as other regions of Ukraine currently under Russian control, making it a prime target for a counteroffensive.
Lawrence Freedman, a professor of war studies at Kings College London, said a victory in Kherson is critical for Ukraine to maintain the confidence of its people and Western partners.
The Kherson regional military governor has claimed that Ukrainian troops have already liberated dozens of towns and villages in the area and are now about 50 kilometers from the edge of the city.
Mykola Byelyeskov, a military analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies, a Ukrainian government think tank, told Schemes that the Russian equipment being moved across the river looks likes trucks used to supply weapons, ammunition, and food.
The ferries are not very large and cannot move many vehicles at once, he said.
The Kherson front line is about 200 kilometers long and had already been a challenge to supply.
The recent successful attacks against bridges by Ukrainian forces will only reduce Russia’s ability to move heavy equipment in and out of Kherson, experts said.
Russian forces are now “on notice that the Ukrainians can cut off their lines of escape” in Kherson, Freedman said.