Odessa, Ukraine – After capturing the strategic city of Kherson, Russian forces moved west on Thursday, moving along the southern Black Sea coast in the direction of Odessa. They continued to besiege the critical port city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, although there is no indication that they had captured it.
After eight days of war, it seemed that Russian forces deployed in the southern theater of Ukraine were finally building some momentum. But their progress was much slower than military analysts had expected given their enormous advantages over the Ukrainian army.
For eight years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been building what amounts to a sprawling military staging area in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The forces stationed there should have been well equipped to launch attacks from their bases and seize vast swathes of territory. The territory of southern Ukraine at the moment of the issuance of the order of the invasion. The nearby Russian naval monopoly in the Black and Azov seas was supposed to provide additional firepower to help the ground forces.
Instead, their progress was slow, plagued by logistical problems and the apparent inability of commanders to coordinate disparate military forces, which, if combined effectively, would have easily overpowered Ukraine’s defenses.
“I thought that along the Black Sea coast they would have their best success right away because of the huge advantage of having a bridgehead in Crimea,” said Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of the US Army in Europe.
Mariupol held out on Thursday despite devastating Russian bombardment that cut off electricity, water and heat to the city. But the mayor, Vadim Boychenko, painted a bleak picture of the Russian blockade.
“Maripol is still being bombed,” he said in a statement on Facebook. “Women, children and the elderly suffer.”
Despite Russian artillery strikes in Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, there has been very little progress in recent days between forces stationed in the north of the country.
In the south, the campaign to capture the southern coast was reinforced this week with the capture of Kherson, a city of 300,000 that is an important shipbuilding center. From there Russian troops move in the direction of Mykolaiv, another port city on the Black Sea.
On Thursday, Mayor of Mykolaiv Oleksandr Senkevich said nearly 800 Russian vehicles, including a column of Grad missile launchers, were heading towards the city, which houses one of Ukraine’s three largest ports, from the north, east and south. As of Thursday morning, there was no shelling inside the city. Senkevich said that Ukrainian forces in the vicinity of the city came under fire from long-range missiles, forcing them to constantly move into their positions.
“The city is ready for war,” said Mr. Senkevich.
Imposing more shipping on the coast could put Russian forces at very little risk of stretching, said Michael Kaufman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute based in Arlington, Virginia. Already, troops in southern Ukraine and elsewhere appear in some cases outpaced logistics units, forcing them to stop and wait for fuel and other supplies.