Ukrainians fight to retake Kherson as Russia hits Ukraine military command center

Kherson is once again ‘contested territory,’ Pentagon says; Kiyv says Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Air Force Command in Vinnytsia; Russia says it is now focusing on Donbas region

A Ukrainian national flag waves while smoke rises after Russian attacks hit a fuel storage facility in the city of Kalynivka, on March 25, 2022. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)
A Ukrainian national flag waves while smoke rises after Russian attacks hit a fuel storage facility in the city of Kalynivka, on March 25, 2022. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive in Kherson, the country’s only major city seized by Russian troops, and it is once again “contested,” a senior US defense official said Friday.

“The Ukrainians are trying to take Kherson back, and we would argue that Kherson is actually contested territory again,” the Pentagon official told reporters.

“We can’t corroborate exactly who is in control of Kherson but the point is, it doesn’t appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was before,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

If the Ukrainian forces manage to regain control of the strategic city located at the mouth of the Dnieper, Russian troops around Mikolaiv would be “sandwiched” between Ukrainian forces defending Mikolaiv and those in Kherson, the official said.

“That would make it very, very difficult for them to make any kind of ground movement on Odesa,” the main seaport still held by the Ukrainians.

“That would be a significant development, no question about that, in terms of the southern part of the war,” he said.

In this satellite picture provided by Planet Labs PBC, fire and smoke is seen at Kherson International Airport and Air Base in Kherson, Ukraine, March 15, 2022 (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

But despite the apparent achievement for Ukrainian forces, officials In Kiyv said Friday that Russian missiles hit a military command center in the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, adding that it was unknown if there were any casualties.

“Today at around 4.30 p.m, the Russian occupiers launched a missile strike on the territory of the Air Force Command in Vinnytsia,” the Ukrainian Air Force said on Telegram. It posted an image of the alleged center in rubble and said missiles had hit “several buildings, causing significant damage to infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Russia has stated that following the completion of the first phase of its invasion, Russian troops will now focus on the complete “liberation” of the eastern Donbas region.

“The combat potential of Ukraine’s armed forces has been significantly reduced, which allows (us)… to focus our main efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas,” a senior representative of the General Staff, Sergei Rudskoi, said.

Sergei Rudskoi. (Youtube screenshot)

The Pentagon said there was also “very heavy fighting” to the northwest of the capital Kyiv where “the Ukrainians are trying hard to dislodge the Russians from Bucha and Irpin.”

Russia is meanwhile mobilizing forces from separatist territories of Georgia to deploy in Ukraine, the official said.

“We’ve seen our first indications that they are trying to send in some reinforcements from Georgia,” the senior official told reporters.

Following a flashpoint conflict with Georgia in 2008, Russia recognized the independence of two pro-Russian Georgian separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and establishing military bases there.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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