Zero Hour in Ukraine

Photo: Segey Bobok/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
August 30, 2022

On Monday afternoon, the Ukrainian military announced that it had launched its long-awaited counteroffensive. After six months of playing defense and losing territory in the east, the Ukrainians are now trying to push forward in the south, toward the strategically vital city of Kherson, which sits on the western bank of the Dnipro River, right where it spills into the Black Sea. 

If the offensive were to be successful—and that is still a big if—it would be a massive victory, both militarily and symbolically. It would also be a vital psychological salve for a country shattered by war. Geopolitically, it would prove to Ukraine’s Western backers that Kyiv’s forces can do more than repel an invader and hold them at bay indefinitely. It would show that Ukraine’s army can push them back and actually win, rather than simply maintaining a stalemate with all that expensive Western military equipment. 

To that end, Ukraine has done two very important things. The first is that it has moderated its goals for the counteroffensive. Instead of attacking a wide swath of territory and risking defeat (Volodymyr Zelensky has been talking recently about restoring Ukraine not to its borders last February, but rather at the end of 1991), it has decided to bite off what it can chew by focusing on Kherson. Second, Ukraine has been softening the ground ahead of this assault for a good two months. It has been regularly pounding Russian troops in the area while pooling its own ahead of the offensive. “Ukraine appears to have waited to gather forces and ammunition, and is launching this offensive within a relative window of opportunity once Russian forces lost momentum and stalled, and well before inclement weather approaches and Russian forces become entrenched in the area,” said Michael Kofman, a prominent military analyst and head of Russian studies at the Center for Naval Analyses.