A U.S. senior defense official told reporters Friday that the Ukrainian city of Kherson is once again “contested territory” after being the first Ukrainian city to fall under Russian control.
“We’ve seen reports of resistance there in areas that were previously reported to be in Russian control,” the unnamed official told reporters during a “background” briefing at the Pentagon Friday. “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.
“The Ukrainians are trying to take Kherson back. We would argue that Kherson is contested territory again.”
Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to fall to the Russians six days after the beginning of the Feb. 24 invasion into Ukraine, The New York Times reported March 2.
“There is no Ukrainian army here,” the mayor, Igor Kolykhaev, said in an interview with the Times. “The city is surrounded.”
The port city in the southern part of Ukraine is home to about 300,000 residents and is considered a “major victory” for the Russian forces, according to a March 2 story in National World.
The official said Friday that if the Russians do lose that city, it would be harder to mount an offensive for Odesa, another important strategic point.
“I think it would be significant if the Ukrainians were able to take Kherson back,” he said. “I mean, it is a strategically located city. You remember when we first started talking about it, when the Russians moved in, we talked about its significance on the map there in the south and the opening on the Dnieper River to the Black Sea, so it’s a significant port city.”
That would mean having the Russian troops “sandwiched” between Ukrainian resistance forces in Kherson and Mykolaiv, making it difficult to proceed to Odesa.
“That would make it very, very difficult for them to make any kind of ground movement [to] Odesa, if in fact that was their plan,” he said. “So should the Russians take back Kherson that would be a significant development, no question about that, in terms of the southern part of the war.”
Reports of the Russians losing even some parts of the city, however, are disputed, with Russian defense minister Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy telling The Hill Friday that Kherson was “under full control.”
According to that article, even Ukrainian officials said the city remained under Russian control, but “there were battles across the broader area.”
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