Ukrainian forces have successfully breached Russia’s first defensive line near Zaporizhzhia. This breakthrough comes after weeks of painstaking mine clearance operations.

Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, who spearheaded the southern counteroffensive responsible for the manoeuvre, shared his thoughts on the operation in his first interview with the press since the breakthrough.

Brig Gen Tarnavskiy noted a substantial difference between the first and second lines of defence. The second line is not as robustly constructed, allowing Ukrainians to use their vehicles, although minefields are still present. Russian forces in this area operate in patches rather than forming a single continuous defensive line. Moscow allocated 60% of its time and resources to fortify the first line and dedicated only 20% to each of the subsequent lines – which now looks like a strategic miscalculation.

With the breach secured, Ukrainian forces expanded their presence on both sides of the gap, consolidating the territory gained in recent battles. The central offensive area is focused on dismantling enemy units that cover the retreat of Russian troops toward their second defensive line.

Behind the minefield barrier, Russian troops initially adopted a wait-and-see approach, using artillery shells and drones to target Ukrainian vehicles. However, with the minefield now breached, Ukrainian forces are back in their tanks and armoured vehicles, pushing forward.

As the Ukrainian advance progresses, Moscow has redeployed troops to the area from previously occupied parts of Ukraine, such as Kherson to the west and Lyman to the northeast, as well as from within Russia itself. Ukrainian intelligence reports suggest that the enemy is not only pulling up reserves from within Ukraine but also from Russia.

Brig Gen Oleksandr Tarnavskiy believes that this indicates Moscow’s determination to hold its ground. He remains optimistic about the situation, stating, “Everything is ahead of us.”

Brig Gen Oleksandr Tarnavskiy is a specialist in tank warfare with a track record of fighting Russian troops since their border crossing in 2022. He was appointed as commander of the troops liberating Kherson in September, with the city successfully liberated two months later.

The summer counteroffensive encountered delays. The frontlines did not advance as rapidly as initially hoped. This resulted in rising casualties and prompted discontent and criticism from Western capitals that provided weapons, training, and support to Ukrainian forces. The slow military progress during the summer also led some Western capitals to call for negotiations with Vladimir Putin to end the war.

Brig Gen Oleksandr Tarnavskiy dismissed concerns and pointed out the importance of evaluating the operation once it is completed. He expressed gratitude to the UK and other allies for their support, including the provision of Challenger tanks that have already proven invaluable on the battlefield.

Tarnavskiy acknowledged the challenges that the counteroffensive faced, including spending more time than anticipated demining territories and difficulties evacuating the wounded, both of which hindered their advance.

Russian forces prepared their defensive line for over a year, creating concrete dugouts, anti-tank traps, and a heavily mined area. The minefield was densely packed with explosives and exposed, making any approach a target for heavy shelling from reinforced positions.

Underscoring the importance of misleading the enemy, Tarnavskiy mentioned that the offensive near the village of Velyka Novosilka had a different objective. He did not provide specific timelines for reaching major targets like Melitopol or the Sea of Azov coastline but affirmed that the fighting would continue.

Tarnavskiy highlighted the importance of continuous advancement to prevent the enemy from regrouping and strengthening. He acknowledged the challenges of nearing victory, especially as Ukraine has lost some of its strongest and best soldiers. Despite the difficulties, Tarnavskiy stressed the need to concentrate efforts on specific areas to complete the mission.