Beginning September 10, Ukrainian forces launched a significant counter-offensive against Russia, recapturing many cities and marking a major shift in the conflict, reports Reuters. During the past five months of the war, Russia captured 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. However, Ukraine regained those northeastern territories in a surprise offensive that caught the Russians off guard. Although Ukraine’s latest victory gives significant hope to Ukrainians, it is difficult to evaluate whether this will be a turning point in the war.
Understanding the geographical aspect of this war is essential to understanding the conflict. On September 13, Ukraine was able to regain much of the Kharkiv region, according to The Guardian. In response, Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, spoke about moving Russian troops away from the Balakliya and Izyum territories to eastern Donetsk, reports the Associated Press. A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenmo, stated that the Ukrainians reconquered not only Kharkiv and Izyum, but also a town called Kupyansk. According to DW, Ukraine taking back the Izyum region is a substantial loss for Russia, as the region is a gateway to the industrial area. Capturing the Kupyansk region has dealt a significant blow to the Russians as this region held strategic importance because of railways; now, they will have a more challenging time transporting their supplies.
Ukraine’s fight on the battlefield has not ended yet; military troops are preparing themselves for Russia’s inevitable response, according to Al Jazeera. The likely target for a Russian attack seems to be Kherson, since it is one of the first cities that Russia captured and the area is vital to Russia and Ukraine due to its strategic harbor. If Ukraine recaptures this city, Ukrainian forces will be able to move from the Dnieper River and finally cut off the Russian-occupied canal supplying Crimea. If Russia loses Kherson, they will lose the protection of the freshwater canal feeding Crimea since the harbor protects it.
One of the biggest concerns throughout this conflict has been the potential for nuclear disaster – either from weapons or due to fighting around Ukrainian nuclear power plants. The Zaporizhia plant is the largest nuclear power station in Europe and has experienced multiple instances of shelling in its vicinity, reports NPR. According to Al Jazeera, the shelling has damaged the power lines connecting it to the electrical grid for which Russia and Ukraine have both blamed each other. Energoatom, the Ukrainian agency in charge of running the plant, warned about a radiation disaster and suggested shutting down the plant for safety purposes. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also called for a safe zone in the plant region to avoid any dangerous escalations and sent two experts to monitor the situation there. ABC News reports, “After yesterday’s restoration of the power line – which connects the ZNPP to the switchyard of a nearby thermal power station – the operator of the ZNPP this morning shut down its last operating reactor, which over the past week had been providing the plant with the required power after it was disconnected from the grid,” the IAEA said in an emailed statement.
While the regaining of territories is good news to Ukrainians, there is still a lot for them to do to keep their momentum. Russia will see this counteroffensive as an embarrassment and respond harshly, with Putin even threatening to use nuclear weapons, reports CNBC. Winter will be especially difficult for the Ukrainians as the war sparks an energy crisis impacting the whole of Europe and raises pressure on Ukraine’s allies to support a negotiated settlement to end the conflict.