Hundreds of Ukrainians huddled under the shattered bridge over the Irpin river outside Kyiv in the early days of the war appeared to show the hopelessness of the Ukrainian cause, as Russian forces advanced on the capital.
Five weeks on, Ukrainian forces have retaken what was left of Irpin after fierce shelling forced the Russians holding it to retreat — one of several territorial gains around the capital and elsewhere in the country in recent days that have put the invaders on the back foot.
“They [the Russians] thought they would in one quick sprint roll in and capture Kyiv,” Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of the city’s defences, told the Financial Times from a frontline position close to the nearby Hostomel airport. “But they lost their best forces,” he said. “They did not calculate on . . . our ability to mobilise our forces.”
The Ukrainians have made use of guerrilla-style counter-attacks to retake territory and deliver a series of body blows to an enemy that can call on superior forces.
Irpin, for example, was supposed to be an easy bridgehead for the Russians to roll into Kyiv. But Ukraine’s decision to blow up the bridges into the capital delayed Russia’s advance, forcing them to try to go around and leaving them exposed to shelling and western-supplied anti-tank weapons.
In several locations, Russian troops and armour were repelled by smaller, highly motivated Ukrainian units who exploited their superior intelligence-gathering capabilities to establish where the enemy columns were located.
“Our fighting spirit is a main factor,” said a commander called Volodymyr from a freshly dug trench outside Kyiv. “The support from the population has been hugely motivating. They’re feeding us, even providing equipment and materials to dig new trenches.”
A top Ukrainian commander said on Thursday that Russia’s forces had withdrawn nearly 700 military vehicles from positions north of Kyiv, having failed to break through…
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