The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?
Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.
But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.
"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.
Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.
Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.
Ukraine is now preparing for possible attacks along the entire active and potential front line. Even with the stalwart support of allies, a long war is not in Ukraine's interests.
Mines in the Fairy Forest
Polesia, the wooded, swampy region of Ukraine that borders Belarus, has remained under the unwavering control of Ukrainian troops. The border is mined, dotted with checkpoints and guarded by troops and heavy equipment. Russia or its allies won’t be able to enter from this side by land without taking significant losses.
Polesia is not far from the Kyiv area, where new defensive structures are being built. According to the Novoe Vremya newspaper, the Kyiv Defense Forces are building defensive structures at possible enemy infiltration points, and adding dug-in, reinforced concrete bunkers to protect troops.
Polish General Waldemar Skrzyczak believes that Russia may strike from Voronezh, Kursk and Bryansk — near the northeastern edge of Ukraine — and then drive south, west of Kharkiv and along the Vorskla River, which flows into the Dnipro River. In this scenario, Poltava and the Dnipro city would come under attack.
Daily bombardments from Chernihiv to Kharkiv
Bordering the Bryansk and Kursk provinces are Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv. Daily shelling continues in these regions, even after their liberation by Ukrainian forces.
Two options have yet to open up.
A Russian reconnaissance group recently retreated under Ukrainian fire after being spotted trying to cross the border in the Sumy region — a common occurrence.
To protect these regions, Ukraine needs artillery and long-range missiles to hit military targets in Russia — including the launch sites for Russian rockets.
"Two options have yet to open up: long-range missiles so that we can engage the Russian occupying forces on the territory of Ukraine, and combat airplanes," noted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, adding that the country is already negotiating with allies, including the Netherlands, about possible aircraft deliveries.
The aftermath of Russian bombings on Chernihiv, north of Kyiv.
The south heats up
In a large-scale offensive, the occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk may become the hottest part of the frontline. In that case, the towns of Soledar or Bakhmut could play the role of a distraction, with the real offensive starting in Kherson and Crimea with the support of the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet.
Allied assistance in supplying heavy weapons is critical at this stage of the war.
There are now three surface ships, one submarine missile launcher and eight more warships in the Black Sea.
Despite the problematic situation in Donbas, where Russian troops are managing to hold their positions, Ukraine has achieved a breakthrough in the supply of tanks and is now forming new battalions. Allied assistance in supplying heavy weapons is critical at this stage of the war.
Ben Hodges, a former American general who commanded the U.S. army in Europe, told newspaper Novoye Vremya that it was crucial to supply Ukraine with the long-range ATACMS missile system, which he said could help Ukraine to liberate Crimea this spring.
It's too soon to expect an end to the war in 2023 — but the events of the next few months will be decisive.