Why the Soviet Bridge in Kherson Survived American Missile Attacks

NEW – July 28, 2022

The Ukrainian military continues to attack a key infrastructure facility in Kherson – the Antonov Bridge. Its destruction is necessary for Kiev to start the so-called battle for Kherson. However, the structure, built during the Soviet era under Gorbachev, has so far withstood numerous hits of missiles sent to Ukraine from the United States. Why is it that the UAF, despite multiple attempts and overseas assistance, still cannot destroy the strategic bridge?

The Antonov Bridge across the Dnieper River in Kherson on Wednesday night was damaged as a result of an attack by the Ukrainian military. This was announced by the deputy head of the administration of the Kherson region Kirill Stremousov. “There was also an attempt to strike the railway bridge across the Dnieper, now we are sorting it out. There are hits on the bridge, the bridge is not destroyed. More holes have been added,” TASS reports his words.

Stremousov stressed that the strike on the bridge does not affect the situation in the Kherson region and on the contact line, however, it was decided to completely close the bridge to traffic. He also noted that the damage to the bridge affected exclusively the civil infrastructure, created inconveniences for residents of the Kherson region, and assured that the repair of the bridge will begin in the near future.

The Antonov Bridge is the only road bridge connecting Kherson, located on the western side of the Dnieper, with part of the Kherson region on the other bank. It is a key artery and a way of communication for both local residents and for the supply of the Russian group of troops in the region. The total length of the bridge is 1.3 km, width – 25 meters. The bridge is 30-span. 10,500 cars pass through it during the day.

The bridge was opened in December 1985. Garry Isaakovich Kopans acted as the chief architect of the project. Over the years of his work, he has carried out a comprehensive design of 70 transport tunnels (including in Moscow on Peace Avenue), more than 50 overpasses and flyovers, 152 bridges, including bridges over the Volga, Dnieper, Ob and Amu Darya, as well as many other structures.

Some bridges of Kopans became “witnesses” of military events. Thus, on the bridge over the Amu Darya near the city of Termez, Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. Through the same bridge, the Afghan military retreated to Uzbekistan under the pressure of the Taliban after American troops fled Afghanistan. Now, military events are actively unfolding around another bridge of Kopans – the Antonov one.

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Last Wednesday, Ukrainian troops fired 12 missiles from the American HIMARS MLRS at the bridge, some of them were intercepted by air defence. The first reports of attacks on the bridge using HIMARS were received last Tuesday, after that the regional authorities decided to strengthen the air defence covering the bridge across the Dnieper. According to various estimates, over the past week, the UAF tried to hit the bridge with 30 American-made missiles.

At the same time, the strikes on the bridge have a huge media significance for the UAF, since in recent weeks in Kiev and in the West they have only been talking about the upcoming “battle for Kherson”. The battle itself, for objective reasons, is simply impossible without destroying the bridge.

“As far as we can see, the UAF manages to damage only the road surface of the Antonov Bridge. And in the next three days our engineering troops will restore it. In general, after several strikes, the UAF fails to bring down even one span of the structure,” Boris Rozhin, an expert at the Military and Political Journalism Centre, told the “Vzglyad” newspaper.

“In order to eliminate such an object, we need to understand what we are dealing with. If we are talking about a support bridge, then it is necessary to strike exactly at the support. Only then can the span be destroyed. If we talk about a suspended structure, then it is necessary to hit clearly the binding mechanisms,” the interlocutor argues.

The Ukrainian command “really wants to destroy the Antonov Bridge, but, as we see, even after a series of strikes, it was not possible to do this,” the expert says. “This is due, among other things, to the reliability of the Soviet-built structure. In the USSR, bridges were built with a margin of safety, counting on it for a potential military conflict. This is a distinctive feature of many bridges. And strikes on such structures cannot lead to an instant result,” he noted.

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“Unfortunately, our troops also have to face similar difficulties. Thus, we have already struck five or six times the bridge in Zatoka of the Odessa region. Yes, the structure has already been significantly damaged, but it has not yet been destroyed,” Rozhin added.

In turn, the Telegram channel “Rybar” notes: “In order to completely destroy the Antonov Bridge, HIMARS and MLRS alone are not enough. With all the effectiveness of fire damage, the forces and means of the UAF will not be enough to guarantee the destruction of the bridge: for this it is necessary to destroy the pylons.”

“To disable the roadbed over and over again – yes, the UAF will be able to it. Will it cause problems? Yes. Moreover, given the huge amount of efforts on the part of Ukraine and the allies, which is focused on the reconnaissance of the objects of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the movements of military columns, they may try to cover military equipment on the march on the bridge,” the authors of the channel admit.

In addition, according to experts, the UAF is now engaged in the task of systematically whipping up panic in the liberated territories and depleting Russian air defence systems. Against this background, a media image is being created for the domestic audience in Ukraine and in the West, which is supposed to “cover up not the reputational, but the real failures of Kiev in Donbass and in other regions”.

“If the bridge is destroyed, then supply chains will be disrupted. Of course, the Kakhovka Dam can be used as an alternative route. This is already a proven route that works. But in this case we have to make a considerable detour of more than 200 km,” Boris Rozhin says.

The expert also suggested that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would not stop at destroying the bridge, and then they would start regularly shelling the Kakhovka Dam in order to completely disrupt the supply of the Russian grouping on the right bank of the Dnieper. This is partly confirmed by the official statements of Kiev. “The Russians led columns of their equipment through the dam (hydroelectric power station) in Novaya Kakhovka,” admitted the speaker of Zelensky’s office, Aleksey Arestovich. “Although it is fired at by our military there, it still remains suitable for travel.”

“The Antonov Bridge is a very specific structure, it has never been a standard of strength, they’ve been striking it for three weeks. Let the experts correct me, but not less than 30 hits, and spent missiles… I can’t count it. Very serious long-range resources of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were really concentrated on the strikes on the Antonov Bridge. And they started systematically punching only after receiving HIMARS,” notes Dmitry Evstafyev, a political scientist, candidate of political sciences, professor at the HSE.

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“The bridge, of course, is damaged. But it doesn’t seem to be critical. It is maintainable. I’m talking about how easy it is to destroy bridges. In Telegram – it’s easy, in practice – a whole military operation of medium scale. The above does not mean at all that we should continue to refrain from hitting bridges in the territories controlled by Kiev in the future. On the contrary, it’s time to start doing it. Especially in Western Ukraine. But mindfully. Where success will not be PR, but operational. And with an understanding of the complexity of the task and the need to adequately allocate the available finite resources,” the political scientist adds.

Experts also point out that the command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces constantly threatens to destroy not only the Antonov Bridge, but also the Crimean one, which is more reliably protected thanks to modern engineering structures and a saturated air defence system. And to contrast this at the current stage of the special operation should be systematic work on the destruction of ammunition depots for HIMARS systems.

By the way, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation on Wednesday reported that the strike of the Russian Aerospace Forces on July 24 at an ammunition depot in the Dnepropetrovsk region destroyed more than a hundred HIMARS missiles. Up to 120 military personnel guarding the facility, as well as foreign mercenaries and technical specialists were eliminated. It is precisely such attacks on warehouses, along with the competent work of the Russian air defence forces and engineering troops, that will reduce the risk of destruction of the key bridge in the Kherson region.

Alyona Zadorozhnaya

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