Home News Between Offensives: Photos from a Trip to the Ukrainian Border

Between Offensives: Photos from a Trip to the Ukrainian Border


David Guttenfelder made two trips along Ukraine’s northeastern border in the months before Russian troops launched another major incursion into the country.

The invaders haven’t returned. Not yet. But in the roughly 600 miles of northeastern Ukraine border region that The New York Times visited twice, late last year and early this spring, war Never leave.

Most of this area Kharkov and Samui The area was once farmland. Now, a farmhouse houses a counter-sabotage unit — made up of anti-Putin Russians to prevent Ukrainian troops from crossing into Russia — preparing for a cross-border raid before dawn.

The fields were exposed to Russian fire, so no one could attempt to harvest them. Instead, they sowed “dragon’s teeth,” concrete anti-tank obstacles that were often tied together with cables and crossed with barbed wire.

In 2022, Russian troops occupied the region, almost on the doorsteps of major cities such as Kharkiv and Sumy. Then, before the end of that year, Ukrainian troops pushed them back to the border.

Russian troops began New offensive Last month, there was also a shooting incident in the Kharkiv region. But these villages are 10 miles from the border and are always within range of artillery fire.

The sirens did not provide enough time to warn of such close bombings, and the air defenses were unable to repel them. Residents, who rely on humanitarian aid, have had to wait in long, cold conditions for supplies amid near-daily shelling.

The new ground offensive comes as bombings and drone attacks have intensified.

Ukrainian troops have begun to transform the terrain: a new maze of trenches and bunkers, more restricted areas and vast fields and forests strewn with mines. At checkpoints, nervous soldiers fly drones to scan upcoming roads.

The mayor of one village within range of Russian artillery fire said there would soon be nothing to photograph, just stray dogs and ruins.

Civilian governments struggled to deliver supplies and basic necessities or persuade residents to evacuate completely. Schools taught remotely or in underground bunkers.

The war brought great changes to the region, where families often come from Russia and Ukraine, and common beliefs and culture transcend borders. Even now, the border crossings in the Sumy region remain open to civilians.

In the village of Richiki in Sumy Oblast, about seven miles from the Russian border, Father Bogdan, a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, said few people have been able to go to church since the Russian attacks increased. Now, “only on holidays like Easter are the churches full,” he said.

His two sons moved to Poland with their families before all-out war broke out in February 2022. Father Bohdan and his wife also resisted dissuasion to emigrate.

“This is my hometown,” he said. “How could I go anywhere else?”

In some towns and villages, only a handful of people remain, mostly women and elderly people who have nowhere else to go. A battlefield again After Russian troops crossed the border into the Kharkov region in May, the region’s population was reduced to about 2,000 by December, down from a prewar population of about 17,000. By the spring, the situation had clearly deteriorated.

Scars from invasion and bombing have rendered some of the reclaimed settlements uninhabitable.

As Russia launches a new offensive in Kharkiv, Ukraine is at its most vulnerable moment since the start of all-out war – its troops are stretched thin and its stocks of weapons and ammunition are depleted due to months of delays by its most important supplier, the United States.

Now, More U.S. aid is coming Ukrainian Parliament Changing military conscription rules Trying to recruit more troops. But Russia appears to be increasing the pressure.

As they recently argued Gain more wiggle room The firing of American-made weapons into Russian territory has prompted Ukrainian officials to note that Russia will further build up its forces, including across from the Sumy region.

Ukraine’s border region may become more dangerous.

Yuri Shivara, Zvenka Pinchuk and Oleksandr Chubko Contributed reporting.

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