Home News ‘They are clearing the streets’: Russia attacks bring war to Kharkiv closer

‘They are clearing the streets’: Russia attacks bring war to Kharkiv closer

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After a night of air-raid sirens, tired Kharkiv woke up to gray skies on Saturday morning and disconcerting images of Russian troops continuing to advance into nearby Ukrainian territory.

Throughout the night, dull explosions from the battlefield 40 miles away echoed through Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Russian troops seized several villages along the border with Ukraine on Saturday morning. emergency reinforcements Once in the area, the ghostly wail of air-raid sirens continued to drift through the city’s abandoned parks and long, empty boulevards.

Thousands of people fled border areas and reached shelters in Kharkiv.

Tetiana Novikova is one of them.

Until Friday, she had spent 55 years in Wolfchansk, a small town near the Russian border. She was born there, married there, worked in a factory there and raised her two children there.

But the shelling became so horrific that she and her family made the painful decision to abandon the house they had lived in for decades. On Friday night, she arrived with her elderly parents at a school in Kharkiv that had been turned into a reception center for displaced people, shaken, hungry and a little lost.

Ms Novikova said the only residents left in Wovchansk were “elderly and disabled people who are unable to move.”

“If the missile hits where they live,” she added, “the streets will be filled with bodies.”

More than two years on, the war in Ukraine continues to bring new areas of suffering.

Russian forces launched a complex offensive at dawn on Friday, using fighter jets, heavy artillery, ground troops and armor, on a relatively peaceful stretch of northeastern Ukraine on its border with Russia. Russian troops rushed across the border, seizing several villages and a group of embattled Ukrainian soldiers, according to images widely circulated on social media.

As of Saturday, Russian forces were still shelling Wovchansk, but there had been no major changes to the front lines. Russian Ministry of Defense Ukraine claims to have captured five border settlements along two main axes, which Moscow’s military appears to have tracked, but Ukraine’s General Staff said Ukrainian forces were moving around Vovchansk and another town, Liptsi. Fight defensively and take “counter-offensive measures.”

Ukrainians refer to the border area as a “grey zone,” meaning the fighting is too intense and the situation too unstable to determine who is in control.

Military analysts believe the new offensive is unlikely to reach the streets of Kharkov. The Ukrainian army has built intricate defenses around the city – digging miles of trenches and stitching the ground with gleaming barbed wire, mines and countless small cement pyramids to block tanks – soldiers here call them “dragon’s teeth” .

But analysts agree that the attack came at a particularly difficult time for Ukraine. Its troops were exhausted, stretched thin, and running low on ammunition. Supplies from the long-delayed U.S. aid package are only beginning to flow to the front lines, leaving Ukrainians more vulnerable than they have been in months.

“The next few weeks are likely to be very serious for Ukrainian ground forces in the east,” Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general and researcher at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Preliminary assessment attack.

“While the scale of the current attack appears to be small,” he said, it was aimed at “demoralizing the Ukrainian population and military.”

“If the Ukrainians decide to hold their ground at all costs, they will lose more of their increasingly smaller forces,” he added.

The result, he said, could be “a severe test” and “one of Ukraine’s most difficult moments in the war so far.”

Earlier on Friday, the Russian army sent reconnaissance and sabotage units across the border, followed by Devastating shelling and aircraft bombs According to Ukrainian news reports and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the aircraft penetrated deep into Ukraine. Video footage circulated widely by Ukrainian media channels revealed the aftermath in Wovchansk: fires, broken trees and elegant beige buildings decked out in white with huge holes and walls transformed into waterfalls of billowing bricks.

It was difficult to assess how much territory the Ukrainians may have lost on Saturday morning as heavy shelling continued and reports from the front were spotty. Some military analysts estimate that the Russian advance puts them in control of at least 30 square kilometers.

U.S. officials remain hopeful that Ukrainian forces will eventually be able to thwart a Russian attack. Ukrainians have been preparing for this for months, with President Zelensky saying in a nighttime speech that Ukraine was sending reinforcements to the Kharkiv region.

Still, Ukraine must be cautious about its response, given how stretched its forces are. Russian forces have been slowly but steadily encroaching on Ukrainian defenses 150 miles to the south, advancing toward the small but strategically located old factory town. chasifyar. Recent reports indicate that Russian forces have closed in on a vital highway, all but cutting off Ukrainian supply lines to the town. Ukrainian military officials said Russia’s attack on the northern border region was aimed at distracting Ukrainian forces in the area.

The northern border villages where fighting is now raging have been fought over before. Wovchansk has gone through a full war cycle – occupied by Russian forces after a full-scale invasion in February 2022, liberated in September 2022 and sporadic shelling since then.

Life there has become untenable in recent days. There was no phone service or electricity and little food. All shops are closed. Even Ukrainian soldiers have left, residents reported, although Ukrainian officials said their soldiers were trying to defend the town, perhaps from the outskirts.

“It’s impossible to go back,” Ms. Novikova said. “The Russians are destroying everything,” she said. “They’re clearing the streets.”

On Friday, as her family holed up in their home, she said a Russian plane bomb destroyed a nearby school. The shock wave shattered windows and shook homes blocks away.

“It was just a bomb,” she said. “They’re going down by the dozens.”

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting from Kharkov, and Mark Santora and Constant Mecht From Kiev, Ukraine.

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