Home News Under relentless Russian attack, Ukraine adopts a defensive crouch

Under relentless Russian attack, Ukraine adopts a defensive crouch

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At the height of Ukraine’s war with Russia, when Ukrainian troops were sweeping Russian forces out of the country’s northeast, the police chief of a small town proudly flew a Ukrainian flag over the newly liberated town hall.

A year and a half later, policeman Oleksiy Kharkivskyi rushed into the burning ruins of the same town, WolfchanskLast week, the few remaining residents were evacuated as Russian troops approached.

“Everywhere they went, they were flattened,” Halkovsky said. The advance of the Russian armywho has Return to this area It was accompanied by scorched-earth brutality, triggering one of the largest population displacements since the first months of the war.

Russian Army rush across the border Between Russia and Ukraine This month, it will advance to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city with a population of about 1 million. Military analysts say Russia lacks the troops to capture the city but could push into artillery range, triggering more flows of refugees.

Militarily, the incursion appears to be an attempt to expand Ukraine’s already weak and under-equipped forces by diverting troops from Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, which is still seen as a possible target for Russia’s offensive this summer. It has also had a destabilizing effect, driving thousands of frustrated, depressed people from the border areas deep into Ukraine.

After more than a week of intense fighting, Ukrainian troops have retreated to heavily fortified positions about five miles from the border, which they have held for days. Even more formidable positions — trenches, concrete tank traps and bunkers — lie farther to the rear.

Regional officials said the attacks have so far displaced about 8,000 people, and efforts are being made to evacuate stragglers, mostly elderly, from towns and villages in the path of Russian troops.

Many fled villages in front of the lines, and the area was the scene of frequent skirmishes and ambushes and was heavily bombarded by Russian artillery fire.

While the strategy was not ideal — accounts from commanders and soldiers indicate some Ukrainian missteps in its execution — the tactic of defending and retreating in small steps allowed weaker units to inflict heavy casualties on the attackers, who had to attack in rank after rank as they advanced, continually breaking through cover and exposing themselves to artillery fire.

Ukraine is short of troops mobilize efforts The strategy was used out of necessity in the wake of an incursion by Russian troops, after the plan stalled for months as the U.S. Congress delayed a spending bill and lacked ammunition. Capture of Avdiivka In February.

Of course, this comes at the cost of some territory – which is also unfortunate for those who live on the opposite side of the fortifications that Ukrainians may rely on.

Vasily Holoborodko, 65, a retired aircraft mechanic, even though he watched soldiers building tank traps and trenches on the wrong side of his farm, far from the Russian border, He still remains on his farm.

When the attack came, he was quickly thrown into the fray. On Thursday, Holoborodko rushed to safety, past burning houses and blown-up tanks, as well as stronger defenses.

“We had a hard time getting out,” he said. In his haste to escape, he left behind his chickens, cats and dogs “to let God give them what they had”.

The villages surrounding the pine forests north of Kharkiv are picturesque, filled with brightly colored bungalows and newly planted gardens. From a military perspective, retreat meant leaving some people in ruins.

“The Russians’ tactics have fundamentally changed compared to 2022,” Capt. Peter Levkovsky, chief of staff of Ukraine’s 13th Brigade Combat Battalion, said of the February incursion. At the time, he noted, “They formed columns and marched towards Kharkov because they thought they would be welcomed.” Russia occupies the border area until September 2022.

Heavy shelling from across the Russian border announced the latest attacks this month. “They fired from a distance, destroying everything, and then attacked in small groups, but in large numbers, from different directions,” said Captain Levkovsky.

Last week, on their way north from Kharkiv toward the border, pickup trucks and armored vehicles sped in the same direction, while cars laden with people, bags of clothes and pet cages sped south.

Wildfires scorched pine trees and sent thick smoke rising from burning villages further north.

Mud from the latest shelling splattered onto the road. Time to evacuate civilians from areas in front of Ukrainian fortifications is shortening.

Harrowing scenes unfold as people leave their homes, sometimes even their pets, at a moment’s notice.

When evacuation teams arrived at his home in Bilyi Kolodyaz, 30-year-old Pavel Nelup quickly threw a duffel bag into his car and then watched as gunfire roared nearby Climbed in.

“This time it’s even scarier,” he said of the latest attacks in Russia. “Now we understand they are not going to leave anyone alive.”

His German shepherd, left behind for lack of space, stared at him viciously through the gap under the fence, whimpering.

A neighbor, Elena Konovalova, 58, came out to say goodbye to Mr Nellup. “Goodbye, my dear,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

Vitaly Kylchik, a chaplain with the 110th Homeland Defense Brigade who helped with the evacuation, also urged her to leave as soon as possible.

“Don’t sit and wait like the people in Wolfchansk,” he said of the northern town, where plumes of black smoke were billowing. Residents say the city hall, which proudly flew the national flag after liberation, is now in ruins.

Daria Sorokoletova, 40, a resident of Wolfchansk, fled on Wednesday. As she was leaving her home, a shell hit her home, blowing it to pieces.

“There’s nothing there,” she said. “There is no place to go back to.”

even if its citizens forced to evacuateAfterwards, the Ukrainian government defended its strategy of retreating to the defensive line. Russia has advanced about 50 square miles and captured about a dozen villages, many of which are now in ruins.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that the Russian offensive had reached but not yet crossed the first line of defense beyond those villages.

“The first line is not the border,” Mr Zelensky said. “Building there is impossible because our people are being killed by artillery fire while digging fortifications and laying mines,” said the effort, which began in 2022 but has intensified in recent months.

The generals will face a guessing game. How far Russia can push depends on how many soldiers each side commits. For Ukraine, this consideration means moving defenders from other potential attack sites.

“War is interactive,” Johan Norberg, a senior military analyst at Sweden’s Defense Research Agency, said in a telephone interview. “What the Ukrainians do or don’t do is just as important as what the Russians do.” To capture the city of Kharkiv, Russia would need to send “not just a few thousand, but hundreds of thousands” of troops, he said.

Residents have fewer guarantees. Mykhaylo Voinov, 63, and his wife Olena Voinova, 54, repair the roof after Ukraine retaken their village Staryi Saltiv in 2022 , plugged the shrapnel damage and replaced the broken windows. In the manicured backyard, the chirping of birds mingle with the rumble of artillery fire.

“We lived life to the fullest, even though we knew at any moment we might have to pack up and leave,” Ms. Voinova said. “Of course, it’s very difficult, but this is our land and we are prepared to rebuild again and again.”

In one sign of the exodus, Elena Bubenko, 59, who took in stray dogs and pets that neighbors gave her into their care before they fled, now cares for 116 dogs in the village of Tsykuni, north of Kharkiv.

She said she would understand if Ukrainian troops needed to retreat outside her village and just hoped the animals could be evacuated in time.

“They should be defending their lives,” not the village, she said. “Otherwise, who else will fight for us?”

Evelina Ryabko also reported from the Kharkov region.

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