Russia launches new assaults on northern border, Ukraine says

Ukraine sent reinforcements to its northern border on Friday after Russian forces attempted to break through Ukrainian lines along several sections, putting new pressure on forces already stretched along a 600-mile front.

The Russian assaults began around 5 a.m. Friday with massive aerial bombardments of Ukrainian positions followed by armored columns trying to break through at several points along the border, according to a statement from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

“To date, these attacks have been repelled and battles of varying intensity are ongoing,” the ministry said. “To strengthen the defense in this sector of the front, reserve units have been deployed.”

The scope and purpose of Russian border incursions remained unclear. Military analysts have said Russia may be trying to force Ukraine to expend precious resources to defend the region just as Russian assaults in eastern Ukraine are intensifying.

But a senior Ukrainian commander, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the current state of fighting, said Friday that the Russian attacks went beyond investigations or intelligence gathering. The commander said the Kremlin's immediate goal appears to be to create a buffer zone along the border.

After heavy battles raged overnight and into the morning, smaller skirmishes continued into the evening as Russia sought to consolidate control over several small villages located right on the border, a Ukrainian official with knowledge of the fighting said. While few civilians remained in the attacked areas, at least one resident of the city of Vovchansk was killed by the shelling, local officials said, and several others were injured.

The opening of a new combat zone would represent a significant challenge for Ukraine. It is unclear how deep the Ukrainian defenses were on the border, how well manned they were and how they would hold up if Russia launched sustained offensive operations in this direction.

New deliveries of powerful Western weapons are arriving in Ukraine, but commanders say they have not arrived in quantities that will have a significant impact. Meanwhile, military analysts said, Russia is likely to try to use the window before the weapons arrive in force to push for new advances.

In announcing a new military aid package for Ukraine, White House officials said Friday that they did not expect Russia's advance on the border to gain major battlefield advantages.

“We anticipated that Russia would launch an offensive against Kharkiv, which now appears to have begun,” said John F. Kirby, the White House national security spokesman. “We have been coordinating closely with Ukraine to help them prepare. At this time, we assess that Russia has intensified cross-border fires and launched the first incursions.”

Kirby said that in the coming weeks “Russia will likely increase the intensity of the fires and commit additional troops” to establish a shallow buffer zone, but added “we do not foresee any major breakthroughs.”

Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts have also said that Moscow likely does not have the combat power needed to capture Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which lies 20 miles from the Russian border.

Russian officials have not commented on the raids.

It was unclear whether Russia had conquered any territory. The Ukrainian commander said Kiev forces stopped a Russian attack in the direction of a village called Lyptsi, less than a mile from the border in the Kharkiv region. That area was now considered a gray zone, which meant the fighting was too intense and the situation too fluid to say who had control over the territory.

For Russia, even establishing a bridgehead across the border could expose the city of Kharkiv to artillery, allowing troops to step up efforts to make the city unlivable. And it would help create a safe area that Russia could use as a staging point for the deployment of personnel and weapons.

It would also allow Russia to protect towns and cities across the border from Ukrainian bombing.

The Kharkiv regional administration urged residents of villages near the border to evacuate. Some, like Vovchansk, which was heavily bombed during the war, have been nearly empty for months.

A doctor at the hospital in Vovchansk, about four miles from the Russian border, said there was intense fighting throughout the small town. “We are currently evacuating people from the hospital,” he said, asking that his name not be used because he fears for his safety. “They are hitting very hard and destroying everything.”

He said Ukrainian soldiers appeared to be preventing advances into the city, but that the Russians were attacking tanks, armored fighting vehicles and warplanes. Many of the small villages in the border regions have been evacuated for months as the shelling intensified, and Ukrainian authorities said on Friday that efforts were continuing.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, during a briefing in Kiev with his Slovak counterpart, Zuzana Caputova, said Russian forces clashed with “our troops, brigades and artillery,” adding: “There is a fierce battle in this direction – we met them with fire.”

The Biden administration announced a $400 million shipment of air defense interceptors, artillery ammunition, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other weapons to Ukraine on Friday afternoon.

The latest weapons package – which includes Patriot anti-missile interceptors, 155-millimeter artillery shells, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles – comes about two weeks after the administration said it was committing more than $1 billion in weapons and ammunition for Ukraine. This followed Congress' approval of $60.8 billion in military aid to Kiev, which had been blocked for months by House Republicans.

Russian forces failed to capture the city of Kharkiv in the first weeks of the war and were almost completely driven out of the region in a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the fall of 2022. Hundreds of thousands of people who fled the city returned to their homes and began to rebuild. their lives.

But in recent months, Russia has stepped up its bombing of the city, targeting almost daily with missiles, drones and powerful guided bombs that have targeted energy infrastructure, major industries and residential neighborhoods.

At the same time, Russia increased the number of soldiers transferred to the border.

The Ukrainian army responded by strengthening its defenses along large stretches of the border, and residents reported seeing an influx of troops around the Kharkiv and Sumy borders.

General Oleksandr Syrsky, the nation's top military commander, had recently said that the Russians were likely planning new offensive operations but that he was confident in Ukrainian defenses along the border, pointing out that the army had already fought the Russians once in Kharkiv. region and won.

Liubov Sholudko contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.

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