Russian forces push deeper into northern Ukraine

Russian forces continued their advance through northeastern Ukraine on Sunday, seizing a number of small settlements along the border and forcing Ukrainian troops to retreat from some positions, according to the Russian and Ukrainian armies, as well as aid workers.

Russia's Defense Ministry said Sunday that its troops had captured four more settlements — all but one located directly north of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city — as they pressed forward with a new offensive launched Friday. Aid workers confirmed that Russian troops had advanced deeper into Ukrainian territory and were now threatening several small towns on the outskirts of Kharkiv.

A Ukrainian military unit fighting in the area said Russian forces were pushing hard from the Russian-Ukrainian border towards Kharkiv.

“Today, during heavy fighting, our defenders were forced to retreat from some other positions, and today another settlement came completely under Russian control,” read a video statement released Saturday evening by Hostri Kartuzy, a member of the Ukrainian special forces. unit. “Russians are dying en masse. But they are moving forward anyway and are successful in some areas.”

General Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine's top military commander, said the situation in the Kharkiv region had “significantly worsened” last week, but that Russian attempts to break through Ukrainian defensive lines had so far been unsuccessful.

Ukrainian troops, outnumbered and outgunned, were already stretched thin trying to defend a 600-mile front stretching from southern Kharkiv to the Black Sea city of Kherson. With the opening of a new front north of Kharkiv , the Russian army aims to further stretch the Ukrainian lines and make it easier to break through in some places, military experts say.

“The Russians have understood, just like many analysts, that the main disadvantage that Ukraine currently suffers from is manpower,” said Franz-Stefan Gady, a Vienna-based military analyst. “By thinning the front line, you are increasing the chances of a breakthrough.”

Gady and other experts said the immediate goal of the new Russian offensive is to force the Ukrainian army to withdraw critically needed troops south of Kharkiv, particularly around the embattled town of Khasiv Yar, a Ukrainian stronghold in the southeastern Donetsk region. .

Russian forces have been attacking Chasiv Yar for several weeks. Capturing the stronghold would put several cities critical to Ukrainian military logistics on the Eastern Front directly in Moscow's line of fire.

With fighting raging in the area, cross-border firing has intensified, and on Sunday Russia blamed Ukraine for targeting a multi-story building in the Russian city of Belgorod, about 45 miles from Kharkiv. Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region, said 19 people were injured in the shelling of the city and that no deaths had been reported.

The Russian Defense Ministry said fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile hit the building. Mr Gladkov posted a video of the scene showing a huge hole in a building. “The entire entrance from the tenth to the first floor collapsed,” he said.

The claims could not be independently verified. Andriy Kovalenko, a Ukrainian official working on Russian disinformation, said the claims were “false” and intended as a provocation to “justify further attacks on residential buildings in Ukrainian cities.”

Russian forces launched a complex, surprise offensive on Friday, deploying fighter planes, artillery units, infantry and armor, advancing across the northeastern border between Russia and Ukraine.

Russian troops quickly conquered tens of square miles of Ukrainian territory. Civilians living in small towns and countryside villages along the border have been caught in the crossfire and many are desperately trying to escape. More than 4,000 people have been evacuated, the Kharkiv governor said Sunday morning. Some of them were extracted with their pets. Others were taken away on stretchers.

Throughout Saturday, small vans and even bright yellow school buses rumbled down deeply cratered and bomb-shrapnel-strewn streets to rescue people who were trapped in cities that had been under intense bombardment.

On Sunday, evacuated people begged their loved ones still in border villages to leave. Svitlana Nahorna said her husband was trapped in Bilyi Kolodiaz, a small village northeast of Kharkiv.

“I begged him to leave, but he refused,” she said while in a shelter for displaced people in Kharkiv. “We're afraid we can't get him out now.”

In addition to trying to distract scant Ukrainian forces from the contested battlefields of eastern Ukraine, military analysts believe the Russians are also trying to carve out a buffer zone along the border to make it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to launch artillery in Russia. . The Russians may also try to get close enough to Kharkiv to bomb it and sow panic, as they did in the early days of the war in 2022, analysts say.

Mykola Bielieskov, a military analyst at the government-run National Institute for Strategic Studies in Ukraine, said that a buffer zone 10 to 15 kilometers deep in Ukrainian territory “would definitely create problems for Kharkiv, putting the city within range of 'action' of Russia. artillery.

It is unclear whether Russia will be able to achieve its goal of removing sufficient numbers of Ukrainian troops from other sections of the front. Ukrainian officials said they had sent reinforcements to the Kharkiv region, without specifying how many units.

Bielieskov said Russia had not yet committed enough troops to the Kharkiv offensive “to create real dilemmas for the Ukrainian military command and force a major redeployment from other parts of the front.”

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to hit a note of growing concern in a speech on Saturday. Citing all the fighting in eastern Ukraine, he added: “It is extremely difficult.”

In a similar tone, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron warned on British television on Sunday that the situation around Kharkiv was “extremely dangerous.”

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting from Kharkiv.

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