Russia announces new gains in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region as thousands evacuate

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Russia said Sunday it had captured four more villages in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region as thousands of residents were evacuated from the surprise ground offensive and a key border town came under intensive shelling.

Russia’s defense ministry announced the new gains a day after claiming that five villages had been seized in the region in a part of Ukraine from where Russian troops had been pushed back nearly two years ago.

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The ministry said its forces had “advanced deeply into the enemy defenses” and taken villages including Gatishche, Krasnoye, Morokhovets and Oleinikovo. But the Ukrainian army said it was managing to hold back further Russian advances.

At an evacuation point near the front line in Kharkiv region, AFP reporters on Sunday saw groups of people who had been evacuated from around the town of Vovchansk, most of them elderly and disoriented.

“We weren’t going to leave. Home is home,” said 72-year-old Lyuda Zelenskaya, hugging a trembling cat named Zhora.

Liuba Konovalova, 70 said she had endured a “really terrifying” night before her evacuation.

Around them, volunteers assisted evacuees towards a few wooden benches where they registered and received food before being evacuated toward Kharkiv, the regional capital.

“In total, 4,073 people have been evacuated,” Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov wrote on social media.

Ukraine has reported several civilians killed in the offensive. Synegubov said the latest casualty -- a 63-year-old man -- was killed by artillery fire in the village of Glyboke.

‘Everything... is being destroyed’

Oleksiy Kharkivsky, a senior police officer from Vovchansk helping to coordinate evacuations, said “several people” had been killed by shelling on Saturday and one person was found dead in rubble overnight.
“The city is constantly under fire,” he said.

“Everything in the city is being destroyed... You hear constant explosions, artillery, mortars. The enemy is hitting the city with everything they have,” he said.

Kharkivsky estimated that around 1,500 people had been evacuated or fled Vovchansk since Friday and there had been 32 drone strikes on the town over the past 24 hours.

He said evacuation teams had come under fire “many times.”

The Ukrainian army said its defenses were holding.

“Russian occupants’ attempts to break through our defense have been stopped,” said Ukraine’s commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky.

He said the situation in Kharkiv region had “deteriorated significantly” and was “complicated.”

Ukrainian forces “are doing everything they can to hold their defensive lines and positions and inflict damage on the enemy,” he said.

Russia’s emergency situations ministry said 17 people were injured in a Ukrainian missile strike on the border city of Belgorod which caused the partial collapse of a building.

Officials said 17 people, including two children, were rescued from the rubble of the building in the city, which lies just across the border from the Kharkiv region.

‘Return the initiative to Ukraine’

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops had been carrying out counterattacks in the border villages.

“Disrupting Russian offensive plans is now our number one task,” he said.

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Troops must “return the initiative to Ukraine,” the president insisted, again urging allies to speed up arms deliveries.

Ukrainian officials had warned for weeks that Moscow might try to attack its northeastern border regions, pressing its advantage as Ukraine struggles with delays in Western aid and manpower shortages.

Read more:

Fierce fighting rages in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, governor says

Russia says it has taken five villages in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region

Hundreds evacuated from Ukraine border after Russian offensive

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