Ukraine sees signs Kharkiv front stabilizing, but warns of buildup near Sumy region

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Ukraine’s top military spy said on Tuesday there were signs the northeastern front was stabilizing amid a Russian ground attack into the Kharkiv region, but warned that small Russian assault groups had been deployed near the Sumy region to the north.

A cross-border attack on a new flank in Sumy region would likely stretch Kyiv’s depleted defenders even further after Russia’s incursion in the north of Kharkiv region opened a new front on Friday, forcing Ukraine to rush in reinforcements.

Russia has made inroads into the north of Kharkiv region in two areas and its defense ministry said it had taken a 10th border village, Buhruvatka. Unconfirmed reports from both sides indicated street fighting in the north of Vovchansk, a town about 5 kilometers from the border.

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Apart from a blow to Ukrainian morale in the region, home to Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, the incursion is a distraction for Kyiv’s defensive operations in the east where Russia has focused its offensive for months.

Top Ukrainian officials say they do not believe Russia has the troop numbers to capture the city of Kharkiv.

Military spy chief Kyrylo Budanov said Moscow had already committed all the troops it had in the border areas for the Kharkiv operation, but that it had other reserve forces that he expected to be used in the coming days.

“As of yesterday evening, a rapid trend toward a stabilization of the situation had emerged - that is, the enemy is, in principle, already blocked at the lines that it was able to reach,” he said in televised comments.

Russia was maintaining the tempo of its attacks in the region, according to data compiled by the Ukrainian General Staff which said there had been eight Russian assaults so far on Tuesday, compared with 13 on Monday and 22 the day before.

Budanov described the situation as fluid and rapidly changing, saying the “active phase” of the Russian operation was still underway.

Evacuation recommendation

Budanov said Russia had small groups of forces in the border areas near Ukraine’s Sumy region in the vicinity of the Russian town of Sudzha from where Russian natural gas transits into Ukraine by pipe on its way to European customers.

“As for the Sumy region, the Russians actually planned an operation in the Sumy region from the very beginning... but the situation did not allow them to take active actions and start the operation,” he said.

In one area, local Ukrainian authorities issued a recommendation to residents to evacuate from roughly 10 kilometers into the region from the border.

The Russian assault is a test of Ukrainian manpower, which military analysts say is lacking in the right numbers and needs to be replenished.

That shortfall is compounded by months of delays in vital US military aid, some of which Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a trip to Kyiv on Tuesday had finally arrived, with more on the way that would “make a real difference.”

Border settlements have been heavily shelled during the offensive. Regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said two people had been killed on Tuesday in the town of Vovchansk, a target of one of the main Russian thrusts about 5 kilometers from the border.

Emil Kastehelmi, an open-source intelligence analyst with Black Bird Group, told Reuters the most important battle in the Russian push was taking place in Vovchansk, which lies some 45 kilometres from the city of Kharkiv.

“If Russia wants to go further south, Vovchansk needs to be captured. In this town, Ukraine is putting up a fight, and it seems that stronger Ukrainian defences are starting to appear around 6-8 kilometers from the border in other places too,” he said.

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Regional authorities have evacuated more than 7,500 people from the town of Vovchansk and borders areas, Syniehubov said.

Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her office was “deeply concerned” at the plight of civilians in Kharkiv region where she said at least eight people had been killed and 35 injured since Friday.

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