A renewed Russian offensive on Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine forces 1,700 civilians to flee

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Firefighters work at a Russian missile attack site, amid the Russian attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine on May 10, 2024. | Photo credit: Reuters

Russian forces launched a new ground attack in northeastern Ukraine, killing and wounding several people and forcing more than 1,700 civilians to evacuate from the Kharkov region, officials said on May 11.

Artillery, mortar and aerial bombardments hit more than 30 different towns and villages, killing at least three people and wounding five others, Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said.

Ukraine rushed reinforcements to the Kharkov region on May 10 to hold off a Russian attempt to breach local defenses, authorities said.

Ukrainian forces also launched a barrage of drones and missiles on May 11, the Russian Defense Ministry said, with air defense systems downing 21 missiles and 16 drones over the Russian regions of Belgorod, Kursk and Volgograd. One person died in a drone strike in the Belgorod region, and another in the Kursk region, local officials said.

In a new attack, an oil depot in the Russian-occupied Luhansk region was set on fire, killing three people and wounding eight others, Leonid Pasechnik, the region’s Moscow-installed leader, said on the messaging app on May 11 Telegram.

Russian forces stepped up their bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in late March. The May 10 attack marked a tactical shift in the war by Moscow that Ukrainian officials had expected for weeks.

Russian military bloggers said the attack could mark the start of a Russian effort to create a “buffer zone” that President Vladimir Putin promised to create earlier this year to halt frequent Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod and other Russian border regions call.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on the evening of May 10 that Russian forces were expanding their operations. He also called on the country’s Western allies to ensure that promised deliveries of military aid reach the front lines quickly.

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“It is critical that partners support our fighters and Ukrainian resilience with timely deliveries. They really come at the right time,” he said in a video statement about X. “A package that really helps is the actual delivery of weapons to Ukraine, instead of just the announcement of a package.”

Kremlin forces have repeatedly sought to exploit Ukraine’s shortage of ammunition and personnel as the flow of Western military aid to Kiev has diminished in recent months, while promised new aid has yet to arrive.

Ukraine previously said it was aware that Russia was amassing thousands of troops along its northeastern border, close to the Kharkiv and Sumy regions. Intelligence officials also said they had expected an attack there, although Russia’s latest ground offensive had targeted parts of eastern Ukraine further south.

Although Russia’s gains in the region have been limited so far, analysts at the US think tank Institute of the Study of War described them on Friday as “tactically significant”.

They said Russia had deployed only “relatively limited manpower for their initial attacks,” but that the Kharkov offensive “is intended to… draw Ukrainian manpower and equipment from other critical sectors of the front in eastern Ukraine.”

The Russian military could also try to cut off key supply routes and blockade Kharkov, home to about 1.1 million people and only about 20 miles (30 km) south of the border.

In the early days of the war, Russia made an unsuccessful attempt to quickly storm Kharkov, but withdrew from the outskirts after about a month. In the fall of 2022, seven months later, the Ukrainian army expelled them from Kharkov. The daring counterattack helped convince Western countries that Ukraine could defeat Russia on the battlefield and deserved military support.

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