Russian forces move deeper into northern Ukraine

Russian forces move deeper into northern Ukraine

Over the past three days, Russian troops, backed by warplanes, artillery and deadly drones, have invaded Ukraine’s northeastern border and captured at least nine villages and settlements, more than of square kilometers per day than at almost any other time in the war. save the very beginning.

In some places, Ukrainian troops are retreating and Ukrainian commanders are blaming each other for the defeats.

Thousands of Ukrainian civilians flee to Kharkiv, the nearest major city. A reception center that hummed with order and calm on Saturday had transformed into an entirely different scene on Sunday, as exhausted people shouted at each other and families with no place to go spilled onto the grass.

As anxiety spreads, tough questions arise: How far will it go? Is this just a momentary setback for the oppressed Ukrainians? Or a turning point?

Military experts say the Russian advance has placed Ukraine in a very dangerous situation. Ukrainian troops have complained for months of severe ammunition shortages – exacerbated by wrangling in the US Congress that has delayed the delivery of key weapons. And the Ukrainian soldiers, obviously, are exhausted.

After more than two years of fighting a country with a population three times its size, Ukraine is so exhausted and so desperate for fresh troops that its lawmakers voted in favor of convict mobilization, a controversial practice that Ukraine had been ridiculed by Russia for its use in the conflict. first half of the war.

A Ukrainian commander took the unusual step Sunday of lambasting his colleagues for what he sees as terrible border defenses.

“The first line of fortifications and mines simply did not exist,” said reconnaissance commander Denys Yaroslavsky. wrote on Facebook. “The enemy freely entered the gray zone, beyond the border, which in principle should not have been gray!”

(“The gray zones” are the contested areas between the Russian and Ukrainian front lines.)

Other Ukrainian civil servants denied that the country’s forces were unprepared, saying reports suggesting it were outright disinformation benefiting Russia.

Commander Yaroslavsky added that street fighting had broken out in Vovchansk, a small town near Kharkiv, and that it was now surrounded. “I say this because we can die and no one will hear the truth,” he wrote. “So why all this?!”

The city of Kharkiv itself is safe – for now. It is about 20 miles from the border. But just outside the city, people are fleeing for their lives. The Russians are putting pressure on Lyptsi, another small town even closer to Kharkiv than to Vovchansk. Residents who fled in evacuation vans on Sunday said the situation in Lyptsi did not look good.

“For three days, they were bombarding us every ten minutes,” said Halyna Surina, who fled on Sunday afternoon. “There was artillery, bomb planes and drones flying everywhere. I could hear helicopters – and they weren’t our helicopters.

Her voice shook and she could barely choke out the words.

Taking Lyptsi would put the Russians within artillery range of Kharkiv, a metropolis of more than a million people that was just struggling to get back to life. All this is, for Ukrainians, a bad case of déjà vu.

The Russians created a similar situation in early 2022, crossing the northern border, occupying villages and small towns and reaching the ring road that circumscribes Kharkiv. For months, the residents of this town suffered artillery and missile fire, which left hundreds dead. The large empty apartment buildings in the east of the city are charred monuments to those murderous days.

According to military analysts, part of the Russian plan with this comprehensive attack is to threaten Kharkiv and force Ukraine to divert its troops from other battlefields, particularly those in the eastern Donbass region.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. A group of Ukrainian special forces soldiers crowded outside a gas station Sunday afternoon, drinking energy drinks and trying to get a feel for the lay of the land. They looked tired. And they said they had just been redeployed from Donbass.

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

There may be an even bigger, more strategic motive. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has just won an electoral victory that he presented as a referendum on starting this war. If his troops threaten Kharkiv, once again, and send miles of cars full of terrified civilians fleeing onto the highways, once again, and turn Ukraine’s second-largest city into a shell of its own, once again Moreover, it could demoralize the Ukrainians and their allies.

It hasn’t happened yet, but if it did, it might seem like after two years and hundreds of thousands of victims and billions of dollars, not much has changed. That, in turn, would perhaps intensify pressure on Ukraine’s leaders to negotiate a truce with Russia, which they have so far insisted would only serve to cement appetite of aggression from Mr. Putin.

As fighting rages in the region, cross-border shooting has intensified and Russia on Sunday accused Ukraine of bombing Belgorod, a medium-sized Russian city just across the Ukrainian border, killing 11 people, said the regional governor. Telegram.

One explosion notably caused part of an apartment building to collapse, leaving a gaping hole in its structure. The Russians blamed the Ukrainians; THE Ukrainians denied and provided videos what they said showed what was an explosion inside the building and not an airstrike.

The Russians cited previous strikes against their cities to justify their conquest of more Ukrainian territory. Russian leaders want to push Ukrainians back from the border and create a buffer zone, a mission they began at dawn Friday.

Russian infantry, supported by tanks, artillery and aircraft, crossed the international border and by Saturday had captured a handful of towns. On Sunday, there were even more.

Another Ukrainian soldier serving near Kharkiv, who spoke by phone Sunday, said he and his comrades had not slept in days and were shocked by how quickly the Russians were moving.

General Oleksandr SyrskyUkraine’s top military commander, acknowledged that the situation had “significantly deteriorated” but said Russian attempts to break through Ukraine’s defensive lines had so far failed.

Some analysts believe that no matter how bad Ukraine’s current situation is, it will not change the general direction of the war.

Thibault Fouillet, deputy director of the Institute of Strategic and Defense Studies, a French research center, said it would have “little impact on the war in general” and that for now the fighting remained in a “general tactical stalemate,” with Russia making limited and costly gains.

Civilians on their way to Russia are taking no risks. Ukrainian authorities reported Sunday that 4,500 people had been evacuated from border towns north of Kharkiv; that doesn’t count for many others who jumped in and out of their own cars.

“We could hear machine gun fire coming closer and closer,” said Zhenia Vaskivskaia, who had just arrived in Kharkiv from Vovchansk.

The Russians, she said, were “about to break in.”

Oleksandra Mykolychyne contributed reporting from Kharkiv.

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Mattie B. Jiménez

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