Ukraine fights to repel ferocious Russian assaults in the northeast

Ukrainian forces were defending fiercely on Wednesday in Vovchansk, a village in northeastern Ukraine about five miles from the Russian border, engaging in what appeared to be street fighting as they tried to contain the Russian advance into the area.

In a sign of growing concern about the deteriorating military situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky canceled his participation to all international events in the coming days, including Friday’s visit to Spain where he was due to sign a bilateral security agreement.

This was stated by the General Staff of Ukraine in a statements that his forces had “partially pushed the enemy” out of Vovchansk. A few hours earlier, he acknowledged that his troops had retreated from positions in two villages, including Vovchansk, allowing Russian forces to gain a foothold.

“Active fighting is ongoing,” Oleksiy Kharkivskiy, the Vovchansk police chief, said in a statement on Wednesday. video posted on Facebook from the village, where heavy gunshots could be heard in the background. He added that Russian troops have taken positions in several streets of the village and that the situation “is extremely difficult”.

Ukrainian officials and military analysts said Ukraine’s position on the battlefield has seriously worsened in recent days as the Kiev government tries to repel a new Russian offensive push in the northeast that is straining its forces. already outnumbered and outgunned.

Russia timed its new offensive, which began Friday, at an opportune time. Ukraine is short of manpower and struggling to recruit more soldiers. It is also running out of ammunition due to delays in Western military aid, particularly the $60.8 billion US package approved in Congress three weeks ago after months of political wrangling.

Concluding a two-day visit to Kiev, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at a news conference Wednesday that the United States is “bringing ammunition, armored vehicles, missiles, air defenses” to the front lines.

Blinken added that the Biden administration has allocated $2 billion to the Ukrainian military, much of which will be invested in the country’s defense-industrial base to help Ukraine produce its own weapons in the long term.

Ukrainian officials and military analysts say the Russian military now appears to be advancing more slowly in the northeast, six days into the offensive, partly because it has reached more urbanized areas, such as Vovchansk, making it more difficult for a quick progress.

General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian military intelligence agency, he said on Ukrainian television Conditions in the area under attack were moving “towards stabilization” on Tuesday, with additional Ukrainian units being sent to repel the Russian advance. But he added that “the situation is quite tense and is changing very rapidly”.

The assessments of Ukrainian officials and analysts appeared to be supported by open source maps of the battlefield compiled by independent groups analyzing combat footage. Those maps showed that Russian troops had gained a foothold in two settlements the previous day, with a slower pace of advance than before, when they captured up to five settlements a day.

Russian Ministry of Defense said Wednesday it had captured two settlements in the northeast, a claim that could not be independently confirmed and did not match what open-source maps showed.

Russia also said it had seized the village of Robotyne in the south. Furthermore, the claim cannot be independently verified and Ukrainian officials denied this. Robotyne was recaptured by Ukrainian troops last summer, in one of the few successes of Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive at the time. If it were to fall into Russian hands, it could deal a serious blow to the morale of the Ukrainian army.

Vovchansk has been heavily bombarded since Russian offensive operations began Friday, including with powerful weapons known as glide bombs that release hundreds of pounds of guided explosives in a single blast. Nearly all residents of the village, which had 17,000 residents before the war, have fled, local authorities said.

Oleh Syniehubov, head of the military administration of the Kharkiv region, said Wednesday that nearly 8,000 civilians had been evacuated from villages and settlements in the region. These include residents of villages on the immediate outskirts of Kharkiv who have come under increasing shelling in recent days.

Krystyna Havran, a council member in the village of Lyptsi, about 10 miles north of Kharkiv’s outer ring, said she had rushed to evacuate residents in recent days as the fighting approached. “No one imagined that there would be an offensive,” she said.

Most of the displaced flocked to Kharkiv, hoping that the city, Ukraine’s second largest after the capital Kiev, would offer them greater safety. But Kharkiv has been the target of numerous Russian air attacks for several weeks, making life for its residents increasingly difficult.

Mr Syniehubov said Kharkiv was targeted six times on Tuesday, including with glide bombs hitting the northern part of the city, causing heavy damage to a 12-storey apartment block and wounding 22 people. TO video released by the national police shows officers walking over piles of rubble inside a building and firefighters putting out a fire.

Mykola Bielieskov, a military analyst at the government-run National Institute for Strategic Studies in Ukraine, said the attacks were designed “to instill fear and make people flee from front-line urban areas.” But to force Kharkiv’s 1.2 million residents to flee, he added, Russia would have to “systematically target the city – weeks of strikes.”

Analysts say this could explain why Russia is pushing north of Kharkiv. If Russian troops secured positions in a village like Lyptsi, they would find themselves within range of the town’s artillery, allowing them to pepper it with shells.

Russia has also targeted power plants and substations in the Kharkiv region and other areas of Ukraine since March, as part of a campaign to cut electricity to large swaths of the country and make life miserable for civilians.

The strikes have severely limited Ukraine’s available generating capacity. As a result, Ukrenergo, the country’s national transmission system operator, introduced emergency blackouts for households and businesses in several regions on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in an effort to save energy.

According to the data, power outages in Kiev were limited and affected only 10% of consumers local authorities. But Ukrenergo warned that new blackouts could be introduced again on Wednesday evening.

Ukrainian officials have urged their Western allies to provide them with more air defense weapons and ammunition to shoot down Russian missiles and drones. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, reiterated this request during a meeting with Blinken on Wednesday, asking him to help Ukraine obtain more U.S.-made Patriot air defense systems.

Blinken also said the United States and Ukraine were close to completing a security deal, one of dozens Kiev is negotiating with NATO members as it pushes for admission into the alliance. He said it could be signed “within a few weeks”. Such an agreement would not guarantee significant funding but would include aspects such as intelligence sharing and military interoperability.

Michael Crowley AND Daria Mitiuk contributed reporting from Kiev.