Zelenskiy visits embattled Kharkiv region as Russian pressure mounts in east

Zelenskiy visits embattled Kharkiv region as Russian pressure mounts in east


Russian forces have pressed two main thrusts into the region

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KYIV (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Thursday to boost morale and reinforce Ukraine's troops in the region where Russian forces are trying to press their new offensive beyond the border areas.

Moscow has made inroads of at least several kilometres into the north of Kharkiv region since Friday, forcing Kyiv's outmanned troops to try to hold the line on a new front as Russia mounts more pressure on the front in the east.

"The direction remains extremely difficult - we are strengthening our units," Zelenskiy said after holding a meeting in the city with his top commander and senior military leaders.

The Ukrainian leader, who has cancelled all his upcoming foreign trips as the battlefield situation deteriorates, met wounded soldiers recovering at a medical facility and posed for photographs with troops at another location.

Apart from inflicting devastation on frontline settlements and dealing a blow to Kyiv's morale, Russia's Kharkiv push is a headache for Ukrainian war planners whose troops are already stretched over a more than 1,000 kilometre line.

Ukraine's military said late on Wednesday that its forces fighting near the town of Kupiansk were pulling back to more "advantageous positions". Kupiansk lies more than 85 km southeast of the city of Kharkiv.

In a statement on Thursday, the General Staff said Russia was directing its most intense assaults on the fronts near the cities of Pokrovsk and Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia's offensive has been unrelenting for months.

"Intensive combat action continues along nearly the whole front line. The occupiers are most active on the Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk fronts," it said in its battlefield readout.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow's forces were improving their positions "every day" along the front in Ukraine in all directions and that the advance was going to plan.


After reporting fighting in the northern districts of the border town of Vovchansk, some 45 kms from the city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian General Staff said its troops had launched a counterattack to hit back at the invaders.

Kyiv, whose shortages of manpower have been compounded by delays to Western arms supplies, has warned that Russia may be preparing for a big offensive in the coming weeks. It has flagged a Russian buildup of small units near its Sumy region.

Pasi Paroinen, an analyst with the Black Bird Group, told Reuters that Moscow's Kharkiv push looked aimed at drawing in Kyiv's limited reserves into battle before the main summer offensive begins.

"If Ukraine overcommits in Kharkiv and Sumy, they may preserve some territory there, perhaps prevent Kharkiv civilians from suffering artillery bombardments, perhaps even push back the enemy back to the border," he said.

"But it may cost them the war, if the reserves are not available to respond to crises during the Russian summer offensive."

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city which is home to some 1.3 million people, has been pounded for months by airstrikes that defenders struggle to stop with depleted air defences covering a city just 30 km from the border.

Russian forces have pressed two main thrusts into the region, including one towards Vovchansk, the town 5 km (3 miles) from the border and the other towards the village of Lyptsi, which lies about 17 km from the northern outskirts of Kharkiv.

"The enemy's plans to penetrate deeper into the town of Vovchansk and gain a foothold there were thwarted," the Ukrainian General Staff said in a statement.

Ukraine has scrambled to evacuate civilians from the town and other border areas and about 8,000 people have left their homes so far.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko accused Russian forces of killing a resident in Vovchansk who tried to escape on foot and refused to obey their orders.

Serhii Bolvinov, head of the investigative department of the regional police, said in televised comments that Russian troops taken up to 40 civilians captive.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify Klymenko or Bolvinov's claims.

Describing the situation in Vovchansk as under control, the Ukrainian military said its defensive actions had forced Russian troops to reduce the tempo of their push into the north of the region.

Russia says it has taken control of 12 villages since it launched its attack. Russia's defence ministry said on Thursday its forces had made deep advances into Ukraine's defences and inflicted personnel and hardware losses near Vovchansk and Lyptsi.

Oleh Syniehubov, Kharkiv's regional governor, said Russian troops had struck a village near Vovchansk with cluster munitions, injuring six people.