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Russia widens Kharkiv front in Ukraine with small assault groups, governor says

Russia widens Kharkiv front in Ukraine with small assault groups, governor says
A police officer helps a local resident during an evacuation to Kharkiv due to Russian shelling, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Vovchansk in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 13, 2024.
PHOTO: Reuters

KYIV — Russia pressed its ground assault into the north of Ukraine's Kharkiv region on Monday (May 13), attacking new areas with small groups to try to widen the front and stretch Ukrainian forces, the regional governor said.

Moscow's troops entered Ukraine near its second largest city of Kharkiv on Friday, opening a new, northeastern front in a war that has for almost two years been largely fought in the east and south. The advance could draw some of Kyiv's depleted forces away from the east, where Russia has been slowly advancing.

"The enemy is trying to deliberately stretch it (the front line), attacking in small groups, but in new directions, so to speak," Governor Oleh Syniehubov said in televised comments.

"The situation is difficult."

Russia's forces were driving towards the town of Vovchansk about 5 km from the Russian border, as well as the village of Lyptsi which lies north of Kharkiv, he said.

Kyiv's troops are managing to defend all of the approaches to Vovchansk, he said, but Moscow's forces are trying to establish themselves at a meat plant on the outskirts of the town, according to the settlement's military administration.

Syniehubov said about 5,700 people had been evacuated from in and around Vovchansk and urged the remaining residents, believed by local officials to number about 300, to leave.

Evacuation plan

Volunteers went from house to house, pounding on doors to persuade residents still in the town to prepare for evacuation.

Vovchansk police chief Maksym Stetsyna said the town had been shelled repeatedly by artillery and mortar.

"Some Vovchansk neighbourhoods are not easy to get to due to constant shelling," Stetsyna told Reuters. "However, the situation is stable and under the control, we are evacuating people, it is fine."

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his nightly video message, said Vovchansk and other border areas had been reinforced. Ukraine's military, he said, understood "how the enemy operates and ... the intention to divert our forces".

Russia said on Sunday it had captured nine villages in the Kharkiv region. On Monday, it said the troops had improved their positions and inflicted losses on territorial defence forces.

The Ukrainian military, in its evening readout, said it "had pushed the enemy back" from the northern outskirts of the town. It added it had "tactical successes" in several areas and was restoring its old positions.

Russian forces had been stopped advancing on the village of Lukyantsi to the north of the city of Kharkiv, the military said, adding Russia had nonetheless had "partial success".

A day after the Russian offencive began, Ukraine appointed Brigadier General Mykhailo Drapatyi to take command of the Kharkiv front, the media outlet RBC-Ukraine reported.

Drapatyi previously led the liberation of the southern Kherson region in November 2022 before serving as deputy head of the General Staff.

Ukraine is on the defencive after a months-long slowdown in supplies of Western, especially US, aid that has left Russia with an even greater advantage in manpower and munitions.

Russian shelling of the town of Vovchansk injured at least five people on Monday, including a 54-year-old woman, the prosecutor's office said.

Kyiv's forces are managing to hold Moscow's troops back but there is a real risk of the fighting spreading to new settlements, Syniehubov said.

The Ukrainian military said it would proceed with building up its forces in the area depending on the situation. The fighting reached the village of Starytsia, to the west of Vovchansk, the General Staff said.

Volodymyr Tymoshko, head of the regional police, told public broadcaster Suspilne that Russia was heavily shelling areas before trying to enter them.

"First, a certain area is bombarded with artillery, anti-aircraft guns, all living things are burned, then they enter this area," he said.

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