Target Kharkiv: Russia takes 9 villages via suprise cross-border offensive

Russians were reportedly eyeing the towns of Vovchansk and Lyptsi 

UKRAINE-CRISIS/KHARKIV-ASSAULT Firefighters work at a site of a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv | Reuters

Russian forces have reportedly made significant gains in the Kharkiv region near the northeast border with Russia, taking nine villages over the weekend via a surprise cross-border offensive. The offensive began on Friday with Kremlin's men hitting towns and villages with a barrage of artillery and mortar fire.

A statement by Russia’s Ministry of Defense said a new military grouping called Sever (North) had "liberated" several villages, forcing out Ukrainian units. Kharkiv is Ukraine's second-largest city and one of the first Ukrainian cities to go under Russian control in 2022. However, the Kremlin's forces were driven back to the border soon.

Ukraine’s army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Sunday that defensive operations were ongoing while terming the situation in Kharkiv Oblast "significantly worse".  

"The enemy is conducting their actions on two fronts... they are trying to widen the front," military spokesperson Nazar Voloshyn said on Ukrainian television on Sunday. He added that the Russians were eyeing the towns of Vovchansk and Lyptsi. 

In Vovchansk, Russia seemed to be using heavy aerial attacks along with droves of infantry assaults. Russian forces were reportedly in the outskirts of the town and approaching from three directions in Vovchansk. Kremlin has been firing around 50 to 60 shells every hour into the town besides raining glide bombs.

However, there are reports that the Russian army has captured around 100km (62 miles) of Ukrainian territory. Some Ukrainian troops also reported a lack of a "first line of defence" in the area, helping Russians to "just walk in".

That said, it is unclear as to why Russia decided to approach towards Kharkiv. There are speculations that Russia could be trying to create a buffer zone to reduce Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory. President Vladimir Putin had also publicly stated his goal to create a buffer zone inside Kharkiv region to protect Russian territory from Ukrainian artillery strikes.

This could also be Russia's attempt to further stretch Ukraine's fatigued troops, which battles lack of ammunition and men. By exploiting ammunition shortages before promised Western supplies can reach the front line, Russia hopes todeploying more units to penetrate additional border areas.

Meanwhile, thousands have been evacuated as teams worked non-stop throughout the day to take residents, most of whom were elderly, out of harm's way. Anna Ivanova, a Kharkiv resident, described the situation as scary. "Of course it is scary, we keep on monitoring the situation, following the news but we remain home and are not planning to go anywhere. All depends on what happens," she told Reuters. 

Another Kharkiv resident, Olena Pidhirna, said: "Despite all those attacks, air raid alarms, we live normal lives, everyone keeps going out, playing, going to school, enjoying themselves, working. Life goes on, as normal."

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