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Zelenskiy visits Ukraine's embattled Kharkiv as Russian pressure mounts in east
Zelenskiy visits Ukraine's embattled Kharkiv as Russian pressure mounts in east
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Zelenskiy visits Ukraine's embattled Kharkiv as Russian pressure mounts in east
by DZRH News17 May 2024
Rescuers inspect a residential building damaged during a Russian missile attack, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy

By Yuliia Dysa, Anastasiia Malenko and Tom Balmforth

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Thursday to boost morale and reinforce troops in the region where Russian forces are trying to press their new offensive beyond 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 Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, with his top commander and senior military leaders.

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Later, in his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said that thanks to the actions of Ukrainian forces "we have achieved more certainty" near Vovchansk, 5 km (three miles) inside the border.

"But the Russian shelling is not stopping, threats persist." he said.

Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov, speaking on national television, said Russian forces were still bent on capturing the town.

"While we cannot say that our soldiers have yet stabilised the front line, they have already stopped the active advance of the enemy in Kharkiv region," he said. In some places, he said, Ukrainian troops had regained earlier positions.

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The Ukrainian leader, who has cancelled 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.

TROOPS STRETCHED OVER LONG FRONT LINE

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-km line.

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

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

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

After reporting fighting in Vovchansk, some 45 km 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.

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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 an 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, 30 km from the border, has been pounded for months by airstrikes that defenders struggle to stop with depleted air defences.

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Russian forces have pressed two thrusts into the region, one towards Vovchansk and the other towards the village of Lyptsi, 17 km from the northern outskirts of Kharkiv.

Ukraine has scrambled to evacuate civilians from the town and other border areas - about 9,000 people have left 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 had taken up to 40 civilians captive. Local prosecutors reported four dead and 12 injured in the area.

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

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

(Reporting by Anastasiia Malenko and Yuliia Dysa; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra, Ron Popeski and Nick Macfie)

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