Defending in Its North, Ukraine Faces Pressure All Along Front Line


Ukrainian forces said on Thursday that they were slowing the pace of an offensive push by Russia in their country’s northeast, even as they struggled to contain new Russian assaults at several other locations on the front line, with Moscow seeking to stretch Kyiv’s troops to break through their defenses.

The Ukrainian military reported late Wednesday that it had repelled four ground attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Russian forces surged across the border last week and quickly captured a dozen or so villages and about 50 square miles of territory.

“Over the course of the day, our Defense and Security Forces of Ukraine — all units involved — have managed to partially stabilize the situation,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Wednesday evening. “Our attention is constantly focused on the front line, on all combat zones.”

Ukrainian civilians who were evacuated on Thursday said that Russian forces had been fighting in small units that slip through the forest and into villages. They have popped up unexpectedly on streets in the town of Vovchansk, a village a dozen miles to the east of Kharkiv city that is now contested between the two armies.

Oleksiy Kharkivskiy, a police officer evacuating civilians, said the northern parts of Vovchansk were now in the sights of Russian tanks, but not fully controlled by the Russian army, the same state of affairs as several days ago, suggesting that the fighting has slowed in and around the village, though artillery barrages are frequent.

Still, more Russian assaults were reported elsewhere, both to the east of the Kharkiv region and further to the south in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. “We clearly see how the occupier is trying to distract our forces and make our combat work less concentrated,” Mr. Zelensky said.

In particular, Russian troops appeared to have launched new assaults on the southern village of Robotyne, one of the few places that Ukraine managed to recapture during its largely failed counteroffensive last summer.

Russia’s defense ministry said that its troops had taken full control of Robotyne on Wednesday. Ukrainian officials said that was not true, and pro-Kremlin military bloggers also denied it, saying that Russian forces controlled only parts of Robotyne.

“Russian information troops periodically organize such provocations,” said Dmytro Pletenchuk, a spokesman for the Southern Defense Forces of Ukraine. “To do this, they organize performances in the combat zone with the installation of the Russian national flag. On the outskirts, for example, they usually die afterward.”

At the same time, Russia’s push to take more territory in the eastern Donetsk region, one of the two regions that make up the Donbas, continued unabated. Fierce fighting is taking place around the town of Chasiv Yar, about six miles west of Bakhmut, and in the area northwest of the town of Avdiivka, which Russia captured in February.

“As I see it, Chasiv Yar is twice harsher than Kupiansk, and Kupiansk is twice harsher than the northern border,” said Pavlo, a soldier fighting in Donbas, who declined to give his last name per military protocol.

“The Kharkiv operation looks a lot like what happened earlier with the village of Ocheretyne,” he said, referring to a village northwest of Avdiivka that Russia captured in late April. “They hit several places, and where they find a crack in the defense, they enter.”

The attacks on northern Kharkiv region are accompanied by speculation that something similar might be coming in Sumy region, further to the northwest and also near the Russian border. Overnight, there was shelling of the region, with 183 explosions along the border area reported by the Sumy region’s military administration.

Andrew E. Kramer and Evelina Riabenko contributed reporting from Kharkiv, and Constant Méheut from Kyiv.



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