Russian Forces Push Deeper Into Northern Ukraine

Russian forces continued their advance across northeastern Ukraine on Sunday, seizing a number of small settlements along the border and forcing Ukrainian troops to retreat from some positions, aid workers and the Ukrainian military said.

Aid workers said that Russian troops had advanced deeper inside Ukrainian territory and were now threatening several small towns on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

According to a Ukrainian military unit, the Russian forces are pushing hard from the Russia-Ukraine border toward Kharkiv.

“Today, during heavy fighting, our defenders were forced to withdraw from a few more of their positions, and today, another settlement has come completely under Russian control,” said a video statement released on Saturday night by Hostri Kartuzy, a Ukrainian special forces unit. “The Russians are dying in droves. But they are pressing on regardless and succeeding in some areas.”

Russian forces launched a complex, surprise offensive on Friday, deploying fighter jets, artillery units, infantry and armor, surging across the northeastern frontier between Russia and Ukraine.

With fighting raging in the area, cross-border fire has intensified and Russia accused Ukraine on Sunday of hitting a multistory building in the Russian city of Belgorod, about 45 miles from Kharkiv. The Russian state-run news agency TASS said there had been at least 17 casualties, without specifying a death toll.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said fragments from an intercepted Ukrainian missile had struck the building. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region, posted video from the scene showing an enormous hole in a building. “The entire entrance from the tenth to the first floor collapsed,” he said.

The claims could not be independently verified and Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on the strike.

Russia’s new offensive push near Kharkiv has allowed its troops to quickly seize dozens of square miles of Ukrainian territory. Civilians living in the small towns and country villages along the border have been caught in the crossfire, and many are desperately trying to escape. More than 4,000 people have been evacuated, Kharkiv’s governor said on Sunday morning. Some of them were extracted with their pets. Others have been taken out on stretchers.

All day Saturday, small vans and even bright yellow school buses rumbled over deeply cratered roads littered with bomb shrapnel to rescue people who were trapped in towns that had come under intense shelling.

On Sunday, people who had evacuated were pleading with their loved ones still in the border villages to leave.

Svitlana Nahorna said her husband was trapped in Bilyi Kolodiaz, a small village northeast of Kharkiv.

“I’ve been pleading with him to leave, but he refused,” she said in a sheltered for displaced people in Kharkiv. “We’re afraid whether it’s even possible to get him out now.”

Military analysts believe that the Russians launched this attack to distract the thinly stretched Ukrainian forces from the contested battlefields of eastern Ukraine and force them to divert troops they cannot spare to the northeastern border area.

The Russians are also trying to carve out a buffer zone along the border to make it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to launch artillery into Russia. The Russians might also be trying to get close enough to Kharkiv to shell it and sow panic, as they did in the early days of the war in 2022, analysts say.

“The seizure of Kharkiv City most certainly is a desired operational objective for Russian forces, but not one that the Russian military appears to be pursuing in the near term,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, said in a report on Saturday.

The group said the most likely aim of the attack was to “draw Ukrainian forces from other sectors of the front while allowing Russian forces” to advance to within “artillery range of Kharkiv City.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine seemed to hit a note of increasing concern in an address on Saturday. “The focus is primarily on the front line,” he said.

Citing all of the combat engagements in eastern Ukraine, he added, “It’s extremely difficult.”

Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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