Amid renewed assault, Russia ‘captures’ five villages in northeast Ukraine

The Russian forces captured five villages after launching fresh ground assault in north-eastern Ukraine, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Firefighters work at a site of a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 10, 2024. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/File Photo(REUTERS)

However, the Ukrainian officials did not confirm whether Russia had taken the villages, which lie in a contested “grey zone” on the border of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region and Russia.

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Al Jazeera reported, citing several Ukrainian journalists who said that the villages of Borysivka, Ohirtseve, Pylna and Strilecha were taken by Russian troops on Friday.

Russia claimed that the village of Pletenivka was also taken.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday evening (local time) that fighting was continuing in Strilecha and Pletenivka, as well as Krasne, Morokhovets, Oliinykove, Lukyantsi and Hatyshche.

“Our troops are carrying out counterattacks there for a second day, protecting Ukrainian territory,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, the Institute for the Study of War said that geolocated footage confirms at least one of the villages was seized. The Washington-based think tank described recent Russian gains as “tactically significant”.

The renewed assault on the region has forced more than 1,700 civilians residing in settlements near the fighting to flee, according to Ukrainian authorities.

It comes after Russia stepped up attacks in March targeting energy infrastructure and settlements, which analysts predicted were a concerted effort by Moscow to shape conditions for an offensive.

On Saturday, Russia continued to pummel Vovchansk with air raids and rockets as police and volunteers raced to evacuate residents. At least 20 people were evacuated to safety in a nearby village. Local police said that 900 people had been evacuated the previous day.

Russia’s recent push in Kharkiv seeks to exploit the shortage of ammunition faced by Ukraine, before promised Western supplies can reach the front line and pin down Ukrainian forces in the northeast and keep them away from heavy battles underway in the Donetsk region, where Moscow’s troops are gaining ground, Al Jazeera reported, citing several analysts.

Several Russian military bloggers have said that renewed Russian assaults could mark the start of Moscow’s attempt to carve out a “buffer zone” that President Vladimir Putin pledged to create earlier this year to halt frequent Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod and other Russian border regions.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have downplayed Russian statements about captured territory, with reinforcements being rushed to the Kharkiv region to hold off Russian forces.

Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram that heavy fighting continued in the areas around Borysivka, Ohirtseve, Pylna and Oliinykove, but that the situation was “under control” and there was “no threat of a ground assault” on the city of Kharkiv.

More than 30 different towns and villages in the region were hit by artillery, mortar and aerial bombardments on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring five others, Syniehubov said.

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