Residents of northeast Ukraine flee latest Russian advance | CBC News

Only a few hundred residents remain in the embattled town of Vovchansk in northeast Ukraine, where Kyiv’s troops are locked in intense battles with the Russian army, according to local officials on Monday.

The town, whose pre-war population of 17,000 had dwindled to just 2,500 before Russia renewed its ground assault last week, has emerged as focus point as pitched battles engulf the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

Ukrainian local officials said they feared Vovchansk’s fate may mirror that of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, Ukrainian cities where fierce fighting and scorched earth tactics forced Ukrainian withdrawals. Only 200-300 people remain in the town, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Suniehubov said, as Moscow’s troops advance in an effort to surround it from three directions.

Poorly built fortifications and enduring ammunition shortages enabled Russia’s sweeping advance in the area last week, local officials and soldiers said.

In the span of two days, Moscow has captured some 106 square kilometres and at least seven villages, most of them already depopulated, according to the open source monitoring project DeepState.

It is a significant advance that could pin Ukrainian forces in the northeast while heavy fighting continues in the Donetsk region.

Ukrainian troops were still locked in pitched battles in both regions, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. Fighting is taking place near the border in eastern and northeastern Ukraine as outgunned and outnumbered Ukrainian soldiers try to hold back a significant Russian ground offensive.

“Defensive battles are ongoing, fierce battles, on a large part of our border area,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Sunday.

WATCH | Fully subterranean ‘bunker school’ opens in Kharkiv: 

Fully subterranean ‘bunker school’ opens in Kharkiv

The first of its kind in Ukraine, an underground school in Kharkiv, Ukraine, is opening its doors for 900 students split into two shifts. Parents and staff are hoping the facility, dug six metres underground, will protect the children from frequent missile and drone attacks in the area while allowing them to regain a piece of their childhood. Many have been separated from their friends and forced into online learning since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

The Kremlin’s forces are aiming to exploit Ukrainian weaknesses before a big batch of new military aid for Kyiv from the U.S. and European partners arrives on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months, analysts say. That makes this period a window of opportunity for Moscow and one of the most dangerous for Kyiv in the two-year war, they say. It is unclear what of the promised aid has arrived to Ukraine.

A Ukrainian soldier wearing a camouflage uniform washes his face from a bottle of water.
A Ukrainian serviceman washes his face after evacuating a wounded counterpart from the front line, near the town of Vovchansk, on Sunday. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)

The new Russian push in the northeastern Kharkiv region, along with the ongoing drive into the eastern Donetsk region, come after months when the roughly 1,000-kilometre front line barely budged. In the meantime, both sides have used long-range strikes to pursue what became largely a war of attrition.

Ukraine’s general staff said late Sunday that Russian forces had conducted at least 22 attacks over the previous 24 hours in two parts of the Kharkiv region and had “tactical success.” The statement did not elaborate.

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