Ukraine withdraws forces around Kharkiv, Russian troops enter Vovchansk in new offensive

Russia’s new offensive gained momentum Wednesday around Ukraine’s second-largest city, the latest gutpunch for Kyiv as it struggles to contain this new front in the war following delays in crucial military aid from the United States.

Even as Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the country to reassure it of Washington’s support, Ukraine was dealt new setbacks by the advancing Russian military in the northeast.

Ukraine’s army said it had withdrawn some of its forces from more areas around the city of Kharkiv, while local officials said Russian troops had taken up positions inside the key frontline town of Vovchansk.

It’s part of a new, armored assault launched by Russia last week, which risks straining an already stretched Ukrainian army to breaking point.

Kyiv, which has been pleading for more help from the West, fears Moscow may also be massing troops for new border incursions elsewhere.

Last month, Congress approved $60 billion of military aid for Ukraine, but only after months of political wrangling and resistance by Republicans. That delay has offered the Kremlin a window for a summer offensive that was threatening to make crucial gains on the battlefield while its forces bombarded Kharkiv from the air.

A woman surveys the destruction to an apartment complex following a Russian airstrike near Kharkiv on Tuesday. Vlada Liberova / Libkos via Getty Images

Ukraine has sent reinforcements to defend the area along its northern border, from which thousands of residents have been evacuated since the assault began last Friday.

But late Tuesday it said that some troops had to withdraw.

“Due to the impact of fire and assault actions of the enemy, in order to save the lives of our servicemen and avoid losses, the units carried out a maneuver and moved to more advantageous positions,” the general staff of the Ukraine armed forces said in a Facebook post.

“The fighting continues,” it added. “Ukrainian units prevent the Russian invaders from gaining a foothold. Counterattack actions are being carried out, the enemy is under constant fire control of artillery and UAV units of the Defence Forces.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said that Russia was planning a large offensive this summer. Moscow faltered badly during the war’s opening phases, Western military analysts agree, but has since reversed that trend and strengthened its position.

It was unclear whether the new northeastern thrust was Russia’s main effort or an attempt to draw Ukraine’s beleaguered forces away from other flashpoint areas in the south and east.

Aftermath of multiple Russian attacks on Kharkiv
A woman looks out from a damaged apartment following a Russian missile attack on Tuesday as Kharkiv faces heavy bombardment. Anadolu via Getty Images

In Vovchansk, 3 miles from the Russian border, the city’s police chief Oleksii Kharkivskyy posted a video in which heavy fighting could be heard nearby. “The situation is extremely difficult,” he said. “The enemy is taking positions on the streets.”

More than 7,500 people from nearby border areas had been evacuated, local officials said.

While that fighting raged in the northeast, back in the capital, Kyiv, Blinken was attempting to reassure his Ukrainian counterparts.

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