Ukraine wages difficult border campaign even after securing more military aid

By Thomson Reuters May 12, 2024 | 11:47 AM

By Vitalii Hnidyi

NEAR VOVCHANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Weeks after securing the boost of a $60 billion U.S. aid package, Ukraine is waging a tough new battle on its border, fending off a heavy Russian bombardment of northeastern Kharkiv region in an assault that will stretch Kyiv’s manpower.

Russian forces smashed through the border into Kharkiv region on Friday, threatening to open a new front in the 27-month war that has long been waged in the south and east and the Russian military says it has seized control of at least nine villages. Kyiv said it was repelling the attacks and battling for control of the settlements.

Ukraine’s chief commander, Oleksander Syrskyi, said on Sunday his forces were doing all they could to hold the line.

“Units of the Defense Forces are fighting fierce defensive battles, the attempts of the Russian invaders to break through our defenses have been stopped,” Syrskyi wrote on the Telegram app.

“The situation is difficult, but the Defense Forces of Ukraine are doing everything to hold defensive lines and positions, (and) inflict damage on the enemy,” he added.

Ukraine is currently on the defensive after months of slowed supplies of U.S. munitions. Russia’s forces hold a significant advantage in manpower and munitions.

Military spokesperson Nazar Voloshyn said on Ukrainian television the main thrusts of Russia’s attack were aimed at the towns of Vovchansk and Lyptsi. Lyptsi is 20 km (12 miles) from the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Soldiers returning from a combat mission told Reuters fighting had reached the outskirts of Vovchansk.

“They (Russians) were pushing us harder. Their tank arrived and the Russian assault began. Our boys got surrounded. We helped them,” said a soldier with the call sign Horets.

Battles, he said, were “on the outskirts of town. Not inside the town. The town is ours. They are biting on the outskirts, but we are biting back. And we will bite for every metre.”

In 2022, soon after the start of their full-scale invasion, Russian forces reached the suburbs of the city of Kharkiv before being driven back to the border.

Spokesperson Voloshyn said Russia was waging an information campaign to sow panic alongside its military assault.

“The population should remain calm… the defence forces are holding (the lines), the situation is under control,” the spokesperson said.


Kyiv says months of delays by the U.S. Congress before voting through the massive aid package last month have cost it on the battlefield. It now hopes significant quantities of the newly approved assistance will arrive quickly to shore up the defence effort.

In an interview published on Friday, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, General Oleskander Pavliuk, said he expected the 26-month-old war to enter a critical phase in the next two months as Moscow tries to exploit delays in supplying weapons to Kyiv.

On the other side of the border in Belgorod region a whole section of a Russian apartment block collapsed, killing several people, after it was struck by a Soviet-era missile launched by Ukraine and shot down by Russia, Russian officials said on Sunday.

Kyiv made no comment, but its forces have stepped up attacks recently on Belgorod as part of what it sees as a drive to free all its territory from Russian control.

In response to Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod, President Vladimir Putin suggested in March that Moscow could try to establish a buffer zone inside Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Vitalii Hnydyi and Max Hunder; Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Jan Harvey and Frances Kerry)