Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

Ukraine Steps Up Calls for Evacuation of Northeast Town Under Relentless Russian Shelling

Ukrainian authorities over the weekend stepped up calls for civilians to evacuate Kupiansk, a town just miles from the front line in the Kharkiv region of northeast Ukraine that has come under relentless Russian shelling.

Kupiansk lies around 65 miles southeast of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, which fell under Russian occupation in the early days of the war. The city was retaken by Ukrainian forces in September in a rapid counteroffensive that drove back Russian forces from much of the region and helped shift the momentum of the conflict in Ukraine’s favor.

Since then, Kupiansk and nearby villages have been the subject of frequent Russian shelling, one of several current pressure points on the front line.

Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the regional military administration, said on Saturday that Kupiansk was the site of the “hottest” fighting in the province.

“Enemy forces are relentlessly trying to attack the positions of our forces. That’s why we announced mandatory evacuation,” he said on national television. “We are trying to explain this to local residents,” he said, adding that the local authorities and volunteer groups were attempting to move people to safer locations elsewhere in the Kharkiv region.

The State of the War

While the battered city of Bakhmut, around 80 miles southeast of Kupiansk, has for months been the epicenter of a Russian offensive that is focused on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, Moscow has stepped up its artillery barrages along multiple points of the front line. Ukrainian authorities have for days been reporting intensified shelling in the Kharkiv region as well as further south.

In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine named the Kharkiv region as one of several places experiencing “brutal” attacks “every day, every night.”

“In less than two and a half months, over forty enemy missiles have already struck Kharkiv,” he said, speaking of the city of Kharkiv, the regional capital. He said that Russia was using all sorts of weapons — “missiles and artillery, drones and mortars” — with a singular goal. “To destroy life and leave nothing human.”

Mr. Zelensky also singled out the cities of the Donbas region, which he said “Russia simply wants to burn.”

Military analysts say that, while Russia has made few concrete territorial gains in its Donbas offensive, it has succeeded in making it impossible for Ukraine to restore everyday life in areas that it had reclaimed. Land mines laid by retreating Russian soldiers are also a problem for civilians in the Kharkiv region.

On the eastern front, Russia attacked positions including those near Bakhmut and Lyman, the Ukrainian military said in its morning update on Sunday. Ukrainian forces “repelled” 92 attacks in those regions.

In Bakhmut, where Russian forces have taken control of most of the city’s east in recent days, the grinding nature of the battle there was evident again on Saturday, when the Russians failed to make any advances to the west, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group.

Elsewhere, Russian attacks in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region killed at least three civilians and wounded three others on Saturday, according to Ukrainian officials. Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the regional military administration, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that Russia had fired 156 shells over the past day on the region. Russian strikes on the southern city of Zaporizhia also damaged an industrial facility and gas line.

“Russian shelling took the lives of people in Kherson who simply went to a store to buy groceries,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly address. “In Zaporizhzhia, a Russian missile hit the city’s life support facility,” he added, without providing details.

Ukrainian officials and military analysts have suggested that the Zaporizhzhia region could be the focus of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive in the coming weeks as part of an attempt by Kyiv’s forces to move toward the Russian-held port city of Melitopol.

Anticipating such a move, “Russian forces continue to establish fortifications in Zaporizhzhia,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, which it said was likely an attempt to better secure highways leading into Tokmak, a logistics hub near Melitopol, according to the I.S.W.

Capturing territory around Melitopol could allow Ukrainian forces to sever a Russian line of control that extends from the Crimean Peninsula to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

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