Ukraine Retakes Villages Near Kharkiv, Easing Pressure on Battered City

Ukraine’s military has reclaimed two communities near the city of Kharkiv from pro-Russian rebels, easing pressure on a battered city. The rebel forces in eastern Ukraine have been plunging deeper into Ukrainian territory this week, and as they began to encircle the area around Kharkiv last night, leaders asked for international aid to avoid further civilian casualties

Ukraine Retakes Villages Near Kharkiv, Easing Pressure on Battered City. The Ukraine government has retaken several villages near the city of Kharkiv from pro-Russian separatists in a significant victory for Kiev and its military campaign.

KHARKIV (Ukraine) – Ukrainian forces are driving Russian soldiers out of a series of towns used to attack Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, reclaiming vital ground that might derail Russia’s plan to seize the eastern Donbas area.

The latest Ukrainian wins to the north and northeast of Kharkiv built on prior victories in driving Russia’s forces out of the city’s immediate vicinity, a key industrial and transportation center with a prewar population of 1.4 million people.

Another defeat for Russia occurred on Wednesday, when the European Union suggested an embargo on Russian crude and processed oil products, as well as penalties on Russian military officers accused of war crimes by EU authorities. Europe stocked up on oil and natural gas in anticipation of harsher restrictions. Brent oil futures for July delivery rose $5.17 a barrel to $110.14 on Wednesday, up 4.93 percent.

The European Union suggested a six-month embargo on Russian oil, while Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of violating a Mariupol cease-fire. Julien Warnand/Shutterstock photo

According to villagers and the Ukrainian military, Ukrainian soldiers occupied the town of Ruska Lozova just north of Kharkiv on Friday. In the days that followed, a different group pushing northeast drove Russian soldiers out of Kutuzivka. According to Ukrainian authorities, the gang has already arrived in Staryi Saltiv, around 25 kilometres distant. Continuing the onslaught east of Staryi Saltiv would jeopardize Russian supply lines to Izyum, the staging area for Moscow’s primary military operation in Donbas.

While some Russian soldiers remain on the outskirts of Kharkiv, these offensives have resulted in a significant reduction in city bombardment, according to Oleh Synehubov, the military-civilian administrator for the Kharkiv area. According to him, the number of Russian shelling and rocket assaults on Kharkiv has dropped to between two and five per day in the last week, down from between 50 and 80 before.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces’ effective operation in the city’s north has driven the enemy out.” It is now out of range to attack the metropolis in various regions,” Mr. Synehubov stated. “As a result of this operation, the enemy’s fire is now focused on our military forces’ positions rather than the calm citizens of Kharkiv.”

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Two months of Russian bombardment have wreaked havoc on Kharkiv’s northern districts.

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Lieutenant Colonel Vito, deputy leader of the Ukrainian military intelligence unit that conducted the operation to recapture Ruska Lozova, north of Kharkiv.

Questions concerning the state of the villages around Kharkiv and Moscow’s plan in and around the northeastern metropolis were not answered by the Russian Defense Ministry An anonymous interview with a guy claiming to be from one of those towns broadcast on Russian official television, in which he said Russian forces were never there in the first place.

Russian shells, rockets, and missiles demolished Kharkiv’s northern districts in the last two months, rendering more than 2,000 high-rises unusable throughout the city, according to the mayor. Residents in the worst-affected regions, such as Saltivka, were forced to cook on open fires in courtyards during lulls in bombardment and spent weeks trapped in basements without electricity or water.

Despite ongoing Russian bombardment, inhabitants of the city have returned to the streets. A few restaurants and coffee shops have reopened, and traffic has begun to flow on routes that have been abandoned since the conflict started.

“Now that things have settled down in the city, spring has arrived, the weather is good, the sun is shining, and people want to eat out again,” said Stanislav Lubimsky, who reopened his downtown Pizzeria 22 on Monday. “Let’s hope things settle down and continue in this direction, toward triumph.”

According to Ukrainian authorities, just one axis of the original Russian advance, which ended at the town of Tsyrkuny, remains in the near neighborhood of the city. Ukrainian gains in Ruska Lozova to the west and Kutuzivka to the east are putting these positions under growing pressure.

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After escaping to neighboring Kharkiv, a lady from the town of Ruska Lozova.

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Another resident of Ruska Lozova, Nina Lavrova, stated her son Serhiy had gone missing after being captured by Russian authorities.

Ruska Lozova, located on the key route between Kharkiv and Belgorod, was seized by Russian troops shortly after the conflict started on February 24. Residents claim that the 5,000-person community was blocked off from Kharkiv and the rest of Ukraine for two months and placed under strict military administration. Cellphone service was disrupted, food was scarce, and power was lost.

Serhiy Shumov, 39, says he weighed 212 pounds before the war and worked at a neighboring sausage factory that he claims was plundered by the Russians. He weighed 165 pounds when he escaped Ruska Lozova to Kharkiv on Friday. “For two months, there was nothing to eat, and everyone was simply scavenging for anything they could find,” he claimed.

Residents stated that a series of Russian soldiers passed through Ruska Lozova, including regular Russian troops of various units and then badly trained recruits from Russian-controlled statelets in Donbas who emerged in tracksuits and tattered shoes. The Russians did not steal from occupied dwellings while checking occupants’ homes and phones. Those left behind by inhabitants were a different story.

“They took anything they could from these abandoned houses, including gadgets, television sets, and even half-empty perfume bottles.” They were saying things like, ‘We’re going on rotation shortly, and we need to bring presents,’” said Vadim Zhirnovnikov, a 52-year-old truck driver who evacuated Ruska Lozova for Kharkiv on Sunday due to Russian shelling.

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On Tuesday, a Russian missile assault struck a Kharkiv amusement park.

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On Wednesday, a Ukrainian ambulance and military personnel were seen in northern Kharkiv.

Many ethnic Russians live in the area, which is 13 kilometers from the Russian border crossing. Mr. Shumov estimates about half of the populace supported Moscow before the conflict. According to Mr. Shumov and Ukrainian military officers, some people, including the mayor, opted to work with the Russians when they invaded.

“Understand, the Russian troops are decent people, cooperate with them,” Mr. Shumov recalled the mayor urged residents when the occupation started. Mr. Shumov recalls a bearded Russian officer urging villagers to migrate to Russia at another meeting. “We will soon free Kharkiv, so please flee to Russia in the interim because these Ukrainian Nazis will fire at you and burn your vehicles,” he said.

Mr. Synehubov, the regional administration’s chief, declined to comment on Ruska Lozova’s mayor, but stated that Ukrainian law enforcement is looking into all allegations of abetting the enemy. “We know there has been some participation, especially by certain persons who have had roles in local government bodies,” he added.

On April 15, with hunger pressing on Ruska Lozova under occupation, 25 locals attempted to attack a neighboring huge chicken farm for meat, according to Nina Lavrova, whose son Serhiy was among the men. Russian troops apprehended and imprisoned the trespassers. Ms. Lavrova said that one of the villagers who was held with her son and subsequently returned to the hamlet informed her that Serhiy had been forced to work for Russian military near Belgorod.

“I have no idea where he is, and he has no idea where I am,” Ms. Lavrova, who arrived in Kharkiv on Monday, said.

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On Wednesday, a lady in Kharkiv responded to nearby shelling.

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Last week, artillery damage was reported in a community in the Zaporizhzhia area of southeastern Ukraine.

Mr. Shumov’s father-in-law, who vanished on March 24, is among the inhabitants of Ruska Lozova who have gone missing. “He just stepped out into the street and disappeared.” Mr. Shumov said, “No one knows where he is.”

People and authorities reported that by the time Ukrainian troops launched the assault to recover Ruska Lozova last week, more than half of the village’s residents had fled to Russia, including the majority of the collaborators.

“The pro-Ukrainian people have stayed,” said Lt. Col. Vito, deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence’s Kraken unit, which led the retaking of Ruska Lozova. He, like other military personnel, is only authorized to use his call sign to identify himself.

According to peasants, the decision to go to Russia was not necessarily political. Some of individuals who first fled to Russia have now made their way to Poland or Germany to wait out the conflict through Lithuania.

Lt. Col. Vito claimed that as Ukrainian troops drove into Ruska Lozova on Friday, Ukrainian artillery first pounded Russian positions in and around the hamlet, then infantry went in from three directions. “The surprise of the strike was the most crucial thing,” he stated. “The adversary fought back, and they were defeated. Some have managed to flee, while others have stayed there indefinitely.” According to him, his squad captured three Russians in the hamlet.

Mr. Shumov said that his 13-year-old twin kids went up to him that day and informed him that the soldiers on the streets were dressed in Ukrainian military uniforms. “When they saw our men, they wept with joy,” he claimed.

In the hours after Russia opened fire on the hamlet, burning numerous homes on Mr. Shumov’s street, Ukrainian soldiers concentrated on evacuating the majority of the surviving people to the relative safety of Kharkiv. On the first day, hundreds of people departed in a convoy of minibuses, being lodged by Kharkiv officials in a hostel on the city’s southern outskirts. Others continue to pour out every day, taking advantage of Russian shelling pauses. Journalists are not permitted to visit the village.

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On Wednesday, a Ukrainian serviceman enters a damaged schoolroom in northern Kharkiv.

The Wall Street Journal/Manu Brabo photo

Arrivals from newly retaken territories are scrutinized for accomplices by Ukrainian authorities. Security authorities urged soldiers at a checkpoint heading out of Ruska Lozova, on a road strewn with burnt rubble, to hold and transport anybody discovered with images of Ukrainian positions or recent calls to Russian numbers on their phones for questioning.

Vera Nikitichna, 70, said she spent Friday in the cellar with her husband, Fedor, as the village shook under Russian bombardment. Then, in her courtyard, Ukrainian troops came. “They told me to get out of here as soon as possible because it was going to be a nightmare,” she recounted. Her 80-year-old husband refused to go, claiming he had to finish planting potatoes in their garden. They were separated in the rush, and Ms. Nikitichna now spends her days waiting for news from other villagers arriving from Ruska Lozova outside the dormitory in Kharkiv. Cellphones are still unusable there. She believes her spouse believes she has dead and is seeking for her corpse.

“We used to live in peace and never touched anybody.” “And now we’re impoverished and homeless in our senior years, when no one wants us,” she said. She never imagined the Russians would destroy her village. “Why did they have to come?” she wondered.

—This article was co-written by Thomas Grove.

Yaroslav Trofimov may be reached at [email protected]

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