Russia captures Ukrainian villages as ground assault continues

Tetiana, 82, cries with her daughter as she is evacuated from Vovchansk, Ukraine. Credit: AP

Kremlin forces captured five villages in a renewed ground assault in northeastern Ukraine, the Russian Defence Ministry said on Saturday.

Russia had hit the city of Vovchansk with airstrikes and Grad rockets as police and volunteers raced to evacuate residents.

Valentyna reacts before leaving her home during evacuation to Kharkiv, in Vovchansk. Credit: AP

At least 20 people were evacuated to safety in a nearby village. Police said that 900 people had been evacuated the previous day.

Vera Rudko, 72, was among those forced to leave.

“We drove through Vovchansk in the city centre,” Ms Rudko said. “I can’t look at this without tears. Everything is trembling. We didn’t sleep these two nights at all.”

Ukrainian officials didn't confirm whether Russian had taken the villages, which lie in a contested “grey zone” on the border of Ukraine's Kharkiv region and Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said fighting was still ongoing in the settlements of Strilecha and Pletenivka, as well as Krasne, Morokhovets, Oliinykove, Lukyantsi and Hatyshche in a statement on Saturday evening.

“Our troops are carrying out counterattacks there for a second day, protecting Ukrainian territory,” he said.

Local residents save their belongings after their house was hit by a Russian airstrike in Vovchansk, Ukraine. Credit: AP

The Institute for the Study of War said on Friday that geolocated footage confirms at least one of the villages was seized. The Washington-based think tank described recent Russian gains as “tactically significant.”

The renewed assault on the region has forced more than 1,700 civilians residing in settlements near the fighting to flee, according to Ukrainian authorities.

The escalation in the offensive comes after Russia stepped up attacks in March targeting energy infrastructure and settlements, which analysts predicted were a concerted effort by Moscow to shape conditions for an offensive.

Fighting has continued across Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, six years after Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine were invaded and later annexed.

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