KHARKIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian forces are expelling Russian forces from a series of villages that used to strike Kharkiv, the country’s second most populous city, to restore strategic terrain that could deteriorate Russia’s bid to conquer the eastern Donbass region.
Recent Ukrainian gains, in north and northeastern Kharkiv, build on previous successes in influence the Russian army An immediate suburb of the city, it was a major industrial and transportation center with a pre-war population of 1.4 million.
Another setback for Russia came when the European Union proposed on Wednesday Ban on Russian crude and refining petroleum products, and prepared to impose sanctions on Russian military figures whom European Union officials accuse of war crimes. With the tightening of suspended restrictions, Europe is stocked on oil and natural gas. And Brent crude futures for July delivery on Wednesday rose $5.17 a barrel, or 4.93 percent, to $110.14.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces on Friday captured the village of Ruska Lozova north of Kharkiv, according to residents and the Ukrainian army. In the following days, a separate group pressing on the north-east expelled the Russian troops from the village of Kotuzhevka. Ukrainian officials said the group has now reached the town of Stary Saltyev, about 25 miles away. Continuing the offensive in the far eastern Stari Saltyev would threaten Russian supply lines towards Izyum, the starting point for Moscow’s main military effort. To seize the Donbass.
While some Russian units remain on the outskirts of Kharkiv, these attacks significantly reduced the bombing of the city, said Oleh Sinihopov, head of the military and civil administration of the Kharkiv region. The number of Russian shells and Rocket attacks on Kharkiv In the past week it’s down to between two and five times a day, he said, from between 50 and 80 before that time.
The successful offensive of the Ukrainian armed forces in the north of the city forced the enemy to turn away. “In several areas, hitting the city is now out of range,” said Mr. Senhopov. “Because of this process, enemy fire is no longer focused on the peaceful residents of Kharkiv, but on the positions of our armed forces.”
The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to questions about the status of villages near Kharkiv or Moscow’s strategy in and around the northeastern city. Russian state media broadcast an anonymous interview with a man allegedly from one of those villages in which he said that the Russian forces were not present in the first place.
The northern neighborhoods of Kharkiv have been devastated in the past two months by Russian shells, missiles and rockets, with more than 2,000 high-rise buildings rendered uninhabitable across the city, according to the municipality. Residents in the worst-hit areas, such as Saltivka, spent weeks stuck in basements without electricity and water, and forced to cook over open fires in yards during lulls in the bombing.
In spite of Russian attacks continueAnd the townspeople reappeared on the streets. A few restaurants and cafes have reopened with traffic on some roads that were deserted since the war began.
“Spring has come, the weather is nice, the sun is shining, and people want to eat out again now that things have calmed down in the city,” said Stanislav Lubemsky, who reopened Pizza 22 downtown on Monday. “Let’s hope everything stabilizes and continues like this, towards victory.”
Ukrainian officials say only one axis of the initial Russian advance, which ended in the village of Tsyrkuny, remains in the immediate vicinity of the city. These positions are increasingly threatened by Ukrainian advances at Ruska Lozova to the west and Kutuzevka to the east.
Russian troops occupied Ruska Lozova, which is located on the main highway from Kharkiv to the Russian city of Belgorod, immediately after the start of the war on February 24. For two months, the village of 5,000 people was cut off from Kharkiv and the rest in Ukraine, and subjected to harsh military rule, residents say. Mobile phone coverage has been disrupted, food supplies are cut off and electricity is gone.
Serhiy Shumov, 39, who before the war worked at a nearby sausage factory that has been ransacked by the Russians since then, said he weighed 212 pounds before the war. By the time he fled Ruska Lozova to Kharkiv on Friday, he was 165 pounds. “There was nothing to eat for two months, everyone was just looking for whatever they could find,” he said.
A series of Russian troops rotated through Ruska Lozova – regular Russian troops from different units, then poorly trained conscripts from Russia-controlled states in Donbass who appeared in ripped tracksuits and sneakers, residents said. While the Russians were checking residents’ homes and their phones, they did not steal inhabited homes. The ones left by the residents were another matter.
They took everything they could from these empty houses: electronics, televisions, and even half-empty perfume bottles. “They were saying, ‘We’re going home in turns soon, we need to bring gifts,'” said Vadim Zhirnovnikov, a 52-year-old truck driver who left Ruska Lozova for Kharkiv on Sunday because of the continuing Russian bombing there.
The village is located 13 miles from the border crossing with Russia, and is home to many Russians. Mr. Shumov said perhaps half the population was sympathetic to Moscow before the war. Mr. Shumov and Ukrainian military officials say some, including the mayor, chose to cooperate with the Russians when they invaded.
When the occupation began, Mr. Shumov said the mayor told the villagers, “Understand, the Russian soldiers are good people, work with them.” At another gathering, a bearded Russian commander urged residents to move to Russia, Mr. Shumov recalled. “Tell us: we will liberate Kharkiv soon, so in the meantime please go to Russia because these Ukrainian Nazis will shoot you and burn your cars.”
Senhopov, head of the regional administration, did not comment on Mayor Ruska Lozova, but said that Ukrainian law enforcement authorities are investigating all alleged cases of enemy incitement. “We know that some cooperation has taken place, including by some people who have held positions in local government authorities,” he said.
As hunger continued in Ruska Lozova under occupation, 25 villagers attempted to raid the nearby giant chicken farm for some meat on April 15, said Nina Lavrova, 63, whose son Serhiy was among the men. And the Russian forces arrested the intruders and detained them. Ms. Lavrova said that a villager who was detained with her son and later returned to the village told her that Serhiy had been subjected to forced labor for Russian forces somewhere near Belgorod.
“I don’t know where he is and he doesn’t know where I am,” said Ms. Lavrova, who arrived in Kharkiv on Monday.
It includes the long list of villagers of Ruska Lozova who also lost the father-in-law of Mr. Shumov, who disappeared on March 24. “He just went out into the street and disappeared. Nobody knows where he is,” said Mr. Shumov.
More than half of Ruska Lozova’s residents, including most of the collaborators, had fled the village to Russia by the time Ukrainian forces began the operation to retake it last week, residents and officials said.
“The people remained pro-Ukrainian,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Vito, deputy commander of the Kraken unit of Ukrainian military intelligence that led the operation to retake Ruska Lozova. Like other military officials, he was only allowed to identify himself with his call sign.
The villagers say the choice to withdraw to Russia was not always political. Some of those who initially fled to Russia have since managed to move through Lithuania, traveling to Wait for the war in Poland to end or Germany.
Lieutenant Colonel Vito said that when Ukrainian forces moved into Ruska Lozova on Friday, Ukrainian artillery initially bombed Russian positions in and around the village, then the infantry moved from three directions. “The most important thing was the surprise of the attack,” he said. The enemy resisted and they were eliminated. Some managed to retreat, and some stayed there forever.” He said that his unit held three Russian prisoners in the village.
Mr. Shumov said that his two sons, 13-year-old twins, ran to him that day to say that troops in the streets were dressed in split Ukrainian uniforms. He said, “People cried with joy when they saw our soldiers.”
When Russia fired on the village in the following hours, destroying several houses on Mr. Shumov Street, Ukrainian forces focused on evacuating most of the remaining civilians to a relatively safe area in Kharkiv. Hundreds left in a convoy of minibuses on the first day, housed by the Kharkiv authorities in a dormitory on the southern edge of the city. Others continue to flee each day, taking advantage of the pause in Russian bombing. The village remains off-limits to journalists.
Arrivals from recently retaken areas are checked by the Ukrainian authorities for collaborators. At a checkpoint outside Ruska Lozova, on a road littered with charred debris, security officials instructed troops to detain and send anyone with photos of Ukrainian websites or phone calls with Russian numbers on their phones for interrogation.
Vera Nikitchna, 70, said she spent Friday with her husband Fedor in the basement as the village shook under Russian bombardment. Then Ukrainian soldiers appeared in her yard. “They said, ‘Get out of here quickly, there will be a nightmare here soon,'” she recalls. Her husband, 80, refused to leave, saying he needed to finish planting potatoes in their garden. In a hurry, they are separated and Miss Nikitichna spends her days standing outside the dormitory in Kharkiv, waiting for news from the other villagers who have arrived from Ruska Lozova. Cell phones still don’t work there. She said her husband most likely thinks she is dead and is looking for her body.
We were living peacefully, we didn’t touch anyone. And now we are bankrupt and homeless in our old age, when no one needs us. She never imagined that her village would be destroyed by the Russians. “Why the hell did they have to come?” She said.
— Thomas Grove contributed to this article.
write to Yaroslav Trofimov at [email protected]
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