Russian forces bear down on Ukraine border town in Kharkiv region

By Vitalii Hnidyi

NEAR VOVCHANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russian forces attacking Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region were engaged in fighting on the outskirts of the border town of Vovchansk, Kyiv's troops said on Sunday, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described heavy fighting there and in the east.

Moscow troops entered into the Kharkiv region on Friday, opening a northeastern front in the 27-month war that has long been waged in the south and east. Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, is 30 km (18 miles) from the Russian border.

Soldiers returning from a combat mission in the area said the fighting had reached the edges of Vovchansk, a town around 4 km from the border and 45 km from Kharkiv city, describing helping some troops break out of Russian encirclement.

"The town is ours. They (the Russians) are biting on the outskirts, but we are biting back. And we will bite for every metre," said a Ukrainian soldier.

"Our boys got surrounded. We helped them. They got out and set up a defensive line along the street, inflicting considerable losses to enemy infantry."

In a post-midnight report, Ukraine's General Staff said Russian forces had achieved "tactical success" with 14 of 22 attempted advances in the area still proceeding.

Fighting was raging around Vovchansk, it said, with Russian forces "deploying significant forces for its attack on the town". But it said Russian troops were "taking no account of their own losses", with at least 100 reported dead.

The Russian military says it has seized control of at least nine border villages in the Kharkiv region. Kyiv says it is repelling the attacks and battling to control the settlements.

Several Russian media outlets, including Mash and Readovka, reported that Moscow's troops had entered Vovchansk.

The main thrusts of Russia's attack were aimed at Vovchansk and the town of Lyptsi around 7.5 km from the border and some 20 km (12 miles) from the city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian military spokesperson Nazar Voloshyn said.

Tamaz Gambarashvili, head of Vovchansk's military administration, told Reuters the town remained under Ukrainian control after its soldiers turned back small groups of Russians.

Russian drones, he said, were "constantly above Vovchansk".

Kharkiv regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said Russian forces were "intensifying their shelling of Vovchansk". Nearly 6,000 residents had been evacuated from the area, he said.


Volunteers in flak jackets and helmets raced through village neighbourhoods, pleading with residents in damaged homes to pack up a handful of possessions and leave for evacuation points.

Evacuee Kostiantyn Tymchenko said fighting was raging 500 metres from his house, with Russian troops on the opposite bank of the Vovcha River.

"Ukrainian tanks roll in, shoot and roll out. On the other side there is shouting all the time," he told Reuters.

Despite the constant explosions nearby, some elderly residents were reluctant to go. Others were sluggish in preparing, despite urging from volunteers.

One man was brought in to an evacuation point with torn-off fingers, an incident medics said occurred after Russian forces shot him as he was leaving his house. As medics attended to his wounds, the man said "What did I do to deserve this?'"

Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address, said "defensive battles" had engulfed a string of Kharkiv region villages.

Fighting, he said, was "no less acute" in the Donetsk region.

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

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.

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

On the other side of the border in the Belgorod region a whole section of a Russian apartment block collapsed, killing at least 13 people, after it was struck by a missile launched by Ukraine and shot down by Russia, Russian officials said.

Kyiv did not immediately comment.

(Reporting by Vitalii Hnydyi and Max HunderWriting by Ron PopeskiEditing by Jan Harvey, Frances Kerry, Tom Balmforth and Diane Craft)