Ukrainian forces are retaking villages near Kharkiv to ease pressure on the battered northeastern city, the country’s second-most populous. Kharkiv had a pre-war population of 1.4 million, but Russia has consistently used the nearby villages to launch attacks on the industrial and transportation hub.
Ukraine has retaken towns to the north and northeast of Kharkiv, forcing Russian troops out of the city’s outskirts.
Last Friday, Ukraine retook the village of Ruska Lozova just north of Kharkiv. Over the following days, a separate group of Ukrainian forces forced Russian troops out of the northeastern village of Kutuzivka. That group has now reportedly pushed Russian forces some 25 miles away, reaching the village of Staryi Saltiv.
The group could begin pressing farther east of Staryi Saltiv, threatening Russian supply lines toward Izyum, the base for Moscow’s main military effort to seize the Donbas region.
The offensive push has led to a significant decrease in the number of shellings and rocket attacks on Kharkiv, even though some Russian troops remain on the edges of the city, said Oleh Synehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region’s military-civilian administration.
Synehubov said that attacks on Kharkiv have fallen from between 50 and 80 daily to between two and five a day.
“The successful offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the north of the city has forced the enemy away. In several areas, it is now out of range to strike the city,” Synehubov said. “Because of this operation, the enemy’s fire is no longer concentrated on the peaceful residents of Kharkiv but on the positions of our armed forces.”
In the past two months, Kharkiv’s northern neighborhoods were bombarded by Russian shelling and rocket attacks from nearby villages. More than 2,000 high-rise buildings in the city are now uninhabitable.
Residents in the city’s most-affected neighborhoods, such as Saltivka, spent weeks hiding in their basements without power and water, forced to wait for lulls in the shellings to go to courtyards and use open fires to cook.
Russia’s defense ministry has not made an official statement on the status of the villages near Kharkiv or about Moscow’s current strategy in and around the city. However, the WSJ reports that Russian state media aired an interview whose subject implied Russia’s troops had never occupied the recently-retaken villages.
Nevertheless, Kharkiv residents have begun re-emerging from their shelters. Some restaurants and cafes have reopened, and traffic has resumed on roads deserted since the beginning of the war.
“Springtime 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 Lubimsky, who reopened his downtown pizzeria on Monday. “Let’s hope everything stabilizes and continues like this, toward victory.”