Russia intensifies attacks around Kharkiv as Blinken visits Kyiv

Russia intensifies attacks around Kharkiv as Blinken visits Kyiv

Ukraine expects Russia to throw as many of its resources as possible at an attack around Kharkiv as Kyiv’s forces are “on the edge” given how they are outgunned by Moscow’s troops.

Spy chief General Kyrylo Budanov said the situation was “on the edge” and the assult by Putin’s forces is intended to exhaust Kyiv’s thin reserves across the frontline.

Russian troops have captured at least six villages in the region over the region in the last week after storming the northeasten border area as thousands of residents were forced to flee. Gen Budanov

It comes as the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, made a surprise visit to Kyiv to reassure Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky that long delayed American military aid is on its way to Ukraine will make a “real difference” on the battlefield.

Last month, Joe Biden signed a $60bn aid package for Ukraine after months of blocking by Donald Trump-supporting parts of the Republican party. The delay in passing the package has left Ukraine’s soldiers having to ration use of shells and artillery on the frontline, creating a chance for advancement that Moscow is keen to take advantage off.

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The Kharkiv region has come under particular pressure in the last couple of weeks, with officials making clear just how stretched things are.

“All of our forces are either here [around Kharkiv] or in Chasiv Yar”, Budanov said, referring to a stronghold about 120 miles south of Kharkiv in the eastern Donetsk region, which is also under an intense assault by Russia.

A Ukrainian woman flees with her cat amid a Russian advance on Kharkiv, Ukraine, over the last few days (REUTERS)

“I’ve used everything we have. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone else in the reserves,” Gen Budanov told the New York Times, adding that he

Ukraine said up to 30,000 Russian troops were involved on the attack on Kharkiv Oblast, with around 50,000 amassed on the border.

Moscow has made clear it either wants to take Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second city – or destroy it – after its first attempt in the early stages of 2022 failed. However, Western intelligence officials claim it is unlikely Russia has built up the combat power, including tanks and artillery, needed to take the city.

Instead, defence officials in Kyiv believe the assault is intended to stretch Ukraine’s dwindling reserves across the front – with the possible creation of a buffer zone of around 15 kilometres on the Ukrainian side of the border.

Russia has also launched months of air strikes on Kharkiv city itself, the latest on Tuesday, when a strike hit a high-rise residential building, injuring at least 15 people, including two children, local officials said.

It was not immediately clear what kind of weapon was used in the strike, but it landed on the 10th floor of the 12-floor apartment block, officials said on Telegram. Ihor Terekhov, the city’s major, said rescuers were searching for the injured.

One person was taken to hospital in a serious condition, Oleh Syniehubov, the regional governor, added.

Gunners from 43rd Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire at Russian positions in Kharkiv (AFP via Getty Images)

In his evening address on Monday, Mr Zelensky said Ukraine had sent reinforcements to the Kharkiv region but would not forget about the rest of the battlefield.

“We understand the enemy’s actions and their plan to divert our forces,” he said. “Of course, we do not leave the Donetsk direction without the necessary support and supplies. Our task is crystal clear: to thwart Russia’s attempt to expand the war.”

A colonel told The Independent the Russian attack would be limited, and it was more likely Moscow was aiming to solidify a “grey-zone” no man’s land between Russia and Ukraine’s Sumy and Kharkiv regions.

Mr Blinken admitted long-anticipated military aid was arriving at a “challenging time” for Kyiv during a surprise visit to the city on Tuesday.

He said: “We know this is a challenging time. But we also know that in the near term the assistance is now on the way, some of it has already arrived. And that’s going to make a real difference against the ongoing Russia aggression on the battlefield.”

The trip aimed to “send a strong signal of reassurance to the Ukrainians who are obviously in a very difficult moment,” said a US official who briefed reporters travelling with Blinken on condition of anonymity.

Mr Blinken also held talks over pizza with Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, had coffee with civil society representatives in Kyiv, and was due to give a speech on Ukraine’s future at a university.

US secretary of state Anthony Blinken admitted long-anticipated military aid was arriving at a ‘challenging time’ for Kyiv (AP)

But Mr Zelensky urged the US to provide two more air defence systems to protect Kharkiv, which has been pounded by Russian strikes in recent weeks.

Addressing Blinken in English, Mr Zelensky said air defence supplies were “the biggest deficit for us”, with Russia conducting long-range aerial attacks since March that have hit electricity facilities and caused blackouts.

“Really we need today two Patriots for Kharkiv, for Kharkiv region because there the people are under attack. Civilians, warriors, everybody they are under Russian missiles.”

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington was trying to get its aid to Ukraine as soon as possible in light of the “hole” created by congressional debate over the package.

On Tuesday, France said it will deliver extra military aid to Ukraine in coming days and weeks, after President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone with Mr Zelensky.

“The President of the Republic reiterated France’s determination to provide all the necessary support… He was also able to detail the deliveries for the coming days and weeks in support of the Ukrainian military effort,” the president’s office said in a statement.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Rustem Umerov, called for more artillery shells to be sent to Kyiv for their forces on the frontline

“We need more artillery shells as Russia is still many times ahead,” Mr Umerov told the Copenhagen Democracy Summit 2024 in an online address. “Under such conditions it’s extremely difficult to hold the ground.”

Reuters contributed to this report