The Russian army announced Friday that it had sent reinforcements to the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, in response to an apparently successful breakthrough by Kiev forces in this border area with Russia.
Kiev claimed Thursday to have recaptured some 1,000 km2 in this region of northeastern Ukraine in recent days, in particular the city of Balakliya, as well as about 20 localities. “It’s difficult, but we’re making progress,” said on Telegram the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zaloujny.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said from Brussels that Moscow’s deployment of reinforcements shows that Russia is paying “a huge price.
The Russian Ministry of Defense, which has not commented on the matter, nevertheless announced to Russian news agencies the deployment of reinforcements in this direction, releasing a video showing armored vehicles, howitzers and trucks driving in large numbers on non-geolocated roads. He did not issue a statement to detail or comment on these deployments.
He did not issue a statement detailing or commenting on these deployments, merely listing, as he did every day, the heavy losses the Russian army had inflicted on the Ukrainians.
Russian television showed images of the Russian redeployment towards Kharkiv, reporting fierce fighting.
In a sign of the Ukrainian advance, pro-Russian authorities in the occupied territories in the region announced on Friday that they were evacuating residents to other areas under Moscow’s control or to Russia.
We have been trying to focus all our efforts on evacuating the local population for the past three or four days, until the situation stabilizes,” Maxim Gubin, a Kupiansk district official, told Russian television.
A senior official of the occupation administration set up by Moscow in the areas controlled by the Russian army, Vitali Gantchev, said on Friday on the Russian television channel Rossiya 24 that “fierce fighting” was underway around the town of Balaklyia, which Kiev said Thursday it had recaptured.
“We no longer control Balaklyaya. Attempts to dislodge Ukrainian forces are underway, but the fighting there is fierce and our troops are being held back on the outskirts” of the town, he said.
According to him, tough fighting is also taking place near the locality of Shevchenke, also in the Kharkiv region. “There too, the Ukrainian armed forces are trying to break the defenses. Reserves from Russia have been sent there, our troops are fighting back,” said Vitali Gantchev.
The road from Kharkiv southeast to Balaklyaya was open to traffic Friday morning, an AFP team found, an area the Ukrainian army appears to have recaptured in fighting in recent days.
Many civilian cars were driving around, as well as military vehicles. Queues were also visible at several checkpoints.
Kharkiv, capital of the region of the same name and Ukraine’s second largest city, is located in the northeast of the country, right on the border with Russia, and has been resisting Russian efforts to conquer it since the invasion began on February 24.
In addition to the breakthrough in this region, Kiev also claimed on Thursday a series of successes in the south and east, saying it had retaken territory and many localities.
If consolidated, these Ukrainian gains in recent days, coupled with those claimed in the south and east, are the most significant for Ukraine since the withdrawal of Russian troops from around Kiev in late March.
In the Donbass, the eastern Ukrainian mining basin where some of the heaviest fighting of the war has taken place in recent months, Kiev claimed Thursday to have advanced two to three kilometers near Kramatorsk and Sloviansk and retaken the village of Ozerné.
Forty-five kilometers away, in Bakhmut, eight civilians were killed Thursday and 17 others wounded in Russian strikes, according to Ukrainian authorities.
“Twenty houses, six buildings, four stores, the House of Culture and the town’s administrative center were damaged” in the Russian strikes, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Friday, adding that the market had been “under fire” from Russian artillery.
Bakhmut, which had a population of 70,000 before the conflict began in late February, has been without water and electricity for the fourth consecutive day, Kyrylenko said.
Traveling to Prague, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin praised Ukraine’s recent successes, noting that Western weaponry, such as U.S. HIMARS, could be employed to “change the dynamics on the battlefield.”
“We’re seeing successes in Kherson (south) now, successes in Kharkiv, and so all of this is very, very encouraging,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, was in Brussels for a meeting with NATO, where he plans to emphasize the “unity” of the organization’s members to “make sure that our Alliance is as strong as possible to deter Russia from further aggression.”