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Russia having ‘tactical success’ near Kharkov, Ukrainian military admits

Russian forces currently hold the upper hand in fighting near the city of Kharkov, Ukraine’s general staff said on Monday. After Russia captured multiple towns and villages over the weekend, some Ukrainian troops blamed their superiors for putting up inadequate defenses.

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Moscow launched a large-scale offensive on Ukraine’s Kharkov Region on Friday morning, conducting an aerial and artillery bombardment of Ukrainian lines before sending troops across the border. Dozens of villages and settlements were seized, with the Russian Defense Ministry reporting the liberation of Gatische, Krasnoe, Morokhovets and Oleynikovo in its most recent bulletin on Sunday.

As of Sunday, fighting was still raging in the town of Volchansk, while Ukrainian sources reported a Russian advance on the village of Liptsi, located less than 20km from the outskirts of Kharkov. Both settlements have previously been used by Ukrainian forces as staging grounds for the shelling of civilian targets in Russia’s Belgorod Region.

“At the moment, the enemy has tactical success” in the fight for Volchansk, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on social media in the early hours of Monday morning. With Russian forces attacking Volchansk from the east and Liptsi from the north, “the operational situation remains difficult and dynamically changing in the direction of Kharkov,” the statement added.

Russia’s advance has forced Ukraine to hurriedly redeploy forces from the Donbass front, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The American news outlet described these redeployed troops as “tired,” and spoke to one soldier who said that “he and his comrades hadn’t slept in days and were in shock at how fast the Russians were moving.”

In a post on Facebook, Denis Yaroslavsky, a Ukrainian commander active in the area, complained that his superiors had failed to build enough defensive barriers to repel the Russians, and may have embezzled money intended for their construction. 

“The first line of fortifications and mines just didn’t exist,” he wrote. “The enemy freely entered the gray zone across the border line. We came to the conclusion that this was either deliberate theft or deliberate sabotage.” 

READ MORE: Ukraine failed to create defense lines in Kharkov Region – BBC

By ‘gray zone’, Yaroslavsky was referring to the land between the Russian border and Ukraine’s main defensive line around Kharkov. When Ukrainian forces attempted to penetrate Russia’s main defensive line between Kherson and Donetsk last summer, months of trench digging and mine laying by the Russian military ensured that they failed to cross the gray zone in all but a handful of attacks, suffering more than 160,000 casualties in the process, according to Russian Defense Ministry figures.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky claimed on Friday that his forces had “calculated everything” and were prepared to repel the Russian advance. By Sunday, however, Zelensky conceded that the “gray zone” had become a “combat zone,” and that the situation around Volchansk had become “extremely difficult.”

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