Fierce fighting rages in Ukraine's Kharkiv region as Russia touts gains

By Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth

KYIV (Reuters) -Fierce fighting raged into a second day on the fringes of Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region on Saturday as Moscow said it had captured five villages, while Kyiv said it was repulsing the attacks and battling for control of the settlements.

Russia launched the armoured incursion early on Friday, an attack on a new front that may presage a broader push into Kharkiv region or aim to draw away overstretched Ukrainian forces from where Moscow's offensive is focused in the east.

Kyiv has been on the back foot on the battlefield for months as Russian troops have slowly advanced mainly in the Donetsk region to the south, taking advantage of Ukraine's shortages of troop manpower and artillery shells.

The Russian defence ministry told a briefing that Moscow's forces had taken the Kharkiv region villages of Pletenivka, Ohirtseve, Borysivka, Pylna and Strilecha across the border from Russia's Belgorod region.

But Kharkiv's governor Oleh Syniehubov said that active fighting continued on the territory of all five of the frontier villages that are located within three to five kms (1.9-3.1 miles) of the border.

"We clearly understand what forces the enemy is using in the north of our territory. Certainly, the escalation can grow, the pressure can increase, it can strengthen its military units, its military presence," he said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that battles were going on around seven border villages in Kharkiv and called the situation in the southern Donetsk region "extremely difficult".

Syniehubov said there was no imminent danger to the regional capital of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, and no need to begin evacuating its roughly 1.3 million inhabitants who continue to live there despite regular missile and drone strikes.

"As of now the enemy keeps pressing in the north of our region. Our forces have repelled nine attacks," he told a news conference.

Kyiv rushed in reinforcements to deal with the incursion and Nazar Voloshyn, spokesman for Ukraine's eastern command, said on Saturday that Kyiv's forces had managed to contain Russia's forces in the borderlands where it is unclear who has control.

"The enemy is localized in the 'gray zone', it is not expanding. However, there is the question of finally destroying it and catching it in the tree lines where it could hide," he said in televised comments.


Russian forces first attacked Kharkiv region in February 2022 during their full-scale invasion, but were routed from most of the province by a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive in September of that year.

Russia's neighbouring Belgorod region has since come under regular Ukrainian drone and artillery strikes and Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin suggested in March that Moscow could try to establish a buffer zone inside Ukrainian territory.

Kyiv officials have repeatedly said they do not believe Russia has the forces available to capture the city of Kharkiv.

Syniehubov said authorities had evacuated more than 2,500 people from the frontier area and that the effort continued.

In a statement, President Zelenskiy urged Kyiv's Western allies to speed up the supply of weapons they had pledged.

"It is important that partners support our soldiers and Ukrainian stability with timely supplies. Really timely. The package that really helps is the weapons brought to Ukraine, not just the ones announced," he said.

(Additional reporting by Volodymyr Pavlov and Elaine Monaghan; Writing by Tom Balmforth;Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)