Kharkiv faces Aleppo-like crisis, expert outlines defense and evacuation strategy

Russian attack on the Kharkiv mall
Russian attack on the Kharkiv mall

Russia is attempting to replicate the Syrian city of Aleppo's destruction in Kharkiv, manipulating the city's fate to pressure for negotiations, stated Mykhailo Honchar, President of the Center for Global Studies Strategy XXI, during a Radio NV interview on May 26.

Radio NV: The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War says that by attacking Kharkiv, Russia is forcing local residents to leave the city. Two weeks ago, Bloomberg reported the same thing. What should the authorities, Ukraine, do in this case? On the one hand, the city is being mercilessly struck by guided aerial bombs, against which Ukraine has no means of defending itself. On the other hand, it is obviously Russia's goal to make the locals leave and evacuate. Is there a right solution here if we are talking about people's safety?

Mykhailo Honchar: The right solution exists, and it has been known for a long time. This is the lifting of restrictions on the use of Western missile weapons, which are provided to us, in particular, as soon as possible and in additional quantities; as well as aviation assets so that our Armed Forces, the Air Force in this case, can destroy, strike at those airfields from which Russian tactical aviation operates.

Read also: Russian attacks on Kharkiv aim to force Ukraine into peace talks

The fact that Russia is implementing the Aleppo scenario against Kharkiv is already quite clear, absolutely clear. That is, the purpose of this terror is to force the residents of Kharkiv to leave the city, that's right.

On the other hand, there are also quite clear political goals here, because Kharkiv is not a city of district or regional importance, like Avdiivka, Bakhmut or other towns that were destroyed by the Russians during the fighting. It is the second largest city, with a population of over one million.

Russia's strategic goal has remained unchanged since 2014, when, according to a scenario developed in Moscow, there was also an attempt to create a "Kharkiv People's Republic" in Kharkiv to recreate, so to speak, Kharkiv as the capital of the "correct" Ukraine, from the Kremlin's point of view. It failed. In 2022, they also failed to capture Kharkiv. Therefore, the scenario of the city's destruction is now simply being implemented.

And the intensification of strikes on Kharkiv in recent months and weeks is due to the fact that our Western partners are delaying the provision of appropriate weapons and the lifting of the absurd, from a military point of view, restriction on the use of [long-range missiles] to strike the enemy outside the territory of Ukraine. So this completely untied Moscow's hands. And all these red lines of the West, of the United States for Ukraine, shine a powerful green light for the Kremlin. And they are using it.

Radio NV: Until this permission is granted, is there any solution for Ukraine? Should we evacuate Kharkiv?

MH: I think that the answer to this question depends on a number of factors related to our ability to protect the city. The point is that these are difficult decisions. Imagine if there are less than a million or a little more than a million [residents]. We understand that Kharkiv has also become a city of refuge for many people who have left the occupied territories. Therefore, the question here is both the number of people to be evacuated and the ability to ensure this evacuation in such circumstances.

Read also: Ukraine seeks air defenses, strikes inside Russia after Kharkiv bombing

In addition, I think that under these circumstances, the citizens still prefer to stay put. Those who wanted to, have evacuated. Of course, the attacks will continue, and the government cannot ignore it and sacrifice people's lives. But on the other hand, to give the green light to evacuation, to organize an organized evacuation, means to sow panic and additional uncertainty that the city will be protected. This is what the enemy is counting on. And this will further intensify its attacks on Kharkiv and the surrounding area.

So I think that in this case, everyone will probably make their own decision.

Radio NV: I understand that the choice is between bad and very bad. We repeatedly communicate with representatives of Kharkiv local authorities. They say that Kharkiv residents are brave and courageous people, "we (have seen worse) in 2022," "when Russian troops came close to the city, we survived it, we will survive other challenges," "Kharkiv is a hero city, Kharkiv will stand, Kharkiv will endure," and so on. From an ideological point of view, these are very correct things. At the same time, it seems to me that publicly, at least, the authorities refuse to admit that the situation has changed dramatically since 2022. The city was not being wiped out by the guided aerial bombs. I think this frank and adult conversation is missing. Or is this my wrong assumption?

MH: Look, everyone has their own frame of reference. And it's one thing when people outside of Ukraine look at this situation and see it as just a picture on a TV screen. It's another thing when you look at this situation from the comfort of your home in Kharkiv.

But when we take the all-Ukrainian coordinate system, we cannot afford to make a false step in this case, that is, to follow the enemy's scenario. And announcing a mass evacuation of a city of millions is exactly the scenario that the Kremlin dictates when it strikes Kharkiv, trying to turn it into Syrian Aleppo.

The point is to act asymmetrically, contrary to the enemy's scenario. And that's why there is a request, a demand, I would say, from both the government and civil society. In the first days of March 2022, there was a large-scale initiative, which was international – not only Ukrainians, Ukrainian organizations, famous people signed, but also from abroad – to appeal to NATO to close the skies over Ukraine, to carry out a humanitarian mission. And now this demand is being renewed against the backdrop of what Russia is doing.

So we are talking about the need for some kind of faster strengthening of the city's defenses. Because it's not just about defending Kharkiv, it's about holding the defense line, the front line in general; and it's about not giving the aggressor a chance to implement its scenario.

So, no matter how difficult this decision is – not to organize a mass evacuation from Kharkiv – Kharkiv must stand. On a personal level, every Kharkiv citizen must make their own decision.

Read also: Zelenskyy's plea to world leaders from shattered Kharkiv

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