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Ukraine warns northern front has ‘significantly worsened’ as Russia claims capture of


Ukraine warned the situation in the northern Kharkiv region has “significantly worsened” after Russia claimed to have captured several villages in a surprise cross-border offensive.

Russia on Sunday said it had captured nine villages in total over the weekend, as Ukraine said fighting was ongoing and that it was repelling attacks. Hundreds of civilians have been evacuated from near the frontlines.

Russia began its surprise cross-border attack on Friday, making two assaults inside northern Ukraine, in what President Volodymyr Zelensky called a “new wave of counteroffensive actions” by Russia.

The precise goal is unclear but Moscow may be trying to create a buffer zone to reduce Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory or try to wear down and divert the attention of Kyiv’s already thinly stretched forces.

In a statement Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed a new military grouping called Sever (North) had “liberated” several villages, wording that reflects Russia’s denial of Ukrainian statehood.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, Ukraine’s army chief, said Sunday that “defensive operations” were ongoing.

“This week, the situation in Kharkiv Oblast has significantly worsened. Currently, there are ongoing battles in the border areas along the state border with the Russian Federation,” he wrote on Telegram.

Ukraine’s Oleh Syniehubov, Head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, disputed that the five villages in the Kharkiv Region had been captured.

“Heavy fighting continues in Strilecha, Pylyna, Borysivka, in the area of Oliynykove and Ohirtseve. The fighting continues in the area of those settlements that were actually in the ‘grey zone’ […] There is no threat of a ground operation for Kharkiv. The Defense Forces are doing everything possible to hold their positions. All government agencies are working on the ground,” Syniehubov said.

The grey zone represents territory currently contested rather than under full Russian or Ukrainian control.

At least three people died as a result of Russian strikes on Kharkiv region overnight Saturday into Sunday, according to the head of the region’s military administration.

One woman living in Kharkiv, Anna Ivanova, described the situation as “scary.”

Seaking to Reuters on Sunday, she said: “Of course it is scary, we keep on monitoring the situation, following the news but we remain home and are not planning to go anywhere. All depends on what happens.”

Another Kharkiv resident, Olena Pidhirna, said: “Despite all those attacks, air raid alarms, we live normal lives, everyone keeps going out, playing, going to school, enjoying themselves, working. Life goes on, as normal.”

Russia’s recent efforts have largely been focused in the east, where it has taken advantage of Ukrainian manpower and weaponry shortages to make small advances. Its forces attacked Kharkiv region after the full-scale invasion began in 2022 but were forced out in a Ukrainian counteroffensive later that year.

In a separate development, a fire briefly broke out at the Volgograd oil refinery, the largest oil refinery in southern Russia, after a Ukrainian drone attack overnight into Sunday, according to the region’s governor.

“On the night of May 12, air defense and electronic warfare forces repelled a UAV attack on the territory of the Volgograd region,” Andrey Bocharov said in a post on Telegram.

“As a result of the consequences of a UAV crash with subsequent detonation, a fire broke out at the Volgograd Refinery site,” he said.

The fire has been extinguished and there were no casualties, he said.

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