Thousands evacuated in Ukraine as Russia pounds border town

Thousands of people have been evacuated from border areas in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, as Russia kept up constant strikes on a key town as part of a cross-border offensive, officials said on Sunday.

The surprise Russian attack across Ukraine’s northeastern border began on Friday, with troops making small advances in an area from where they had been pushed back nearly two years ago.

“In total, 4,073 people have been evacuated,” Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov wrote on social media, a day after Russian forces claimed the capture of five villages in the region.

Meanwhile, at least seven people were killed and 15 injured when a whole section of a multi-storey block of flats collapsed after a Ukrainian missile strike in the Russian city of Belgorod near the border with Ukraine, Russian officials said.

Footage from the scene posted by Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the region, showed at least 10 storeys of the building collapsing.

Debris is removed following the collapse of a section of a multi-storey block of flats as the result of what local authorities called a Ukrainian missile strike in the Russian city of Belgorod. Photo: Reuters

“The city of Belgorod and the Belgorod region were subjected to massive shelling by the armed forces of Ukraine,” Gladkov said. “As the result of a direct hit by a shell into an apartment building, the entire entrance from the tenth to the first floor collapsed.”

In Ukraine, several civilians were reported killed in Russia’s Kharkiv offensive. On Sunday AFP saw groups of people who had been evacuated from around the border town of Vovchansk, most of them elderly and disoriented.

“We weren’t going to leave. Home is home,” said 72-year-old Lyuda Zelenskaya, hugging a trembling cat named Zhora.

Liuba Konovalova, 70 said she had endured a “really terrifying” night before her evacuation.

Evacuees wait in a minivan at an evacuation point in Kharkiv. Photo: AFP

The pair, who lived together after their children married each other and moved away, were at a first point for evacuees in the Kharkiv region.

Around them, volunteers assisted elderly evacuees towards a few wooden benches where they registered and received food before being evacuated toward the city of Kharkiv, the regional capital.

Oleksiy Kharkivsky, a senior police officer from Vovchansk helping to coordinate evacuations, said “several people” had been killed by shelling on Saturday and one person was found dead in rubble overnight.

“The city is constantly under fire,” he said.

“Everything in the city is being destroyed … You hear constant explosions, artillery, mortars. The enemy is hitting the city with everything they have,” he said.

The Ukrainian army said it was holding back any further Russian advances.

“Russian occupants’ attempts to break through our defence have been stopped,” said Ukraine’s commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky.

But he said the situation in the Kharkiv region had “deteriorated significantly” and was “complicated”.

Ukrainian forces “are doing everything they can to hold their defensive lines and positions and inflict damage on the enemy,” he said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops had been carrying out counter-attacks in the border villages.

“Disrupting Russian offensive plans is now our number one task,” he said.

Troops must “return the initiative to Ukraine”, the president insisted, again urging allies to speed up arms deliveries.

Ukrainian officials had warned for weeks that Moscow might try to attack its northeastern border regions, pressing its advantage as Ukraine struggles with delays in Western aid and manpower shortages.

Additional reporting by Reuters



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