A Ukrainian military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ukrainian forces were just a few kilometers from the Russian border on Wednesday morning, just days after advancing north and east of Kharkiv, the second-largest city. Before advancing, Russian forces were on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a town 40 km (25 miles) from the border.
Ukraine appears to have made the fastest progress since the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kyiv and the north of the country in early April. If sustained, it could threaten Ukrainian forces for Russia’s main offensive power supply line and even place rear-supply targets within Russia within the striking range of Ukrainian artillery.
In Vilkhivka, an isolated village just before Kharkiv recaptured by Ukrainian forces, almost endless artillery shelling and multiple rocket launchers could be heard from the fighting in front.
Andrei Korkin, 48, who went to Vilkhivka to check on his parents’ home, said he was a local Russian-speaking group in Moscow that went to Ukraine to protect it.
“I do not want to do anything more with the world of the Russian Federation,” Korkin said.
Although the village was recaptured by Ukrainian forces a few weeks ago, the frontline was now far enough to return safely.
The swollen body of a Russian soldier is still lying outside the bombed-out school where his unit had set up its headquarters before being evacuated.
The tank burned
On Wednesday evening, Ukraine’s General Staff said their forces had captured a village Pytomonik on the main highway north of Kharkiv, about halfway across the Russian border. Belgorod, the governor of the Russian Federation, said a village in Ukraine had been shelled and that one person had been injured.
Further east, Ukrainian forces appear to be in control of the village of Rubijne on the banks of the Donetsk River.
“It burned like all Russian tanks,” a Ukrainian soldier told Reuters near the ruins of Russian tanks. “Weapons are helping a lot, anti-tanks.”
Kiev has so far confirmed some details about its progress through the Kharkiv region.
“We are succeeding in the Kharkiv direction, where we are constantly pushing the enemy back and liberating the population centers,” said Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, deputy chief of the main operations directorate of the General Staff of Ukraine, in a briefing.
President Volodymyr Zelensky says the success has pushed Ukraine’s second-largest city – bombed continuously since the first days of the war – beyond the reach of Russian artillery. However, he warned the Ukrainians that their expectations were still too high.
“We should not create an environment of excessive moral pressure, where victory is expected weekly or even every day,” he said in an overnight video address.
Ukraine’s separate move on Wednesday to cut off Russian gas supplies through territory occupied by Russian-backed separatists has for the first time disrupted direct shipments to Europe.
Russia’s export monopoly from Gazprom to Europe via Ukraine fell by a quarter while Kyiv said it was forced to cut off all flows from one route through the southern Russian Sokhranovka transit point. Ukraine accuses Russian-backed separatists of supplying supplies.
If supply continues to decline, it will have the most direct impact ever on European energy markets, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to disarm a neighbor as a threat to its security. Ukraine says it poses no threat and that the deaths of thousands of civilians and the destruction of cities and towns show that Russia is waging a war of victory.
In southern Ukraine, where Russia has occupied a vast territory, Kiev has said Moscow plans to hold a fake referendum on independence or annexation to perpetuate its occupation.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it was up to residents of the Russian-occupied Kherson region to decide whether to join Russia, but that any such decision must have a clear legal basis. Earlier, the TASS news agency quoted an official from the Russian-controlled administration as saying that the region planned to ask President Vladimir Putin to include it in Russia.
Russian forces have also continued bombing Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, the last stronghold of Ukrainian guards in a city now almost entirely under Russian control after a two-month siege.
Hiding inside Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, it says Russia is dropping bombs from the sky and trying to storm.
“Azovostal is on fire again after the bombing. If there is hell on earth, it is there,” he wrote.
Andriyushchenko, an aide to Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boichenko, has left the city.
Kyiv says thousands of people have probably been killed in Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities say 150,000 to 170,000 of the city’s 400,000 inhabitants are still living in Russian-occupied ruins.
The mayor said the epidemic would spread if medical services were not restored and water systems were not repaired. “Most of the current population is elderly and sick. Without the right conditions, the mortality rate among the risk groups will increase rapidly.”