Ukraine: Hundreds of people fled the Kharkiv region after an attack from across the Russian border.


  • By Jonathan Bell and Henry Astaire
  • BBC News, Kharkiv Region and London

image caption, Many houses were destroyed in the town of Vochansk.

Russian offensives in northeastern Ukraine have forced about 1,800 people to flee the Kharkiv region, the regional chief said.

Kiev has been anticipating a Russian summer offensive for some time – including a possible attempt to seize Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv.

But Ukraine insists its forces are capable of countering any attack.

On Saturday, Russia said it had captured five villages near the city of Vochansk in its latest operation. The BBC could not independently verify the claim.

It's still unclear how far the Russians will go – whether it's a probing strike or the start of something bigger.

Ukrainian artillery is now returning fire. The sounds of exchange of fire are already echoing loudly in the bomb-torn streets.

A total of 1,775 people have been evacuated, Kharkiv regional chief Oleh Senyhobov said on social media. Hundreds more remain in Vochansk, just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the Russian border.

A resident, Sirhi, told the BBC that his house and vehicles had been destroyed by Russian glide bombs.

His wife was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Small fires still smoldered in the remains of his house.

Sirhi said he did not want to leave because he was afraid of what would happen to his four goats.

As we surveyed the damage, there was the scream of more glide bombs, followed by a loud explosion.

Russia's air force is becoming increasingly lethal, and Ukraine currently has no response.

Ukrainian officials say that Russia has the ability to destabilize the situation in the border areas, but it cannot take over the city of Kharkiv itself.

Reports suggest that Moscow is hoping to create a 10km (six mile) buffer zone for its Belgorod region after a series of cross-border attacks by Ukraine.

In his late-night address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said fighting continued in seven border villages.

“Our defensive operations continue in the Kharkiv region”, he said, adding that the situation in Donetsk was “particularly tense”.

On Friday, the US announced a new $400m (£319m; €371m) military aid package for Ukraine.

It will be the third tranche of aid from Washington to the country after months of political deadlock — adding to a previous package totaling $7 billion sent in late April.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken said the “urgently needed” aid would include air defense munitions, artillery shells, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles.

On Friday, national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Russia “will seek to establish a buffer zone along the border with Ukraine in the coming weeks”.

Moscow is trying to take advantage of the delayed arrival of US weapons by advancing into the eastern Donetsk region.

The return to heavy fighting in the northeast further underscores Russia's growing ambitions.

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