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Russia turning ‘grey zone’ areas of war into combat zones

dpa international

Russia’s offensive near the city of Kharkiv is spreading out the front of the war in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, pointing to a development that means more parts of the country are facing combat.

“There are villages that have turned from a ‘grey zone’ into a combat zone, and the occupiers are trying to gain a foothold in some of them or simply use them to advance further,” Zelensky said, describing the situation in his daily video message on Sunday evening.

With this offensive, the Russian military is trying to stretch the Ukrainian forces to their limits, he added.

Above all, the situation around the town of Vovchansk is “extremely difficult,” Zelensky said. Vovchansk, which originally had just under 19,000 inhabitants according to official figures, is now home to just under 500, who are still holding as it comes under constant fire.

Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were mounting counter-attacks and engaging in fierce resistance. “Our task is obvious – we must inflict as many losses as possible on the occupying forces,” he said.

At the same time, Zelensky warned the Ukrainian population against unnecessary panic. “Russian ground operations are always sustained by information operations,” he said. “The occupier feeds on lies and the resulting fear.”

He therefore advised citizens “not to be led by emotions, not to chase the headline, to check every report and look for information, not emotions or rumours, and to trust the Ukrainian defence forces.”

Thousands of residents of the eastern Ukrainian border region of Kharkiv are being evacuated to safety. Around 4,000 people had already left the area in the last two days, regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on Telegram on Sunday.

Many of them were able to stay with friends and relatives, while accommodation was being provided for others, he said. Syniehubov also published photos of people who had gathered at assembly points with luggage and some with pets.

More than two years after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour, Ukraine is struggling in its self-defence. This is partly due to the recent delays in supplies of US military equipment and ammunition.

Russian troops launched an offensive in the border region towards Kharkiv in the early hours of Friday, prompting fears of a campaign to seize Ukraine’s second largest city.

Russia’s Defence Ministry says several Ukrainian border villages near the town of Vovchansk were captured. On Sunday, Moscow said that four further villages were taken.

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi has described the situation there as “difficult.”

“This week, the situation in the Kharkiv region has significantly worsened,” Syrskyi wrote on Telegram on Sunday. “There are ongoing battles in the border areas along the state border with the Russian Federation.”

While admitting that the situation is “difficult” and that Russian attackers had achieved “partial successes” in some areas, he said, “Ukrainian defence forces are doing everything they can to hold defensive lines and positions.”

Just across the border in the Russian region of Belgorod, a multi-storey residential building was severely damaged in an attack, Russia’s Defence Ministry announced on Sunday. At least six people were killed in the attack, it said.

The ministry said that the building had been hit by falling debris from a Ukrainian Tochka U missile. This could not be independently verified at first.

The governor of the region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said at least 19 people were injured. Initial reports that there were also fatalities were not confirmed.

Photos of one destroyed vertical section of a much larger block of flats were published on social networks. According to media reports, people may still be trapped under the rubble. A missile alert had been triggered earlier in the day in the region.

A fire also broke out at an oil refinery in southern Russia following a drone attack, an official said on Sunday.

The night-time raid in the Volgograd region was repelled by the Russian air defences, Governor Andrey Botsharov wrote on Telegram.

However, the falling drone detonated and caused a fire on the refinery site, which has since been extinguished. There were no casualties, the governor said.

To disrupt Russia’s infrastructure and reduce its war revenues, the Ukrainians have repeatedly targeted oil refineries hundreds of kilometres deep inside the country.

Firefighters extinguish a house after a Russian missile attack on Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine. -/Ukrinform/dpa

Firefighters extinguish a house after a Russian missile attack on Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine. -/Ukrinform/dpa

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