Zelenskyy in Kharkiv as Ukraine claims to partially halt Russia’s offensive

Ukrainian leader meets military top brass, wounded soldiers and says situation is ‘very difficult’ but ‘under control’.

Ukrainian servicemen of the 92nd Assault Brigade fire at Russian positions in the Kharkiv region, on May 15, 2024 [Roman Pilipey/AFP]Published On 16 May 202416 May 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has travelled to the city of Kharkiv and said the situation in the northeast is “under control” after the military managed to partially halt a Russian advance, most notably thwarting an invasion of the key border town of Vovchansk.

“The situation in the Kharkiv region is generally under control, and our soldiers are inflicting significant losses on the occupier. However, the area remains extremely difficult,” Zelenskyy said on Thursday in a post on Telegram after hearing reports from his commanders in the capital of the Kharkiv region, where Russia launched a lightning incursion last week.

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The Ukrainian army said it had slowed down Russian troops during what has been described as one of the most gruelling phases of the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said that Russia was advancing on “all fronts”, the military making major territorial gains in the Kharkiv area, claiming to have also captured territory in the eastern Donetsk and southern Zaporizhia regions.

“The situation in the Kharkiv sector remains complicated but is evolving in a dynamic manner,” Ukrainian army spokesman Nazar Voloshin said on state TV on Thursday. “Our defence forces have partially stabilised the situation. The advance of the enemy in certain zones and localities has been halted,” he added.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement that the military had managed to prevent Russian plans “to penetrate deeper into the town of Vovchansk and gain a foothold there”.

The capture of Vovchansk, 5km (3 miles) from the border, had it occurred, would have been Russia’s most important gain since it launched an incursion into the region last Friday.

However, reports of Ukrainian progress were contradicted by Vitaly Ganchev, a Russian-installed official in Ukraine. Claiming that Vovchansk was on the “verge of complete liberation”, he said that Russian troops were approaching the village of Lyptsi, located on one of the main road routes to Kharkiv.

He told Russian state television that, “Our guys are already on the outskirts. Work is beginning to liberate it, aviation and artillery are working constantly, they do not stop.”


Ukraine’s Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko on Thursday accused Russia of detaining and killing civilians in Vovchansk as it tried to gain entry.

“According to intelligence reports, the Russian military, trying to gain a foothold in the city, did not allow residents to evacuate. They began abducting people and driving them to basements,” he said.

He said there were reports that the Russian military had shot civilians. “One of the residents of Vovchansk tried to escape on foot, refused to follow the commands of the invaders, and was killed by the Russians.”

The reports have yet to be independently verified.

Russian soldiers have previously been accused of executing civilians in parts of Ukraine they captured and controlled since the February 2022 invasion. In April 2022, the bodies of dozens of civilians, some with their hands tied, were found in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha after a month-long occupation by Russian forces.

Ukraine has been forced to evacuate almost 9,000 people from the Kharkiv region since Russia launched the new assault, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said on Thursday.

Between May 9 and 15, Russia made some of its most significant gains since December 2022, capturing 278 square kilometres (107 square miles) of territory, according to calculations from news agency AFP, using data from the Institute for the Study of War.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies