Ukraine urges evacuations as Russia claims gains

Ukraine urges evacuations as Russia claims gains
Ukraine's government urges civilians to flee to safety as Russia intensifies its aggression against the Kharkiv region.
4 min read
11 August, 2023
large sections of the Kharkiv region were recaptured by Kyiv's forces last September.(Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Ukraine urged civilians near the northeastern front line to evacuate on Thursday as Russia ramped up an assault to capture territory already seized once during the conflict.

Kupiansk and the surrounding areas of Ukraine's Kharkiv region were recaptured by Kyiv's forces in September but Moscow has since pushed back into the region.

"Given the difficult security situation and the increasing amount of shelling by Russian terrorist forces in Kupiansk community, you have the opportunity to evacuate to a safer place," the city administration said.

It said residents could evacuate to Kharkiv, some 90 kilometres (56 miles) west, where they would have the option to move to safer regions, and urged children, the elderly and the sick to leave.

"Do not neglect your safety and the safety of your loved ones," said the statement.

The warning came as Russia's defence ministry announced its soldiers had "improved their position" along the front line near the city, after reporting advances earlier in the week.

"In the course of offensive operations near Kupiansk, assault teams of the Western battle group improved their positions along the forward edge of the front line," it said in a daily briefing.

In the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, a Russian strike on a civilian building killed at least one person and wounded 14 others on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said.

Among the wounded were a three-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy.

"A fire broke out in a civilian building after the occupiers hit it with a missile. One person is currently reported dead," President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Telegram.

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Evacuations underway 

Sergiy Cherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine's eastern forces, confirmed to national television that Russian forces were trying to break through in the Kupiansk area. "The situation remains difficult but under control," he added.

"The evacuation started yesterday, when the order was signed," said the head of the Kupiansk city military administration Andriy Besedin on national television.

Residents could refuse to go but had to submit a written statement to the authorities, he added, and local officials were considering forcing the evacuation of children "if the escalation continues and the shelling increases".

"It looks like the Russians are erasing places in the Kupiansk area," said Rostyslav Melnykiv, professor at a university in Kharkiv.

"People are in danger of losing their lives, not just their homes," he told AFP.

One resident in the small town of Kivsharivka just outside Kupiansk said she was preparing to evacuate with her children, while her husband refused to leave in order to care for his elderly mother.

"It's hard to leave them behind," Anna Koresh, 36, told AFP by phone.

In Russia, the governor of the Bryansk region said on Thursday that two people had been killed after Ukraine shelled the small village of Chausy, about five kilometres from the border.

Russian regions bordering Ukraine have repeatedly accused Kyiv's forces of indiscriminate shelling that has damaged infrastructure and caused civilian deaths.

Ukraine launched its counter-offensive in June after stockpiling Western weapons, but has struggled to make major breakthroughs.

Moscow said earlier Thursday it had downed 11 Ukrainian drones nearing the Crimean peninsula and two heading for Moscow, in the latest in a wave of attacks targeting Russia and Russian-held territory.

"As a result of the thwarted terrorist attacks, there were no casualties or damage," the Russian defence ministry said on Telegram.

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Drone attacks 

Moscow was largely spared in the early months of the war but the number of drone attacks on the Russian capital has risen in recent months, with the city targeted multiple times this week.

Russian officials on Thursday gave updates following an explosion the previous day at a factory northeast of Moscow. "Twelve people are considered as missing," said a statement from the local investigating committee posted on Telegram.

Wednesday's blast killed one woman and 15 people were still being treated in hospital according to the latest health ministry update.

In the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Nova Kakhovka one person died and one was wounded in Ukrainian shelling, the Moscow-backed administration said on Telegram.

Ukrainian President Zelensky warned last month that "war" was coming to Russia, and that the country's "symbolic centres and military bases" would become targets.

On the other side of the front line, an oil depot in Ukraine's western Rivne region was destroyed during a "massive drone attack" on Thursday, governor Vitaliy Koval said.

Tensions have also risen on the Black Sea since Russia exited a deal allowing safe passage for grain exports.

In a challenge to Russia, which announced in July that it would consider any ships nearing Ukraine in the Black Sea as potential military cargo carriers, Ukraine said it had opened maritime routes for civilian vessels from several southern ports.

Ukrainian Navy spokesman Oleg Chalyk said a first ship would take the newly open route "in the near future".

And in Washington, President Joe Biden's administration asked Congress for more than $13 billion in new military spending for Ukraine,