War in Ukraine

How a Ukrainian City That Lived Its Life for Three Centuries Was Destroyed by Russia in a Month


On May 10, Russian troops launched a new offensive in the Kharkiv region, with one of the targets being the Ukrainian city of Vovchansk—just 5km from the border.

After more than a month of offensive actions, the Russian army failed to capture one of its main targets—the city of Vovchansk. Ukrainian forces held back the enemy's advance and prevented the city from being captured.

But what the Russian troops did do in that month was practically destroy it completely.

Photo: Kostiantyn & Vlada Liberov.
Photo: Kostiantyn & Vlada Liberov.

Before the full-scale invasion, about 17,000 people lived in the city. It is located 5 km from the Russian border, and its trade with the neighboring region flourished; small enterprises and factories operated, and the railway went through it too. Vovchansk was a typical small town with a typical history: founded by Cossacks three centuries ago, it developed as more people came to the region, and over time underwent industrialization.

Since May 10, the city has been under Russian shelling. Today, Russia uses a new tactic—bombing positions they are advancing on with guided aerial bombs. This is the tactic they used in the city of Vovchansk and along the entire line of the new Russian offensive in Kharkiv. Our team was in Vovchansk as early as May 12: in addition to guided aerial bombs, the Russians were also using artillery and mines. The city was engulfed in flames and smoke.

There was no one to put out the fires: it was simply too dangerous, as the sky was filled with swarms of FPV drones and Russian UAVs hunting for soldiers and police. It was simply too dangerous for rescue services to operate due to double-tap attacks: Russia disregards civilians and occasionally hits the same location twice—after rescuers arrive at the scene.

Failing to capture Vovchansk, Russia began to destroy it house by house, shelling it more than a hundred times a day. Footage from Ukrainian journalists and soldiers shows that practically no residential buildings or administrative structures were left intact in the city. Schools, hospitals, and shopping areas were destroyed. And the Russian army, which continues to organize daily offensive operations on Vovchansk, keeps destroying the city. Following Volnovakha, Maryinka, Avdiivka, Bakhmut, and Chasiv Yar—each city that is not ready to surrender quickly.

Photo: Kostiantyn & Vlada Liberov.
Photo: Kostiantyn & Vlada Liberov.

Most of the civilian population evacuated in the first two days of the Russian offensive, with more than 10,000 people leaving the city and surrounding areas. Those who remained were assisted in evacuating by the Kharkiv region police, but the process was complicated by constant shelling and Russian FPV drones hunting Ukrainians. Moreover, the Russian army turned Vovchansk into a second Bucha: Ukrainian civilians were shot and killed right on the streets of the city just for being Ukrainian. These were civilians who simply stayed in their homes or could not leave for other reasons. People were simply shot.

Photo: Kostiantyn & Vlada Liberov.
Photo: Kostiantyn & Vlada Liberov.

The particular cruelty of the Russians, we can assume, was unleashed because it was the second time that they tried to occupy Vovchansk. The Ukrainian army previously managed to force their troops to retreat. That is why the Russian army, having started a new offensive, resorted to looting, killing civilians, and destroying the city to nothing.

This is a common Russian war strategy that dates back to Soviet times—-destroy everything in their path, using all available means indiscriminately. As a result, a city that lived for three centuries has been destroyed.

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