War in Ukraine

Russian Troops Struggle to Capture Vovchansk. Here’s the Latest on Russia’s New Offensive in the Kharkiv Region

Russian Troops Struggle to Capture Vovchansk. Here’s the Latest on Russia’s New Offensive in the Kharkiv Region

On May 10th, Russian troops launched a new offensive in the Kharkiv region. However, rapid progress in the region did not happen; battles are ongoing in border areas, and the Russian forces have managed to advance only by 10 km.

At the beginning of May 2024, Russia opened a new front. A group of 5-battalions launched a new offensive in the north of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. For this, Russia created a new military group called "Sever."  

But Russia’s plan for a rapid advance into the depths of the region was almost immediately stopped: Ukraine transferred additional reserves and organized the defense of its borders.

Vovchansk, the largest town in the area, became the center of the clash. We visited the town on May 12th to document the situation there at the time. By then, most of the population was evacuated, and the Russian army began to turn it into a wasteland. They constantly shelled the city, continuing to do so to this day. As reported by the General Staff, only in one day—on May 16th, 2024—Russia carried out:

  • 38 airstrikes using KABs. 

  • 181 artillery strikes.

But the city itself still remains under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces—battles are taking place on the approaches to Vovchansk and in its vicinity. According to Ukrainian reports, since the start of the offensive, the Russian army has lost about 1,000 people and more than a hundred units of equipment. 

Despite the losses, the Russian military aims to capture Vovchansk—driving the Ukrainian armed forces out of the city. According to Ukraine’s General Staff, despite the difficult situation and constant attacks, the city is being held, and Russia’s plan to capture it has been thwarted. According to journalists working in the area, the Russian army is using its entire range of equipment for the offensive: artillery, tanks, armored vehicles, and a large number of various drones.

Russian forces are also trying to advance in other areas of the Kharkiv region, but Ukraine is stopping them. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the deepest advance is no more than 10 km. Russia only reached the first line of defense, where it was stopped by Ukrainian troops. The President said that in some areas where the Russian army was planning an attack, the advance did not take place at all.

Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, reported that the enemy has expanded the zone of active hostilities by almost 70 kilometers. The main goal is to stretch the Ukrainian forces and force them to pull additional reserves to this area.

Crimes against civilians

It seems that the Russian forces are repeating their actions against civilians in the Kyiv region from March of 2022 in the Kharkiv region today. According to Ukraine’s Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko, the Russians are taking civilians prisoner: they are forbidden to evacuate from the city and surrounding villages, and they are driven into basements as well as used as human shields. In addition, Klymenko shared details about cases of executions of Ukrainian civilians:

One of the residents of Vovchansk tried to escape by foot, refused to follow the orders of the invaders—so the Russians killed him.

Ihor Klymenko

Ukraine’s Interior Minister

What was Russia's plan?

According to reports from Russians who were captured by Ukrainian soldiers, the Russian troops were supposed to organize a quick offensive and quickly go deep into the region. They aimed to create a buffer zone between the Ukrainian Kharkiv and Russian Belgorod regions. This would also allow them to use cannon artillery to strike directly at Kharkiv, which has been shelled with KABs every day in recent months.

The Ukrainian military leadership has repeatedly reported that the Russian army was preparing for this plan. They said that Russia was gathering a new group of troops for an offensive in the Kharkiv region to increasing pressure on existing front-line areas. 

Currently, active battles are taking place along the entire line of contact as the Russian army tries to push through. The head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, spoke about this in his last interview, saying that May would be very difficult for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

According to Syrskiy, the enemy launched the offensive significantly earlier than planned—when they noticed the deployment of Ukrainian troops in that direction.

Another front in Sumy?

The Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) also reports that Russia may open another front and launch an offensive in the Sumy region. In recent months, Russian troops have been constantly shelling the border with the Sumy Oblast and carrying out sabotage raids. 

According to Syrskiy, Ukraine is preparing the region for active defense, too:

I drove around and inspected all the units that are preparing for defense in the Sumy direction.

Oleksandr Syrskyi

Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief

For Russia, this is an attempt to stretch Ukrainian forces without reducing pressure on other parts of the front. The Russian presence on Ukrainian territory has already exceeded half a million soldiers, and Russia has never used such large forces for the war with Ukraine.

Western aid remains extremely important for Ukraine, especially concerning the supply of artillery shells and armored vehicles. One of the reasons Russia decided to open a new front is precisely the hope that Ukraine will simply have nothing to fight with due to the delay in the supply of military assistance from allies.

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