War in Ukraine

Russia pounds Kharkiv in worst strikes for weeks

Ukraine says shelling aimed at forcing Kyiv to divert forces from the main battlefield

KYIV/KHARKIV • Russian forces have pounded Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv and the surrounding countryside with rockets, killing at least 15 people, in what Kyiv called a bid to force it to pull resources from the main battlefield to protect civilians from attack.

The Russian strikes on Kharkiv, throughout Tuesday and continuing yesterday morning, were the worst for weeks in the area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Russian forces back in a major counter-offensive last month.

"It was shelling by Russian troops. It was probably multiple rocket launchers. And it's the missile impact, it's all the missile impact," Kharkiv prosecutor Mikhailo Martosh told Reuters amid the ruins of cottages struck on Tuesday in a rural area on the city's outskirts.

The Ukrainian authorities said there were reports of more casualties overnight and yesterday morning after 15 people were killed and 16 wounded on Tuesday in the Kharkiv region.

"Russian forces are now hitting the city of Kharkiv in the same way that they previously were hitting Mariupol - with the aim of terrorising the population," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address.

"And if they keep doing that, we will have to react - and that is one way to make us move our artillery," he said.

"The idea is to create one big problem to distract us and force us to divert troops. I think there will be an escalation."

The main battlefield is now to the south of Kharkiv in the Donbas region, which Moscow has been trying to seize on behalf of its separatist proxies, with the worst fighting concentrated in the devastated city of Sievierodonetsk.

The Russians are advancing towards the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, attacking buildings of police, state security and prosecutors and taking nearby settlements, said Mr Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the surrounding Luhansk region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the military situation in Luhansk was very difficult and Mr Arestovych said Russian forces could cut off Lysychansk, and Sievierodonetsk across the Siverskyi Donets river, from Ukrainian-held territory.

Intense fighting was also going on along the border with Russia in north-eastern Ukraine, said Mr Dmytro Zhyvytsky, the governor of Sumy region.

Meanwhile, seven Russian missiles hit the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.

In other fighting, six children were among 11 wounded in Chasiv Yar on Tuesday when the Russians fired at a beach on Lake Zolota Rybka, the governor of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, Mr Pavlo Kyrylenko, said yesterday.

Inside Russia, a fire tore through an oil refinery just 8km from the Ukrainian border, after what the refinery described as a cross-border attack by two drones.

There was no immediate Ukrainian comment about the apparent drone strike which suspended production at Russia's Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery, on the Russian side of the frontier with Donbas territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Video footage posted on social media appeared to show a drone flying towards the refinery, before a large ball of flame and black smoke billowed up into the summer sky. In a separate incident, the Russian authorities said four people were killed after a shell exploded at an ammunition depot deep inside Russia.

Yesterday was marked in both Russia and Ukraine as the "Day of Remembrance and Sorrow", the anniversary of the day when Hitler's Germany attacked the Soviet Union. An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died in World War II.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at a memorial flame for the dead. World War II plays a prominent role in Russian propaganda over the Ukraine invasion, which Mr Putin calls a "special operation" to root out "Nazis".


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2022, with the headline Russia pounds Kharkiv in worst strikes for weeks. Subscribe