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Zelensky says Ukraine has taken back control in areas of Kharkiv region

The claims contradict those made by Russian officials.

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Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian forces have secured “combat control” of areas where Russian troops entered the north-eastern Kharkiv region earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“Our soldiers have now managed to take combat control of the border area where the Russian occupiers entered,” the President said in his nightly video address on Friday.

Mr Zelensky’s comments appeared to be at odds with those made by Russian officials.

Viktor Vodolatskiy, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Russian forces now controlled more than half of the town of Vovchansk, three miles inside the border, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

Vovchansk has been a flashpoint for fighting since Russia launched an offensive in the Kharkiv region on May 10.

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Burnt books are seen in a damaged workshop of Ukraine’s largest printing house (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Mr Vodolatskiy was also quoted as saying that, once Vovchansk was secured, Russian forces would target the cities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk in the neighbouring Donetsk region.

No independent confirmation of the claims was immediately possible.

Meanwhile, two people were killed on Saturday in an aerial attack on the city of Kharkiv, which is the region’s capital, according to local officials.

Regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said 33 others were wounded when a bomb hit a large construction supplies store on Saturday afternoon, causing a huge fire to break out.

He said more than 200 people could have been inside the store, later noting that the fire had been contained. A second bomb hit the city’s central park, Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said.

Mr Zelensky called the airstrike on the store “a manifestation of Russian madness” and appealed to Western countries to provide Ukraine with air defence systems.

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Firefighters put out a fire after two guided bombs hit a large construction supplies store in Kharkiv (Andrii Marienko/AP)

“When we tell world leaders that Ukraine requires adequate air defence protection … we are literally talking about how not to allow such terrorist strikes,” he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Russia’s Kharkiv push appears to be a co-ordinated new offensive that includes testing Ukrainian defences in the Donetsk region further south, while also launching incursions in the northern Sumy and Chernihiv regions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Kremlin’s army is attempting to create a “buffer zone” in the Kharkiv region to prevent Ukrainian cross-border attacks.

Kharkiv is about 12 miles from the Russian border.

Artillery fire
Servicemen of Ukraine’s 93rd Mechanised Brigade fire a French MO-120-RT heavy mortar at the Russian forces on the front line near the city of Bakhmut (AP)

Moscow’s troops have in recent weeks captured villages in the area as part of a broad push, and analysts say they may be trying to get within artillery range of the city.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated more than 11,000 people from the region since the start of the offensive.

The Russian push is shaping up to be Ukraine’s biggest test since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, with outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian forces being pressed at several points along the 620-mile front line that snakes from north to south in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s problems have been mounting in recent months as it tries to hold out against its much bigger foe, and the war appears to be at a critical juncture.

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