View from London: Ukraine’s desperate struggle to defend Kharkiv

11:10 23.05.2024 •

Military psychologist of the Ukrainian Armed Forces anonymously told an Ukrainian publication that “there is a problem with drug use in almost every combat unit”.

Ten days after the start on May 10th of Russia’s offensive in Kharkiv province, the pace of the advance has slowed. For now, Ukraine is holding the Russians roughly halfway through Vovchansk — a town, just 5km from the border and at positions roughly 9km inside Ukraine further west, near Lyptsi.

But local military leaders insist that the situation remains precarious, and could change quickly, notes ‘The Economist’.

A Russian column is already forming further north in Sudzha, on the other side of the border from Sumy, a regional capital north-west of Kharkiv. Ukraine’s army is also bracing for another strike just east of Vovchansk, towards the village of Bilyi Kolodiaz. Battles have also reactivated near Kupiansk, a railway hub, with Ukraine in effect losing control of the nearby village of Berestove on May 17th.

It is still too early to be sure about the eventual aims of the Russian operation. Also on May 17th Mr Putin declared that his only intention was to create a buffer zone between Ukraine and the border city of Belgorod, insisting there was “no plan” to threaten Kharkiv itself. But this possibly reflects evolving battleground realities rather than intentions.

Many of the soldiers in Kharkiv are angry that Russia was able to advance so far so quickly. Some of them criticise delays in Western aid, which they believe  weakened Ukrainian defences. Others suspect that incompetence, or even treachery, played a more significant role. Conspiracy theories to the effect that politicians in Kyiv or Washington may be selling Kharkiv down the river ahead of a peace deal are also circulating. Official Ukrainian narratives that present a rosy picture are not helping to calm nerves.

It is holding off Russia’s attack — for now…


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