Ukrainian authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation Thursday of nearly 12,000 civilians from 37 towns and villages in the eastern Kharkiv region, where Russian forces are reportedly making a concerted effort to punch through the front line.
The local military administration in Kharkiv’s Kupiansk district said residents must comply with the evacuation order or sign a document saying they would stay at their own risk. Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar had said the previous day that “the intensity of combat and enemy shelling is high” in the area.
The city of Kupiansk and the territories around it were under Russian occupation until September 2022, when Ukrainian forces conducted a rapid offensive operation that dislodged the Kremlin’s forces from nearly the entire Kharkiv region.
Advance on rail junction
The retaking of those areas strengthened Ukraine’s argument that its troops could deliver more stinging defeats to Russia with additional armament deliveries, which its Western allies duly provided. But as Ukraine has pursued a slow-moving counteroffensive in recent weeks, Russian forces have struck back in some areas.
Maliar said Russia “has formed an offensive group and is attempting to move forward” in the area in an effort to advance on the Ukrainian-held city of Kupiansk, an important rail junction.
It was not possible to independently verify either side’s battlefield claims.
Drones knocked down
Earlier Thursday, Russian air defence systems shot down two drones heading toward Moscow for the second straight day, officials said, with the attack disrupting flights at two international airports as Ukraine appeared to step up its assault on Russian soil.
One drone was downed in the Kaluga region southwest of Moscow and another near a major Moscow ring road, according to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and the Russian Defence Ministry, which blamed the attack on Ukraine.
No casualties or damage were immediately reported.
Domodedovo airport, south of the city, halted flights for more than two hours and Vnukovo airport, southwest of the city, stopped flights for more than 2.5 hours and redirected some incoming aircraft to other airports, according to Russian news agencies.
Bringing the war to Russians
It wasn’t clear where the drones were launched, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment. Ukraine usually neither confirms nor denies such attacks.
Firing drones at Moscow after more than 17 months of war has little apparent military value for Ukraine, but the strategy has served to unsettle Russians and bring home to them the conflict’s consequences.
Russia’s Defence Ministry also said it had stopped Ukrainian drone attacks in Moscow-annexed Crimea. It said it shot down two drones near the port city of Sevastopol and electronically jammed nine that crashed into the Black Sea.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian media reported social media blogs as saying that a thick plume of smoke billowed over Sevastopol, which is the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
The governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said the smoke came from a “fleet training exercise” and urged local residents not to worry.
The incidents have come against the backdrop of Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive, which Ukrainian and Western officials have warned will be a long slog against the Kremlin’s deeply entrenched forces.
Shelling kills 6
Ukraine’s presidential office said at least six civilians were killed and 27 injured between Wednesday and Thursday.
In eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province, Russia shelled 16 cities and villages, and three people were killed, the office reported. In Zaporizhzhia, three people were killed and nine wounded, including an 11-month-old baby.
Meanwhile, 12 people remained missing after an explosion Wednesday at a factory that makes optical equipment for Russian security forces, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing emergency officials.
Russia’s Emergency Ministry said 71 people required medical assistance after the explosion.
Russian officials did not offer a suspected cause of the explosion at the Zagorsk plant in the region around Moscow, which added to jitters about potential Ukrainian drone strikes.
Ukraine’s state-owned power generating company, Energoatom, said Thursday that the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant lost connection again to its last remaining main external power line overnight and was switched to a reserve power line.
The company said the plant — which has six reactors and is the largest in Europe — was on the verge of a blackout as the reserve line had less than half the power capacity of the main line.
“Such a regime is difficult for the reactor plant, its duration is limited by the project’s design and it can result in failure of the main equipment of the energy unit,” Energoatom said via Telegram.
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