Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Launches Offensive In Kharkiv Region

Russia looks to be seeking to build on its recent momentum on the battlefield by opening up a new front in northeastern Ukraine.

byThomas Newdick|
Russian Artillery


Russia launched a new ground assault in the Kharkiv region in the northeast of Ukraine today. Reinforcements from the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been sent to the region to try and repel the Russian advances. A major offensive had long been expected here, prompted to a significant degree by the increasing tempo of Ukrainian-aligned cross-border raids that have penetrated into Russian territory.

Initial reports suggest that Russian attacks made use of armored vehicles and were focused on the border areas of the Kharkiv region. These were mainly beaten back by Ukrainian forces, according to Reuters, citing accounts from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

“At approximately 5:00 a.m. there was an attempt by the enemy to break through our defensive line under the cover of armored vehicles,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said. “As of now, these attacks have been repulsed; battles of varying intensity continue.”

The most recent accounts from the defense ministry said that fighting against Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups was continuing into Friday evening.

On the Telegram messaging app, Oleh Syniehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said today that Ukrainian forces were “confidently holding onto their positions and did not lose a single meter,” Reuters reported.

The initial focus of the new offensive appears to be an area near the town of Vovchansk. Today, a high-ranking Ukrainian military source confirmed that Russian forces had advanced one kilometer (0.62 miles) in this area, Reuters reported. The same source suggested that the Russian battle plan involves a push of up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) into the region, with the aim of establishing a buffer zone.

“The entire town is under massive shelling now, it is not safe to stay here,” Vovchansk administration head Tamaz Hambarishvili told Ukraine’s Hromadske Radio.

The process of evacuating Ukrainian civilians from Vovchansk and its surrounding areas has already begun, under the threat of Russian shelling.

Hambarishvili continued:

“The majority are leaving using their own transport. But at the same time, together with the humanitarian center, we are organizing transport for those who do not have cars.”

A new Russian offensive centered on the Kharkiv region was not unexpected. For some time now, there had been reports of a build-up of thousands of Russian troops on the Russian side of the border, close to the Kharkiv and Sumy regions.

“Ukraine met them there with troops: brigades and artillery,” President Volodymyr Zelensky told a press conference today, but warned that Russia was likely to send more troops to support its attempted advance.

The Russian ground offensive has been mainly focused on the Donetsk region, in eastern Ukraine, at least since the last of Moscow’s troops were driven out of most of the Kharkiv region in 2022. That marked a significant turnaround for Ukraine’s forces, but the foundering of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, launched last summer, has given the opportunity for the Russians to regroup and once again turn their attention to the Kharkiv region.

At the same time, Moscow’s forces are slowly advancing in the Donetsk region further south.

The apparent new campaign in the northeast was presaged by comments from the Kremlin in March.

The idea of a buffer zone within Ukraine to protect Russian territory from an uptick in Ukrainian cross-border infiltration attacks, as well as artillery and drone strikes, was raised by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who explained to reporters:

“Against the backdrop of drone attacks and the shelling of our territory — public facilities, residential buildings — measures must be taken to secure these territories. They can only be secured by creating some kind of buffer zone so that any means that the enemy uses to strike us are out of range.”

As we pointed out at the time, the idea of a buffer zone being able to protect targets in Russia from drone strikes is unrealistic. After all, Ukraine has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to use long-range drones to attack Russian targets as far away as Moscow and St. Petersburg. Now that range is increasing further, with the use of light aircraft converted into suicide drones. One such attack on a major Russian energy production site occurred just yesterday and reached out to as far as 1,500 kilometers.

As for the cross-border attacks executed by commandos, Russian officials have repeatedly downplayed these, but each one has been a propaganda victory for Kyiv and they are certainly highly embarrassing to Russia.

However, the comments were a signal that Russia may be poised to make another move on the Kharkiv region.

In recent months, Kharkiv, which is especially vulnerable due to its proximity to Russia, has been hit repeatedly by Russian strikes. In particular, the region’s energy infrastructure has suffered extensive damage.

The prospects for Russia capturing Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, any time soon are unlikely.

Oleh Syniehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said today that Russia doesn’t have the resources to advance on the city of Kharkiv and that its current actions, in the border areas, amounted to “provocations.”

However, a sustained offensive in the region would have the effect of more Ukrainian troops having to be pulled from other fronts, increasing the risk of further Russian breakthroughs elsewhere. Compounding this, as long as Russian forces maintain their momentum in the northeast, Ukrainian authorities will have to manage the evacuation of civilians from the region, putting a huge burden on resources.

For Kyiv, the concern now will be the opening of a potential new front in the northeast that will tie down soldiers and resources. The timing of this could barely be worse from a Ukrainian perspective, with shortages of manpower and additional military equipment promised by the West. After months of stasis, this materiel is only now starting to arrive. As we approach the summer, the momentum on the battlefield appears to be behind the Kremlin’s forces.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

The Latest

Among the notable developments to come out of recent fighting in the Kharkiv region is what could the first visual evidence of one of Ukraine’s so-called FrankenSAM air defense systems.

In this case, as was widely expected, a Soviet-era Buk-M1 (SA-11 Gadfly) mobile medium-range surface-to-air missile system appears to have been adapted to fire Western-supplied, U.S.-origin missiles, likely the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow and/or AIM-9 Sidewinder. The vehicle was destroyed by a Russian strike while underway, reportedly in the Kharkiv region.

You can read more about the FrankenSAM efforts here and here.

The ground offensive in the Kharkiv region has been accompanied by continuing Russian air strikes there. The latest Russian missile attack on Kharkiv injured two people and set three houses on fire early Friday morning, Reuters reported.

Mayor of Kharkiv Ihor Terekhov said that one repurposed S-300 surface-to-air missile targeted the city, damaging 26 buildings, and destroying two of them completely.

Two people, including an 11-year-old child, were shell-shocked, Governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

According to Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Illya Yevlash, Russia launched two repurposed S-300/S-400 surface-to-air missiles at ground targets in the region overnight; the target of the second missile was not disclosed.

Ukrainian authorities said that they downed all 10 drones launched overnight by Russia against targets in the Kharkiv region, but two people were injured and residential buildings were consumed by fire as a result.

Meanwhile, a guided bomb attack damaged around 25 buildings when it struck near an undisclosed infrastructure facility in the town of Derhachi, in the Kharkiv region, close to the Russian border, Governor Syniehubov said.

Russian aerial bombs, apparently of the FAB series, are purportedly the subject of the next video, which is said to show an accurate strike against an undisclosed Ukrainian target.

In this case, the bombs are likely of the UMPK type, or Unifitsirovannyi Modul Planirovaniya i Korrektsii, meaning unified gliding and correction module. As we have discussed before, the UMPK comprises a wing and guidance kit fitted to a general-purpose bomb, a weapon that has become a particular concern for Ukraine.

The effects of the relentless Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure will likely be felt throughout the summer, the head of the country’s grid operator said today.

Volodymyr Kudrytskiy, the head of Ukrenergo, said that Ukraine would face an increase in electricity shortages this summer, a result of continued Russian attacks on power stations combined with rising consumption.

“We will definitely face challenges in the summer and these challenges will be primarily related to capacity shortages due to damage to power plants,” Kudrytskiy said.

Russian attacks on the Ukrainian energy system have forced Ukrenergo to put restrictions on the power supply for industrial consumers and authorities have called upon the general population to reduce their energy use.

“We realize that today is not the most difficult situation yet, we have not yet seen the real summer heat, and air conditioning systems are not yet in use,” Kudrytskiy added.

Meanwhile, the latest round of Ukrainian long-range drone strikes saw an oil refinery set ablaze in Russia’s Kaluga region, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported today, citing emergency services sources.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in its latest intelligence analysis, notes that Russia’s Victory Day parades this year were “reduced in scale” compared to pre-war events.

Parades were canceled in 24 cities this year, compared to 21 canceled parades in 2023. Most of the events were canceled in regions that border Ukraine, due to “poor security,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense assessed.

With frontline forces heavily committed in Ukraine, of the 30 units on parade in the Russian capital this year, “over two-thirds” were sourced from “military academies, youth, and veteran groups.”

A total of 9,000 military cadets, veterans, and service personnel took part in the Moscow parade this year, an increase over 2023 when 8,000 were involved. The last such event before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in 2021, had 11,000 participants.

At the Victory Day parade in Moscow, only one tank was present — a veteran T-34 dating back to World War Two.

In another embarrassing turn of events for Russia, it appears that hackers interfered with the broadcast of the Victory Day parade on smart TVs, instead showing alternative footage of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including Russian military vehicles wrecked or abandoned, and troops under fire.

In its analysis of the parade, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said:

“With the significant losses in Russian personnel and equipment as a result of the Ukraine war, there was no opportunity for Russia to use the parades to demonstrate military strength.”

In related news, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces claims that Russia has lost 479,710 troops, 7,434 tanks, and 14,313 other armored personnel carriers since the conflict began.

Other losses reported include 16,691 vehicles and fuel tanks, 12,387 artillery systems, 1,062 multiple launch rocket systems, 349 fixed-wing aircraft, 325 helicopters, 9,826 drones, and 26 ships and boats.

These figures have not been independently verified and are almost certainly inflated.

The United Kingdom will expel the Russian defense attache as part of its response to what Secretary of State for the Home Department James Cleverly described as “malign activity” on the part of Moscow.

As well as expelling that diplomat, the United Kingdom will remove diplomatic status from some properties and limit the length of Russian diplomatic visas.

Cleverly said the United Kingdom was already “an extremely challenging operating environment for Russian intelligence services” but the measures would “only serve to strengthen our resilience to the Russian threat.”

Meanwhile, the European Union has agreed to use profits arising from Russia’s frozen state assets to buy weapons for Ukraine.

In a meeting earlier this week, the bloc’s 27 ambassadors agreed to use 90 percent of the estimated annual profits of around $3.24 billion to buy arms and other military equipment for Kyiv’s forces. The remaining 10 percent will be used for reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.

Western nations immobilized Russia’s state assets abroad in 2022, in response to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The countdown is on for Ukraine to receive its long-awaited F-16 fighters.

According to a senior Ukrainian military source, the first of the jets will be delivered in June or July, Reuters reports.

So far, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium have committed to sending F-16s to Ukraine.

Another item of U.S. military hardware that has had a major effect on the battlefield is the fleet of M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In the past, we have seen various examples of the destructive power of the 25mm automatic gun on the Bradley, including its ability to take out tanks. Less often seen in action is the Bradley’s Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missile system. As can be seen in the video below, this is also able to destroy tanks. 

Fishing nets appear to be among the ad-hoc defenses Russia is using to protect its troops and vehicles against attack by Ukrainian first-person-view (FPV) drones. The effectiveness of this measure is unclear, but it’s not the first time that we have seen different types of netting being used as a defense against drones.

In September last year, for example, TWZ reported about how Russian troops were draping camouflage nets across light poles over roadways near Bakhmut, as a measure to stop or otherwise deter Ukrainian FPV drones attempting to strike its vehicles on the roadway.

One of the recent tanks to fall prey to Ukrainian drones was this T-90M, featuring additional rubber blocks for protection, as well as a counter-drone jamming system. The defensive measures were of no use in this instance, with the tank apparently being knocked out by a drone-dropped grenade sometime in April.

Another T-90M appears to be the subject of the next video. The tank takes at least two separate hits from Ukrainian drones, sending its turret rotating before the vehicle grinds to a halt.

As we have discussed in the past, the T-90M is the most technologically advanced and capable main battle tank to have achieved fully operational status with the Russian Armed Forces. The next-generation T-14 Armata is not yet used by frontline armored formations and is available only in very modest numbers. So far, it has not appeared in the war in Ukraine.

More footage has emerged of a Russian T-72 ‘turtle tank’ conversion, apparently the same one that we profiled earlier this week, fitted with a KMT-series mine roller. Interestingly, this video reveals how an external camera provides the crew with a view of the outside world, despite the extensive armor modifications for protection against drone attacks, notably first-person view FPV types. A video feed from the camera is presented on a screen, providing a better view, at least in the frontal sector.

That's it until our next update.

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