Ukraine Situation Report: Kharkiv Oblast City Planning Evacuation As Russians Approach

As Russia presses the main thrust of its offensive in Kharkiv Oblast closer to the city of Kupiansk, officials there are planning a mandatory civilian evacuation. Ukrainian military officials say Russian troops are now less than five miles from the city. It’s a situation that, if unchecked, could impact Kyiv’s ongoing counteroffensive.

“More than 11,000 people, including 600 children, are expected to be evacuated,” Kharkiv Regional State Administrator Oleg Synegubov said Wednesday on his Telegram channel. “Everyone will be provided with the necessary assistance, evacuees will be provided with temporary housing in safer areas.”

The evacuation plan was discussed at a meeting Wednesday, said Synegubov, as the impact of war gets closer.

“The enemy has significantly increased the shelling of settlements close to the front line and continues to terrorize the civilian population, including using airstrikes,” he said. “Under such conditions, the risks to the life and health of civilians have increased significantly.”

In addition to drawing up evacuation plans, officials in Kupiansk are working on a way to keep education programs going for those who choose to stay. That includes a mixture of remote and in-person learning.

Kharkiv Regional State Administrator Oleg Synegubov (third from left) discusses plans to evacuate Kupiansk. (Oleg Synegubov Telegram)

“Shelters in all educational institutions of the Kharkiv region that plan to conduct classes offline will be checked for compliance with safety requirements,” said Synegubov.

“Preschool, school, professional pre-higher and higher education institutions should promptly inform law enforcement agencies and the State Emergency Service authorities about their decisions regarding mixed or face-to-face education because all ready-made shelters must pass an inspection,” said Synegubov. “Currently, 11 institutions of general secondary education in the Kharkiv region are planning to start the educational process using a mixed form of education. But this will be possible only if the shelters meet the safety requirements. The same applies to 18 preschool institutions and five institutions of higher education, which plan to work in a mixed format.”

The evacuation plans in Kupiansk are being drawn up as the Ukrainian military says the main thrust of the Russian offensive in the region is pushing toward the city.

The Russians have created an offensive group consisting of eight “Storm-Z assault units” to take Kupiansk, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told Ukrainska Pravda Wednesday.

At the same time, the Russians were advancing from the area of Novoselivske – about 16 miles southeast in Luhansk Oblast, Syrskyi told the publication. They unsuccessfully attempted to cut off the Ukrainian defenders with a flank attack and encircle some of the brigade’s units defending there, he said. The general visited the Kupiansk area on Tuesday, he said on his Telegram channel. 

“Our soldiers are bravely holding the defense, repelling all the enemy’s attempts to advance,” Syrskyi stressed.

The Russians have also been staging “unsuccessful offensives in the Sinkivka district of the Kharkiv region for several days,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Wednesday on her Telegram channel. That’s about three miles northeast of Kupiansk. The goal is to “break through the defense of our troops and go directly to Kupiansk. The intensity of hostilities and enemy shelling is high. For some positions, there are several position changes per day.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces have achieved success in their push toward Kupiansk.

“In the course of combat operations in Kupiansk direction, assault groups of the 6th Combined Arms Army captured four strongholds, five observation posts, destroyed a U.K.-manufactured Spartan Armored Personnel Carrier, one supply point and destroyed up to a company of infantry from the 67th Separate Mechanized Brigade near Mankovka tract,” the Russian MoD claimed. “In addition, during the day the enemy carried out nine counterattacks by units of the 67th and 14th separate mechanized brigades on Russian positions close to Sinkivka and Mankovka tract. All counterattacks were successfully repelled. The enemy losses were up to a platoon of manpower.”

Kupiansk, where Russian forces are making a push toward, is about 60 miles east of Kharkiv City. (Google Earth image)

An evacuation from Kupiansk would mark the second time since March that officials there have urged residents to flee to safer places because of the fierce fighting in the area.

“Enemy forces are relentlessly trying to attack the positions of our forces. That’s why we announced mandatory evacuation,” Synegubov said on national television in March. He added that the local authorities and volunteer groups were trying to move people to safer locations elsewhere in the region. 

But even before March, the city has borne a significant brunt of this all-out war. In September, Ukraine recaptured all of Kupiansk, crossing over the Oskil River. It was a key moment in its successful ‘lightning’ Kharkiv counteroffensive.

The current fighting comes weeks after Ukrainian military officials claimed that Russia had amassed more than 100,000 troops and 900 tanks in that part of the battlefield.

Given the slow and costly nature of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia Oblast and the Donbas, any Russian breakthrough in Kharkiv Oblast would be of great concern to Kyiv. It could force Ukraine to reallocate forces and equipment to shore up that front, further diminishing its ability to liberate territory, up to and including Crimea.

We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates when warranted.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

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Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukrainian forces are continuing their push south toward Melitopol and Berdiansk, and appear to be making incremental gains between Robotyne and Verbove in Zaporizhzhia Oblast and near Urozhayne in Donetsk Oblast.

“Our defenders had partial success in the direction of Urozhayne, Priyutne and Verbove. Now they are fixed at the achieved boundaries,” Maliar, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, said Wednesday on her Telegram channel.

Several Russian Telegram channels agreed with her assessment about the Robotyne area and offered more details.

In a battle that raged into the morning hours Wednesday, “combined assault units of the 46th Marine Brigade, with the support of the 15th brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine, once again attacked the positions of the Russian Armed Forces east of Robotyne,” the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel reported Wednesday. “Before that, the sappers of the two brigades removed minefields and went on the attack with the task of penetrating the defenses 400 meters between two villages. As a result of the fighting, the Armed Forces of Ukraine entrenched 3 km east of Robotyne.”

Ukrainian forces “did not achieve their initial goals, however, they were able to consolidate on a stronghold, which was previously in the gray zone,” Rybar reported. “Now the artillery of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is striking at the front line, supporting the infantry with fire.”

The Armed Forces of Ukraine “are again throwing waves of infantry into the attack on our positions in the fields at the Robotyne-Verbove line,” the Operation Z Telegram channel reported, adding that Ukrainian troops are carrying out dismounted attacks in the area.

Ukrainian artillery “is firing massively, trying to knock out ours with cluster munitions. Assault groups of the Armed Forces of Ukraine roll on our positions again without armored vehicles, breaking through to our trenches.”

Speaking of Kupiansk, Ukrainian soldiers stationed there say there is a large disconnect between the type of training provided by NATO allies and the fighting that actually takes place.

“I don’t want to say anything against our partners, but they don’t quite understand our situation and how we are fighting,” a senior intelligence sergeant in the newly formed 41st Mechanized Brigade – who goes by the name “Dutchman” – told openDemocracy. “That’s why the main training and the integrated training happens here.”

To date, the U.S. and NATO allies have trained more than 60,000 Ukrainian troops. “Yet NATO can only currently offer Ukrainian soldiers basic training, shifting the burden of vital combat training back to Ukraine,” openDemocracy reported Tuesday. “Time constraints mean that stage two training doesn’t always happen, or happen in full, in Ukraine or the West.”

“It would be better if either [the instructors] came here to see what we’re facing or we went there to train their instructors to train our troops,” Dutchman told openDemocracy, adding that he recognizes that NATO preclusions about putting boots on the ground would not allow them to visit Ukraine.

Members of the 41st Brigade told the publication that their instructors often used examples of NATO operations in the Middle East, where the objective is to clear houses and identify potential insurgents among the local population.

But “that’s not really relevant to us,” said Dutchman.

“For the most part, [Western instructors] have fought wars in cities and towns – urban settings. We are on flat ground a lot of the time,” said Dutchman.

The tactics that Ukrainian officers and commanders badly want their troops to learn while being trained abroad are either only part of the syllabus or not featured at all.

“We need people to understand how to effectively clear trenches, enter them, how to throw grenades effectively, how not to trip on booby traps, to understand what grenades the [Russians] throw – essentially to understand the enemy,” explained Dutchman.

The Biden administration will announce a request for billions of dollars in additional funding for weapons and other aid for Ukraine on Thursday, Politico is reporting. The outlet cites “two people with direct knowledge of the timing of the request.”

The ask is also expected to include aid to Taiwan and money to replenish rapidly dwindling disaster relief cash, the publication said, adding that final spending authority lies with the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Politico’s sources did not provide details on the amount of the request or what might weapons it might contain.

The request for additional money to help Ukraine comes amid an already pitched government funding battle on Capitol Hill, Politico noted. “Several conservative lawmakers maintain deep skepticism over giving the country another dime without a fuller accounting of how assistance has been spent to date,” the publication stated.

Government funding dries up at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, and House and Senate appropriators are anticipating that money for Ukraine, Taiwan and disaster relief could ride to passage with a stopgap spending patch that averts a shutdown.

The Pentagon has declined to talk about any additional funding requests. But regardless of political fights, it still has about $6 billion in Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) funding to spend this fiscal year, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters on Tuesday. That represents money the Pentagon found earlier this year after an accounting revaluation. PDA packages are made up of weapons already in the Pentagon’s stocks as opposed to having to purchase new ones.

“That is still a substantial amount and we feel confident that we can continue to supply Ukraine with what it needs on the battlefield,” Singh said, “but I’m just not going to get ahead of anything in terms of any supplemental or any additional requests to Congress.”

Germany on Wednesday announced it was providing Ukraine with two additional Patriot air defense launchers in its latest package of aid. That’s in addition to the system Berlin already provided in April that consisted of German and Dutch components.

The package also includes more than 6,500 rounds of 155mm howitzer smoke rounds, 100 MG5 machines guns, additional trucks and other equipment.

Ukraine relies heavily on the SpaceX Starlink satellite communications system for relatively secure, reliable and remote comms. And now Ukraine is getting some additional terminals, this time from a Swedish company.

Satcube will transfer about a hundred of its satellite communications terminals to Ukraine, the Swedish Dagens Nyheter news outlet reported Wednesday.

Satcube CEO Jakob Kallmér said Ukraine received the first terminals in early summer.

Unlike Starlink, which uses its own constellation of satellites, Satcube relies on the geostationary satellite network of the American operator Intelsat Ltd.

The Ukraine Weapons Tracker open source intelligence group posted what it says are the first images seen of North Korean munitions being used by Russians in Ukraine. These R-122 122mm rockets, provided to BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) crews, most likely didn’t come from North Korea directly, according to Ukraine Weapons Tracker. Instead, they were most likely sent to Russia by Iran, the group said.

It’s no secret, however, that Russia has been turning to North Korea for badly needed ammunition. As we noted last month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asked North Korea for 152mm artillery shells during his recent visit to Pyongyang. A Pentagon spokesperson on Tuesday said “any arms deal between the DPRK and Russia would violate UN Security Council resolutions.”

“We will continue to identify and expose these transfers…and make sure that any country that does decide or plans to do business with North Korea is prepared for the consequences,” said Singh, the Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary. “We’ll make sure that we’re doing our part and due diligence in exposing that.”

Speaking of BM-21 Grads, video recently emerged of a long column of nearly two dozen sporting “cope cages.” The metal appendages began appearing on Russian armored vehicles in late 2021 amid the pre-war buildup as a counter to loitering munitions and drone-dropped bomblets.

New video has emerged of an apparently unsuccessful Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessel attack attempt on a Russian Navy warship. The video shows a Ukrainian USV approaching a Project 22160 corvette ship, then turning toward its port bow before traversing the length of the ship. The video seems to pause at about the 24-second mark and what happened next is unclear.

It is also unclear when the video was taken, or if it is connected to any previously reported such attacks. Last month, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed it destroyed two Ukrainian USVs attempting an attack on the Sergey Kotov, a Project 22160 vessel. You can read more about that in our story here.

Ukraine has used USVs in many attacks on Russian vessels in the Black Sea, most recently damaging the chemical/oil tanker Sig, which was previously sanctioned for carrying jet fuel to Syria. You can read more about that in our story here.

The attack on the Sig was the second successful drone boat strike on Russian ships in the Black Sea in a 24-hour period.

On Wednesday, new images emerged of the Russian Project 775 Ropucha-class landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak which was heavily damaged Aug. 3 by Ukrainian drone boats. The vessel is seen in this Planet Labs satellite image on a dry dock at the Novorossiysk Navy Base in Russia.

The M113 Armored Personnel Carriers provided to Ukraine are far from the newest or most capable vehicles around, but at least some have apparently been equipped with Turkish SARP-Dual remotely operated, stabilized weapons systems that have day/night vision capability, automatic target tracking and computer-based shot control functions.

Another video of a U.S.-supplied vehicle hitting a mine emerged on social media. The Humvee in the video below saw its engine compartment blown up by an apparent mine. It is unknown from this video what happened to the troops it was hauling.

As the fight continues around Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops are seen in this video advancing toward Russian positions, eventually reaching one and capturing several troops, some who were provided medical treatment.

Here’s another view of a Ukrainian AK-74 with a “Black Storm” bullpup conversion kit that moves the magazine to the rear of the grip instead of in front of it.

And finally, while it may not exactly be “glamping,” this Ukrainian field camp set up in the back of a U.S.-donated M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle at least offers a relatively protected place for tired troops to catch some much-needed rest.

That’s it for now. We’ll be back when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.