Kharkiv under full Ukrainian control, regional governor says
Oleh Sinegubov says Ukraine’s second largest city ‘being completely cleansed’ of Russian forces.
Ukrainian forces have full control of Kharkiv, the regional governor says, after fighting Russian troops in the streets of the country’s second largest city.
“Control over Kharkiv is completely ours! The armed forces, the police, and the defence forces are working, and the city is being completely cleansed of the enemy,” Oleh Sinegubov wrote on Facebook on Sunday afternoon, as Russia stepped up its four-day military advance.
Earlier, Sinegubov had said “the Russian enemy’s light vehicles broke into the city of Kharkiv” and called on residents not to leave shelters.
Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and a light vehicle burning on the street.
Maria Avdeeva, the Kharkiv-based research director at the European Expert Association, told Al Jazeera heavy shelling started late on Saturday and continued through the night and into the morning.
“I’ve even heard the [sound] of guns on the streets,” she said on Sunday morning.
“What we know now is that Russia is entering the city in small groups, on lighter military vehicles, and they are destroyed by the Ukrainian military. Some of the groups were already destroyed, they tried to get close to the city centre and we see many images of the destroyed Russian military vehicles,” she added.
“The situation is very fluid and the Ukrainian military fights back fiercely, and there are also territorial defence units, and these people will also participate in this fight on the streets.”
Reporting from the city of Dnipro, further south, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid said Russian forces had also blown up a gas pipeline north of Kharkiv as part of efforts to damage the country’s infrastructure.
“From what we understand, the city is now surrounded from all sides by the Russians and it is quite difficult also for civilians – those who are trying to escape – to get out of there,” she added.
Kharkiv is in Ukraine’s northeast, near the separatist-held regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, more than 400km (nearly 250 miles) from the capital, Kyiv.
“A lot of people who live there are ethnically Russian, and it is a city that had shown support to Russia in the past,” said Abdel-Hamid. “There are a lot of commercial and familial links between the two sides – and I think the Russians were quite surprised to see that this city, regardless of all these links, has actually put up a fight and is resisting their advance,” she added.
Abdel-Hamid said it was “by calculation” that the Russian forces eyed Kharkiv from the start of their offensive on Thursday.
“They wanted to use Kharkiv as some sort of a rear base, and from there maybe head south towards here Dnipro, which is a city that the Russians would like to take,” she added. Abdel-Hamid noted that when war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Dnipro “was the headquarters of the Ukrainian military and it was from here they were launching the attacks to push back the separatists”.
Elsewhere, huge explosions lit up the sky early Sunday south of the capital, Kyiv, where people hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale assault by Russian forces.
Flames billowed into the sky before dawn from an oil depot near an airbase in Vasylkiv, where there has been intense fighting, according to the town’s mayor. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said another explosion was at the civilian Zhuliany Airport.
On Saturday, four days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin told its troops to advance in Ukraine “from all directions”.
Russian ground forces have pressed into Ukraine from the north, east and south but have encountered fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops, the intensity of which has likely surprised Moscow, according to Western sources.