Russia on Saturday said it had captured five villages in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region during a surprise ground offensive that prompted mass evacuations, as President Volodymyr Zelensky made an urgent call for military aid.

Moscow’s defense ministry said its troops had “liberated” five villages in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region near the Russian border — Borysivka, Ogirtseve, Pletenivka, Pylna and Strilecha — as well as taking one village in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s defense ministry said Friday Russia had launched a surprise attack on the Kharkiv region, making small advances into a border zone from where it had been pushed back nearly two years ago.

There was “heavy fighting” in the border area and 1,775 people have been evacuated, Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov wrote on social media.

The governor insisted there was “no threat of a ground operation” for the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest.

‘Saves Lives’

The Kharkiv region has been mostly under Ukrainian control since September 2022. Zelensky said Saturday troops must “return the initiative to Ukraine” and urged Kyiv’s allies to speed up arms deliveries.

“Every air-defense system, every anti-missile system is literally what saves lives,” Zelensky said.

“It is important that our partners support our soldiers and Ukrainian resilience with timely deliveries — really timely ones,” he added.

“The package that really helps is the weapons brought to Ukraine, not just the announced ones.”

Ukrainian forces have multiplied attacks inside Russia and Russia-held areas of Ukraine, particularly on energy infrastructure.

‘Not a Big Offensive’

Officials in Kyiv had warned for weeks that Moscow might try to attack its northeastern border regions, pressing its advantage as Ukraine struggles with delays in Western aid and manpower shortages.

Ukraine’s military said it had deployed reserve units “to strengthen the defense in these areas of the front”.

Military expert Olivier Kempf told AFP Saturday that Russia’s ground operation was most likely aimed at creating a buffer zone near its Belgorod region, recently raided by pro-Ukrainian units, or diverting Ukraine’s resources from the Donetsk region.

Washington announced a new $400 million military aid package for Kyiv hours after the offensive began, and said it was confident that Ukraine could repel any fresh Russian campaign.

With AFP