Hundreds of people were evacuated from areas near the Russian border in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, the regional governor said Saturday, a day after Moscow launched a surprise ground offensive.

“A total of 1,775 people have been evacuated,” governor Oleg Synegubov wrote on social media, adding that there had been Russian artillery and mortar attacks on 30 settlements in the region over the past 24 hours.

Russian forces made small advances in the border area it was pushed back from nearly two years ago.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said a “fierce battle” was on in the area.

The Kharkiv region has been mostly under Ukrainian control since September 2022.

A senior Ukrainian military source said Russian forces had advanced one kilometre (0.6 miles) into Ukraine and were trying to “create a buffer zone” in the Kharkiv and neighbouring Sumy regions to prevent attacks on Russian territory.

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 more troops and Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were using artillery and drones to thwart the Russian advance.

“Reserve units have been deployed to strengthen the defence in this area of the front,” it said.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said on Friday that Russia had made “tactically significant gains”.

But the main aim of the operation was “drawing Ukrainian manpower and materiel from other critical sectors of the front in eastern Ukraine,” it said.

ISW said it did not appear to be “a large-scale sweeping offensive operation to envelop, encircle and seize Kharkiv” — Ukraine’s second biggest city.

With AFP