Ukraine has retreated from several villages in Kharkiv region on Wednesday, as Russia advanced on multiple axis and Zelensky cancels all foreign trips.

Ukraine on Wednesday said it had pulled back troops near several villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region where Russian forces have been advancing and pounding settlements in a new offensive along the border.

President Volodymyr Zelensky cancelled planned trips abroad over the fresh offensive and the military was sending more troops to Kharkiv to hold back Russian advances, Kyiv said.

Moscow launched a surprise major ground assault on the Kharkiv region last week as it seeks to advance across the battlefield with Kyiv struggling for arms and manpower.

“In certain spots in Lukyantsi and Vovchansk areas, due to the fire impact and assault actions of the enemy, maneuvers were carried out in order to save the lives of our soldiers, units were removed to advantageous positions,” a military spokesman said on state television.

Authorities in Vovchansk said there was intense street-to-street fighting in the border town that before the war had an estimated population of 20,000 people.

Further south, the Russian defense ministry claimed to have taken control of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia region, one of only a handful settlements Kyiv retook in its summer counteroffensive last year.

‘Additional forces being deployed’

The interior ministry announced that three civilians had been killed in the Kharkiv region over the last 24 hours and that a Russian drone had wounded two policemen.

The two villages — around 30 kilometres (18 miles) apart — are close to the border with Russia and have been targeted in the fresh offensive.

The Ukrainian military said the situation “remains difficult” but insisted that its forces were “not allowing the Russian occupiers to gain a foothold”.

Zelensky’s spokesman said on social media that the president had postponed upcoming trips, including one to Spain, and reiterated that the military was rushing reinforcements to the area to prevent Russia from punching through.

‘Difficult’ fighting in east

Some military analysts say Moscow may be trying to force Ukraine to divert troops from other areas of the front line where Russia has also been advancing.

Ukrainian officials have said that more than 30,000 Russian forces have been deployed to the northeastern region but that the regional hub, the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, was not threatened by the offensive.

Ukraine also launched aerial attacks on Russia, forcing the closure of two airports in the region of Tatarstan some 1,000 (620 miles) kilometers inside Russian territory.

Russian aerial defense systems intercepted and destroyed 17 drones across several border areas, as well as 10 ATACMS missiles over the annexed Crimean peninsula, the defense ministry said.

Stanislav Doshchitsyn, with AFP