April 13. 2024. 6:56

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Ukraine’s second city wary of new Russian attack amid missile strikes

Several people were injured in heavy Russian shelling of the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine, as officials said the provincial capital – which is the country’s second city – could be a key target of a new offensive by Moscow’s forces in the coming weeks.

The city authorities said six Russian missiles struck the centre of Kharkiv late on Tuesday night, causing a fire at an industrial site and gouging huge holes in a popular park but without causing injuries.

Regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Wednesday that at least five people were hurt, including a 10-year-old boy, by shelling elsewhere in the province that struck 30 towns and villages over the previous 24 hours.

“The enemy is constantly trying to attack, but suffers losses and retreats to previously occupied positions. We hear information about attempts to launch a new attack on the city of Kharkiv and settlements in the Kharkiv region. We are ready for this,” Mr Synehubov said.

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“The enemy is strengthening its military presence on the front line… We see that the enemy’s goal is to prevent the armed forces of Ukraine from advancing. There are certain manoeuvres taking place, and we really do not rule out that the enemy may attempt to counterattack. But our fighters are fully prepared for this,” he added.

Kharkiv region borders Russia and the provincial capital is only about 35km from the frontier. It was a major objective for the Kremlin when it launched its full invasion of Ukraine on February 24th last year, but the city’s defences held out and Moscow’s troops beat a hasty retreat from most of the region in September, leaving behind large amounts of weaponry and armour, mass graves and allegations that they had tortured and murdered civilians.

Ukraine says it sees clear signs that Russia is preparing for a new offensive, which may begin sometime around the first anniversary of the all-out invasion.

“They need to have something to show before their people, and have a major desire to do something big, as they see it, by this date,” said Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s security and defence council.

“Attempts at an offensive in either the Kharkiv or Zaporizhzhia direction will of course be made… How successful they’ll be will depend on us,” he told Reuters.

Ukraine’s military says it sees increased Russian military activity in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region and the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces to the northeast, with the fiercest battles now taking place around Vuhledar and Bakhmut in Donetsk.

Russia says it is gaining ground around those two towns and claimed that its missile strike on central Kharkiv destroyed a workshop that was making drones for the Ukrainian military.