Russian strikes kill two in Ukraine’s Kharkiv as Moscow steps up attacks

The latest bombings come as Russian President Putin says aim of Kharkiv offensive is to create a buffer zone.

A police officer helps residents from Vovchansk, Ukraine, during Russian attacks in the Kharkiv region
A police officer helps local residents from the frontline town of Vovchansk during their evacuation to Kharkiv due to Russian military attacks, on May 17 [Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters]

Russian guided bombs have killed at least two people and injured 13 in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv, local officials say, as Russia continues its major military offensive in the region.

It was not immediately clear what the bombs had been targeting on Friday, but the regional governor said those injured were civilians.

“Among the 13 wounded, four are in a serious condition,” Governor Oleh Syniehubov said on the Telegram messaging app.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and the surrounding region have long been targeted by Russian attacks but the strikes have become more intense in recent months, hitting civilian and energy infrastructure.

Reporting from Kharkiv on Friday, Al Jazeera’s John Holman said several strikes were heard and a “thick, black plume of smoke” was visible.

“We don’t know yet what’s been hit – if it’s factories or residential infrastructure,” he reported, adding that the city had also experienced drone attacks.

“Yesterday, there was actually 16 and half hours of an air raid alert. That’s the longest since the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022” by Russia against Ukraine, Holman said.

“There is a feeling that this region right now is being squeezed,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of seeking to reduce Kharkiv to rubble.

Moscow has denied deliberately targeting civilians, but thousands have been killed and injured since its invasion of Ukraine began.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the offensive in the Kharkiv region, which sits on the border with Russia, is aimed at creating a buffer zone and the Kremlin has no plans to capture the city of Kharkiv.

Speaking to reporters while on a visit to China, Putin said Moscow launched its attacks in response to Ukrainian shelling of Russia’s neighbouring Belgorod region.

“I have said publicly that if it continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a sanitary zone,” the Russian leader said. “That’s what we are doing.”

He added that Russian troops were “advancing daily according to plan”.

‘Under control’

Putin’s comments were his first on the Kharkiv offensive, which began on May 10. The operation has opened a new front in the war and displaced thousands of Ukrainians within a few days.

The remarks also came hours after a large Ukrainian drone attack on the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula caused power cuts in the city of Sevastopol after an earlier attack damaged aircraft and fuel storage at an airbase.

Russian authorities said the attacks on Friday also set a refinery ablaze.

Zelenskyy travelled to Kharkiv this week as Ukraine’s military said it had managed to partially halt a Russian advance.

Most notably, the army said it had thwarted Russia from taking Vovchansk, 5km (3 miles) from the border with Russia.

“The situation in the Kharkiv region is generally under control, and our soldiers are inflicting significant losses on the occupier,” Zelenskyy said in a post on Telegram on Thursday.

“However, the area remains extremely difficult.”

Police work at a site of a Russian missile strike in the village of Zolochiv in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region [Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters]

New laws

General Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said he did not believe Russia’s military has the troop numbers to make a strategic breakthrough in the Kharkiv region and he was confident Ukrainian forces would hold their lines there.

In an effort to increase troop numbers, Zelenskyy on Friday signed two laws, one to enable prisoners to join the army and another that increases fines for draft dodgers fivefold.

The mobilisation law goes into effect on Saturday.

The legislation allows “parole from serving a sentence and further enlistment for military service under a contract during a special period” for certain categories of people charged with criminal offences.

It doesn’t include those convicted of crimes against Ukraine’s national security.

Ukrainian forces are currently waiting for delayed deliveries of crucial weapons and ammunition from Western partners.

A lack of manpower is seen by some military analysts as Ukraine’s biggest problem. Weapons supplies that have been significantly delayed, particularly from Washington, are expected to reach the front lines soon.

Denmark said it would send Ukraine a new military aid package, mostly of air defence weapons and artillery, worth about 5.6 billion kroner ($815.5m).

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies