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Ukraine says Russia has launched an attack to break the defense line in northeast Kharkiv

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia on Friday pounded a city in northeastern Ukraine with artillery, rockets and guided aerial bombs before trying to force an infantry breakthrough in local defenses, authorities said, in a tactical shift that struck Kyiv officials had been expecting for weeks during the war. extends over the third year.

Intensive nighttime shelling targeted Vovchansk, in the Kharkov region and less than 5 kilometers from the Russian border, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said. The barrage prompted authorities to begin evacuating about 3,000 people.

Around dawn, Russian forces tried to break through Ukrainian defenses near Vovchansk, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said, adding that it had deployed reserve units to repel the attack.

Analysts said the attack could mark the start of a Russian effort to create a “buffer zone” that President Vladimir Putin promised to create earlier this year to halt frequent Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod and other Russian border regions.

Ukraine had previously said it was aware that Russia was amassing thousands of troops along its northeastern border, close to the Kharkiv and Sumy regions. As Kremlin forces carried out their latest ground assault in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian intelligence officials said they expected Kremlin forces to attack in the northeast as well.

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While Russia is unlikely to capture Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, it could force Ukraine to send more troops to the region, making other areas more vulnerable to attack. Also, forcing Ukrainian authorities to evacuate civilians is likely to cause disruption and divert resources.

“The whole city is now under heavy shelling, it is not safe to stay here,” Tamaz Hambarishvili, the head of the Vovchansk government, told Ukraine’s Hromadske Radio.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the battle against Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups continued into the afternoon.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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