The advance of Ukrainian forces was slowed by bad weather and Russian resistance
The lightning-fast recapture of Russian-held areas in the Kharkiv region (northeast) by Ukrainian forces met very difficult conditions in Kupyansk on Saturday due to severe weather and opposition from Russian troops.
On the front of the city of Kupyansk, amid the incessant din of bombardment, a column of black smoke rises over the Oskil, the river that separates the western bank, controlled by Ukrainian forces, from the eastern bank, contested by Russian forces.
“Right now the rain is making it difficult to deploy heavy weapons anywhere. We can only use the paved roads,” Sergeant Roman Malyna of the Ukraine Defense Forces told AFP as armored personnel carriers and tanks maneuver in a torrential downpour.
“Since the weather makes it difficult to advance, we target their armored vehicles, their ammunition depots and the squads of soldiers,” he adds.
– “Only their bodies will remain” –
On Friday, Kupyansk military administrator Andriy Kanachevych told AFP it could take Ukrainian forces 10 days to secure the area.
Ukrainian artillery targeted Russian positions in the woods beyond east of the city, but a Russian drone caused concern and drew attention.
A stream of refugees fleeing the bombed city advanced across a bridge whose railings were still painted in the red, white, and blue colors of the Russians occupying Kupiansk.
Two Ukrainian soldiers, well-equipped—American assault rifle and bulletproof vest—and maintaining good morale despite fatigue and the Russian drone flying over the debris-strewn road, also crossed the river.
One of them, using the martial name “Mario”, believes it is too early to know when the east bank will come under full control of Ukrainian forces, while expressing certainty that the Russian forces will withdraw.
“Only their bodies will remain,” he says.
“In general, everything is fine, considering the scale of the operation, we have almost no casualties,” he told AFP.
Most of Kupyansk, a key railway junction previously used by Russia to supply its forces stationed farther south on the Donetsk front, fell to Ukrainian forces in September during a spectacular counteroffensive.
But a narrow sliver in the Kharkiv region on the east bank of the Oskil River remains in the hands of Russian forces, preventing Ukrainians from advancing into the Russian-controlled Lugansk region, which is worthy of annexation.
“Yes, we have enough men and weapons, but it depends on what happens on the other side,” said Sergeant Malyna.
“They try to find the weak points in our defense line. So they try to attack with tanks and infantry from time to time,” he said of Russian armed forces’ tactics.
“Our morale is good. We are ready to fight, but we need more heavy weapons and precision weapons,” added the sergeant, repeating Ukraine’s appeal to Western countries.
Many civilians have fled a city without electricity or running water, but some have nowhere to go and are dependent on food aid.
Civilians gather around laptop outlets in the doorways of five-story buildings, charging tablets and flashlights.
Most say they are happy that Ukrainian forces are returning to liberate the city from Russian occupation, but concede the ongoing fighting is devastating.
– “Alone with my cats” –
Lioudmila Beloukha, 74, was a trapeze artist in the Moscow circus during Soviet times: “I traveled all over the Soviet Union and abroad,” she recalls.
This widow lives alone in a housing estate in Kupyansk. Her sister went to Greece and for months she had no news of her nephew who lives on the east bank of the river.
“I’m home alone with my cats. Absolutely alone. My kitchen and balcony windows are destroyed. I have to fix them with plastic wrap because it’s getting cold. I’m freezing,” she explains.
Ms Beloukha received a small amount of food aid distributed by volunteers and is not suffering from hunger, but “we have no water, no electricity. Nothing. Not even boiling water for tea”.
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