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Article: Ukraine braces for heavy battles as Putin says Russia carving out “buffer zone”

Ukraine braces for heavy battles as Putin says Russia carving out “buffer zone”

Ukraine braces for heavy battles as Putin says Russia carving out “buffer zone”

PHOTO CAPTION: A Ukrainian serviceman from anti-drone mobile air defense unit fires a Browning machine gun at his combat position, in Chernihiv region, Ukraine, March 28, 2024. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich



KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine's top commander warned on Friday of "heavy battles" looming on the war's new front in the northeastern Kharkiv region as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was carving out a "buffer zone" in the area.

Russian forces attacked the Kharkiv region's north last Friday, making inroads of up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) and unbalancing Kyiv's outnumbered troops who are trying to hold the line over a sprawling front nearly 27 months since the invasion.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said the attack had expanded the combat zone by around 70km and that Russia had launched its incursion ahead of schedule after "it noticed the deployment of our forces".

"We understand there will be heavy battles and that the enemy is preparing for that," the head of the Ukrainian armed forces wrote in a statement on the Telegram app.

Russian forces have the initiative on the battlefield and are slowly advancing in the east, exploiting Ukrainian shortages of manpower and months of delays in arms supplies from the West.

Speaking during a state visit to China, Putin said Russia was creating a "buffer zone" in Ukraine's northeast to protect its own border regions, but said capturing the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest, was not part of the current plan.

Faced with Russian airstrikes throughout the war, Kyiv has scrambled to develop drones and missiles and staged strikes on facilities in Russia it says are being used to help bomb Ukrainian towns, cities and power facilities.

Kharkiv's mayor said a Russian missile strike on Friday had killed two people and injured 13 more in the city.

Putin told a news conference in China that the assault on Kharkiv region was a response to Kyiv's shelling of Russian border regions such as Belgorod where he said civilians were dying.

"They are shooting directly at the city centre, at residential areas. And I said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a buffer zone. That is what we are doing," he said.

Russian forces were able to advance 10 kilometres in one place in Kharkiv region, although Ukrainian forces have "stabilised" the front, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media outlets in comments published on Friday.

Moscow's troops have captured 12 villages during the current incursion, Russia's defence ministry said.


Russia is staging its heaviest assaults in the eastern Donetsk region, according to data compiled by the Ukrainian General Staff, which said the Pokrovsk front had faced the most regular assaults in recent days.

Syrskyi said Ukrainian forces were also preparing defensive lines for a possible Russian assault on the Sumy region, which would mark another front more than 100 km to the north of Kharkiv.

Kyiv says Russia has small units of forces near the Sumy region.

"We note that the actions (of Russian forces) are systematic," said Volodymyr Artiukh, head of the Sumy region's military administration.

"Shelling continues, in fact, along the entire border, with an intensity of 200-400 explosions per day... The intensity of enemy sabotage groups has increased," he said.

An expanding front is particularly challenging for Ukraine at a time when its military is in need of replenishment.

Zelenskiy signed a law on Friday allowing some categories of convicts to serve in the army, parliament's website showed.

The move provides only a potential maximum 20,000 people who could join the army, Kyiv officials say. Zelenskiy also signed into law tougher fines for draft dodging.

Russian officials said on Friday that Ukraine had mounted an unusually large wave of overnight drone attacks, killing two people in Belgorod region and setting fire to an oil refinery at Tuapse on the Black Sea.

The attacks, a Ukrainian intelligence source said, targeted an electricity substation in occupied Crimea, an oil depot and railway station in Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiysk as well as the Tuapse refinery.

Russia conducted its own long-range attack on Ukraine overnight, but Kyiv's military said it shot down all 20 incoming drones over the regions of Kharkiv, Poltava, Vinnytsia, Odesa and Mykolaiv.

Separately, U.S. commercial satellite company Maxar said imagery showed that a long-range Ukrainian strike on the Moscow-controlled Belbek airbase in Crimea destroyed three Russian warplanes and a fuel facility near its main runway this week.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa, Anastasiia Malenko; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Gareth Jones)



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