Ukraine appears to have won the battle for Kharkiv, a United States report has said, as Russian forces retreated from the eastern city because of an apparent lack of troop reinforcements.
t came as Ukrainian forces launched a counter-offensive to seize back the nearby Russian-controlled strategic town of Izyum in the east, threatening Moscow’s attempts to control the Donbas region by encircling it.
If confirmed, the failure to capture Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, would be Russia’s second major defeat of the war, after losing the battle for Kyiv. It would be a stunning turnaround for Ukraine’s so-called “fortress city”.
Kharkiv was almost surrounded and looked certain to fall in the first week of the war as Russian troops poured over the border, which is just a few dozen miles north.
Russian forces were close to encircling Kharkiv in March, gaining ground around the city and pummelling it with artillery fire from the suburbs.
Shelling forced hundreds of thousand residents to flee or seek shelter in the city metro or underground shelter while air strikes turned part of the centre, including the City Hall, to rubble.
But apart from once briefly entering a small part of the city, Russian troops have failed to make any inroads amid stiff resistance. That has left them with no choice other than to retreat, according to researchers at the Institute for the Study of War, US-based think tank.
“The Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv in the face of the Ukrainian counter-offensives and the limited availability of reinforcements,” it said. “Ukraine thus appears to have won the battle of Kharkiv.”
The mayor has said Ukrainian troops have successfully repelled Russia’s attempts to take the city.
“They [the Russians] were very close to the city,” Igor Terekhov, mayor of Kharkiv, said yesterday. “Thanks to the efforts of Kharkiv territorial defence and the Ukrainian army, the Russians have moved back far from the city, towards the Russian border.”
“Kharkiv is quiet now, and people are slowly returning to the city.”
The apparent withdrawal has led some experts to suggest this might be the beginning of a “tipping point”.
Russian forces have “moved from the offensive to the defensive [conversely, the Ukrainians have moved from the defensive to the offensive],” said Dr Mike Martin, a former British Army officer and visiting fellow for war studies at King’s College London.
“We’re reaching a bit of a tipping point in the Ukraine war.”
Yet, claiming an all-out victory in Kharkiv remains premature. Shelling could still be heard from central Kharkiv and in neighbouring villages yesterday, including incoming rounds fired by retreating Russian troops.
Some shells fell near Tsyrkuny, a village northeast of the city that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces a week ago.
Rounds also landed near the village of Sorokivka, east of Kharkiv and south of the Russian’s current frontline, locals and soldiers stationed there said.
Late yesterday afternoon, smoke could be seen rising from Russian-controlled territory in the same area following a volley of Ukrainian fire.
Russian forces are now believed to be focusing on seizing all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east and on guarding supply routes to those regions.
Hoping to build on their gains, Ukraine yesterday said it had launched a counter-offensive near the Russia-held town of Izyum.
©Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited