Russia decided to flatten Vovchansk in Kharkov, Ukraine evacuated urgently

The small Ukrainian city of Vovchansk is becoming the focus of Russia’s new attack on Kharkov.

Vovchansk is on the brink of collapse

This is the first time Russia has launched a major attack in the Kharkov region to regain the city across the border after they had to withdraw during Ukraine’s lightning counterattack campaign in September 2022.

Vovchansk now stands on the brink of becoming the first major settlement to come under Russian control for a second time.

The risk of a new large-scale attack on Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city – has been hanging in the air for months. Now, the attack comes at a time when Kiev forces are straining and gradually falling back in several hot spots further to the southeast, especially in the Donetsk region.

Kyiv Independent ‘s reporter arrived in Vovchansk on May 11, one day after Russia suddenly attacked along the northeastern border.

Currently, the Russian army is said to have captured a number of villages and their vanguard is about 25km close to the outskirts of Kharkov city.

The second attack targeted Vovchansk. On the first day of launching the attack, Moscow forces advanced very quickly to the outskirts of this settlement.

Some parts of the road to Vovchansk are obscured by thick smoke, large pine forests are on fire, it is unclear whether the cause is because the spring is too dry or because of Russian bombs.

Inside the city, the atmosphere was strange, there were no Ukrainian soldiers in action, only a few people occasionally sat outside, seemingly unaware of the battles going on around them.

Overhead, the ominous hum of Russian drones regularly appears in the clear blue sky, always lurking in search of potential targets. 

Local police teams and volunteer organizations are racing against time to evacuate as many people as possible from Vovchansk and surrounding villages.

Police vehicles operated from a dispatch center in a neighboring village, fanning out across the city, heading to addresses where people had called to request help with evacuations.

Russia decided to flatten Vovchansk, Ukraine urgently evacuated people

Since the attack began, hundreds of people remaining in Vovchansk have been evacuated every day, a police officer told Kyiv Independent. The pre-conflict population was about 17,000 people. As of the afternoon of May 12, according to Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov, only about 500 people remained.

Amid the heavy destruction of the city, some residents remained defiant and stubbornly clung on because they were attached to their homes and properties. 

The police car turned into a street of ordinary houses outside the center. A chubby man with curly hair wandered aimlessly on the street. His hands, face and clothes were smeared with soot, and his wrists were bandaged with first aid. That is Serhii Kotsar – 65 years old – retired railway worker. He had almost nothing left to cherish. 

The house behind him – where he was born and raised – was hit by a Russian glide bomb at around 2 pm. Smoke still rose from the rubble, inside there was nothing left but things buried or burned beyond recognition.

Looking at the last dilapidated walls of the old house, he said, “This is where I live with my wife,” then turned and pointed toward the remaining ruins, with straw, “we just finished having lunch.” .

His wife suffered serious head and chest injuries and was urgently evacuated to a hospital in Kharkov, but despite everything, Kotsar still chose to stay.

In a rickety shack behind the house, scorched and shaking, revealed what remained. Kotsar’s herd of goats, three large and two small, squealed as he gently stroked their heads. Next to it, a small striped cat, severely burned but still alive, meowed weakly.

“I can’t send them off myself,” he said, trying to hold back tears.

“Of course we thought about Russia taking control of the settlement a second time, but we had nowhere else to go. We are all retirees, with only a few coins.”

Next, Oksana, a 48-year-old neighbor, was riding her bicycle, trying to convince Kotsar to reunite with his wife.

“He didn’t have identification documents or anything, he needed to leave but didn’t want to,” she told Kyiv Independent .

She worked tirelessly to coordinate aid for residents, but refused to evacuate herself.

Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of hovering bombs. Oksana crouched behind a tree and flipped her hood forward. If the bomb had hit anywhere nearby, neither of them would have had much of a chance of survival.

During the next half hour, police chief Kharkivskyi and his deputies checked a few more streets, but no residents evacuated. One reason often given by Vovchansk residents for not leaving is the need to help their neighbors.

Olha Khodaiko – a resident giving a power bank to a family next door – said in a soft voice, trying to hold back tears: “I have dogs, cats, birds, and neighbors too… I will not give up.” dropped them”.

“If I need to stay here, please God protect me, and if fate forces me to leave, then please God be gentle. I just hope I don’t have to suffer,” she said. 

Finally, the police team reached an address where people agreed to evacuate. Mr. Oleksandr, 65 years old, had packed his bags and was knocking on his neighbors’ doors one last time to persuade them to come with him but failed. 

He stood in front of his spacious brick house, made three signs of the cross on his chest and burst into tears in his final goodbye.

Mr. Oleksandr’s farewell was interrupted by another glide bomb attack: this was the fifth series of three bombs dropped on the city in just under two hours. Immediately, the police put him in the car and drove out of the city.

Officer Kharkivskyi said: “Last time, the Russian army entered quietly, most people did not even know anything. By noon, they had penetrated to the outskirts of Kharkov. This time, when entering, there were Maybe they’ll flatten it all first. There won’t be anything left here.”

Later, police chief Oleksii Kharkivskyi informed Kyiv Independent that Serhii Kotsar had been evacuated. Unfortunately, his animals had to be released to find a way to survive on their own.

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