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Ukraine: Russians retreating from Kharkiv, counteroffensive underway

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Ukraine: Russians retreating from Kharkiv, counteroffensive underway
Vladislav Raenko and his girlfriend visit the gravesite of Raenko's father, Vladymyr Andreevych Raenko, at a cemetery in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Friday. Vladymyr died three days after the Russian assault on the city began on February 24. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

May 14 (UPI) -- Russian forces are retreating from the formerly occupied northern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, military officials claimed Saturday, as Kyiv launched a counteroffensive in the nearby city of Izium.

The Russians are no longing conducting "active hostilities in the Kharkiv area," Ukrainian General Staff spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said in an update Saturday, adding Moscow's main efforts are now instead "focused on ensuring the withdrawal of its troops from the city of Kharkiv, maintaining the occupied positions and supply routes."

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Kharkiv is Ukraine's second-largest city after the capital Kyiv. Situated just across the border from Russia in Ukraine's northeast, the Kharkiv region has been a prime focus for the invaders since the start of the conflict in February and has been subjected to weeks of heavy bombardments.

The Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements, the U.S.-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said Friday.

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"Ukraine thus appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv," the analysts said, with Ukrainian forces repeating their previous success in Kyiv at preventing Russian troops from encircling and seizing a besieged major city.

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Ukrainian forces on Saturday also claimed success against Russian troops in the area around the city of Izium, located about 75 miles southeast of Kharkiv along the Ukraine-Russia border.

Izium "remains the hottest spot," Kharkiv regional military administrator Oleh Synehubov posted on Telegram. "Our armed forces have launched a counteroffensive, the enemy retreats in some directions."

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Russian fire has been concentrated on the towns of Chuhuyiv, Derhachi, Zolochiv and Lozova in the area around Izium, he said.

The ground situation remained markedly bleaker for Ukrainian forces in southern city of Mariupol, however, where Russian invaders stepped up their assault on the holdout Azovstal steel plant.

The Azov Regiment, a pro-Ukrainian paramilitary force which has been fighting for weeks to defend the sprawling steelworks, said in a Telegram post the situation there is "extremely critical" as the invaders deploy "heavy artillery and tanks" and carry out a continual bombardment.

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Kyiv is negotiating the evacuation of 60 people from the Azovstal plant, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainian state broadcaster Suspilne.

"There are several hundred wounded [at Azovstal], and they must be rescued in the first place because the Russians do not agree on all of them at once," she said.

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President Volodymyr Zelensky said Israel, Switzerland, Turkey and Finland are all involved in negotiations with Russia on the evacuation of the Azovstal fighters.

Scenes from Ukraine: Destruction, atrocities and mourning

Priest Andrii Gavalin presides over the funeral of Eugene Bogdanov, 35, in Bucha, Ukraine, on May 10. Bogdanov went missing two months ago. His wife, Natalia Bogdanova, was searching for him throughout the Kyiv and Bucha regions when his body was found at a morgue in Belaya Tserkov on May 9. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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