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Ukraine in 'strategic' drawback from front-line amid intense fighting in Kharkiv border region

Ukraine withdrew its forces from several villages and towns in Kharkiv province close to its northeastern border as an offensive by Russian forces gathers momentum. A police officer inspects a destroyed building Monday in a deserted Vovchansk, one of the settlements overrun by Russian forces. Photo by George Ivanchenko/EPA-EFE
Ukraine withdrew its forces from several villages and towns in Kharkiv province close to its northeastern border as an offensive by Russian forces gathers momentum. A police officer inspects a destroyed building Monday in a deserted Vovchansk, one of the settlements overrun by Russian forces. Photo by George Ivanchenko/EPA-EFE

May 15 (UPI) -- Ukraine withdrew its forces from several villages and towns in Kharkiv province close to its northeastern border as an offensive by Russian forces gathers momentum.

Ukrainian units pulled back from the Lukyantsi and Vovchansk areas to "more advantageous positions" after coming under heavy fire from Russian troops, a spokesman for the Ukraine Armed Forces said late Tuesday.

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The decision was taken to "preserve the lives of our servicemen and avoid losses," said the spokesman who insisted that despite what he called a "difficult" situation, Ukrainian forces were "not allowing the Russian occupiers to gain a foothold".

Vovchansk's police chief said earlier that the fighting in the town was intense and Russian forces were establishing positions in the town.

Thousands of civilians have been fleeing westward from the fighting headed for Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city

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Moscow said its forces were occupying Lukyantski and Hlyboke and had retaken Robotyne, in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a village liberated from Russian forces during Ukraine's summer 2023 counter-offensive.

Kyiv has sent reinforcements to the region in recent days, with more promised.

"Additional forces are being deployed, and there are reserves," President Volodymyr Zelensky's office said Wednesday.

The developments, five days into one of the largest Russian ground operations since its full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022, came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was 300 miles away in Kyiv pledging unfailing, long-term support and unveiling a new $2 billion arms deal.

Blinken said the deal provided weapons "today," together with investment in Ukraine's industrial base.

"We're rushing ammunition, armored vehicles, missiles, air defenses to get them to the front lines," Mr Blinken told reporters Wednesday.

A five-month delay in a $60 billion U.S. military support package, which Congress finally approved April 23, is being blamed for handing Moscow a window for its offensive in the northeast -- and raising fears it may be mobilizing forces to push into Ukraine in other border regions.

The seriousness of the situation was underscored by Zelenskyy announcing he had canceled all upcoming foreign trips to concentrate on working with military commanders on coordinating the response to the Russian advance.

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"The president has given instructions that all international events involving him that are scheduled for the coming days be postponed and to work out new dates," press secretary Sergii Nykyforov wrote in a post on social media.

"We are grateful to partners for their understanding."

Elsewhere, Russia said it had repelled a "massive" Ukrainian attack on Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, with its air defenses shooting several projectiles from the sky over the sea off Sevastopol and near Belbek military airfield.

The state-run TASS news agency quoted Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev as saying rescue services had extinguished a blaze near Polyushko village ignited by falling burning debris from downed projectiles, but that no one had been hurt.

The report did not state whether the projectiles were missiles, rockets or drones.

However, local residents reported hearing explosions in Sevastopol, that fires were still burning near the Belbek military airfield and that authorities had closed the Crimea Bridge that links the peninsula to mainland Russia across the Kerch Strait.

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