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May 28, 2024

‘They Are Erasing Streets’: Russian Attacks Bring War Nearer Kharkiv



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Russia’s latest offensive has expanded the battlefield along Ukraine’s northern border, and sent thousands of civilians fleeing to Kharkiv, the closest large city.

Olha Melnichuk, an 85-year-old resident of Liptsi, near the Russian border, was evacuated to a shelter in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, on Saturday.

By Jeffrey Gettleman

Photographs by Emile Ducke

Reporting from Kharkiv, Ukraine, and surrounding villages affected by the new Russian offensive.

As fighting continued to flare along the Russia-Ukraine border on Saturday, civilians fleeing for their lives stepped out of evacuation vans one by one, some on unsteady legs.

An older woman struggled with two large, confused dogs. A boy clutched his birth certificate, laminated and worn. An older couple grumbled at each other about who was going to lug their heavy bag. Another woman gingerly carried a wire cage holding a bright green parrot.

Even the bird inside, which provided the one drop of color in a grim tableau, seemed desperate to flee the shelling, said the woman, Natasha Radchenko.

“He was shaking,” she said. “And hiding.”

After two long years, the war in Ukraine keeps finding new zones of misery.

Over the past two days, several thousand civilians who had hung on through some very tough times finally abandoned their homes in Ukraine’s northeast after the Russians opened a new front.

On Friday at dawn, Russian troops launched a complex attack with aircraft, artillery, infantry troops and armor, surging across the border near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. By all accounts — and by the shudders of enormous bombs hitting the ground not far from the evacuation point — the two sides are now locked in heavy fighting over a string of villages just a few miles inside Ukrainian territory.

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