Russia is bolstering beleaguered military units in Kharkiv as it scrambles to counter a Ukrainian advance that has brought troops from Kyiv to the outskirts of two key towns in the region.
Ukrainian forces arrived on the western outskirts of Kupiansk and also struck south towards Izium after advancing more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) into Russian-held territory since the start of this week.
The meteoric advance has set the stage for what appears to be an imminent showdown over the two key areas, considered strategically important by both sides. Russia currently uses Kupiansk as a rail hub to resupply its forces and Izium as a launching pad for attacks south into the Donetsk region.
Video footage taken by a Russian military journalist, Yevgeniy Poddubny, shows Russian helicopters arriving in the area and at least one offloading an armored personnel carrier.
Poddubny reported that the Russian military headquarters was using Mi-26 helicopters to reinforce units in Kharkiv with men and armored vehicles, redeploying reserve troops to Kupyansk and Izium.
“Helicopters are landing at landing points all along the line of contact…Reinforcements will help stop any further advances by the Kyiv regime,” Poddubny said.
In a later report, he said that Kupyansk had come under artillery fire from the Ukrainian Armed Forces and that a bridge crossing the Oskil River in the city had been badly damaged.
“Our reserves are coming to the front line,” Poddubny said. “The defense of Kupyansk continues.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that his troops had “liberated and taken control of more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region”.
“Measures to verify and secure the territory in some villages of the region are underway, we are gradually taking control of new settlements – we are returning the Ukrainian flag and the protection of all our people everywhere,” Zelensky said in his daily speech. .
Advancing Ukrainian troops have reported scenes of destruction as they retake areas under Russian control.
Kharkiv region military administration chief Oleh Syniehubov said he visited recently liberated areas where the Russians had ‘left broken infrastructure and houses, many trophies and heaps of garbage’ , and posted photos of the scenes on Telegram.
“People, without exaggeration, met our soldiers with tears in their eyes,” Syniehubov said.
“Residents obviously need help. Most villages have neither electricity nor gas. In the near future, we will restore them and provide humanitarian aid.
He said the head of a liberated village had been arrested on suspicion of collaborating with the Russian occupation forces, and warned all other collaborators that “no traitor will escape his responsibility”.
Ukraine says some Russian troops are now deserting due to “heavy losses” they have suffered.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Friday that at least 15 desertions had taken place.
Soldiers were ditching their uniforms and wearing civilian clothes in a bid to blend in while trying to return to Russian territory, he added.
Last week saw Ukrainians’ most ambitious ground assaults since Russia launched its invasion.
Video and satellite images that were geotagged by CNN show that these advances involved sustained attacks on command posts, ammunition stores and fuel reserves far behind the front lines.
A senior US official said Ukrainian forces succeeded in attacking Russian supply lines, intending to cut off and isolate Russian troops west of the Dnipro.