War in Ukraine, day 815 | Zelensky expects broader offensive, Russia continues to advance

(Kyiv) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he expected, in an exclusive interview with AFP, a broader offensive by the Russian army in the north and east, where it is continuing its large-scale assault launched on May 10 which would aim to take the large city of Kharkiv.

The Russians “have launched their operation, it may consist of several waves. And that is their first wave,” Mr. Zelensky said on Friday at a time when Russia has just made its biggest territorial gains since the end of 2022.

He nevertheless assured that, despite Russian advances in recent days in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, the situation was better for Ukrainian forces than a week ago, when enemy troops crossed the line by surprise. border.


People chat as smoke rises into the sky near industrial buildings in Kharkiv on May 17.

For him, Russia wants to attack Kharkiv, the second largest city in the country, only a few dozen kilometers from the front. Russian soldiers had already failed in their attempt to take it in 2022 and Vladimir Putin declared on Friday that he did not intend to attack it “for the moment”.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

The current offensive aims, according to the Russian president, to respond to the Ukrainian strikes of recent months on Russia by creating a buffer zone.

Its forces are trying to take advantage of the lack of soldiers and weapons facing Ukraine after two years of war.

Nearly 10,000 evacuations

Mr. Zelensky admitted to AFP that military personnel were insufficient. “There are a significant number of brigades that are empty,” he said.

Faced with these deficiencies, controversial legislation came into force on Saturday to accelerate mobilization with the lowering of the minimum age from 27 to 25 years.

On Friday, Mr. Zelensky also promulgated a law allowing the recruitment of prisoners in exchange for conditional release.


Relatives of Ukrainian soldiers shout, their hands tied with rope and symbolic handcuffs, to demand a rotation to the front lines, on May 18 on Independence Square in Kyiv.

Speaking to the West, he lamented having only a quarter of the air defense systems that Ukraine needs, adding that he also needed 120 to 130 F-16 fighter jets.

In the Kharkiv region, Russia announced on Saturday that it had captured the village of Staritsa near Vovtchansk, a town located around fifty kilometers from Kharkiv, ensuring that its forces “continue their advance deep into the defensive positions of the ‘enemy “.

In his daily message to Ukrainians on Saturday evening, Volodymyr Zelensky, however, stressed that Russia was paying a high price for its progress, and had not managed to move forward as quickly as it expected.

“The invaders are losing their infantry and equipment, it’s a significant loss,” he said.

Russia “counted on a rapid advance into our lands”, as when launching the invasion in 2022, he stressed.


A map of northeastern Ukraine showing the front line in the Kharkiv region and the Russian advance between May 10 and 16

Nearly ten thousand people were forced to leave their homes in the Kharkiv region, however, the Ukrainian authorities said.

“A total of 9,907 people were evacuated,” Governor Oleg Synegoubov said on Saturday.

Two civilians, aged 70 and 83, were killed as they were leaving Vovchansk by car, lamented the Kharkiv regional prosecutor.

The situation is, however, according to Mr. Synegoubov, “under control”.

“The battle in the Vovchansk region continues,” the Ukrainian army confirmed.

“Human shields”

Mr. Synegoubov said the Russians had “begun to destroy Vovchansk, using tanks and artillery.” The town had 18,000 inhabitants before the war. About a hundred people are still there and “intense fighting” is taking place there, according to the governor.

Kyiv accuses Moscow of using civilians there as “human shields” and of having carried out at least one summary execution.

A little further west, the Russians have advanced on their second axis of assault in the region.

Their objective is the village of Loukiantsi, to open the way to Lyptsi, still on the road to Kharkiv.

For its part, the Russian army claimed on Friday the conquest, in one week, of 12 localities in the region and affirmed that its men continued to progress there.

During this period, it made its largest territorial gains since the end of 2022, with some 257 km2 taken in the Kharkiv region alone, according to an AFP analysis on Thursday based on data provided by the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

On Friday, Kharkiv, very regularly bombed, was hit by new Russian strikes which left at least three dead and 28 injured, according to a latest report provided by its mayor Igor Terekhov.

Russia for its part accused the Kyiv regime on Saturday of having attacked it with French Hammer guided bombs and with American HARM anti-radar missiles in the Russian region of Belgorod, bordering Ukraine.

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