Ukraine claimed on Monday that its troops had reached the border with Russia near Kharkiv after weeks of successful counterattacks to drive back Moscow’s invading forces from the country’s second-largest city.
But officials in Washington and Kyiv stressed that heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops raged south of Kharkiv in the Donbas region of the Far East, where Russia concentrated most of its forces.
A video posted on social media by a senior regional official showed Ukrainian troops building a border post in which someone told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that they had reached the border with the “occupying power.”
“Mr. President, here we are,” the soldier said. “We are here. The border guards are with us.” Zelensky responded: “Thank you so much . . . you did a great job!”
The claim could not be independently verified, and it is unclear which area of the border Ukrainian forces say they have retaken. After Russia launched a full-scale invasion on February 24, Ukraine lost control of most of its northeastern and Far East borders.
Ukrainian forces have recovered some positions near Kharkiv, but Russian bombing and shelling of the city continues, a senior U.S. defense official said on Monday.
“The Ukrainians have pushed Russian troops within three to four kilometers of the Russian border,” the official assessed.
Recent intelligence maps from the British Ministry of Defence show that Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces 15 to 30 kilometers north, east and south of Kharkiv in recent weeks. The invading forces bombarded the city heavily for nearly three months.
However, Ukrainian officials have warned that the progress made in Kharkiv does not mean a full-scale counterattack, and that Russian troops may have retreated from Kharkiv to focus on the Donbass.
Another adviser to Zelensky’s office, Oleksi Arestovich, was quoted on social media as saying that the country still needs more long-range and large-caliber weapons from “massive” Western backers.
The U.S. Senate is expected to pass a $40 billion aid package to Kyiv this week that includes more weapons.
The U.S. defense official noted that Russia now has 106 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine and that its efforts to take full control of the country’s eastern Donbass region are “unbalanced, slow, gradual, and short.”
While Russian troops have made some “minor progress” west of Donetsk, they have struggled despite multiple attempts to cross the Seversky Donets River in the region.
“The Ukrainians are holding them back in almost every effort, and it’s very difficult for them to make any significant progress in the Donbas region until they can redeploy their troops or find a poorly defended area to cross the river,” the senior U.S. official said. officials said.
Aerial photos released by Ukraine’s armed forces over the past few days show dozens of Russian tanks and armored vehicles being destroyed by attacks as they tried to cross a river on a military pontoon.
More than 600,000 people have returned to Kharkiv, which had a population of more than 1.4 million before the war, Oleg Sinyegubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Civil-Military Administration, said in a video interview on Monday.
About 2,000 people arrive by train every day, Synyegubov said, adding that life is returning to normal.
Efforts are underway to restore the battered city’s infrastructure, including gas, electricity and running water. A key task, he said, was finding shelter for the roughly 4,200 people still sheltering within the Kharkiv metro system.
He said the city was quiet overnight with only a few airstrikes heard, although several people were injured. This greatly reduced the shelling of the city.