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Ukraine steps up calls for evacuation of northeast town under relentless Russian shelling

March 12, 2023 Updated Sun., March 12, 2023 at 12:39 p.m.

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Carlotta Gall and Oleksandr Chubko The New York Times

Months after Russian soldiers were driven out of Kupiansk, Ukrainian authorities are stepping up efforts to evacuate civilians from the town in the Kharkiv region of northeast Ukraine amid relentless Russian shelling.

Ukrainian troops routed Russian forces from much of the Kharkiv region when they mounted a rapid counteroffensive in September that ended months of occupation and helped shift the momentum of the conflict in Ukraine’s favor.

But since then, Moscow’s forces have made it impossible for Ukraine to restore everyday life in the reclaimed areas. Russian troops have continued to pound parts of the region close to front lines, including Kupiansk, with artillery.

Aside from the impact on civilians, the attacks prevent Ukraine from redeploying troops stationed in those areas to other parts of the battlefield, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a research organization based in Washington.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that its forces had hit Ukrainian military positions around Kupiansk, and local Ukrainian officials on Sunday said there had been shelling in the area.

Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Ukrainian regional military administration, had said Saturday that Kupiansk was experiencing the “hottest” fighting in the region and urged any remaining residents to leave.

“Enemy forces are relentlessly trying to attack the positions of our forces. That’s why we announced mandatory evacuation,” Syniehubov said on national television, adding that local authorities and volunteer groups were trying to move people to safer locations elsewhere in the region.

The heaviest fighting in recent weeks has been near the city of Bakhmut, which is around 80 miles southeast of Kupiansk. But Ukrainian authorities have for days been reporting intensified shelling in the Kharkiv region, as well as farther south.

In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine named the Kharkiv region as one of several places experiencing “brutal” attacks “every day, every night.”

“In less than 2 1/2 months, over 40 enemy missiles have already struck Kharkiv,” he said, speaking of the city of Kharkiv, the regional capital, which Russian forces tried and failed to capture near the start of their full-scale invasion of the country last year.

Zelenskyy said Russia was using all sorts of weapons — “missiles and artillery, drones and mortars” — with a singular goal: “To destroy life and leave nothing human.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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