Civilians flee Vovchansk as Russian bombardment intensifies in Kharkiv region

Tamaz Gambarashvili, head of the Vovchansk military administration, told Ukrainian radio station Hromadske that the stepped-up Russian shelling had made it too dangerous for residents to remain in the town.

Ukrainian authorities have begun evacuating civilians from the town of Vovchansk and surrounding areas in the Kharkiv region near the Russian border, as Moscow’s forces have intensified artillery strikes there.

Tamaz Gambarashvili, head of the Vovchansk military administration, told Ukrainian radio station Hromadske that the stepped-up Russian shelling had made it too dangerous for residents to remain in the town. “The majority are leaving using their own transport,” he said of the evacuation effort on Friday.

However, Gambarashvili added that for those without personal vehicles, “together with the humanitarian centre, we are organizing transport” to assist in getting civilians out of the targeted areas.

Vovchansk is located just a few miles from the Russian border in northeastern Ukraine. It has been under sporadic Russian bombardment since the invasion began over a year ago, but the shelling has intensified in recent days.

The town also saw reported Russian efforts to infiltrate sabotage units across the border this week, according to the regional governor. While those alleged infiltration attempts were repelled, they stoked fears of potential renewed Russian ground offensives in the area.

Ukrainian officials have been warning that Russia may be setting the stage for a new push of operations as Kyiv prepares its expected spring counteroffensive. Evacuating civilians from front-line towns would allow Ukrainian forces to manoeuvre more freely.

The evacuation order demonstrates the continued imperil of population centres near the front lines, despite Ukraine’s overall success in thwarting Russia’s initial aims to capture major cities like Kharkiv itself. Even areas reclaimed by Ukrainian forces remain vulnerable to Russian artillery strikes.

It remains unclear how many civilians are being evacuated from in and around Vovchansk. But the scene of residents fleeing their homes shows the protracted war’s disruption stretches on over a year after Russia’s full-scale invasion.