Russian forces launch attacks near Kharkiv in bid to stretch Ukrainian defences

“There is a real threat that the hostilities could spread to new settlements,” the governor warned, though he added that Ukraine’s forces are so far managing to repel the Russian probing attacks.

Russian troops have launched a series of small-scale attacks along the border of Ukraine’s northern Kharkiv region, in what appears to be an effort to disperse Ukrainian forces and stretch the frontline, according to the regional governor.

“The enemy is trying to deliberately stretch it (front line), attacking in small groups, but in new directions, so to speak,” Governor Oleh Syniehubov told local television on Monday.

Syniehubov said the Russian assaults near Kharkiv are aimed at pulling Ukrainian troops away from the heavily contested eastern Donbas region, where the fight has centred in recent months around cities like Bakhmut.

“There is a real threat that the hostilities could spread to new settlements,” the governor warned, though he added that Ukraine’s forces are so far managing to repel the Russian probing attacks.

The latest Russian offensive manoeuvres come as both sides are believed to be preparing for potential new pushes after battling to a bloody stalemate over the winter months. Ukraine has been awaiting the delivery of advanced weapons like tanks and aircraft to aid in a planned spring counter-offensive.

Russia has appeared determined to capture more territory to put itself in an advantageous position before Ukraine’s reinforcements fully arrive. Moscow’s forces have made incremental gains in the Donbas, particularly around Bakhmut.

By opening a new line of attacks around Kharkiv, Russia may hope to force Ukraine to divert troops and resources away from strategic fronts further east and south. The city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, saw heavy bombardment early in the invasion before Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops back last year.

So far Ukraine insists its defences are holding firm against the new Russian pressure tactics in Kharkiv, but the expanded attacks signal a new headache as Kyiv readies its highly anticipated counter-offensive.