Ukrainian troops counter-attacking against Russian forces in the country’s northeast have pushed them back from the city of Kharkiv and advanced as far as the border with Russia, Ukrainian officials said on Monday.
The developments, if confirmed, would signal a further shift in momentum in favour of Ukrainian forces nearly three months into a conflict that began when Russia sent tens of thousands of troops over the border into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Moscow meanwhile warned of “far-reaching consequences” should Finland and Sweden go ahead with plans to join the NATO military alliance – a change in the Nordic countries’ long-standing policy of neutrality brought on by concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wider ambitions.
Fighting was reported near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Monday in what interior ministry adviser Vadym Denisenko said was “our counter-offensive”.
“It can no longer be stopped…Thanks to this, we can go to the rear of the Russian group of forces,” he said.
Kharkiv, lying about 30 miles (50 km) from the border with Russia, had endured weeks of heavy bombardments from Russian artillery. The Russians’ routing from there follows their failure to capture the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the war.
However, thousands of people, including many civilians, have been killed across the country, towns and cities have been blasted into ruins, and more than six million people have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring states in scenes not seen in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Monday the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces had reached the border with Russia.
“Together to victory!” it said.
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov said the troops had restored a sign on the border.
“We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.
Reuters could not immediately verify Ukraine’s battlefield account and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border or where.
If confirmed, it would suggest a Ukrainian counter-offensive is having increasing success in pushing back Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in two eastern provinces known as the Donbas had stalled.
Nonetheless, the governor of the Luhansk region in Donbas, Serhiy Gaidai, said the situation “remains difficult”, with Russian forces trying to capture the town of Sieverodonetsk.
He said leaders of the Lugansk People’s Republic, the territory in Luhansk controlled by Russian-backed separatists, declared a general mobilisation, adding it was “either fight or get shot, there is no other choice”.
In the south, fighting was raging around the city of Kherson and Russian missiles struck residential areas of Mykolayiv, the presidential office in Kyiv said. Reuters was unable to verify the reports.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday Ukraine could win the war, an outcome few military analysts predicted when Russia invaded Ukraine.