Ukraine evacuates the Kharkiv border

Within minutes, half a dozen cars are parked in front of what has become Buhaivka's reception center.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
14 May 2024 Tuesday 11:22
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Ukraine evacuates the Kharkiv border

Within minutes, half a dozen cars are parked in front of what has become Buhaivka's reception center. "A chair", shouts one. "He can't walk", shouts another while screams of pain come from inside the car. Volunteers crowd to remove the woman wearing a red jacket and a light scarf covering her head. Between two they sit her under a tree, another brings her water and talks to her to calm her down. She hugs him while her man, as old as her, looks at her stunned. Around, they all run. There are children, teenagers, but most of them are older, loaded with suitcases, bags... and their animals, some so big that they barely fit in the transport boxes. Every volunteer, every policeman, every doctor tries to help them as best he can. Some take their data, others put them in contact with their relatives by phone, others give them hot food, organized by the ever-present World Central Kitchen.

"It's that he doesn't know where his son is," explains Natàlia, another woman, also elderly, who got out of the same vehicle. They come from Vovchansk, 20 kilometers and only 5 from the Russian border. "I don't want to be here anymore, it's over," explains the woman, who says that the attacks have not stopped since Thursday at 11 p.m.

In the first days, Natalia thought that it would be a passing thing, that the Russians were just launching another campaign of attacks, and that is why she refused to listen to the pleas of her children, who were asking her from Kharkiv to leave Vovchansk. For many, the situation was not entirely unusual. Since Ukrainian forces resumed control of these towns in September 2022, after seven months of invasion, life has never been the same. Explosions broke the peace from time to time, but they learned to live with it. At least that explains Natàlia, who didn't make the decision to leave her house until Monday morning. The bombs were even more frequent and a nearby house was destroyed. "I'm going to where my sister lives, if my children want to go with me, let them come. Kharkiv is also always attacked," said Natalia, who was carrying her cat in a small box.

Beside him, Valentina, who arrived in another vehicle, explained that her apartment had been attacked two days ago, she moved into her son's house, which was attacked this morning, and her daughter-in-law was injured. Only two months ago he had buried his son, a soldier, who died of cancer that arose while he was at the front.

"This last trip I had to throw myself on the ground because a drone flew over us. The situation changes every minute," explained Vlad, a volunteer who has entered Vovchansk and the surrounding area 25 times since Saturday. It seems that the Russians have reached the other side of the river and are already fighting inside the city. On Sunday, he says, he evacuated a man who claimed Russians broke into his home and shot him in the hands. "It was lucky that they left him alive." The local police chief's van was hit in the window on Monday at noon.

Organizations that monitor the war say that the Russian presence in this sector of the border has expanded, not so much in depth as in width. The American Institute for the Study of War asserts in the May 14 report that Russian forces have made tactical advances and "seem to prioritize the rapid establishment of a buffer zone along the border in instead of establishing conditions for deeper penetrations”.

Many fear that the Russians will get close enough to the city of Kharkiv, which would allow them to attack it with artillery constantly, as happened in the first months. Yesterday there were 15 wounded in the city in an air strike with guided bombs on a high-rise building. Regarding the defense of Kharkiv and its region, Volodymyr Zelenski yesterday asked the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, for two anti-aircraft batteries of Patriot missiles. Blinken, in a surprise visit to Kyiv, told the Ukrainian president that US military aid is "on its way". "Part of the newly unlocked $61 billion package has already arrived," he noted, "more will come and make a real difference on the battlefield."

Volunteers say they are increasingly evacuating people from areas near the Russian border, including Buhaivka, where many civilians have decided to leave despite the Russians not being around. However, explosions can be heard in the distance and sometimes the echo of planes. The governor of the province, who visited Buhaivka on Monday, assured that the priority was Vovchanskoye and the adjacent settlements, where the work to evacuate is against the clock. "In the direction of Lipetsk, in the direction of Tserkunivski, it's the same. There are thousands of people there who need to be evacuated," said Oleg Siniehubov, who confirmed that 6,000 people had been evacuated by Monday, 1,500 on Monday. “The first step is to stabilize the front line to conduct a successful defense. Afterwards, our forces will do everything they can to completely expel the occupier", he assured. In recent hours, criticism of the authorities has increased due to the lack of protection in the border areas, which the Russian troops would have crossed without obstacles. Many wonder why they were not mined, and many also wonder why there were not more lines of defense if the possibility of an incursion through that area was not ruled out. Russia had amassed at least 30,000 men.

On the road to Buhaivka, among pine forests, crews can be seen digging trench systems, made of cement and logs, the construction of which, of course, did not begin after Friday's attack. However, not only are they far from the border, but they have a good run left to finish.

After a long journey, Natalia and her cat have arrived in Kharkiv as evening falls. The organizations that coordinate the evacuation transport the evacuees to the city in vans or buses. "I feel better. I hadn't slept for many days," says the woman, accompanied all the time by a volunteer who takes care of her.