Hundreds of people were evacuated from areas near the Russian border in Ukraine's Kharkiv region, the regional governor said Saturday, a day after Moscow launched a surprise ground offensive.

Russian forces made small advances in the area it was pushed back from nearly two years ago, the latest in a series of gains as Ukrainian forces find themselves outgunned and outmanned.

"A total of 1,775 people have been evacuated," Kharkiv governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on social media.

He reported Russian artillery and mortar attacks on 30 settlements over the past 24 hours.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a "fierce battle" was under way in Kharkiv.

"We must disrupt Russian offensive operations and return the initiative to Ukraine," Zelensky said on Saturday.


The Kharkiv region has been mostly under Ukrainian control since September 2022.

A senior Ukrainian military source said Russian forces had advanced one kilometer (0.6 miles) into Ukraine and were trying to "create a buffer zone" in the Kharkiv and neighboring Sumy regions to prevent attacks on Russian territory.

Ukrainian forces have multiplied attacks inside Russia and Russian-held areas of Ukraine, particularly on energy infrastructure.

On Saturday, Moscow-installed authorities in the Russian-occupied Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine said three people were killed by a Ukrainian strike with US-made missiles on an oil depot.

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In recent months Poland, a staunch Ukraine supporter, has seen several sabotage plots on its territory that it has blamed on neighbouring Russia.

Moscow-installed governor Leonid Pasechnik said the strike "enveloped the oil depot in fire and damaged surrounding homes".

"The death toll has risen to three and eight more people are in hospital," he said on social media.

- 'Tactically significant gains' -

Officials in Kyiv had warned for weeks that Moscow might try to attack its northeastern border regions, pressing its advantage as Ukraine struggles with delays in Western aid and manpower shortages.

Ukraine's military said it had deployed more troops and Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were using artillery and drones to thwart the Russian advance.


"Reserve units have been deployed to strengthen the defense in this area of the front," it said.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said on Friday that Russia had made "tactically significant gains".

But the main aim of the operation was "drawing Ukrainian manpower and materiel from other critical sectors of the front in eastern Ukraine," it said.

ISW said it did not appear to be "a large-scale sweeping offensive operation to envelop, encircle and seize Kharkiv" -- Ukraine's second biggest city.

Washington announced a new $400 million military aid package for Kyiv hours after the offensive began, and said it was confident Ukraine could repel any fresh Russian campaign.

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