The Russian offensive in the Kharkiv sector, which began on May 10 and has continued for more than a week, has led to a humanitarian disaster in the region. Unable to overcome the Ukrainian defenses to make an effective breakthrough and go beyond the border villages, the Russian army is destroying all the infrastructure in its path.

As a result, border villages and towns are suffering, and many people have become refugees. This week alone, thousands of people have been left homeless, and hundreds more remain in the zone of active hostilities without food, electricity, communication, and assistance. The government and local authorities announced an emergency evacuation of the population.

Kyiv Post takes you directly to the front line.

Renewed fighting in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, has been going on for more than a week. Russian troops have managed to capture several border villages and storm the outskirts of the border town of Vovchansk, with a population of 3,000.

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In the heavy fighting in villages of this forested region, the Russians are suffering heavy losses, so they are attacking everything that could move and destroying all infrastructure in their path, even civilians, say residents who managed to escape from the inferno.

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The primary target of the strike was Starokonstyantyniv in the Khmelnytsky region, which is widely thought to be home to a vast Ukrainian air base.

“There are a lot of wounded now, from Lyptsi who, I know personally, one my friend is also in the hospital together with a wife, five fragments were removed from his head. I was taken away at 5 o’clock in the morning, houses were on fire, everything was on fire,” Vitaliy, a resident of the village of Lyptsi, north of Kharkiv, said.

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He is one of those whom volunteers managed to evacuate from under Russian fire. Vitaly says that there were no Ukrainian soldiers in the village, which is located 10 kilometers from the Russian border, because such a close location to the border is simply not profitable for them, but this did not stop the Russians. As a result of the shelling, the man lost everything he had built throughout his life. His neighbors also died.

“I spent 25 years building a house, a garage, a barn, buying cars – and all of this is destroyed now. They kill a lot of civilians in the village; when GRADs fly, they knock out everything in the area (GRAD multiple rocket launchers inflict massive damage footprint up to a square kilometer in size - ed.). There were no military personnel in Lyptsi, but they burned the village totally,” the man said.

He was taken to this temporary refugee center in Kharkiv. People from all over the region are brought here, most of them are residents of border villages, pensioners. Here, Ukrainian volunteers provide them with assistance, and international organizations provide them with food and necessities. Tetyana Bilozerova from one of the border farms shows us what the volunteers gave.

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“Here they gave us a bed, a folding bed, blankets, a pillow, a grocery set, they gave us all kinds of medicine, items for hygiene, detergent,” the woman said.

She lost her home but remained alive, spending a week in the basement of her house.

“Everything is devastated. There is no village there, everything is burnt. With GRADS and bombs, everything was destroyed. There was a strike yesterday and my house got burned down. What for? They will destroy our villages; they don’t need it. Bastards. I hate them with all my heart and soul. I want them to burn in hell like our houses,” the woman said.

Volunteers evacuating people say that Russian troops open fire, even when they see from the drone that it’s a civilian vehicle evacuating elderly people. They don’t want anyone to be saved. Oleksandr Pidhorny, a volunteer driver, shows us his hand, which was cut by shrapnel from a Russian aerial bomb.

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“They put people in cars, and Russians bombed us, we started pulling people out of the car, throwing them on the grass, and then the blast wave knocked us back and we were scattered on the asphalt. But the main thing is people are alive, we were worried about them,” volunteer Oleksandr Pidhorny told Kyiv Post.

His son, Vyacheslav, is also a volunteer. He says that in some cities, such as Vovchansk, where hostilities are taking place, it’s very difficult to evacuate people, and it can end badly for the volunteers themselves, three of whom recently went missing.

“Fifteen cats, two women, and an injured dog were evacuated by my team from the center of Vovchansk. We came under fire, together with the police we went out shoulder to shoulder, holding each other, we were fired at from mortars, and a bomb hit the building next to us, we barely got out of there,” Vyacheslav Pidhorny said.

Together with the volunteers, we go to the frontline villages to see the evacuation with our own eyes. We drive fast to avoid Russian fire. The roads here are practically empty, the explosions of artillery shells can be heard in the distance. In this village near Vovchansk, volunteers are helped by the police. They try to act quickly, taking away those they can find, because there’s a lot of Russian artillery and practically no communication, according to volunteer Artur Kovalev.

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“People are hard to find. People who are old, have no telephones, no communication, they’re in basements, in shelters, and naturally it’s difficult to find them. If before there were applications, there was communication, people went out on the road, now they’re sitting in basements and don’t know about evacuation... there’s no communication, the phones are dead,” Kovalev said.

This woman, Nina, and her neighbor were brought by the military from the border village just this morning. These three bags are the only thing they were able to take with them.

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It’s quieter in this village, and they’re preparing to go to Kharkiv. She says that she was able to leave only because the Ukrainian military had just kicked the Russians out from her village.

“We took a lot of them out. While ours are still standing, the village is not occupied, no... But it’s better to go away whenever they start hitting you with KABs. Airplanes take off, they are hit us with KABs. Helicopters take off and fire missiles. It’s unreal... Everything is destroyed in our place. Everything is on fire, broken,” the woman said.

Oleksiy Kharkivsky, head of the Vovchansk patrol police, is preparing for a new outing on the city streets. He says that it’s getting harder to work.

“The Russian military is trying to hit everything that moves around the city, so copters are constantly flying, there may be hits, we came under fire from a tank several times, fortunately, everyone survived, but it’s more and more difficult to evacuate because there are fewer and fewer people alive buildings where people are hiding... We’ve evacuated about 1,200 people. How many remain is simply impossible to count,” the policeman said.

In total, according to local authorities, more than 6,000 people have become refugees as a result of the Russian offensive. Half of them left on their own, and the rest were taken away by volunteers, the police, and the military, says the head of the city’s military administration, Tamaz Gambarashvili.

“The enemy is striking with artillery, MLRS, guided aerial bombs; the city is suffering from great destruction, and now the population is actively evacuated because it’s simply dangerous to be in these areas. The aggressor is destroying everything in its path,” Gambarashvili said.

The day after this interview, he was wounded by a Russian cluster munition while evacuating people. Several other people were injured along with him.

No one knows how many people have been killed and wounded because it’s difficult to survey the ruins under shelling. Tatiana and Vitaly say they know neighbors who died in the shelling, but it’s impossible to go to their houses to collect the bodies. Volunteers are doing everything to take out at least the living.

Toward evening, we return to Kharkiv, where volunteers from various villages are arriving. These vehicles are returning from Vovchansk. The driver, Volodymyr, said they came under fire three times.

“One guided bomb and two mortars,” the volunteer said.

Pensioners with limited mobility are being helped, and people come out of the bus with concussions and dirty – they spent several days in basements under heavy fire but did not leave their relatives or abandon their pets.

“It’s hell there now, it’s very hard. They shoot from all the weapons everywhere they can reach us,” the man said.

“Not a single house survived on my street and everything on the neighboring one burned down,” the woman who was able to save her cat said.

So far, the Ukrainian army has been able to stabilize the front and stop the advance of the Russian army beyond the frontline zone. However, this diverts a significant number of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and the Russian army can shell everything to a depth of 20 kilometers, causing even more settlements to suffer. Therefore, the evacuations and assistance will continue. Ukraine needs more missiles and air defense equipment to stop the Russian army from destroying everything in its path.

"They (the Russians) are bombing everything so hard that no population can survive... They (the people) will simply die, will be perished,” volunteer Artur Kovalev said.

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