Written by 10:41 World

Ukraine Stalled Russia Near the Border. Vovchansk Has Paid the Price.

A month into Russia’s push across the border in northern Ukraine, Western weapons and Ukrainian reinforcements have largely stalled the attack. But they came too late to save one town, Vovchansk, where the city hall, a cultural center, countless apartment blocks and several riverside hotels are all now in ruins.

A small town divided by the Vovcha River, Vovchansk was once a regional tourist attraction — a pleasant base from which to explore the chalk hills nearby. But it is also three miles from the Russian border, and when Russia began a cross-border offensive on May 10, it became Ukrainian forces’ stand-your-ground position.

The front line still runs through Vovchansk, about 70 percent of which remains under Ukrainian control. And a month of fierce fighting and relentless bombing by Russia has decimated the town, forcing almost everyone left there to flee.

“My small, peaceful town, full of trees and so many flowers! It was drowning in greenery,” said Tetyana Polyakova, a former resident, in an interview last week. She described how wildfires had burned through the forest and the town’s buildings became shells, with black fire marks on what remained of their walls. Huge clouds of smoke rose after each strike, enveloping her home and the rest of the town.

“There is no Vovchansk anymore,” she said.

The Russian attack in the north raised concerns in Ukraine and among its Western allies that a breakthrough could imperil Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. The new front, apart from stretching Ukrainian troops, was threatening to reoccupy territories in the region that Russia had already held for a few months in 2022.

As bombs and missiles rained down on Kharkiv and the region, an average of 20 Russian glide bombs — large guided strikes from the air — have been falling on Vovchansk daily.

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Last modified: 13 June 2024
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