Ukraine battling Russia for eastern border town as US ‘rushes’ arms to front line

Putin says troops advancing but Russia must balance spending on ‘cannons and butter’

Ukraine said its troops had withdrawn from some positions in the eastern Kharkiv region and were fighting to expel Russian units from the border town of Vovchansk, as the United States said it was “rushing” arms to Kyiv’s embattled forces on the front line.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy postponed all foreign engagements for the coming days to remain at home and focus on efforts to defend Kharkiv region, as Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said his forces were advancing in all areas of the battlefield.

The Ukrainian military said its troops had pulled back to “more advantageous” positions in two areas of Kharkiv region, “as a consequence of enemy fire and storming action” and “to preserve the lives of our servicemen and prevent losses”.

In an update on Wednesday afternoon, the Ukrainian military said it had “repelled offensive actions of the Russian occupiers near Vovchansk, partially pushing enemy forces out of the settlement, and defensive actions continue in nearby northern and northwestern areas”.

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Earlier, Oleksiy Kharkivskiy, the head of Vovchansk’s police patrol department, wrote on social media: “The situation is extremely difficult. The enemy is taking positions on the streets of the town of Vovchansk.”

Ukraine’s state emergency service said about 8,000 civilians had been moved to safety from front-line towns and villages in Kharkiv region over the last six days, and evacuation efforts were continuing.

Mr Zelenskiy’s administration said he gave “instructions to postpone all international events with his involvement that are planned for the coming days, and to work out new dates. We are grateful to our partners for their understanding.”

Ukrainian officials and military analysts say Moscow appears to want to create a “buffer zone” on the border of Kharkiv region to protect the neighbouring Russian province of Belgorod from ground raids and missile strikes, and to force Kyiv to send troops to the area from neighbouring Donetsk region, which could weaken defences there.

“We’re rushing ammunition, armoured vehicles, missiles, air defences ... to the front lines to protect soldiers, to protect civilians,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on the second day of a visit to Kyiv, after playing guitar with a local band the night before for a bar-room rendition of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World.

Mr Blinken added that Washington had not “enabled or encouraged” Ukraine to use US-supplied weapons to hit targets inside Russia, but said that “ultimately, Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war”.

Footage posted online appeared to show missiles hitting the Belbek airbase used by Russian forces in occupied Crimea in the early hours of Wednesday, but Moscow said all Ukrainian rockets fired at the peninsula had been intercepted.

“In all directions our troops are constantly, every day, improving their positions,” Mr Putin told a meeting of Russian military leaders.

It was attended by new defence minister Andrei Belousov, an economist whom Mr Putin said could ensure spiralling military spending did not destabilise Russia’s finances, and maintain balance between outlay “on cannons and on butter”.

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