'a vicious and intimate dance'
A Ukrainian counteroffensive north and east of Kharkiv has pushed Russian forces mostly out of shelling range of Ukraine's second-largest city, under near-constant attack since Moscow tried to surround it at the beginning of its invasion. Ukraine's armed forces now regularly report recapturing towns and villages from retreating Russian troops.
The war in the Kharkiv region, costly to both sides, is "now a game of hawk and mouse, where each side's drones circle constantly, trying to pinpoint the enemy's tanks and guns, for targeting by artillery," BBC correspondent Quentin Sommerville reports from one newly recaptured village.
The fight has mostly involved the two sides "lobbing artillery shells at one another, sometimes from dozens of miles away," New York Times correspondent Michael Schwirtz reports from the Kharkiv front lines. "But at some points along the zigzagging eastern front, the combat becomes a vicious and intimate dance, granting enemy forces fleeting glimpses of one another as they jockey for command of hills and makeshift redoubts in towns and villages blasted apart by shells."
"Ukrainian gains, modest for now, could have strategic implications for Russia's war in the Donbas to the southeast," the BBC's Sommerville reports. Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian lines within a handful of miles from Russia's borders in some places — Ukrainian shelling killed a Russian civilian in a village six miles into Russia, the governor of Belgorod region said — threatening to cut off the main ground supply routes for Russia's eastern offensive.
"Russia's prioritization of operations in the Donbas has left elements deployed in the Kharkiv Oblast vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukrainian counter-attacking force," Britain's Ministry of Defense said in an early Thursday intelligence update. Russia "has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganize and replenish its forces following heavy losses," and "once reconstituted," they will likely deploy to "protect the western flank of Russia's main force concentration and main supply routes for operations in the vicinity of Izium."
As residents return to the recaptured villages, "many have been shocked by the scale of destruction," the Times reports. "Cars have been blown to pieces. Homes have been shattered by heavy artillery. ... Bodies are scattered around the once peaceful town." And as soon as the Russians leave, forensic investigators come in to document Russian war crimes, The Washington Post reports. "Imagine an episode of CSI — and there's a war going on, too."