Advances by Ukrainian forces slowed by bad weather and Russian resistance

The Ukrainian forces’ lightning recapture of territories occupied by Russian forces in the Kharkiv region (north-east) faced very difficult conditions on Saturday in Kupiansk due to severe weather and resistance from troops.

On the front of the city of Kupyansk, in the incessant noise of the bombardments, a black column of smoke rises over the Oskil, the river, which separates the western bank controlled by the Ukrainian forces from the eastern bank contested by Russian forces.

“At the moment, the rain makes it difficult to use heavy weapons everywhere. We can only use the paved roads,” Sergeant Roman Malyna of the Ukrainian forces told AFP as armored personnel carriers and tanks maneuvered in a torrential downpour.

“Since it is difficult to get there because of the weather, we are targeting their armored vehicles, their ammunition depots and the groups of soldiers,” he adds.

– “Only their bodies will remain” –

On Friday, Kupyansk military administrator Andriy Kanachevych told AFP that it could take Ukrainian forces ten days to secure the area.

Ukrainian artillery was targeting Russian positions in the forest outside the eastern part of the city, but a Russian drone caused concern and caught attention.

A stream of refugees who had fled the bombarded city advanced over a bridge whose railings were still painted in the red, white and blue colors of the Russians occupying Kupiansk.

Advances by Ukrainian forces slowed by bad weather and Russian resistance

Two Ukrainian soldiers, well-equipped – American assault rifle and bulletproof vest – and with good morale despite fatigue and the Russian drone flying over the debris-strewn road also crossed the river.

One of those who use the moniker “Mario” believes it is too early to know when the eastern bank will come under the full control of Ukrainian forces, while expressing certainty that Russian forces will withdraw.

“Only their bodies will remain,” he says.

“In general, everything is fine, considering the scale of the operation, we have almost no casualties,” he told AFP.

Most of Kupyansk, a crucial rail hub previously used by Russia to supply its forces stationed further south on the Donetsk frontline, fell to Ukrainian forces in September during a spectacular counter-offensive.

But a narrow strip of Kharkiv region on the eastern bank of the Oskil River remains in the hands of Russian forces, preventing the Ukrainians from advancing on the Russian-controlled Lugansk region worth annexing.

“Yes, we have enough men and weapons, but it depends on what will happen on the other side”, according to Sergeant Malyna.

Advances by Ukrainian forces slowed by bad weather and Russian resistance

“They try to find the weak points in our defense line. So they try to attack from time to time using armor and infantry,” he said of the tactics used by the Russian forces.

“Our morale is good. We are ready to fight, but we need more heavy weapons and precision weapons,” the sergeant added, repeating Ukraine’s appeal to Western countries.

Many civilians have fled a city without electricity and running water, but some have nowhere to go and are dependent on food aid.

Civilians gather around laptop power outlets in the entrances of five-story buildings, recharging tablets and torches.

Most say they are happy that Ukrainian forces are returning to liberate the city from Russian occupation, while acknowledging that the ongoing fighting is devastating.

– “Alone with my cats” –

Lioudmila Beloukha, 74, was a Soviet-era trapeze artist at the Moscow Circus. “I traveled all over the Soviet Union and also abroad,” she recalls.

Advances by Ukrainian forces slowed by bad weather and Russian resistance

This widow lives alone in a residential area in Kupyansk. Her sister left for Greece and she had no news of her nephew, who lives on the east bank of the river, for months.

“I’m alone at home, with my cats. All alone. My kitchen and the balcony windows are broken. I have to fix them with plastic wrap, because it’s going to be cold. I’m freezing,” she explains.

Mrs Beloukha received a small food aid distributed by volunteers and is not suffering from hunger, but “we have no water, no electricity. Nothing. Not even boiling water for tea”.

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