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Ukraine war takes dramatic turn as Russian soldiers push to recapture northeast Kharkiv territory
August 28 2023, 08:00

Ukrainian authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation of several villages and three dozen other populated areas as Russian troops advanced on the Kharkiv province.

The evacuation directive applies to 37 settlements that Russian forces captured early in the 18-month-old war but were liberated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive in September. Citing a Russian attempt to push back into the area, the military administration in the Kupiansk district told roughly 12,000 residents to seek safety elsewhere.

The order was initially issued on Aug. 10 but residents have been reluctant to relocate despite Russia's renewed push to retake the region.

The resurgence comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine crossed the 550 day mark over the weekend. 


The Kharkiv province is home to Kharkiv, the provincial capital and Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Kupiansk, a city located on the outskirts of the province and about 70 miles from its capital, is under an evacuation order now. The area was occupied by the Russians for more than six months last year.

Despite the evacuation order, only a few hundred have heeded the warning, Ukrainian officials said.


Among the thousands who haven't, their reasons range from the existential to the routine: Some are paralyzed by the daunting task of relocating while others said they had considered the hardships of displacement and decided to brave the renewed hostilities instead.

Others expressed their fear of encountering poverty and loneliness in expensive faraway cities or reluctance to give up homes in which they invested their life savings for a crowded shelter. Some even said they needed more time to tidy the garden or to tend to livestock.

Many of the residents who chose to remain in their residences signed documents stating they were staying at their own risk.

Katarina Chesta, a school administrator in the region, told the Associated Press that she intends to stay put even if the order is extended citywide due to her weariness to the war.

"Maybe it’s just the way I am," she said. "Some people must stay here to be patriots for the city, to develop it, to survive."

When Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, Chesta fled the port city of Mariupol under fire and ended up in Kupiansk, where her parents lived. The 39-year-old refuses to move again despite Russian air strikes frequently targeting Kupiansk and even hitting the city's main school building in October and December.

Instead, Chesta is preparing an online curriculum for the new academic year.

The Kharkiv province, which borders Russia, reemerged as a combat hot spot when the Russian military began assembling assault troops, tank units and other resources in the direction of Kupiansk in mid-July.

There is intense fighting on the outskirts of Synkivka, a village approximately nine miles from Kupiansk, as Russian soldiers attempt to recapture the territory Ukraine won back, according to Ukrainian military officials.

The Kupiansk military administration said Russian forces have shelled civilian infrastructure and homes while hunting for Ukrainian soldiers; and, the near-constant shelling has killed several residents a week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.