From the front lines,Ukrainian fighters fight back against a Russian missile barrage to save Kharkiv
An eerie silence reigns in a residential complex on the outskirts of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine: once-bustling children's parks and schools have now been turned into a battlefield.
Master Sergeant Valeriy Stepanov gives an update on the battle situation here. The thundering shots shatter the silence as he talks. Everyone is taking cover on the ground as our video correspondent Anup Joshi rolls the camera to capture every moment in the middle of the action amid incessant bombardments.
It returns to normalcy after a few minutes, but only for a short time. According to Master Sergeant Stepanov, this is a frequent feature that occurs numerous times per day, sometimes every two to three hours. The border is around 20 kilometres away, while the Russian forces are only a few kilometres away, according to the Master Sergeant. A land invasion by Russian troops into Kharkiv is not ruled out. Thus Ukrainian troops have prepared trenches around the structures if they have to face an advance by the Russians.
The only people who dwell here are Ukrainian army personnel living in bunkers beneath the apartment buildings. There is gloom, with homes smashed and top floors entirely blown off. Saltivka, near Kharkiv, is now a ghost town, with residents having been evacuated. Following the intense bombing, there is a no-entry zone for civilians. Ukraine must keep Kharkiv. The territory shares a border with Russia as well as the neighbouring areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are part of the Donbas region under Russian control. By applying pressure, Russian forces may move into Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city after Kyiv, effectively severing the country's eastern border.
Mariupol, a port city south of Donetsk, is already under Russian hands. As Russia focuses on the region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated that the battle's outcome in the east and south will determine Ukraine's future. In this setting, Kharkiv becomes crucial for Ukraine since it has the potential to prevent Russia from wholly occupying the eastern front until Ukrainian forces can keep it.
One of the Ukrainian army formations defending Kharkiv is the 229 Battalion of the 127th Brigade, which India Today visited. A detachment protects the woodlands along the main highway, which the Russians might utilise to move into Kharkiv at one of their critical spots. The road also connects Kharkiv and Kyiv. In preparation for a ground assault, the forces conduct training in the jungles and set up ambushes.
According to Col Maksim Zinchenko, the battalion's commanding officer, there has been a lot of Russian activity surrounding Kharkiv. "We will fight until the end until they utterly retreat," the officer vowed as his soldiers went about their training. The battalion has been pleading for more resources in the face of the rising threat. Rifles with night vision, quadcopters to pick up Russian movements, off-road vehicles to move into forest terrain, and much more are among the military equipment that must be ready for the long haul. Because they joined only during the war, many of these soldiers are recruits who have not been prepared for combat. They may lack fighting experience, but they are not lacking in the courage to fight despite the odds. Because of this spirit, what was supposed to be a David vs Goliath battle has devolved into a stalemate, and they're ready to fight it out for the long haul.