Russian forces claimed to have pushed the frontline back two miles in the north-east region of Kharkiv as a minister in Kyiv said the Kremlin was trying to take back the oblast almost a year after it was famously liberated by Ukrainian forces.
In the latest strikes on the border region, including the bombing of villages near the city of Kupiansk, two people were said to have been killed and three wounded, while a woman was reported to have died in an attack in Kherson in southern Ukraine.
Hanna Maliar, a Ukrainian deputy defence minister, said: “They have a plan. The occupiers want to regain the territories they lost in Kharkiv region.”
The Russian advance near Kupiansk was said to have taken place over the previous three days during which time there has been intense shelling of both military targets and residential areas.
“Over the past three days, the advance of Russian troops … amounted to 11km along the front and more than 3km deep into the enemy’s defence.” a spokesperson for Russia’s ministry of defence said.
Last September, Ukraine scored a significant victory after surprising the Kremlin with a counteroffensive that forced Russia out of territories in Kharkiv occupied since the early days of the full-scale invasion.
Russia had continued to pepper the region with artillery attacks and cruise missiles but in recent weeks, as the Ukrainian focus has moved to the south and east of the country, there has been an increase in the intensity of the assault.
Officials in Kyiv said they were well aware Russia was “trying to exploit the situation”.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of the Ukrainian presidency, reported on Telegram that “the Russians shelled the village of Kucherivka, in Kupyan district, hitting a house”. He added that “two dead and three injured people are known”.
One person was also reported to have been killed and several injured during a “difficult night” of Russian shelling of Kherson, said the city’s governor, Oleksandr Prokudin.
A 59-year-old woman died while two rescuers and a 93-year-old woman were among those injured in the attacks, which targeted residential areas in the city centre, he wrote on Telegram.
Ukraine recaptured Kherson and parts of the surrounding region in November after months of occupation by Russia.
Yermak, who is Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s closest aide and has been in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for the latest talks over an internationally agreed peace plan, said a new prisoner swap had been completed. Under the agreed deal, 22 Ukrainian soldiers returned home, including two officers along with sergeants and privates who fought in different parts of the front. Some of them were wounded.
A video posted on Telegram showed soldiers wrapped in blue and yellow Ukrainian flags posing for pictures and shouting “Glory to Ukraine.”
“Today we have returned 22 Ukrainian fighters home from captivity,” Yermak said, adding that the oldest was 54 and the youngest 23. There was no immediate comment from Russia.
Following the talks in Saudi Arabia, at which Russia was absent, China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the summit on the Ukraine crisis had helped “consolidate international consensus”.
China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, “had extensive contact and communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis … listened to all sides’ opinions and proposals, and further consolidated international consensus”, the foreign ministry said in a written statement.
China has yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yermak said on Monday that talks at the weekend had dealt a “huge blow” to Russia and that the participants agreed to hold another meeting of political advisers within about six weeks. He told reporters in Kyiv no other peace initiatives were discussed at the meeting in Jeddah apart from Ukraine’s and that the countries present had fully supported its independence and territorial integrity.