In an interview with Radio NV, the head of Kharkiv oblast regional administration, Oleh Synehubov, spoke about the threats and challenges the city is facing, and how civilians are being advised to prepare for them.
NV: First up – what is the overall situation in the region, how is Kharkiv faring?
Synehubov: We are still seeing artillery, MLRS, tank, and mortar fire pummeling the city daily. Mostly, houses at Kharkiv’s outskirts are being hit, with some of our hospitals getting struck by MLRS fire.
We’re under constant shelling, and its chaotic nature puts the civilian population in danger. These parts of the city don’t have any military infrastructure or repair and maintenance facilities, so we can’t predict these insidious enemy strikes.
NV: Is there heavy fighting going on in Izyum?
Synehubov: Russians are trying to bypass Izyum and our troops there, and to advance towards Donbas, bolstering their numbers in the region. Naturally, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU) are aware of this, and are constantly beefing up their positions around Izyum. Daily official reports suggest the enemy is sustaining heavy troop, armor, and air losses.
NV: We all saw the carnage in Bucha. Do you know of what’s going on in the occupied parts of Kharkiv oblast?
Synehubov: We’re in constant communication with local authorities. They are holding on. Even if we don’t have official humanitarian corridors to resupply those towns and evacuate people, we’re still in contact with them. We bring (humanitarian cargo) to the nearest town, and from there, local volunteers smuggle the cargo in, weaving under Russian bullets, providing relief to people who need it. This happens in Izyum, Balakliya, and Kupyansk. Despite (Kupyansk) being basically completely under Russian occupation, we still manage to deliver humanitarian aid there.
Local authorities are seeking advice on what to do in some circumstances – should they start paying salaries in rubles, for instance. They are true patriots doing exemplary work, for which I’m deeply grateful to them. Despite living in close proximity to Russia, these people demonstrated steadfast allegiance to Ukraine, to their land.
When entering liberated towns – like Vilkhivka or Mala Rohan – we, unfortunately, find executed, bound civilians. Law enforcement and prosecutors are processing all these cases, building up the evidence base for future international trials.
ZSU have liberated Husarivka, near Balakliya. A so-called Russian “Commandant’s Office” was based in one of the houses there. In its basement, an entire family had been burnt alive, according to preliminary conclusions.
A local doctor was visibly tortured to death.
An entire family was shot dead in their car – parents and their small child.
NV: Are the Russians trying to forcibly conscript people in the areas they hold?
Synehubov: We don’t have any such reports. There was news about them trying to forcibly relocate people to Russia. Basically, they besiege a town, drive its population to despair by blocking food supplies, and then “offer” them a single evacuation route – to Russia. Those who agree have their phones takes away, so that they can't’t tell anyone their whereabouts, or return to Ukraine.
NV: Should people evacuate from Kharkiv oblast?
Synehubov: We’re monitoring routes and numbers of people leaving, since the military circumstances change every day, or even more often. We have to suggest routes that are the safest for cars and evacuation by rail.
As of now, we’re conducting mass evacuation only from Barvinkove and Balakliya. 15,000 people have left Balakliya so far, with 50,000-60,000 still remaining there. Barvinkove still has 1,500 people in it, around 3,000 left the town.
We expect the theater of war to shift towards these two towns.
NV: How many people have left the region to date?
Synehubov: The first four days (of the war) saw the highest number of people flee Kharkiv itself and the oblast. According to our data, around 700,000 people left by train, with 300,000-400,000 more driving away in their cars. A lot of people are coming back now, though. Local businesses are reopening, people are pivoting from volunteering back to conventional work, and that’s good. Our economy needs to recover, it’s what will provide us with resources to march towards victory.
NV: Will Putin try to take Kharkiv?
Synehubov: We’re at war for (45) days now, and Kharkiv was in focus since day one. At no point we had any doubts in our ability to defend the city.
Russians are very well aware that they lost the ground battle for Kharkiv. The enemy lost large numbers of troops, armor, paratroopers, and war planes, trying to take our city. ZSU have handily beaten them.
We remain ready for anything. We understand that Moscow is obsessed with Kharkiv and the region. Obviously, their gaze is currently fixated on Donbas, but they won’t completely abandon the idea of nabbing Kharkiv. ZSU are constantly increasing their presence here, digging in.
NV: Is Donbas the reason for how important Izyum is important for them?
Synehubov: That’s right. We expect the forces that withdrew from Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv, will regroup and advance towards Kharkiv, Izyum, and Kupyansk, on their way to Donbas. ZSU are aware of these Russian plans, and are acting accordingly.