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UKRAINE: Russia said Sunday it had captured four more villages in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, as thousands of residents were evacuated from the surprise ground offensive and a key border town came under intensive shelling.

Russia’s defence ministry announced the new gains a day after claiming that five villages had been seized in the region in a part of Ukraine from where Russian troops had been pushed back nearly two years ago.

The ministry said its forces had “advanced deeply into the enemy defences”. The Ukrainian army’s top commander said the situation was “complicated” but his forces were managing to hold back further Russian advances.

“All areas of the northern border are under enemy fire almost around the clock. The situation is difficult,” Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.

“The number of settlements where active hostilities are ongoing has increased,” he said.

Local prosecutors said four civilians had been killed in the offensive.

At an evacuation point near the front line in the Kharkiv region, AFP reporters on Sunday saw groups of people who had been evacuated from around the town of Vovchansk, most of them elderly and disoriented. “We weren’t going to leave.

Home is home,” said 72-year-old Lyuda Zelenskaya, hugging a trembling cat named Zhora. Liuba Konovalova, 70 said she had endured a “really terrifying” night before her evacuation.

Volunteers assisted evacuees to a few wooden benches where they registered and received food before being evacuated towards Kharkiv, the regional capital.

Emergency services said more than 4,500 people had been evacuated from the Kharkiv region.

Oleksiy Kharkivsky, a senior police officer from Vovchansk helping to coordinate evacuations there, said it was “constantly under fire”.

“Everything in the city is being destroyed... You hear constant explosions, artillery, mortars. The enemy is hitting the city with everything they have,” he said.

He said evacuation teams had come under fire “many times”, estimating that around 1,500 people had been evacuated. Synegubov estimated there were still around 500 civilians left in Vovchansk.

Volodymyr Tymoshko, head of police in the Kharkiv region, said Vovchansk was being attacked on three sides and Russian troops were on the outskirts.

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