Russia Ramping Up Its Attacks on Ukraine’s Second-Largest City

Russia is ramping up its attacks on Kharkiv—Ukraine’s second-largest city—amid fears that Moscow may be gearing up for a full-bore onslaught across the historic region in the northeast.

Ukrainian officials said that Russian forces struck down a TV tower in Kharkiv City Monday afternoon, causing the structure to partially collapse and disrupting television signals in the area. The attack comes as the city has been bombarded by airstrikes for weeks, and as Moscow officials have hinted at Kharkiv being a potential location to create a “demilitarized” zone along the front lines, according to reports by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Less than 20 miles from the Russian border, Kharkiv is home to roughly 1.3 million residents, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that the city holds “great symbolic meaning” to the country.

“It is Russia’s clear intention to make the city uninhabitable,” Zelensky told U.S. President Joe Biden during a phone call on Monday, according to a readout of the call reviewed by Reuters.

Russia Ramping Up It's Attacks on Kharkiv
Ukrainian gunners fire at Russians near the town of Kupyansk, Kharkiv Region, on Thursday. Russia has indicated that it could be gearing up to launch an offensive against Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a radio interview last week that Kharkiv “plays an important role” in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to establish demilitarized zones as a way to push fighting away from Russian territory. According to ISW’s Friday assessment of the Russia-Ukraine war, Lavrov referred to the plan as establishing a “sanitary zone,” and told Russian state-owned media outlets that the Kremlin is “completely convinced” that it needs to continue its war against Ukraine.

Prominent Kremlin propagandists have also touted plans for Moscow to seize Kharkiv. As ISW reported Monday, talk-show host Vladimir Solovyov said last month that “Russian forces should destroy Kharkiv City ‘quarter by quarter’ and suggested offering Ukrainian civilians 48 hours to leave the city, presumably before being killed.” A separate Russian state-owned television channel, Tsargrad, also reported earlier this month that several “unspecified military sources” said that an offensive operation against Kharkiv was “inevitable,” according to ISW.

The Ukrainian Center for Combatting Disinformation has warned citizens against believing Russian sources that are spreading claims about individuals attempting to “escape” Kharkiv ahead of a potential Russian offensive, writing in an article in February that such reports “are an informational and psychological operation of the enemy, which aims to demoralize society and sow panic.”

The ISW said on Monday that Russia was likely “intensifying strike and information operations against Ukrainians in Kharkiv City to exploit ongoing constraints on Ukrainian air defenses and heightened tensions in Ukraine in the likely relatively brief window before the anticipated arrival of US military assistance to frontline areas.”

Newsweek reached out to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense via email Monday night for additional comment.