ISW: Russians aim to cause panic in Kharkiv, urge residents to flee ahead of “possible Russian offensive”

Yana Sliemzina - 23 April 2024 | 15:27
TV broadcasting tower in Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian missile attack on Apr 22 / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media

Apr 23 — The Institute for the Study of War research group released a report saying the Kremlin is conducting a “concrete air and information operation” to destroy Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and cause panic among Ukrainians, urging them to flee ahead of “possible Russian offensive.” 

ISW assesses Russia’s goal to be the displacement of millions of Ukrainians ahead of a “possible future Russian offensive operation” against Kharkiv or elsewhere in Ukraine. 

At the same time, analysts say that Russian troops “lack the forces necessary to seize the city” as long as Ukrainian Armed Forces are “adequately supplied.” They note that Ukrainian troops’ capacity to defend Kharkiv efficiently relies heavily on the US restarting military assistance. 

Kharkiv is a regional center in northeast Ukraine, located 19 miles from the Russian border. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Russians have attacked the city, as well as its region’s community, often because of its proximity to the border. They use guided air bombs, missiles, drones, and other weapons. 

On April 22, Russia hit the TV broadcasting tower in Kharkiv with Kh-59 missiles. Kharkiv Oblast Governor Oleh Syniehubov noted that Russian propagandists will exploit this moment to spread disinformation and urged people to trust official sources only. 

The ISW report of April 22 supports these warnings. Researchers report that Kremlin propagandists are “seizing” on concerns about a possible Russian offensive on Kharkiv, trying to “create outsized panic among Ukrainians.” They reference the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security’s assessment on the intensifying Russian disinformation and efforts to “sow panic” and a “feeling of impending, inevitable catastrophe.” 

On April 18, Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said that there’s no reason to announce evacuation from Kharkiv, addressing recent scam messages urging people to leave the city. “Russians are using this tactic to shake people’s emotional state up,” he said.  

Russia has been attacking Kharkiv and the region more since late December 2023 and intensified the shelling again in March 2024, exploiting the lack of air defense systems and missiles in the Ukrainian army. President Zelenskyy said that delays in 

The US military aid package for Ukraine, which has been stalled in Congress since autumn 2023, was finally passed in the House on April 20. To restart US military assistance, the package has to pass the Senate and get President Joe Biden’s signature. 

Photo credit: TV broadcasting tower in Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian missile attack on Apr 22 / Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media

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