National Guard’s Commander: To take Kharkiv, Russians would “have to be at war for years”

Yana Sliemzina - 23 April 2024 | 20:09
Kharkiv during blackout after massive Russian missile attack on March 22 that almost entirely destroyed city's power and heating infrastructure / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media

UKRAINE, Apr 23 — Ukrainian National Guard’s Commander, Oleksandr Pivnenko, said that Russian troops would need years to capture Kharkiv, in his interview to, a Ukrainian media outlet, published today. 

Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast of the country, a regional center that’s been heavily shelled since the beginning of full-scale invasion. The region borders Russia; Kharkiv itself is just 19 miles from the border. 

“They could, but they won’t manage,” said Pivnenko about Russia’s possible plan to conduct an offensive to seize Kharkiv. He believes Russians can only “act in a classic way,” with two or three directions [of fighting] to distract and one as the main one. For Kharkiv, that will be a difficult story, he says, because Russians will constantly try to destroy objects of its critical and civilian infrastructure. 

“To take Kharkiv, [they would] have to be at war for years. Recall how long Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been holding [the Russian offensive]. It’s easier for Russians to change RF’s military command and abandon their plans than to take [this city], falling thousands more of their soldiers,” Pivnenko said. 

Kharkiv during blackout after Russians destroyed or heavily damaged the city’s entire heating and power infrastructure on March 22 / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media
Kharkiv during blackout after Russians destroyed or heavily damaged the city’s entire heating and power infrastructure on March 22 / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media

Russians have already tried to capture Kharkiv in February-March 2022, but failed, resorting to occupying part of the region and attacking the city’s critical infrastructure. Most of the Russian-occupied territory of the Kharkiv oblast was liberated by the Armed Forces in the Kharkiv counteroffensive in the Autumn of 2022. 

Russians intensified strikes on the city in December 2023 and again in March 2024. On March 22, they launched up to 22 missiles onto Kharkiv’s Thermal Power Plant and the region’s electrical substations, effectively making it impossible for the region to produce its own electricity or heating. Currently, Kharkiv oblast is supplied with power from other regions of Ukraine. 

On April 22, Russians destroyed Kharkiv’s TV tower, causing TV signal outages. Air Force spokesman Illia Yevlash said that Russians did it to cut down Ukrainian broadcasting to the region and replace it with Russian propaganda. 

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) research group released a report on April 22, assessing that Russia is conducting “an air and information operation” to destroy Kharkiv and urge residents to flee in fear of a “possible Russian offensive.”

The ISW finds the success of the Russian offensive on Kharkiv unlikely, though researchers note that the Ukrainian army’s capacity to defend the city heavily depends on the renewal of US military assistance. 

Photo credit: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media

UPD from 8:50 p.m.: Correction: Pivnenko’s name in English is spelled Oleksandr, not Oleksander.

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