UKRAINE, VOVCHANSK, May 17 — Russians captured up to 40 civilians who were trying to leave Vovchansk and reach Ukraine-controlled parts of the city to evacuate, Serhii Bolvinov, the head of the investigative department of Kharkiv police reported on Ukrainian TV on May 16. 

“They’re being detained in one basement,” Bolvinov said, adding that Russians are “using them as a human shield because, near the detention place, Russians organized a command center” for their troops. 

Vovchansk is the first big city in the way of Russia’s new assault on the Kharkiv Oblast. Its pre-war population was about 17,500 people. Russians had already occupied the city on the first day of the full-scale invasion, and the Ukrainian army liberated it during the Kharkiv counteroffensive in September 2022. 

Now, a heavy battle for Vovchansk is ongoing, and, according to Ukraine’s army Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi, seizing Vovchansk is one of Russia’s main goals in the new offensive. 

Police, rescuers, and emergency services have been evacuating the civilians ever since. Kharkiv Oblast Governor Oleh Syniehubov said that 8,799 people have been evacuated from border settlements in the way of the Russian offensive in Lyptsi and Vovchansk directions. 

Serhii Bolvinov said that civilians Russia took prisoner are mainly elderly people “who stayed [in Vovchansk] until the last moment, not wanting to abandon their homes.” 

Field report: Threat of reoccupation looms over Vovchansk as Russia launches new offensive on Kharkiv region. Gwara Media joined the evacuation mission on May 11 to talk to people who were leaving Vovchansk in the wake of the Russian assault on the city.  

He added that police teams evacuating from Vovchansk know of cases when “elderly man and woman walked for days” — because of constant shelling and bombardment — to reach parts of the city controlled by Ukraine. 

Russians launched a new assault on the Kharkiv region from north and northeast on May 10. They supported the advance of their troops with heavy artillery shelling and glide bomb attacks. 

On May 16, Ihor Klymenko, Kyiv’s Minister of Internal Affairs, reported that police already have reports about Russian troops executing civilians in Vovchansk and embattled communities of the Kharkiv region. 

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