Ukraine’s second city was the target of fierce attacks in the early stages of the war, but Russian forces pulled back from the region in May as Putin looked to galvanise Russia’s advances through the eastern Donbas region. The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based military think tank, said: “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv.”
However, “Kharkiv will remain one of the priorities for the Russian forces”, according to Dr Marina Miron.
Dr Miron, of the Centre for Military Ethics at King’s College London, described the city as “important to Russia from the very beginning” for its proximity to Russian territory.
Dr Miron described the strategic advantages of taking full control of the city, which is still under Kyiv’s control.
She told Express.co.uk: “Kharkiv is the heart of the Kharkiv Oblast’ and a city that is in close proximity to Russia.
“In addition, it is an important communications centre from which major motorways lead to a number of key cities in Ukraine, including Kiev and Zaporizhzhia, and in Russia, most notably, Moscow.
“So, taking Kharkiv would be important not only to gain full control of the Kharkiv Oblast’ (in the future) and to organise a referendum there (like in Kherson) where the majority of the population speaks Russian with economic ties to Russia but also from a logistical perspective as supplying troops directly through Kharkiv would be ideal for Moscow.”
Kharkiv was once again struck by Russian missiles earlier this week ahead of Ukraine’s independence day, new footage showed.
International watchdog Human Rights Watch previously described the city as subject to “repeated unlawful attacks that killed and wounded civilians and damaged healthcare facilities and homes”.
READ MORE: Russian military warned it could lose crucial city: ‘Can be crushed’
“It is important, though, to be cautious when interpreting what each of the sides is claiming about the other one.
“Both sides are claiming high death tolls of the adversary. There is no easy way to judge this.”
She then described the southern regions, such as the Black Sea city of Kherson, as “problematic for the Russian forces”, yet they are “still launching attacks along the entire front line”.
Dr Miron explained: “This would suggest that the Russians are still not ready to retreat which would in turn imply that even if the morale is not as high as at the beginning of the conflict, it is still there and the will to fight has not vanished.”
The head of Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency said earlier this week “Russia has rather seriously slowed down the tempo of its assault” with its “exhausted” forces.
Kyrylo Budanov claimed Russian soldiers were suffering from “moral and physical fatigue”, whereas Russia’s defence minister claimed the halting advances were “deliberate”.