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Why does Russia want to conquer Kharkiv and why is it important for Ukraine?

Russia has launched one of the biggest offensives against Ukraine since the start of the war, with a surprise attack in the northeast of the country.

Vladimir Putin's army invaded Vovchansk, a municipality close to the border between the two countries, and intensified air attacks against Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russia has gathered more than 50,000 troops in the Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk regions, close to the Ukrainian border. Most of these forces are not being used in this offensive, but could be sent into battle in the coming months.

Why is Kharkiv important?

The city of Kharkiv had an estimated population of 1.4 million people before the war, making it the second largest city in the country and one of the most developed.

However, this number may have been reduced by half, according to Américo Martins, correspondent for CNN after hundreds of thousands of people fled.

It is less than 40 kilometers from the border with Russia and was the capital of Ukraine from 1919 to 1933, when the territory was part of the Soviet Union.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in March 2022 that the conquest of Kharkiv would be the second main objective of the Russian Army, behind only the capital Kiev.

Heavy fighting was reported in the streets of Kharkiv at the start of the war in 2022. Later that year, Ukrainian troops managed to prevent the Russians from taking the city, something that became one of the symbols of Ukraine's resilience during the Russian invasion.

Still, Kharkiv has been the target of constant Russian missile and artillery attacks.

Russia's interest in the city is due to a few reasons: Kharkiv was home to tank and tractor factories, as well as electronic products, proving to be an important industrial hub for the region, with a railway junction.

Other items produced there were trains, industrial machines, agricultural utensils and generators.

Additionally, there was a nuclear research facility in Kharkiv, which housed an experimental nuclear reactor used for research and production of isotopes for medical and industrial use, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to the agency, this installation was placed on “long-term shutdown” on February 24, 2022, the day the war began.

Military objective

The conquest of Kharkiv would also be symbolic for the Russian Army, as it is an important industrial and housing center.

Ukrainians also fear that the city will become uninhabitable due to the fighting, as has happened in other regions of the country, for example in Avdiivka, as highlighted by Cedric Leighton, a retired colonel and military analyst at the CNN International .

Analysts also estimate that the intensification of attacks in northeastern Ukraine will divide the attention of the Ukrainian Army, which is already worn out and suffering from a lack of resources and troops.

The main fighting in recent months has been taking place in the east of the country, hundreds of kilometers from Kharkiv. After capturing Avdiivka, considered one of the main achievements of the Russian Army in the war, Putin's troops focused on Chasiv Yar, another city also in eastern Ukraine.

Thus, this situation could require relocation of the Ukrainian military contingent and make its operation more difficult, having to fight on more fronts.

Source: CNN Brasil

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