Ukrainian forces have repelled a Russian attempt to seize Kharkiv, the city’s governor has claimed, after fierce fighting and street battles with advancing Russian troops.
Kharkiv’s governor, Oleh Synyehubov, said Ukrainian soldiers were “cleaning up” the eastern city. He said Russian soldiers were surrendering in groups of five to 10 and throwing their equipment in the middle of the road.
“Control over Kharkiv is completely ours,” Synyehubov posted on Facebook. “A complete cleansing of the city from the enemy is happening. The Russian enemy is absolutely demoralised.”
Earlier on Sunday, the governor said Russian light military vehicles had broken “into the city”, including in central areas. They arrived in the northern suburbs at 8am, he said. He urged all civilians to stay inside, adding: “Citizens of Kharkiv, don’t leave shelter, don’t use transport.”
Videos on social media showed images of Russian troops moving through residential areas and past Soviet-era apartment blocks. Soldiers on foot used armoured vehicles as cover. Their vehicles were marked with Z, the symbol of Russia’s four-day invasion.
Other footage suggested the Ukrainian military had inflicted losses. There were images of a destroyed Russian column and a skirmish in the south-east of the city. A group of Russian soldiers took refuge in an empty school, number 88, witnesses said, close to Traktornyi Zavod subway station.
Ukrainian soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers sheltered behind a wall and trees, emerging to open fire. There was fighting reported around Shevchenko Avenue. In another part of the city, local fighters strolled around destroyed Russian vehicles, inspecting the damage and salvaging military equipment.
The attempted Russian operation to seize Kharkiv followed a night of heavy bombardment. At least one multi-storey apartment block was hit. Residents said the attacks were “massive and indiscriminate”, with one missile landing in a children’s playground next to a seesaw.
Artem Volodymyrovich, a 31-year-old English teacher, said Russian units had advanced from the north. They passed Peremoha metro station, the final stop on the city’s green line, and headed towards the centre, he said, speaking from a basement shelter.
“Diversionary Russian groups have been getting into Kharkiv. We can hear gunshots. Our army is still in the city. Ukrainians are still in control, volunteers are working, the mayor is in charge, and we are fighting back,” he said at 11am local time.
Volodymyrovich said he was hiding in a basement with 30 others, mostly women, children and elderly people. One of the group was an electrician who had fixed the power supply, allowing people to charge their phones. It was his third night in a shelter, he said.
“The bombing has been really heavy. The metro stopped working on Thursday afternoon and is now being used as a bomb shelter. The trains have been opened. People are sleeping in them because there isn’t enough space on the platforms.”
The city would defeat occupying Russian forces, he predicted. “I think yes. We are at home. People are fighting for their own homes, their families, their loved ones. It’s invasion for them, defence for us.”
He added: “I’m not a military guy. But if it comes to it I will take a fucking machine gun before I die like this and sit inside being shot, if they storm the basement. Better to die with arms in your hands.”
At 5pm machine-gun fire could be heard in several parts of the city, including in Poltavskyi Shliach Street, in the centre.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, who posted videos of the battle on his Telegram channel, said the Russian army had overreached itself. “Kharkiv will become for Russians a Ukrainian Stalingrad,” he wrote.
It was too early to say on Sunday whether Moscow would mount a further attempt to capture Kharkiv. The brutal bombardment of a city of 1.4 million people showed Russia was deliberately shelling civilians in suburban areas, local people said.
In an address posted online, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, described the past night as brutal. He said: “Again shooting, again bombardments of residential areas, and civilian infrastructure.”
He added: “Today, there is not a single thing in the country that the occupiers do not consider an acceptable target. They fight against everyone. They fight against all living things – against kindergartens, against residential buildings and even against ambulances.”
He said Russian forces were “firing rockets and missiles at entire city districts in which there isn’t and never has been any military infrastructure”.
“Vasylkiv, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and many other towns in Ukraine are living in conditions that were last experienced on our lands during the second world war,” he said.
Russia’s defence ministry claimed its “special operation” in Ukraine was a success. It said it had hit 1,067 Ukrainian military sites since the invasion began four days ago.
Russian forces continued to slowly bear down on Kyiv, which is now encircled, its mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Sunday. But forces were repelled in fighting in Bucha and Irpin, just to the north-west of the capital, after what appears to be a poorly coordinated attack by irregular forces.
Videos emerged on social media showing the aftermath of the combat with images of multiple destroyed armoured vehicles and several dead soldiers. “This all happened outside my fucking house,” one local said, surveying the debris, according to a clip posted by the Ukrainian journalist Illia Ponomarenko.
Irpin’s mayor claimed the town remained in Ukrainian hands on Sunday morning. Reports circulated that Chechen soldiers were among those killed.
There have been several days of heavy fighting in the area since Russia staged an airborne landing of forces in the nearby Hostomel military airport. Three bridges in the area have been reportedly blown up by Ukrainian forces to slow down Russian advances.
There were no Russian troops in the capital itself, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said.
There were also signs of a switch in tactics, with Russia more actively targeting fixed infrastructure with missile attacks. An oil terminal was set ablaze in Vasylkiv, nearly 40km south-west of Kyiv. The blast sent huge flames and billowing black smoke into the night sky, social media showed.