– We are in the most difficult time

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Roman (47) desperately searches through his belongings, looking for something that can be saved. He doesn’t seem to find anything.

– No, it’s just out of desperation, he says to VG.

The garage, where he stores several of the items for the clothing store he runs, has been completely destroyed by one Russian glide bombRussia uses modified Soviet-era bombs. They are also using drones and missiles to attack Kharkiv. .

He holds up a pair of burnt shoes. This pair alone is worth 500 Euro, he says.

Roman’s garage, and everything in it, is now part of a bomb crater. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

None of the items in the shop can be salvaged. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

This was before Russia on Friday launched its offensive in the Kharkiv region, which has driven several thousand civilians to flee. The Russians have now advanced in several small towns and cities in an area along the border where neither side has previously had full control.

But the Russian focus on Kharkiv is far from new.

– Their tactics have changed

Ukraine’s second largest city is only 30 kilometers from the border with Russia, and has been the victim of intense bombing ever since the full-scale invasion in 2022.

Then Russia took large parts of the eastern Kharkiv area, which Ukraine later liberated – but they never managed to take Kharkiv city itself.

Since the beginning of 2024, the bombing has escalated sharply. The lack of air defense has meant that many of the bombs hit.

IN FLAMES: A Russian drone attack on Kharkiv on May 4 led to the destruction of buildings. Photo: Vitalii Hnidyi / Reuters / NTB

– Throughout the war, we have been under constant bombardment. But their tactics have changed. Now they primarily attack ordinary neighborhoods and buildings, our citizens. They also attack critical infrastructure, especially energy and infrastructure, says mayor Ihor Terekhov to VG.

We meet him in the temporary office from which he runs the city, at a non-public address.

MAYOR: Ihor Terekhov has ruled Kharkiv since before Russia’s full-scale invasion. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

A lot of Russian focus in recent months has been directed precisely at Kharkiv, and the Kharkiv region.

One month ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Kharkiv city is a central part of Russia’s plan to create a “sanitary zone” in Ukraine to protect Russian territories.

He also said that Putin has been clear that the front must be pushed far enough into Ukraine, defined as into the Kharkiv region.

– Psychological attacks

After the last few months of daily bombing, there is hardly anything left of the power plants that supplied Kharkiv with energy in the past.

What Russia is doing, in short, is trying to make the city uninhabitable – or scare the citizens into thinking it will be, says Terekhov.

He has no faith that they will really be able to occupy the city.

DESTROYED: There is great destruction inside the research institute which is close to the garage where the bomb hit. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

– Kharkiv is in focus now, and has been before. We are on the information frontline, which is also part of the war, says the mayor.

According to Terekhov, approximately 8,000 buildings have been destroyed by Russian bombs in the city so far.

– They are trying to scare people to get them to leave the city.

He says that he has spent a lot of time in personal meetings with the city’s residents, and those affected by the bombings, to reassure them. After the interview with VG, he will attend yet another such meeting.

– But Kharkiv’s residents have also lived with this war for a long time. They know what Russian psychological attacks are and they have an understanding of it.

CONFUSED: Alina (83) is not sure what to do with the fact that the garage, and what’s inside it, is now destroyed. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

– There are so many explosions

At the crater after the bomb where Roman lost his belongings, Alina (83) walks back and forth taking pictures and talking on the phone.

Her garage and car are completely destroyed. She says she doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

– I don’t live far away. I may have heard it, but I wasn’t paying attention. There are so many explosions these days, she says.

She says that she has started meditating to deal with everyday life, and to try to attract peace in the world.

BURNT: This is what Alina’s car looks like after the Russian bomb hit. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

The neighboring building, a research institute, is also destroyed. Serhiy (45), who works there, says that he hid in the basement when the bomb hit with around 14 others.

Fortunately, only one person was injured, from pieces of broken glass, he says.

– We are in the most difficult time

While VG is talking to the mayor, the interview is interrupted by one of the many daily emergency alerts about bombings in the Kharkiv region.

Terekhov has previously said that Kharkiv will become a new Aleppo, if they do not quickly get access to more and more modern air defense.

HIDING: Serhiy sought refuge in the bomb cellar at the research institute. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

– It is because I have a clear understanding of which methods the enemy uses against us. They use rockets, planes – everything they can to destroy our city. And of course, if we don’t get enough modern air defense systems, they will do it step by step.

The increased support from the United States and other Western countries brings optimism.

– But we are also clear that the time we are in now is the most difficult. While we wait for the support to be delivered we have huge needs and it needs to come as quickly as possible. We know that – and so does our enemy.

THE CONSEQUENCES: The damage from one of the many bombs that have hit Khrakiv. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

Order ready for Norway

Kharkiv has adapted to the constant bombing, among other things, by moving the school classes underground, into the subway stations, and they have constructed bomb-proof bus stops.

– There are many things we didn’t do before the war that we now have to do. We recently removed business taxes for the companies that remain here in the city, to give them better conditions to stay. We have also offered them generators.

According to the mayor, about 1.3 million people live in Kharkiv now, compared to two million before the invasion. Many of them are internally displaced.

DESTROYED: There is great destruction inside the research institute which is close to the garage where the bomb hit. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

Although the main challenge in Kharkiv is the constant bombing, the mayor says they have another high priority:

– We need to decentralize the entire system for energy and heat. We are preparing for a new winter season, while virtually all the heating and electricity plants have been destroyed.

There he also has a clear order for Norway:

– Norway has the equipment we need. There are cogeneration units with piston engines, powered by natural gas. This is very important for us today.

CLEANING UP: Hours after the bomb hit, the clean-up is already fully underway. Photo: Espen Rasmussen / VG

Anton Kudinov contributed in the field to this report.

The article is in Norwegian

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