Ukrainian forces on Wednesday were putting up a fierce defense in Vovchansk, a village in northeastern Ukraine about five miles from the Russian border, engaging in what appeared to be street fighting as they tried to contain the Russian advance in the area.

In a sign of heightened concern over Ukraine’s deteriorating military situation, President Volodymyr Zelensky canceled his participation in all international events for the coming days, including a visit on Friday to Spain where he was expected to sign a bilateral security agreement.

Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement that its forces had “partially pushed the enemy” out of Vovchansk. A few hours earlier, it had acknowledged that its troops had withdrawn from positions in two villages, including Vovchansk, allowing Russian forces to gain a foothold.

“Active fighting is ongoing,” Oleksiy Kharkivskiy, the police chief in Vovchansk, said on Wednesday in a video published on Facebook from the village, in which heavy gunfire could be heard in the background. He added that Russian troops had taken positions in several streets in the village and that the situation “is extremely difficult.”

Ukrainian officials and military analysts said Ukraine’s position on the battlefield in recent days has seriously worsened, as the government in Kyiv tries to repel a new Russian offensive push in the northeast that is stretching its already outnumbered and outgunned forces.

Russia has timed its new offensive, which started on Friday, at an opportune moment. Ukraine is short of manpower and is struggling to recruit more soldiers. It is also running out of ammunition because of delays in Western military aid, in particular America’s $60.8 billion package which was passed in Congress three weeks ago, after months of political wrangling.


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