The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky announced Friday night that fierce battles are raging along the entire front line, as Russia launched a large-scale ground offensive in northeastern Ukraine this morning.

“Heavy fighting is taking place across the front line,” Zelensky said in a social media post after being briefed on the situation by the chief of the armed forces.

“We discussed for defensive actions and (ways) to strengthen our positions in the Kharkiv region” (north-east), he added, adding that Ukraine is sending reinforcements to the Kharkiv region, and is responding to the Russian attack with artillery forces and drones.

Zelensky said Kiev would respond to the new Russian provocation with force and called on Kiev’s Western allies to provide additional military assistance.

At the same time, the White House estimated that Russia “she will definitely step up her attacks and will maintain more troops” in northeastern Ukraine in “the coming weeks” and try to establish a “security zone” along the border.

“We do not expect any significant progress” from Russian troops, however, added John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, concluding that: “we have confidence in the Ukrainian forces and are working tirelessly to send them (… ) the weapons needed to defend against these attacks.”

Moscow is opening a new front in the war

Russian forces launched a ground attack with armored vehicles against the region of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine early Friday, and advanced one kilometer near the border town of Bovchansk in an attempt to establish a buffer zone, a senior military source said.

The attack opens a new front in the war, more than two years after the Russian invasion. Hostilities in border areas in the Kharkiv region continue, and Kiev has sent more forces as reinforcements, the Defense Ministry said.

“At around 5 am, there was an attempt by the enemy to break through our defense line under the cover of armored vehicles,” the ministry said. “So far, these attacks have been repelled – fighting continues with varying levels of intensity.”

A senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian forces were aiming to push the Ukrainian armed forces even 10 kilometers further back from the Russian border, and that the forces of Kiev are trying to contain them.

The Ukraine expel Russian troops from most of the Kharkiv region in 2022; in the first year of the war, but after withstanding Kiev’s counteroffensive last year, Russian forces are on the offensive again and slowly advancing into the Donetsk region further south.

In March, fears were raised about the Kremlin’s intentions in the Kharkiv region when Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a buffer zone inside Ukrainian territory, which he said was necessary to protect Russia.

Since then, Kharkiv, which is particularly vulnerable due to proximity of Russia, has been battered by airstrikes that have severely damaged the region’s energy infrastructure.

In Vovchansk, a border town in Kharkiv with a pre-war population of 17,000 now down to a few thousand, authorities said the settlement and surrounding areas were being heavily shelled. Authorities are helping residents leave the area, Tamaz Gabarashvili, head of the Vovchansk military administration, told Hromadske radio.

At least two civilians were killed in heavy Russian shelling of Ukrainian border settlements in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, launched alongside the ground offensive, a local official said.

One person was killed and five injured in the city of Bovchansk, and one person was killed in a neighboring village, regional governor Oleh Sinekhubov said via the Telegram app.

“We were prepared”

Ukrainian forces were prepared for a new Russian ground attack on the border of the Kharkiv region, however, said Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Ukraine met them there with troops: brigades and artillery,” Zelensky told a news conference, adding that Russia may send more troops to support its attempted advance.