Where is Kharkiv? Ukraine’s second city bomb, explosion and missile locations, Freedom Square, and population

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Ukraine has accused Russia of war crimes over the bombardment of civilian areas in Ukraine’s second-largest city

Russian troops have entered Kharkiv following days of intensive bombardment.

Heavy Russian artillery and air strikes have continued to target built-up areas over the past 24 hours, primarily focused on Kharkiv, as well as the cities of Kyiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv.

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UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the advance of Russian forces continues to be slowed by overstretched logistics, poor morale and resistance by Ukrainian fighters, but Vladimir Putin could adopt more brutal tactics to achieve the Kremlin’s goals.

But what exactly has happened in Kharkiv so far, and why is the city important?

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Where is Kharkiv?

Kharkiv is located in the northeast of Ukraine, roughly 250 miles east of Kyiv, and about 20 miles from the Russian border.

In 2021, it had an estimated population of just under 1.5 million people.

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Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv is symbolic in that it was the first capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic - where Soviet power was proclaimed and a Ukrainian Soviet government was formed - from 1919 to 1934.

At that time, Kharkiv was predominantly Russian in population, but is now populated mainly by Ukrainians, though a significant number of Russians remain.

In present day Ukraine, Kharkiv is a major cultural, scientific, educational, and industrial centre of Ukraine, and given its proximity with the Russian border, makes an obvious target for Russian forces.

The city was once a world leader in tank production, and still features many institutions that contribute greatly to the aerospace, nuclear power and electronics industries.

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(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia)(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia)
(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia) | NationalWorld/JPIMedia

Where has been bombed?

The latest round of attacks against the city comes just days after Kharkiv’s governor said Ukrainian soldiers had repelled attempts to seize the city, and were now “cleaning up”.

Oleh Synyehubov 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,” he posted on Facebook. “A complete cleansing of the city from the enemy is happening. The Russian enemy is absolutely demoralised.”

But Russian missiles bombarded central Kharkiv on Monday (28 February) night, hitting an opera house, concert hall and government offices in the city’s Freedom Square.

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Videos posted online showed explosions - suspected to have been cluster munitions - hitting the Soviet-era administrative building and residential areas.

Boris Johnson said the scenes in Kharkiv were “absolutely sickening” and compared the situation to some of the attacks on Sarajevo in the Bosnian war.

“It has that feel to me of an atrocity committed deliberately against a civilian centre,” he said at Tapa military base in Estonia.

Some residents in Kharkiv have warned of a humanitarian crisis as many struggle to get access to food and water.

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Speaking during a visit to the Polish capital of Warsaw, Johnson said the Russian president had decided to “bomb tower blocks, to send missiles into tower blocks, to kill children, as we are seeing in increasing numbers”.

Members watch President Zelenskyy’s live address. (Credit: Getty)Members watch President Zelenskyy’s live address. (Credit: Getty)
Members watch President Zelenskyy’s live address. (Credit: Getty) | AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky described the attack as “barbaric”.

“Russian forces have today cruelly targeted Kharkiv with artillery fire,” Zelensky said. “This is a peaceful place, peaceful suburbs... the Russians knew where they were shooting.”

Western officials had feared that the slow progress of the Russian invasion would lead Putin and his commanders to adopt more brutal and indiscriminate tactics to achieve their goals.

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The lack of progress in meeting the aims of the invasion has led to a change in tactics, focusing on aerial and artillery bombardment of cities rather than the kind of lightning mobilised armoured advances originally envisaged by the Kremlin, Western military experts believe.

How many people have died?

37 were injured as a result of shelling there.

"Kharkiv has just been massively fired upon by grads (rockets). Dozens of dead and hundreds of wounded," Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said in a post on Facebook.

What’s next for Kharkiv?

Wallace told the BBC that siege tactics were in the Russian military doctrine, with forces surrounding a city before they “bombard it indiscriminately and then eventually close in on a population that they hope to have broken, and indeed take over what’s left of the city”.

“We’ve seen that in Chechnya before,” he said.

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But Ukraine was a different proposition because of its size and population.

He warned that an occupying force would face the kind of insurgency faced by the Soviets in Afghanistan or the UK and Western allies in Iraq.

“Invading a country with overwhelming force is one thing, occupying a people of 44 million who don’t want you in it is a very different thing.”

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