Ukraine retakes settlements in Kharkiv advance - Russian-installed official

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LONDON (Reuters) -Ukraine has recaptured several settlements in the Kharkiv region from Russian forces in a "very sharp and rapid" advance, the Russian-installed administrator of Russian-occupied parts of the region said in a live online broadcast on Friday.

"The enemy is being delayed as much as possible, but several settlements have already come under the control of Ukrainian armed formations," Vitaly Ganchev, head of the Russian-backed administration for the Kharkiv region, said on state television host Vladimir Solovyov's daily livestream.

Kyiv says it has pushed up to 50 km (30 miles) past Russian lines this week and recaptured dozens of settlements in what has turned out to be a dramatic counteroffensive, and Ganchev's remarks were one of the first Russian official acknowledgements of major battlefield setbacks.

"We don't know what the combat situation there is now, or what the humanitarian situation is ... But the population that is still in our settlements, of course, we propose evacuating," he said. "Just to save lives, because every settlement in Kharkiv region is under continuous shelling ...

"Reserves have been brought up from Russia, and we hope to regain control of these settlements in the next few days."

At the end of the interview, host Sergey Karnaukhov said: "This is frankly horrendous."

Ganchev said during the interview that civilians were being evacuated from Izium, Kupiansk and Veliky Burluk, all key towns on supply roads for Russian forces trying to extend their control of the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, and called the breach of Russian defences a "substantial victory" for Ukraine.

He said the evacuation was mainly from Kupiansk and Izium, but added: "We've now received word that Veliky Burluk is under artillery fire, so people, of course, were asked to leave for safer settlements."

Ganchev said he would turn for help to authorities in the Belgorod region of southern Russia if there were problems relocating the people who were evacuated.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said Ukrainian forces were likely to recapture Kupiansk within 72 hours.

Russia has taken control of around a fifth of Ukraine since launching its invasion in February.

Moscow says what it calls a "special military operation" was necessary to defend Ukraine's Russian-speakers from persecution and prevent the West from using Ukraine to threaten Russia - allegations dismissed by Kyiv and the West as baseless pretexts for a war of aggression.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)