Kharkiv at risk of becoming ‘second Aleppo’ without US aid, mayor says

<span>The site of a recent Russian bombing at an unused shopping mall that killed seven people.</span><span>Photograph: Julia Kochetova/The Guardian</span>
The site of a recent Russian bombing at an unused shopping mall that killed seven people.Photograph: Julia Kochetova/The Guardian

Kharkiv is at risk of becoming “a second Aleppo” unless US politicians vote for fresh military aid to help Ukraine obtain the air defences needed to prevent long-range Russian attacks, the city’s mayor has warned.

Ihor Terekhov said Russia had switched tactics to try to destroy the city’s power supply and terrorise its 1.3 million residents by firing into residential areas, with people experiencing unscheduled power cuts for hours at a time.

The mayor of Ukraine’s second city said the $60bn (£48bn) US military aid package, currently stalled in Congress, was of “critical importance for us” and urged the west to refocus on the two-year-old war.

“We need that support to prevent Kharkiv being a second Aleppo,” Terekhov said, referring to the Syrian city heavily bombed by Russian and Syrian government forces at the height of Syria’s civil war a decade ago.

On 22 March, Russian attacks destroyed a power station on the eastern edge of the city as well as all its substations; a week later officials acknowledged a second plant, 30 miles south-east of the city, had been eliminated in the same attack.

Power in the city, about 30 miles from the Russian border, was interrupted after another bombing raid this week, causing the metro to be halted briefly. Residents said there was usually a few hours’ supply a day in the city centre, although in the outskirts the situation was said to be better.


Children are educated either online or in underground schools, for their own safety. The water supply remains on, but Terekhov said there were concerns the Russian military may switch to targeting gas distribution, after storage facilities in the west were attacked last week.

Ukrainian leaders have begun asking western nations to donate Patriot air defence systems, requests for help that were thrown into sharper relief by the US and UK military support for Israel over the weekend when it neutralised an air attack from Iran.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the allies’ defensive action “demonstrated how truly effective unity in defending against terror can be when it is based on sufficient political will” – before making a comparison with Ukraine.

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Iranian-designed Shahed drones used by Russia “sound identical to those over the Middle East”, he said. “The impact of ballistic missiles, if they are not intercepted, is the same everywhere.”

The Ukrainian leader concluded: “European skies could have received the same level of protection long ago if Ukraine had received similar full support from its partners in intercepting drones and missiles.”

Seven people were killed in Kharkiv when two rockets struck near an unused shopping mall on the ring road north of the city shortly after midnight on 6 April, leaving behind 4-metre-deep craters and military debris near a residential area.

Nina Mykhailivna, 72, who lives nearby, said the shock from the strike “lifted her bed in the air” and was followed by about 90 minutes of secondary explosions, the most serious she had experienced during the war.

Few residents have left the city since Russia increased its bombing campaign around the turn of the year, and Kharkiv remains a lively metropolis with busy restaurants and cafes, and some businesses thriving despite the threat.

Oleksii Yevsiukov, 39, and Viktoriia Varenikova, 30, run the Avex clothing factory in a residential district and have installed $20,000 worth of solar panels on the roof since the start of the conflict. The additions provide enough electricity to power the sewing machines for the 10 employees working below in the Soviet-era building, which is undergoing a total refurbishment.

“We anticipated there might be power cuts from energy infrastructure attacks this winter,” Yevsiukov said. “We looked at solutions and decided a diesel generator was not suitable, expensive and not very eco friendly, so we ordered the solar panels last year.”

A newly installed power bank stores enough electricity for two days’ use if the panels are unable to generate it, and a geothermal pump keeps the building warm, avoiding the need for gas. As such, the factory is self-sufficient, which could become necessary as the owners anticipate at least two more years of war.

Their company makes women’s swim and fitness wear for branded companies in Ukraine, and, the couple say, sales have grown even though the goods might be considered luxuries during wartime. With the factory refurbishment nearly complete, Yevsiukov said they planned to roughly double the workforce.

Soon after the war began, Varenikova found out she was pregnant. Their son Max is now one, and she expresses the hope that war might be over by the time he is ready for school. “I want him to go to a normal school, not an underground school, not a school in the metro, not an online school.”

However, not everybody is so optimistic. One of the firm’s employees, Liubov, said she was planning to leave her home in Kharkiv and move to central Ukraine for at least a month to provide a calmer environment for her two daughters, who continue to take classes remotely.

Russian bombing had become “much more frequent, much more often”, Liubov said. The comprehensive attack on 22 March was “very, very scary and loud” and “attacks could come at daytime or night-time, in any part of the city”.

Liubov did not want to be photographed or give a surname, reflecting perhaps a concern about not wanting to be identified as someone leaving the city. “We’ve had to get used to everything, I wish we didn’t have to. We have power banks, we have storage of food, but we want this to be over soon. We simply want to live.”