As the United States changes its policy of attacking Russia, Kharkiv is hit again

Debris covered a street and firefighters rushed to rescue people from an apartment building hit by a Russian missile Friday morning in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. A fire broke out and, minutes after the missile's first hit, another hit the same location in a tactic known as double tap, intended to target rescue workers.

It was precisely the type of attack Ukraine cited when it appealed to allies to allow it to do more to defend itself from Russian bombing. That consensus finally arrived in a meaningful way on Thursday, when the United States changed its policy, saying Ukraine could defend itself by striking military targets in Russia with American-supplied weapons.

The change is narrow in scope, granting Ukraine permission to use American air defense systems, guided rockets and artillery to fire at Russia only along Ukraine's northeastern border, near Kharkiv. Fighting has raged in the area for three weeks, after Russian troops poured across the border to open a new war front.

But hitting targets with American weapons inside Russia had been a red line drawn by the Biden administration amid concerns about escalation before cross-border fighting began near Kharkiv. Russia fired missiles and massed forces in the safety of its own territory, out of reach of Ukraine's Soviet-era weapons.

The attacks have prompted urgent calls from Ukraine for the Biden administration to remove the shackles, framing the use of Western weapons as a purely defensive tactic. Indeed, in granting the permit, US officials said the weapons should only be used for self-defense in the border region.

Still, it was a significant reversal that Ukraine hopes will help it regain its place in a war that Russia is now dominating, and it was a historic moment for the United States as well: it appeared to be the first time that an American president had allowed the limited use of American weapons to strike within the borders of a nuclear-armed adversary.

There was no immediate response from Ukrainian officials to the political change. It is unclear how much of the U.S. weapons package approved by Congress last month has made it to northern Ukraine, or how soon Ukraine might be able to use it.

Ukrainian military officials welcomed the decision, saying their hands will not be full fighting the Russians along the border with new supplies of powerful and precise American-supplied weapons already in Ukraine's arsenal.

This arsenal includes US-guided howitzers and rockets. France and Britain supplied the Storm Shadow and Scalp cruise missiles.

“Do the Ukrainian Defense Forces know where the occupier is attacking Kharkiv from?” – said Colonel Yurii Ihnat, an officer of the Ukrainian Air Force, referring to the missile launch sites beyond the Russian border. “Of course we do,” he said in a text message, stressing that until now Ukraine had been unable to respond.

Russian officials have been proclaiming all week that NATO countries risked escalation if they gave Ukraine more freedom to fire on Russia. President Vladimir V. Putin warned on Tuesday that “this endless escalation can lead to serious consequences.”

Dmitri S. Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said Friday that “we know nothing” about the Biden administration's policy change. “What we know,” Peskov said, “is that there have already been attempts to strike Russian territory using American-made weapons. This is enough for us and shows the extent to which the United States is involved in this conflict.”

Ukrainian officials said allowing the use of Western weapons could help turn the tide of fighting along the border and defend against attacks on the city of Kharkiv, whose center is just 24 miles from Russia, hitting missile launchers and planes at interior of Russia. territory.

Officials from Britain, France, Poland and Sweden had already expressed support for using their country's weapons to strike inside Russia before the Biden administration changed its position, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had said expressed favor of allowing Ukraine to use weapons from alliance members to strike targets inside Russia.

The strike in the city on Friday underlined the vulnerability that had fueled Kiev's frustration with Western hesitance.

“Unfortunately, a multi-storey apartment building was hit,” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a statement after the morning rocket attack, conveying the latest almost daily messages about explosions and casualties in the city.

The strike killed three people and injured 23, according to local news reports citing the regional governor, Serhiy Synehubov. Among the injured, he said, were a police officer and a doctor who rushed to the scene after the first missile exploded. He said a Russian S-300 missile, an obsolete type of air defense missile that Russia has repurposed to attack ground targets, hit the apartment building.

Ukraine has struck targets deeper into Russian territory with a local fleet of long-range explosive drones. The American weapons would help the Ukrainian army in ground fighting north of Kharkiv and the Ukrainian air defense forces in defending the city, Ukrainian officials said ahead of the announcement in Washington.

For Kharkiv residents, the bombing poses a threat that overshadows most aspects of their lives.

The short trajectories of bombs and missiles mean civilians have little or sometimes no warning, leaving people with no choice but to sleep and go about their days knowing they could be hit by a missile at any moment.

“It was all instantaneous,” said Andriy Kolenchuk, production manager of the printing house hit May 23. There were explosions, lights went out and debris fell from the ceiling, he said. Dust and smoke swirled around and “everyone was running around covered in blood.”

Russian bombs and missiles rain down on the city, Ukraine's second largest with a population of around one million, often several times a day. In one of the deadliest attacks in recent weeks, a rocket attack on a hardware hypermarket on May 25 killed 19 people, according to Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klimenko.

Also on Friday, Russia and Ukraine announced the mutual release of 75 prisoners from each country, the first such exchange since February and a rare example of dialogue between the warring nations. “We all remember. Let us make every effort to find them all,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on social media.

Direct communications between Moscow and Kiev have been rare since the early days of the war, but the two sides regularly exchange prisoners of war through deals often brokered by third parties such as the United Arab Emirates or Turkey.

The headquarters of the Ukrainian Coordination for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said Friday that there had been 52 exchanges in total, including Friday's, with 3,210 Ukrainians repatriated. Russia did not reveal a total number.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kharkiv and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia.

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