Double Jeopardy: Russia Threatens to Invade Kupiansk Again

Russian forces occupied the eastern Ukrainian city of Kupiansk in February 2022, and were forced out by the Ukrainian military seven months later. The Russians are once again closing in on the city.

Russian shelling of the city and surrounding districts has intensified in recent weeks, and Russian military troops have made some territorial gains. They are reportedly being reinforced by large numbers of soldiers in anticipation of a possible reinvasion of the city.

Most civilians have left the city that once had a population of 27,000, but despite mandatory evacuation orders from the Ukrainian authorities, some 5,000 refuse to abandon their homes.

The threat of Russia retaking Kupiansk exposes a rift between Washington and Kyiv on defending the area and on Ukraine’s more general conduct of the war. While some in the Pentagon urge Ukraine to focus on breaking through Russian lines in the south, Ukraine says it is determined to protect the city it retook last September.

Human Rights First visited Kupiansk city and villages near the battlefront in late August 2023 and found the remaining locals defiant at the prospect of Russian reoccupation.

Human Rights First has reported from the city of Kharkiv and its surrounding area since 2017, when we documented attacks on local human rights defenders who had exposed corruption in the mayor’s office and reported on the situation of prisoners of war.1

We were in the city in the first days of May 2022 when it was under almost constant bombardment, and when surrounding towns and suburbs were under Russian occupation.2 Over the last year, we have regularly reported from the battered city, documenting how local activists and the wider public have resisted Russian aggression.3

In May 2023 Human Rights First released a report on how the village of Tsyrkuny, north of Kharkiv, survived Russian occupation, and another in June 2023 on the Russian occupation of the city of Izyum and surrounding villages, also in the Kharkiv Oblast.4

In July 2023 we released a report with local NGO the Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center on dubious contracts awarded by Kharkiv’s authorities for the reconstruction of public buildings.5

For this report on Kupiansk, Human Rights First worked with local media outlet Gwara media.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on August 31, 2023


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