Ukraine's border in photos – The New York Times

David Guttenfelder traveled along Ukraine's northeastern border twice in the months before Russian troops arrived.

The invaders had not returned. Not yet. But along about 600 miles of Ukraine's northeastern border territory that The New York Times visited late last year and again in early spring, the war has never ended.

Much of this area, in the Kharkiv and Sumy regions, was once agricultural land. Now a farm housed an anti-saboteur unit – made up of anti-Putin Russians, to prevent sending Ukrainian troops into Russia – preparing before dawn for a cross-border raid.

The fields are too exposed to Russian fire for anyone to attempt to harvest. Instead, they are littered with “dragon's teeth,” concrete anti-tank barriers typically tied together by cables and strung with barbed wire.

In 2022, Russian troops invaded this area, almost arriving at the gates of large cities such as Kharkiv and Sumy. Then, before the end of that year, Ukrainian forces pushed them back across the border.

Last month, Russian troops launched a new offensive in the Kharkiv region. But these villages, within 10 miles of the border, were always within range of artillery fire.

Sirens cannot provide sufficient warning time for a bombardment from this close, and air defenses cannot repel it. Residents rely on humanitarian aid deliveries and the long, cold wait for supplies comes under almost daily bombardment.

Bombing and drone attacks were already intensifying before the new ground offensive.

And the Ukrainian army was already transforming the landscape: new labyrinths of trenches and bunkers, more closed areas, and vast fields and forests filled with mines. At checkpoints, nervous soldiers flew drones to scan the approaching roads.

Soon, said the mayor of a village within Russian artillery range, there will be nothing left to photograph except stray dogs and ruins.

The civilian government has struggled to provide supplies and basic necessities or convince residents to evacuate completely. Schools teach remotely or inside underground bunkers.

The war is bringing profound changes to an area where families often have members in both Russia and Ukraine and where a common faith and culture spread across borders. Even now a border crossing remained open to civilians in the Sumy region.

In the village of Richky, about seven miles from the Russian border in the Sumy region, Father Bohdan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said that after the increase in Russian attacks, very few people could go to church. Now “it is only on holidays, like Easter, that the church is full”, he said.

His two sons moved to Poland with their families before full-scale war began in February 2022. Father Bohdan and his wife also resisted their urge to move abroad.

“It's my hometown,” he said. “How can I go somewhere else?”

In some cities and villages, only a few people remained, mostly women and elderly people who had nowhere to go. Vovchansk, which became a battlefield again in May after Russian forces crossed the border into the Kharkiv region, had about 2,000 residents as of December, down from its pre-war population of about 17,000. By spring he had visibly worsened.

Scars from invasion and bombing had made some reclaimed settlements uninhabitable.

Russia's new push into Kharkiv began at perhaps Ukraine's most vulnerable moment since the start of the full-scale war: its forces reduced, its stockpiles of weapons and ammunition depleted after months of delays by its supplier most importantly, the United States.

Now more American aid is on the way and the Ukrainian parliament has changed military recruitment rules to try to recruit more troops. But Russia appears to be stepping up the pressure.

While recently arguing for more leeway to launch American-made weapons into Russian territory, Ukrainian officials have pointed to a further troop rally, including just across the Sumy region.

Ukraine's borders could become even more dangerous.

Yuri Shyvala, Dzvinka Pinchuk AND Oleksandr Chubko contributed to the reporting.

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