Rare drone video shows scale of destruction in Vovchansk, Ukraine's embattled front line town

VOVCHANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Smoking piles of rubble and the bombed-out shells of residential buildings are all that remains of the town of Vovchansk in Ukraine’s northeast, rare drone video obtained by The Associated Press showed.

The town, like so many war-ravaged front-line cities in the country, lies in ruins as street battles between Moscow and Kyiv’s forces grind on. Ukraine currently controls 70% of the town, which had a pre-war population of 17,000, and is engaged in deadly battles to dislodge enemy troops after a surprise May 10 Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region sent thousands of civilians fleeing at the height of pitched battles.

That assault opened a new front in the two-year war to overstretch already exhausted Ukrainian forces fighting across the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile front line).

President Joe Biden gave Ukraine permission to use American-supplied weapons to strike targets in Russia, according to officials on Thursday, but only near the Kharkiv region.

Until now, Ukraine has been prohibited from using Western-supplied weapons to attack Russia itself, and Ukrainians have long argued that Moscow enjoys a great advantage when it attacks the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia, because it can amass troops and launch deadly attacks from within in its own territory. The ability to strike supply lines feeding the Kharkiv offensive further inside Russia will help Ukraine degrade Russian capabilities in the region.

The images in Vovchansk are a haunting repetition of other towns and cities incinerated by Russian forces in their quest to capture the nearby Ukrainian region known as the Donbas. The cities of Avdiivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region were similarly destroyed.

The drone footage captures the scene in Vovchansk from sunrise on May 28 through to the following morning. In one scene shot early morning, thick smoke obscures the sky over a residential complex where fires burn from multiple blocks.

Around the apartment blocks, houses and buildings lie in ruins, roofs missing, blackened facades pockmarked with damage. The drone captures the moment a shell hits a building and debris flies into the air. The drone view pulls out wider to capture another impact.

It continues to record the scene through the night, many buildings seen shining brightly on a thermal imaging camera as fires continue.

The gleaming golden dome of the church still stands intact, a stark contrast to the rest of the destroyed town.

In Vovchansk, the vast scale of devastation is caused by deadly aerial glide bombs, lobbed by Russia on a daily basis.

Even before May 10, residents who chose to stay lived in fear of assault drones and glide bombs that targeted Ukrainian troops and machinery but very often killed civilians.