STORY: Russia is currently not seeking to take control of Ukraine's second-biggest city Kharkiv.

That's according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking in the Chinese city of Harbin on Friday (May 17) at the end of his state visit, Putin said Russian forces advancing in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region were carving out a buffer zone to protect Russia from attacks.

"As for what is happening on the Kharkiv axis - it is also their (Ukraine's) fault because they shelled and, unfortunately, continue shelling residential areas of border territories (inside Russia), including Belgorod. But civilians are dying there. Everything is obvious - they fire directly at the center of the town, directly at the residential areas."

Meanwhile, Ukraine's top commander warned on Friday (May 17) of "heavy battles" looming on the war's new front.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said the attack had expanded the combat zone by around 44 miles (70km) and that Russia had launched its incursion ahead of schedule.

This footage released by Ukraine's Military Intelligence on Friday shows troops firing at Russian forces in the Kharkiv region.

In the town of Vovchansk, 27 miles (45km) from Kharkiv, the latest round of fighting has prompted the few remaining residents to evacuate.

This police officer can be heard shouting "If you want to live, let's go."

Russian forces attacked the northern Kharkiv region last Friday, making inroads of up to 6 miles (10 km).

The advances have unbalanced Kyiv's outnumbered troops, who are trying to hold the line over a sprawling front nearly 27 months since the full-scale invasion.

Since then, Putin has faced political isolation and Western sanctions.

But he has increasingly turned to China and his counterpart Xi Jinping to support its war economy.

On Thursday (May 16) the pair signed a joint statement welcoming a "new era" of strategic partnership between the two nations...

In which they sharpened their opposition to a U.S.-led world order and pledged cooperation across fields ranging from space and nuclear technologies to finance and manufacturing.

The pair welcomed the so-called "new era" with not only a handshake but a rare hug.