The Ukrainian government has urged people in Russian-occupied southern areas of the country to evacuate “by all possible means” in advance of a Ukrainian military offensive as Moscow’s forces were described as creating a “true hell” in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, officials said.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said on Saturday that Russian forces had mounted 20 artillery, mortar and rocket attacks in the province overnight and Russians were pressing towards the border with neighbouring Donetsk.
“We are trying to contain the Russians’ armed formations along the entire front line,” Haidai wrote on Telegram, describing the attacks in terms of a “true hell”.
Last week, Russia captured the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lysychansk, and analysts had predicted that Moscow’s troops likely would take an “operational pause” to rearm and regroup its forces.
“So far, there has been no operational pause announced by the enemy. He is still attacking and shelling our lands with the same intensity as before,” Haidai said.
In a later post, the governor claimed the bombardment of Luhansk was only suspended because Ukrainian forces had destroyed Russian ammunition depots and barracks used by the Russian troops.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has appealed to residents of Russian-held territories in the south of the country to evacuate so that occupying forces could not use them as human shields during a forthcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“You need to search for a way to leave, because our armed forces are coming to de-occupy,” she said. “There will be a massive fight. I don’t want to scare anyone. Everyone understands all of this anyway.”
Speaking at a news conference late on Friday, Vereshchuk said a civilian evacuation effort was already under way for parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions. She declined to give details, citing safety considerations.
It was not made clear how civilians were expected to safely leave Russian-controlled areas while missile attacks and artillery shelling continued in surrounding areas, or whether they would be allowed to depart by occupant forces, or even if they would hear the Ukrainian government’s appeal to evacuate.
Civilian death toll continue to rise
Five people were killed and eight more wounded in Russian shelling on Friday of Siversk and Semyhirya in Donetsk province, the region’s Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on his Telegram channel on Saturday morning.
In the city of Sloviansk, widely considered to be the next target of Russia’s offensive in the east, rescuers said they pulled a 40-year-old man from the rubble of a building destroyed by shelling on Saturday morning. Kyrylenko had said multiple people remained buried under the debris.
Russian missiles also killed two people and wounded three others on Saturday morning in the southern city of Kryvyi Rih, according to regional authorities.
“They deliberately targeted residential areas,” Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, said on Telegram.
Kryvyi Rih’s mayor, Oleksandr Vilkul, said in a Facebook post that cluster munitions had been used, and he urged residents not to approach unfamiliar objects in the streets.
In northeast Ukraine, a Russian rocket attack that hit the centre of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, injured six people, including a 12-year-old girl, prosecutors in the region said.
“According to preliminary data, an Iskander ballistic missile was probably used in the strike,” the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on Saturday.
“One of the missiles hit a two-storey building, which led to its destruction. Neighbouring houses were damaged.”
Kharkiv has been targeted throughout the war, including several times in the past week. Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych reported in a Telegram post that six Russian missiles were fired at his city in southern Ukraine, near the Black Sea, but caused no casualties.
Russian defence officials claimed on Saturday that their forces destroyed a hangar housing US howitzers in Ukraine, near the Donetsk province town of Chasiv Yar. There was no immediate response from Ukraine.