Ukrainian officials on Wednesday told the remaining residents in the eastern Donetsk province to flee to safer areas as Russia launched new attacks in an attempt to take full control of the industrialized Donbas region.
“Russia has turned the entire Donetsk region into a hot spot where it is dangerous to remain for civilians,” Donetsk regional military administrator Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian media.
“I call on everyone to evacuate,” he said. “Evacuation saves lives.”
Russia already controls 55% of Donetsk province after saying that in recent days it had completely taken over neighboring Luhansk province. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said one of the main goals of his 4½-month-old invasion of Ukraine is full control of the eastern sector, the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region encompassing the two provinces.
Some Ukrainians are resisting leaving Donetsk, but Kyrylenko said only about 340,000 people remained out of a pre-war population of nearly 1.7 million.
Only about 23,000 people are still in Sloviansk, one of the newest targets of Russian shelling, out of a pre-war population of 107,000, Mayor Vadim Lyakh said. Heightened Russian attacks have increased the pace of evacuations.
Ukrainian Railways said it would add trains to ease evacuations.
Ukrainian officials said Russian attacks had killed at least eight civilians in the last day and had wounded 25 more, while pro-Russian separatists said attacks by Ukrainian forces had killed four civilians. Ukraine said most of its casualties occurred in Donetsk.
Despite Putin’s claim that Russia had captured Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, the province’s regional governor, denied that was the case. He said heavy fighting continued in villages around Lysychansk, the city from which Ukrainian soldiers withdrew, and which Russian troops took on Sunday.
"The Russians have paid a high price, but the Luhansk region is not fully captured by the Russian army," Haidai said. "Some settlements have been overrun by each side several times already."
He accused Russian forces of "burning down and destroying everything on their way."
Up to 15,000 residents remain in Lysychansk, and about 8,000 in the nearby city of Sievierodonetsk, which Russian and separatist fighters seized last month, Haidai said.
“We restrain the enemy on the border of Luhansk region and Donetsk region — the occupiers are suffering significant losses, as they themselves admit,” Haidai said. “Every day, the Russians receive an order to advance further, but they do not always carry it out, because the losses in personnel are very significant.
“During the assault of Lysychansk alone, the enemy lost thousands of dead and wounded,” he said. “Yes, they have more forces and means, but the Ukrainian army is better prepared and motivated.”
Russia has concentrated its attacks in eastern Ukraine after failing early in the war to topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.