The Ukrainian government was clear on Wednesday: all residents of eastern Ukraine must leave immediately. The country fears a major offensive by the Russian army in the region.
Posted yesterday at 11:00 p.m.
“Later, people will be under fire, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, and we will not be able to do anything to help them. On the military level, the Ukrainian authorities fear a large-scale Russian offensive in the east of the country, in the areas they control near the Russian border.
The Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister thus called on Wednesday the civilian population of these regions, including the large city of Kharkiv, to “evacuate […] now”, while there is still time, on pain of “risking death”.
At least five people were killed by Russian shelling on Wednesday in the eastern Donetsk region, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, who urged civilians to move to safer areas.
Eastern Ukraine, the Donbass, has been partially occupied by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. On March 25, after a month of conflict across Ukraine, the Russian army announced that it wanted to limit its offensive to east of the country. Since then, Russian attacks have followed one another in the region.
On Wednesday, shells and rockets fell at regular intervals on Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city held by the Ukrainian army. In Vougledar, 50 km southwest of Donetsk, four civilians were killed and four others were injured in the shelling of an aid distribution center, according to the region’s governor.
Russian forces also attacked a fuel depot and a factory in western Donbass, authorities said. In the Luhansk region, which is part of Donbass, Russian shelling set fire to at least 10 storey buildings and a shopping center in the city of Sievierodonetsk, according to the regional governor.
Russia targets the East
On Wednesday, Russia completed the withdrawal of all of its troops, estimated at more than 24,000 troops, from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in the north of the country, sending them to Belarus or Russia for resupply and rearrange, a US defense official said.
“Russian troops seem to have left the northern regions to be probably redeployed in the east and south of the country, where the Russians seem to have the most success at the moment,” said Richard Giguère, retired brigadier-general of the Armed Forces. Canadians and expert at the Graduate School of International Studies at Université Laval.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky also warned that Moscow was gathering reinforcements and trying to push deeper into the east of the country.
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would take damaged Russian forces up to a month to regroup for a major push into eastern Ukraine. Mr. Giguère agrees. “To resupply them with equipment, weapons, mutations, fuel and food and redeploy them, it’s going to take a long time,” he says.
Mariupol survivors struggle to flee
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on Wednesday that more than 5,000 civilians had been killed since the conflict began, including 210 children. He added that Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death.
Mariupol is an attractive target for Russia, since its capture would allow it to secure a continuous land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
At present, more than 90 percent of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed by the bombardments, the mayor said. The Russian army besieged the strategic port on the Sea of Azov, cutting off food, water and fuel supplies and pulverizing homes and businesses.
At present, 160,000 people are believed to be stuck in the city, which had a pre-war population of 430,000, according to British defense officials. A humanitarian aid convoy accompanied by the Red Cross has been trying unsuccessfully to enter the town since Friday.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia is blocking humanitarian access to hide the “thousands” of victims in this besieged city.
“Major war crimes”, according to Biden
Separately, the Ukrainian authorities continued to round up the dead in the ruined suburbs of Kyiv. Evidence is mounting that the Russians killed civilians indiscriminately before withdrawing from the capital in recent days.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday denounced “major war crimes” by referring to “bodies left in the streets after the Russians withdrew” and “civilians executed in cold blood” in Boutcha.
Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of at least 410 civilians were found in towns on the outskirts of the capital.
With Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press