A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in seizing an eastern Ukraine province, his troops escalated their offensive in neighbouring Donetsk, prompting the governor to urge more than a quarter of a million residents to evacuate.
Gov Pavlo Kyrylenko said that getting the 350,000 people remaining in Donetsk province out is necessary to save lives and to enable the Ukrainian army to better defend towns from the Russian advance.
“The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region,” Gov Kyrylenko told reporters in Kramatrosk, the province’s administrative centre and home to the Ukrainian military’s regional headquarters.
“Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks,” Gov Kyrylenko said.
Another Donetsk city in the path of Moscow’s offensive came under sustained bombardment on Tuesday.
Mayor Vadim Lyakh said on Facebook that “massive shelling” pummelled Sloviansk, which had a population of about 107,000 before Russian invaded Ukraine more than four months ago.
The mayor, who urged residents hours earlier to evacuate, advised them to take cover in shelters.
At least one person was killed and another seven wounded on Tuesday, Mr Lyakh said. He said the city’s central market and several districts came under attack, adding that authorities were assessing the extent of the damage.
The barrage targeting Sloviansk indicated that Russian forces were positioned to advance farther into Ukraine’s Donbas region, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial area where the country’s most experienced soldiers are concentrated.
Sloviansk has previously taken rocket and artillery fire during Russia’s war in Ukraine, but the bombardment picked up in recent days after Moscow took the last major city in neighbouring Luhansk province, Mr Lyakh said.
“It’s important to evacuate as many people as possible,” he warned, adding that shelling damaged 40 houses on Monday.
The Ukrainian military withdrew its troops on Sunday from the city of Lysychansk to keep them from being surrounded.
Russia’s defence minister and Mr Putin said the city’s subsequent capture put Moscow in control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas.
The office of Ukraine’s president said the Ukrainian military was still defending a small part of Luhansk and trying to buy time to establish fortified positions nearby.