Kyiv, Ukraine –
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday his government was ordering the mandatory evacuation of people from the eastern Donetsk region, the scene of fierce fighting with Russia.
In a late-night television address, Zelenskyy also said that the hundreds of thousands of people still in combat zones in the larger Donbas region, which contains Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk region, must go.
“The more people leave (the) Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said, adding that residents who left would be compensated.
Separately, Ukrainian national media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk as saying the evacuation had to take place before winter set in as the region’s natural gas supplies had been destroyed.
Zelenskyy said that hundreds of thousands of people still lived in areas of Donbas where fighting was fierce.
“Many refuse to leave, but it still has to be done,” the president said. “If you have the opportunity, talk to those who are still in the combat zones in Donbas. Convince them that it is necessary to leave.”
It is not the first time that Ukrainian authorities have asked civilians to evacuate areas they control in Donetsk, and John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, told Reuters that could be due to expectations of heavier fighting than shortages. made out of fuel.
“I don’t know why Zelenskyy issued the call,” he said. “What I do know is that there has been fierce fighting in Donetsk. The Russians took (neighboring) Lugansk (oblast) several weeks ago. I expect more fierce fighting in Donetsk.”
Herbst said he did not expect Russia to capture the rest of Donetsk given the longer logistics lines they would need and the Ukrainian forces’ use of advanced artillery and long-range rocket systems provided by the United States and others.
Earlier on Saturday, Ukraine’s military said that more than 100
Russian soldiers were killed and seven tanks were destroyed in fighting in the south on Friday, including in the Kherson region, which is the focus of Kyiv’s counteroffensive in that part of the country and a key link in Moscow’s supply lines.
Rail traffic to Kherson over the Dnipro River had been cut off, the southern military command said, potentially further cutting off Russian forces west of the river from supplies in occupied Crimea and the east.
South of the town of Bakhmut, which Russia has cited as a main target in Donetsk, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces had been “partially successful” in establishing control over the Semyhirya settlement by assaulting it from three directions.
“He settled on the outskirts of the settlement,” the evening army report said, referring to the Russian forces.
Defense and intelligence officials from Britain, which has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since Moscow invaded its neighbor on February 24, described Russian forces as struggling to maintain momentum.
Ukraine has used Western-supplied long-range missile systems to severely damage three bridges across the Dnipro in recent weeks, isolating the city of Kherson and, according to the assessment of British defense officials, leaving Russia’s 49th Army highly vulnerable on the western bank of the river.
The pro-Ukrainian governor of the Kherson region, Dmytro Butriy, said fighting was continuing in many parts of the region, with the Berislav district, just northwest of the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, particularly hard hit.
“In some villages, not a single house has been left intact, the entire infrastructure has been destroyed, people live in basements,” he wrote on Telegram.
Just north of Lysychansk, which Moscow forces captured in early July after weeks of fighting, Ukrainian partisans destroyed a railway junction box near the Russian-controlled town of Svatove on Friday night, making it difficult for Moscow will transport ammunition to the front. by train, Luhansk Regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai said in an online post.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield reports.
Officials in the Russian-appointed administration that runs the Kherson region earlier this week rejected Western and Ukrainian assessments of the situation.
On Friday, the British ministry described the Russian government as “increasingly desperate”, having lost tens of thousands of soldiers in the war. The head of the British MI6 foreign intelligence agency, Richard Moore added on Twitter that Russia is “running out of steam”.
DEATHS IN PRISON
Ukraine and Russia have traded accusations over a missile attack or explosion early Friday that apparently killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the frontline town of Olenivka held by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Donetsk.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday published a list of 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war killed and 73 wounded in what it said was a Ukrainian military strike using a US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov said “all political, criminal and moral responsibility” lay with Zelenskyy, “his criminal regime and Washington that supports them.”
The ministry said Russia had invited experts from the United Nations and the Red Cross to investigate the deaths “in the interest of conducting an objective investigation.”
Separatists put the death toll at 53.
Ukraine’s armed forces denied responsibility, saying Russian artillery had attacked the prison to hide the mistreatment there. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday that Russia had committed a war crime and called for international condemnation.
Reuters could not immediately verify the different versions of the events, but some of the deaths were confirmed by Reuters journalists who visited the prison.
The United Nations has previously said it was prepared to send experts to investigate if it gets the consent of both sides. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was seeking access and had offered to help evacuate the wounded.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed condolences in a phone call with Kuleba on Friday, saying Washington was committed to “holding Russia accountable for the atrocities,” the US State Department said.
Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities against civilians and identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians and war crimes.
(Reuters Bureau Reporting; Writing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Jonathan Landay, and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Lincoln Feast, William Mallard, Frances Kerry, Jonathan Oatis, and Daniel Wallis)