KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are raising “literal hell” in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, despite assessments that they were taking an operational pause, a regional governor said on Saturday, as another Ukrainian official urged residents of Russian-occupied southern regions to quickly evacuate “by all means” ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Deadly Russian bombings have been reported in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Serhyi Haidai, said that Russia had launched more than 20 artillery, mortar and rocket strikes on the region overnight and that its forces were moving towards the border with the region. from Donetsk.
“We are trying to contain Russian armed formations on the entire front line,” Haidai wrote on Telegram.
Last week, Russia captured the last major Ukrainian resistance stronghold in Luhansk, the city of Lysychansk. Analysts predicted that Moscow’s troops would likely take some time to rearm and regroup.
But “until now, there has been no operational pause announced by the enemy. It is still attacking and bombarding our lands with the same intensity as before,” Haidai said. He later said that the Russian bombardment of Luhansk had been suspended because Ukrainian forces had destroyed ammunition depots and barracks used by the Russians.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has called on residents of Russian-controlled territories in the south to quickly evacuate so that occupying forces cannot use them as human shields during a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“You have to find a way to leave, because our armed forces have just become unoccupied,” she said. “There will be a massive fight.”
Speaking at a press conference on Friday evening, Vereshchuk said a civilian evacuation effort was underway for parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. She declined to give details, citing security.
It was unclear how civilians were to safely leave Russian-controlled areas as missile strikes and artillery fire continued in surrounding areas, whether they would be allowed to leave or even hear the call from the government.
The number of war dead continued to rise.
Five people were killed and eight others injured on Friday in the Russian shelling of Siversk and Semyhirya in the Donetsk region, its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, wrote on Telegram on Saturday.
In the city of Sloviansk, designated as the likely next target of the Russian offensive, rescuers extracted a 40-year-old man from the rubble of a building destroyed by bombing on Saturday. Kyrylenko said several people were under the debris.
Russian missiles also killed two people and injured three others on Saturday in the southern city of Kryvyi Rih, according to regional authorities.
“They deliberately targeted residential areas,” Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, said on Telegram. Kryvyi Rih Mayor Oleksandr Vilkul claimed on Facebook that cluster munitions had been used and urged residents to stay away from unfamiliar objects on the streets. Further explosions were reported on Saturday evening.
Kryvyi Rih is the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who visited Friday to meet with Vilkul and the brigadier general commanding troops in the region. Zelenskyy’s office said it was briefed on the “construction of defensive structures”, supporting troops, supplying the city with food and medicine, and helping people who had fled to Kryvyi Rih after being driven from their homes elsewhere in Ukraine.
In northeastern Ukraine, a Russian rocket strike hit the center of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Saturday, injuring six people, including a 12-year-old girl, authorities said.
“An Iskander ballistic missile was probably used,” the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said. “One of the missiles hit a two-story building, which resulted in its destruction. Nearby houses were damaged.
The town has been targeted throughout the war, including several times in the past week. As survivor Valentina Mirgorodksaya dabbed a cut on her cheek, first responders cautiously inspected the building destroyed during Saturday’s strike.
Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych reported on Telegram that six Russian missiles were fired at his town in southern Ukraine near the Black Sea, but there were no casualties.
“On that day only, Russia hit Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Krivyi Rih, villages in the Zaporizhzhia region,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “He hit residential areas, absolutely consciously and intentionally. … For days and days, the brutal Russian artillery strikes… do not stop. Such terrorist action can only be stopped with weapons – modern and powerful.
Russian defense officials said on Saturday their forces had destroyed a hangar housing US howitzers in the Donetsk region near the town of Chasiv Yar. There was no immediate response from Ukraine.
In other developments on Saturday:
– Zelenskyy has fired several ambassadors, including Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk, who has been a strong advocate for Kyiv’s cause but also ruffled feathers in Berlin. He was constantly critical of Germany’s perceived slowness in providing heavy weapons. He also came under fire for an interview in which he defended Stepan Bandera, a controversial World War II Ukrainian nationalist. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Melnyk spoke only for himself. Zelenskyy said the ambassadors’ firings were part of a routine rotation. Melnyk had held the position since 2015.
— The Ukrainian national police announced that it was opening a criminal investigation into the alleged destruction of crops by the Russian army in the southern region of Kherson. In a Telegram post, he accused Russian troops of not allowing residents to put out fires in the fields and of otherwise sabotaging the harvest.
– The UK MoD says Russian forces in Ukraine are now armed with “obsolete or inappropriate equipment”, including MT-LB armored vehicles removed from long-term storage which do not offer the same protection as modern tanks.
“While MT-LBS were previously in service in support roles on both sides, Russia has long considered them unsuitable for most frontline infantry transport roles,” the UK ministry said on Twitter. .
– Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit said 100 Ukrainian athletes and coaches were killed on the battlefield or in Russian shelling, while 22 were captured by Russian forces. In a Facebook post, Gutzeit said more than 3,000 athletes now wear the uniform.
Associated Press reporters from across Ukraine contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian War at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine