The governor of Donetsk, the last remaining eastern province of Ukraine partially under Kyiv’s control, has urged the region’s 350,000 people to flee amid reports of fresh deaths and injuries.
At least seven civilians have been killed in Russian shelling over the past 24 hours and 25 are said to have been wounded as the Kremlin continues to step up its offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Donetsk’s governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said two people had died in the region’s central city of Avdiivka while fatalities were also reported in Sloviansk, Krasnohorivka and Kurakhove.
“The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region,” Kyrylenko said. “Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks.”
After declaring victory in the province of Luhansk, Vladimir Putin has set as his latest public goal the “liberation” of the eastern Donbas region, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk, but his forces continue to face stiff resistance.
Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Haidai, said on Wednesday that resistance was ongoing in villages around the city of Lysychansk, where 15,000 civilians remain.
On Telegram, Haidai said: “Today’s videos from Lysychansk are painful to watch.” He accused Putin’s troops of engaging in a scorched earth policy, “burning down and destroying everything on their way”.
He said: “The Russians are advancing, first of all due to the fact that they are superior in artillery, with which they destroy cities and defence positions … The Russians have paid a high price, but the Luhansk region is not fully captured by the Russian army. Some settlements have been overrun by each side several times already.”
The UK Ministry of Defence said the battle for Sloviansk in Donetsk was likely to be the next key contest, as Russian forces approached to within 10 miles of the town.
The latest security analysis from Whitehall suggested Russian forces were likely to continue to consolidate their control over the Luhansk oblast and the recently overrun Lysychansk, and that Russia’s eastern, western, central and southern forces were converging on Sloviansk at pace.
On Tuesday the Sloviansk mayor, Vadim Lyakh, said he was desperately seeking to evacuate those who remained in the city, whose population was once 107,000 and is now down to a few thousand.
Meanwhile, the US state department spokesperson Ned Price said he did not expect the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to meet Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
“I’m not in a position to walk through the choreography, but I certainly would not expect any meeting between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov,” he said.
The former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has raised the possibility of nuclear war if the international criminal court (ICC) moves to punish Moscow for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
“The idea to punish a country that has the largest nuclear arsenal is absurd in and of itself,” Medvedev said on Telegram. “And potentially creates a threat to the existence of mankind.”