LVIV, Ukraine — Civilians should immediately leave the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, the region’s governor said on Monday — an indication of the gathering pace of the Russian onslaught in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“Due to the real threat to life and health, we call for an evacuation,” Serhiy Haidai, the military governor of Luhansk Province, wrote on the Telegram social messaging app. “Save yourself and your loved ones.”
The statement was a marked change of tone for Mr. Haidai who has for weeks had spoken of Ukraine’s control of the city on the Siversky Donets River.
Moscow is attempting to secure the whole of the eastern Donbas region, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, and has concentrated its forces there and deployed its long range artillery, which is superior to Ukraine’s, to shatter towns and cities.
But following the capture last week of Sievierodonetsk, the city on the other side of the river from Lysychansk, Russian forces have stepped up their assault on Lysychansk. The city is the last major urban center in Luhansk that Moscow does not control. The Ukrainian military said in a statement on Monday that Russian forces were trying to blockade Lysychansk from the south.
The retreat of Ukrainian forces from Sievierodonetsk represented the most significant loss for the Ukrainian military since Russian forces seized Mariupol a month ago after a similarly brutal campaign of heavy shelling and street fighting left that southern port in ruins. The Donbas makes up about nine percent of Ukraine’s land, but is an important industrial region for the country.
Russia launched 49 missile strikes and air attacks in Luhansk over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian police said on Monday, destroying 23 targets including two churches in Lysychansk.
The exiled mayor of Sievierodonetsk on Monday painted a bleak picture of life for those who remain in a city where government officials estimate that 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed.
“There’s no good news I can share with you,” the mayor, Oleksandr Striuk, said during a virtual news conference.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 civilians — out of a prewar population of 160,000 — were still in Sievierodonetsk when it fell to Russian forces on Friday, Mr. Striuk said, citing accounts of people still there. The situation on the ground was dire, he said, with infrastructure razed and clean water and food in short supply.
Mr. Striuk and other officials in Sievierodonetsk were forced to flee elsewhere in Ukraine when the situation deteriorated. Those who remain now that the city has fallen to Russian control will likely be allowed to evacuate only to Russian-held cities, as has been the case in other captured areas.
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