Ukraine calls for evacuation of Donetsk cities before Russian onslaught

At least two killed in strike on central market of Slovyansk, says governor of region

Ukrainian officials urged residents of cities in the country’s eastern Donetsk region to leave urgently as Russia’s military intensified its artillery fire across the area after seizing control of the last Kyiv-held city in neighbouring Luhansk region.

Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said at least two people died and seven were hurt on Tuesday when Russian rockets hit the city of Slovyansk, a day after two were killed and five injured by shelling 60km to the southeast in the city of Bakhmut.

“The central market of Slovyansk came under Russian fire … The Russians are again intentionally hitting places where civilians are gathered. This is pure terrorism. The terrorist state must be brought to justice,” Mr Kyrylenko said on social media.

“I call on everyone: evacuate! Now the most important thing is to protect life.”

Russia claims to have “liberated” all of Luhansk region in recent days after taking Lysychansk, the last city in the province that was under government control, after weeks of artillery fire that reduced much of it and neighbouring Severodonetsk to ruins and drove out most of their pre-war residents.

When Russia’s military was driven back from Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s two main cities, in the weeks after its all-out invasion on February 24th, the Kremlin switched its focus to taking the entire Donbas area, which comprises Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“There is not a single safe city in the Donetsk region where shelling does not take place. Kramatorsk was shelled last night,” Mr Kyrylenko said, referring to a government-held city 15km from Slovyansk. The two cities, which had pre-war populations of 100,000, are considered to be the next main targets for the Russian offensive, along with Bakhmut.

“The intensity of shelling is very heavy along the whole front line … All types of artillery, aerial bombs, tanks and missiles are used along the front line. Last week the Russians dropped a bomb in the centre of Bakhmut, where there were no military sites,” he added.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that “the special military operation will continue until the tasks set by [the Kremlin] are accomplished in full. The main priorities for us today are the lives and health of military personnel and the safety of civilians.”

Russia’s lower house of parliament gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to Bills that would allow the government to force businesses to supply the military with goods needed for the “special operation” in Ukraine.

“The load on the defence industry has increased significantly. In order to guarantee the supply of weapons and ammunition, it is necessary to optimise the work of the military-industrial complex and enterprises that are part of co-operation chains,” Russian deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov said.

“Right now, when the countries of the collective West are building up their military presence on the border with Russia, intensifying sanctions pressure, increasing arms supplies to Ukraine, the importance of passing the Bills cannot be overestimated.”