- Deputy Prime Minister Vereshock says evacuation is necessary before winter
- Vereshock says the region’s natural gas supplies have been destroyed
- Kyiv says more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed on Friday
- Ukraine: rail links to Kherson by cutting the Dnipro
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that his government was ordering a mandatory evacuation of people in the eastern Donetsk region, which has been mired in fierce fighting with Russia.
In a late-night television address, Zelensky also said that hundreds of thousands of people still in the combat zones of the greater Donbass region, which includes Donetsk as well as the neighboring Luhansk region, need to leave.
“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 will receive compensation.
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Separately, local Ukrainian media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk as saying that the evacuation should take place before the start of winter as natural gas supplies in the region have been destroyed.
Zelensky said hundreds of thousands still live in the Donbass regions, where the fighting has been fierce.
“Many refuse to leave, but it still has to be done,” the president said. “If you have the opportunity, please talk to those who are still in the combat zones in Donbass. Please convince them that it is necessary to leave.”
This is not the first time that Ukrainian authorities have called on civilians to evacuate areas they control in Donetsk, and John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, told Reuters that this may be due to expectations of more intense fighting rather than fuel shortages.
“I don’t know why Zelensky made the call,” he said. “What I know is that there was heavy fighting in Donetsk. The Russians occupied (nearby) Luhansk (Oblast) several weeks ago. I expect more fierce fighting in Donetsk.”
Herbst said he did not expect Russia to take over the rest of Donetsk given the longer logistical lines it would need and Ukrainian forces’ use of long-range artillery and missile systems provided by the United States and others.
Earlier on Saturday, the Ukrainian military said more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed and seven tanks destroyed in the fighting in the south on Friday, including the Kherson region which is the focus of Kyiv’s counter-offensive in that part of the country and a key link in Moscow. whatever.
Military Southern Command said rail traffic to Kherson via the Dnipro River has been cut off, potentially further isolating Russian forces west of the river from supplies in occupied Crimea and the east.
South of the town of Bakhmut, which Russia has described as a major target in Donetsk, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces had “partially succeeded” in gaining control of the settlement of Semyriya by storming it from three directions.
“He settled on the outskirts of the settlement,” the army’s evening report said, referring to the Russian forces.
Defense and intelligence officials from Britain, which has been one of Ukraine’s strongest allies since Moscow invaded its neighbor on February 24, portrayed Russian forces as struggling to maintain the momentum.
Ukraine has used long-range missile systems supplied by the West to severely damage three bridges across the Dnipro River in recent weeks, cutting off the city of Kherson and – in the assessment of British defense officials – leaving the 49th Russian Army extremely weak on the river’s west bank.
Dmitro Potry, the pro-Ukrainian governor of Kherson region, said fighting was continuing in many parts of the region, and the Pereslav region, northwest of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station, had been hit hard.
“In some villages, no house has been left intact, all infrastructure has been destroyed, and people are living in basements,” he wrote on Telegram.
Just north of Lysichansk, captured by Russian forces in early July after weeks of fighting, Ukrainian rebels destroyed a railroad junction square near the Russian-controlled town of Svatov on Friday night, making it difficult for Moscow to move munitions to the front lines. By train, Luhansk Region Governor Serhiy Gaidai said in an online post.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Officials from the Russia-appointed administration that administers the Kherson region earlier this week dismissed Western and Ukrainian assessments of the situation.
The British ministry on Friday described the Russian government as “increasingly desperate” after it lost tens of thousands of soldiers in the war. Richard Moore, head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, added on Twitter that Russia was “losing momentum”.
Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over a missile attack or explosion early on Friday that appeared to kill dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the frontline town of Olenivka being held by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Donetsk.
Today, Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry published a list of 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were killed and 73 wounded in what it said was a Ukrainian military strike by a US-made high-mobility artillery missile (HIMARS).
“All political, criminal and moral responsibility lies with Zelensky, his criminal regime and Washington, which supports them,” said ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov.
The ministry said Russia had invited experts from the United Nations and the Red Cross to investigate the deaths “in order to conduct an objective investigation”.
The separatists put the death toll at 53.
Ukraine’s armed forces denied responsibility, saying that Russian artillery targeted the prison to hide abuse 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 different accounts of the events, but some of the deaths were confirmed by Reuters journalists who visited the prison.
The United Nations said earlier that it was ready to send experts to investigate whether it had obtained the consent of the two parties. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was seeking access and offered to help evacuate the wounded.
The US State Department said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed his condolences in a phone call on Friday with Kuleba and said Washington was committed to “holding Russia accountable for atrocities.”
Ukraine accused Russia of committing atrocities against civilians and identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians and committing war crimes.
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Jacob Gronholt Pedersen, Jonathan Landay and David Bronstrom; Editing by Lincoln Fest, William Mallard, Frances Kerry, Jonathan Otis and Daniel Wallis
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