KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces are managing to “raise true hell” in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland despite reports of them taking an operational pause, a regional governor said Saturday, while the government in Kyiv urged people in Russian-occupied southern areas to evacuate “by all possible means” ahead of a Ukrainian offensive.
Deadly Russian shelling was reported in Ukraine’s east and south.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhyi Haidai, said Russia launched over 20 artillery, mortar and rocket strikes in the province overnight and its forces were pressing toward the border with neighbouring Donetsk.
“We are trying to contain the Russians’ armed formations along the entire front line,” Haidai wrote on Telegram.
Last week, Russia captured the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lysychansk. Analysts predicted Moscow’s troops likely would take time to rearm and regroup.
But “so far, there has been no operational pause announced by the enemy. He is still attacking and shelling our lands with the same intensity as before,” Haidai said. In a later post, he claimed the bombardment of Luhansk was suspended because Ukrainian forces had destroyed ammunition depots and barracks used by the Russians.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, appealed to residents of Russian-held territories in the south to evacuate so the occupying forces could not use them as human shields during a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“You need to search for a way to leave, because our armed forces are coming to de-occupy,” she said. “There will be a massive fight. I don’t want to scare anyone. Everyone understands all of this anyway.”
Speaking at a news conference late Friday, Vereshchuk said a civilian evacuation effort was underway for parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. She declined to give details, citing safety considerations.
It was not clear how civilians were expected to safely leave Russian-controlled areas while missile strikes and artillery shelling continue in surrounding areas, or whether they would be allowed to depart or even hear the government’s appeal.
The war’s death toll continued to rise.
Five people were killed and eight more wounded in Russian shelling Friday of Siversk and Semyhirya in Donetsk province, its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, wrote on his Telegram channel on Saturday morning.
In the city of Sloviansk, named as a likely next target of Russia’s offensive, rescuers said they pulled a 40-year-old man from the rubble of a building destroyed by shelling on Saturday morning. Kyrylenko had said multiple people were under the debris.
Russian missiles killed two people and wounded three others Saturday morning in the southern city of Kryvyi Rih, according to regional authorities.
“They deliberately targeted residential areas,” Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, asserted on Telegram. Kryvyi Rih’s mayor, Oleksandr Vilkul, asserted in a Facebook post that cluster munitions had been used, and he urged residents not to approach unfamiliar objects in the streets.
Seven people were injured in a Russian rocket strike on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Saturday morning and three of them were hospitalized, including a child, the regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, wrote on Telegram.
In the southern city of Mykolayiv, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych in a Telegram post said a Russian missile attack was underway. He did not mention casualties.
Russian defence officials claimed Saturday that their forces destroyed a hangar housing U.S. howitzers in Ukraine, near the Donetsk province town of Chasiv Yar. There was no immediate response from Ukraine.
The British Defence Ministry reported Saturday that Russian forces in Ukraine were now being armed with “obsolete or inappropriate equipment,” including MT-LB armoured vehicles taken out of long-term storage.
The MT-LB entered service in the Soviet military in the 1950s and does not provide the same protection as modern armoured vehicles.
“While MT-LBS have previously been in service in support roles on both sides, Russia long considered them unsuitable for most frontline infantry transport roles,” the British ministry said on Twitter.
The Russians also have brought Cold War-era tanks out of storage.
Associated Press journalists across Ukraine contributed.
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