Ukrainian authorities have asked civilians in eastern Donbas to leave the war-torn country while they can as the military braces for a fierce battle to take control of the besieged region.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said if people don’t flee, they will “come under fire” later on and that Ukraine “will be unable to help” now that Russian troops are invading after more than a month of the Russian invasion.
Ms Vereshchuk said nearly 4,892 people were evacuated on Wednesday and a total of 3,686 people were driven to Zaporizhzhya from Mariupol and Berdiansk in private vehicles and buses.
Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians along 10 humanitarian corridors on Thursday, Ms Vereshchuk added.
Vadym Boichenko, mayor of the southern port city of Mariupol, said on Wednesday that more than 5,000 civilians, including 210 children, were killed. Vladimir Putin’s forces had bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people died, the mayor added.
In areas north of the capital Kiev, Ukrainian officials reportedly gathered evidence of Russian atrocities and killings before the troops withdrew in recent days.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in a late-night address to the nation that Russian troops are building troops in preparation for another offensive in the east. Moscow has said it wants to “liberate” Donbas, Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking industrial heartland.
“We will fight and we will not retreat,” Zelensky said. “We will seek all possible options to defend ourselves until Russia seriously seeks peace. This is our country. This is our future. And we will not give them up,” he added.
A US defense official, on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that Russia had completed the withdrawal of all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kiev and Chernihiv areas in the north.
The Kremlin sent troops to Belarus or back to Russia to resupply and reorganize in an attempt to return to fight in the eastern region.
However, it could take up to a month for the battered Russian forces to regroup for a “major attack on eastern Ukraine,” a Western official said.
Meanwhile, the West has imposed new sanctions on the Kremlin, including Putin’s daughters for what they labeled as war crimes in the wake of reports from Bucha, where the bodies of civilians were discovered lying in mass graves and in the open air on the city wall. streets.
Zelensky accused Russia of meddling in an international investigation by removing corpses and hiding evidence of the Bucha massacre.
“We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and basements of the territory they occupied,” he said. “This is just an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.”
He called on the Russians to stand up to their president and demand an end to the war “if you are even a little ashamed of what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine”.
Zelensky urged Russian citizens to “somehow confront the Russian repressive machine” rather than “be equated with the Nazis for the rest of your life”.
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