Russia’s renewed offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas has destroyed the eastern region and turned it into “hell”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, accusing Moscow of carrying out senseless bombardments.
After failing to take Ukraine’s capital since launching a full-scale invasion in February, Russia is using massed artillery and armour to try to capture more territory in the Donbas, comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, which Moscow claims on behalf of pro-Russian separatists.
“The occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It is hell there – and that is not an exaggeration,” Zelenskyy said in a late address on Thursday.
He said 12 people had been killed in the “brutal and absolutely senseless bombardment” of the city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region on Thursday.
“[There are] constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. The Donbas is completely destroyed,” he said.
“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible, to destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible.”
The defence ministry in Kyiv said on Thursday that Russian forces were preventing civilians in Donbas from fleeing to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Severodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk make up the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the smaller of the two regions comprising the Donbas war zone.
Russian forces have surrounded the two – split by a river marking a central front of the war – and are bombarding them to try and wear down resistance and starve residents of supplies.
The residents still in the now ghostly city are afraid to take more than a few steps outside their front door.
Nella Kashkina sat in her basement next to an oil lamp and prayed.
“I do not know how long we can last,” the 65-year-old told the AFP news agency.
“We have no medicine left and a lot of sick people – sick women – need medicine. There is simply no medicine left at all.”
Russia is likely to reinforce its operations in the industrial Donbas region once they secure the city of Mariupol, British military intelligence said early on Friday.
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, said emergency services are struggling to deal with the scale of the casualties and the damage in the city.
“Nowhere in Bakmut is safe and people have become desensitised to the constant sound of artillery and shelling,” he said.
The mayor has told residents to evacuate the city as the Russian offensive continues to intensify.
“Those that remain have a choice: evacuate from the town or hope to survive the Russian military onslaught,” Baig said.