Russian forces are involved in scorched-earth tactics in their offensive in eastern Ukraine, pounding civilian areas with missiles and reducing villages, towns and cities to rubble, the governors of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces have said.
Indiscriminate shelling by Russian forces over the past 24 hours had killed at least eight civilians and wounded 25 more, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday.
Most of the civilian casualties occurred in Donetsk province, where Russia has stepped up its offensive in recent days, the Ukrainian presidential office said.
Listing the numbers of civilians killed, Donetsk’s Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko vowed in a Telegram post that “every crime will be punished”.
Kyrylenko had urged the province’s more than 350,000 remaining residents to flee late on Tuesday, saying that evacuating Donetsk was necessary to save lives and to allow the Ukrainian army to put up a better defence against the Russian advance.
Donetsk is part of the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial area where Ukraine’s most experienced soldiers are concentrated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Monday that his forces had completed the seizure of the Donbas region’s other province, Luhansk, after Ukrainian troops withdrew from the last city under their country’s control.
Luhansk’s Governor Serhiy Haidai denied Wednesday that the Russians had completely captured the province, whose last city, Lysychansk, fell to Moscow’s forces on Sunday. Heavy fighting continues in villages around Lysychansk, he said.
“The Russians have paid a high price, but the Luhansk region is not fully captured by the Russian army,” Haidai said.
“Some settlements have been overrun by each side several times already,” he said.
The governor accused Russian forces of scorched-earth tactics: “Burning down and destroying everything on their way”.
Up to 15,000 residents remain in Lysychansk and some 8,000 in the nearby city of Severodonetsk, which Russian and separatist fighters seized last month, Haidai said.
‘No safe areas’
The Ukrainian armed forces General Staff said in its regular social media update late on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops had rebuffed enemy units advancing towards Sloviansk in Donetsk, which is seen as a potential key target for Moscow.
Separatist authorities in Donetsk also said that four civilians were killed and another 14 wounded in Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours. News reports said the shelling hit an ammunition depot on Tuesday, triggering massive explosions.
To the north of Donetsk, Russian forces also hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with missile strikes overnight, the Kharkiv regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said on Telegram. Three districts of the city were targeted. One person was killed and three, including a toddler, sustained injuries, according to the governor.
In the south of the country, the port of Mykolaiv was also being heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, told a briefing.
“There are no safe areas in Mykolaiv,” he said. “I am telling the people … that they need to leave.”
The city has already shed about half of its pre-war population of half a million.
‘Wrath of God’
In a sign that Moscow is not preparing to end its military offensive against Ukraine anytime soon, Russia’s parliament rushed through laws on Wednesday requiring businesses to supply goods to the armed forces and obliging employees at firms supporting the war effort to work overtime.
According to drafts of the laws, businesses will be required by law to supply goods and services necessary for conducting the “special military operation” in Ukraine to the armed forces, and employees of certain enterprises producing goods and services needed by the Russian military will be required to work overtime at night, on weekends or during holidays.
“In the context of operations carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation outside of Russia, including on the territory of Ukraine, there is a need to repair weapons, military equipment and provide the armed forces with material and technical means,” an explanatory note to one of the bills stated.
A top Russian official also warned on Wednesday that the United States and Western allies could face the “wrath of God” if attempts were made to punish a nuclear power such as Russia for crimes committed in its war in Ukraine.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, denounced the US for what he described as its efforts to establish an international court and to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of ‘true democracy’”.