The governor of Donetsk, the last remaining eastern province of Ukraine partially under Kyiv control, has urged more than 350,000 residents to flee.
Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told reporters on Tuesday evening that getting people out of Donetsk is necessary to save lives and enable the Ukrainian army to better defend towns from the Russian advance, with Russia escalating its offensive in the region.
“The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region,” Kyrylenko told reporters. “Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks.”
Kyrylenko said that because the province's administrative centre, Kramatrosk, houses critical infrastructure like water filtration plants, it, along with the city of Sloviansk, 16 kilometres to the north, would now be the main targets.
He described recent shelling as “very chaotic” without “a specific target ... only to destroy civilian infrastructure and residential areas.”
Sloviansk came under sustained bombardment on Tuesday, with the local mayor urging residents hours earlier to evacuate.
At least one person was killed and seven were wounded, Mayor Vadim Lyakh said on Facebook, adding that the city’s central market and several districts had come under attack.
Sloviansk has previously taken rocket and artillery fire, but bombardments have picked up in recent days after Moscow took the last major city in neighbouring Luhansk province, Lyakh said.
The Ukrainian military withdrew its troops Sunday from the city of Lysychansk, in order to keep them from being surrounded.
Russia's defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the city's capture put Moscow in control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas, though the regional governor said Tuesday that fighting was continuing on Lysychansk's outskirts.
Air raid warnings across Ukraine
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said air raid alerts were issued Tuesday night across nearly all of the country.
“You should not look for logic in the actions of terrorists,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “The Russian army does not take any breaks. It has one task — to take people’s lives, to intimidate people — so that even a few days without an air alarm already feel like part of the terror.”
More than 7.1 million Ukrainians are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency, with more than 4.8 million having left the country since Russia's invasion began in late February.