By Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder
– Russian artillery fire killed at least four people and wounded four others at a humanitarian aid distribution point on Wednesday as Moscow’s forces bombarded towns, cities and rail infrastructure in eastern Ukraine, local officials said.
Authorities in the eastern region of Luhansk urged civilians to evacuate “while it is safe”, warning that Russian bombardments could cut off escape routes.
Later, Ukrainian Railways reported there were a number of casualties after three rockets hit an unspecified rail station in the east, without giving further details.
Ukraine says Russian troops that invaded on Feb. 24 are regrouping and preparing for a new offensive in the Donbas area, which includes both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko shared online photos from the town of Vuhledar, where he said Russian artillery fire had struck a humanitarian aid distribution point.
The photos showed two women stretched out on the ground. Another person had a serious leg wound and a fourth was shown with a bloodied leg, being helped into a rescue vehicle.
“The enemy cynically fired on civilians from Vuhledar, who had come to receive humanitarian aid. As a result of the shelling there are 4 dead and 4 wounded,” Kyrylenko wrote in a later post, updating the death toll from an earlier estimate of two killed.
He said one other person was also killed in shelling in the village of Ocheretyn on Wednesday, while four civilians were wounded in a similar strike on another rural settlement.
Russia has denied targeting civilians. Reuters was unable immediately to verify Kyrlyenko’s account of the incidents.
Local officials reported fighting in many part of eastern Ukraine and there were also reports of shelling and fighting in the south, where the port city of Mariupol is surrounded and under siege from Russian forces.
Mariupol’s capture could enable Russia to entrench a land passage between two separatist, self-proclaimed people’s republics in Donbas and the Crimea region that Russia seized and annexed in 2014.
CALL TO EVACUATE
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine was trying to evacuate trapped civilians through 11 humanitarian corridors across Ukraine, but that people trying to flee Mariupol would have to use their own vehicles.
The city mayor said last week up to 170,000 civilians were trapped in Mariupol with no power and dwindling supplies.
The Luhansk region governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian forces now controlled 60% of the eastern town of Rubizhne and reported 81 mortar, artillery and rocket strikes across the region over the previous day.
“I appeal to every resident of the Luhansk region – evacuate while it is safe,” he wrote in an online post earlier on Wednesday. “While there are buses and trains – take this opportunity.”
Gaidai said rail connections in the Donetsk region of Donbas had been damaged this week and took several hours to repair.
“This is another alarm bell,” he said.
Gaidai said separately that Russian forces were destroying “everything in their path” and would “stop at nothing.”
Russia says its “special military operation” is aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine. The Kremlin’s position is rejected by Ukraine and the West as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.