Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged residents of the country’s eastern-most Donetsk region to leave the province as Russia continues its offensive to conquer the area.
In a regular nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy said hundreds of thousands of people were still living in the industrial heartland where “the fiercest fighting” was taking place. He told Ukrainians that an evacuation of Donetsk “needs to be done . . . now” so that “the Russian army” will kill fewer people.
Moscow is trying to take over the whole of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, made up of the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russian forces now occupy all of Luhansk.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented more than 5,200 civilian deaths in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began and believes more have been killed amid Russia’s bombardment of civilian areas.
Moscow has since late March refocused its war efforts on eastern Ukraine, having failed to capture the capital Kyiv in the weeks after its February 24 invasion, concentrating on taking the remaining Donbas territory, the region Russian covertly invaded in 2014.
Ukraine, now using advanced weaponry supplied by the west, has been able to disrupt Russian supply lines and logistics.
Kyiv has been slowly regaining territory in the south, and the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in June that Ukrainian forces have liberated more territory than they have lost since the start of the invasion.
In the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, also forcibly seized in 2014, the Russian governor of Sevastopol said on Sunday that a drone had struck the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet, wounding five people. The unmanned aerial strike took place on Russia’s revered Navy Day and festivities in Sevastopol were subsequently cancelled.
On his Telegram channel, governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said the Federal Security Service was investigating the incident.
The Black Sea fleet’s press service said “a low-yield explosive device mounted on a makeshift drone” had struck the area.
The reported Sevastopol strike comes after an agreement between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN was signed last week to clear maritime waterways for the export of Ukrainian grain to bordering countries.
A regional Ukrainian official denied involvement in the drone strike. Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for the Odesa Military Administration, described the incident as a “false-flag” operation and said “Ukraine would liberate the Crimea by other means”.
In April Russia’s Moskva missile cruiser, its flagship in the Black Sea, was sunk by Ukrainian missiles.
Neither of the warring sides has disclosed its casualty figures in the bloodiest war on the European continent since the second world war. Zelenskyy has urged the west to designate Russia a “terrorist state” in response to civilian atrocities including sexual violence, indiscriminate killing of civilians and looting.