KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are managing to “raise true hell” in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland despite reports of them taking an operational pause, a regional governor said Saturday, while the government in Kyiv urged people in Russian-occupied southern areas to evacuate “by all possible means” ahead of a Ukrainian offensive.
Deadly Russian shelling was reported in Ukraine’s east and south.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhyi Haidai, said Russia launched over 20 artillery, mortar and rocket strikes in the province overnight and its forces were pressing toward the border with neighboring Donetsk.
“We are trying to contain the Russians’ armed formations along the entire front line,” Haidai wrote on Telegram.
Last week, Russia captured the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lysychansk. Analysts predicted Moscow’s troops likely would take time to rearm and regroup.
But “so far, there has been no operational pause announced by the enemy. He is still attacking and shelling our lands with the same intensity as before,” Haidai said. In a later post, he claimed the bombardment of Luhansk was suspended because Ukrainian forces had destroyed ammunition depots and barracks used by the Russians.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, appealed to residents of Russian-held territories in the south to evacuate so the occupying forces could not use them as human shields during a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“You need to search for a way to leave, because our armed forces are coming to de-occupy,” she said. “There will be a massive fight. I don’t want to scare anyone. Everyone understands all of this anyway.”
Speaking at a news conference late Friday, Vereshchuk said a civilian evacuation effort was underway for parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. She declined to give details, citing safety considerations.
It was not clear how civilians were expected to safely leave Russian-controlled areas while missile strikes and artillery shelling continue in surrounding areas, or whether they would be allowed to depart or even hear the government’s appeal.
The war’s death toll continued to rise.
Five people were killed and eight more wounded in Russian shelling Friday of Siversk and Semyhirya in Donetsk province, its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, wrote on his Telegram channel on Saturday morning.
In the city of Sloviansk, named as a likely next target of Russia’s offensive, rescuers said they pulled a 40-year-old man from the rubble of a building destroyed by shelling on Saturday morning. Kyrylenko had said multiple people were under the debris.
Russian missiles killed two people and wounded three others Saturday morning in the southern city of Kryvyi Rih, according to regional authorities.
“They deliberately targeted residential areas,” Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, asserted on Telegram. Kryvyi Rih’s mayor, Oleksandr Vilkul, asserted in a Facebook post that cluster munitions had been used, and he urged residents not to approach unfamiliar objects in the streets.
In northeast Ukraine, a Russian rocket strike on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, injured seven people on Saturday morning, and three of them were hospitalized, including a child, the regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, wrote on Telegram.
The city has been targeted throughout the war, including several times in the past week. As survivor Valentina Mirgorodksaya dabbed at a cut on her cheek, first responders warily inspected a downtown residential building shattered in Saturday’s strike.
“I don’t know,” Mirgorodksaya said. “I just don’t know.”
Mykolayiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych reported in a Telegram post that six Russian missiles were fired at his city in southern Ukraine, near the Black Sea, but caused no casualties.
Russian defense officials claimed Saturday that their forces destroyed a hangar housing U.S. howitzers in Ukraine, near the Donetsk province town of Chasiv Yar. There was no immediate response from Ukraine.
In other developments:
— Ukraine’s national police force said it was opening a criminal investigation into the Russian military’s alleged destruction of crops in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region. In a Telegram post, it accused Russian troops of not allowing residents to put out fires in fields and otherwise sabotaging the harvest.
“Because of the constant shelling, it is extremely difficult to extinguish (field) fires in the de-occupied territories, and in the occupied lands, the Russians deliberately do not allow the extinguishing of fires,” the police force said.
— The British Defense Ministry reported Saturday that Russian forces in Ukraine were now being armed with “obsolete or inappropriate equipment,” including MT-LB armored vehicles taken out of long-term storage.
The MT-LB entered service in the Soviet military in the 1950s and does not provide the same protection as modern armored vehicles. The Russians also have brought Cold War-era tanks out of storage.
“While MT-LBS have previously been in service in support roles on both sides, Russia long considered them unsuitable for most frontline infantry transport roles,” the British ministry said on Twitter.
Associated Press journalists across Ukraine contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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