Ukraine tells citizens in Donbas to evacuate as intense fighting shifts east

Ukraine is bracing for a climactic battle for the control of Donbas

Ukraine: Actions of Russian troops in Bucha 'not far short of genocide', says Boris Johnson

Ukraine’s authorities have asked civilians in eastern Donbas to evacuate from the war-torn country while they can as the military braces for a fierce battle to take control of the besieged region.

Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said if people did not flee then they “will come under fire” later and Ukraine would not be “able to do anything to help” as Russian troops closed in after more than a month of Russia’s invasion.

Ms Vereshchuk said nearly 4,892 people were evacuated on Wednesday and a total of 3,686 people drove from Mariupol and Berdiansk in private vehicles and buses to Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians along 10 humanitarian corridors on Thursday, Ms Vereshchuk added.

Vadym Boichenko, mayor of the southern port city of Mariupol, said on Wednesday that more than 5,000 civilians, including 210 children, had been killed there. Vladimir Putin’s troops had bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death, the mayor added.

In areas north of capital Kyiv, Ukrainian officials reportedly gathered evidence of Russian atrocities and killings before the troops retreated over the past several days.

This map shows the extent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as of 6 April

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in a nighttime address to the nation, warned that Russian troops are building up forces in preparation for a new offensive in the east. Moscow has said it aims to “liberate” Donbas, Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial heartland.

“We will fight and we will not retreat,” Mr Zelensky said. ”We will seek all possible options to defend ourselves until Russia begins to seriously seek peace. This is our land. This is our future. And we won’t give them up,” he added.

A US defence official, on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that Russia had completed the pullout of all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas in the north.

The Kremlin was sending the troops into Belarus or back to Russia to resupply and reorganise in a bid to return to fight in the eastern region.

However, Russia’s battered forces may take as much as a month to regroup for a “major push on eastern Ukraine,” a western official said.

Meanwhile, the west has imposed fresh sanctions against Kremlin, including on Mr Putin’s daughters over what they branded as war crimes in the wake of reports emerging from Bucha, where the bodies of civilians were discovered lying in mass graves and in the open on the city’s streets.

Mr Zelensky accused Russia of interfering with an international investigation by removing corpses and trying to hide evidence of the massacre in Bucha.

“We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and cellars of the territory they occupied,” he said. “This is only an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.”

He called on Russians to stand up to their president and demand an end to the war “if you have even a little shame about what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine”.

Mr Zelensky urged Russian civilians “to somehow confront the Russian repressive machine” instead of being “equated with the Nazis for the rest of your life”.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered.

To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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