KYIV: Russian forces on Tuesday stepped up their offensive on the last pocket of resistance around Lugansk in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, as the conflict entered its fourth month.
Since Moscow's war in late February, Western support has helped Ukraine hold off its neighbour's advances in many areas, including the capital Kyiv. Russia is now focused on securing and expanding its gains in Donbas and the southern coast.
"The coming weeks of the war will be difficult, and we must be aware of that," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Monday after regional leaders and residents reported heavy bombardments.
"The most difficult fighting situation today is in Donbas," Zelensky said, singling out the worst-hit towns of Bakhmut, Popasna and Severodonetsk.
Ukraine's armed forces said Russian troops were conducting non-stop "offensive operations" in the region.
The governor of Lugansk said Russia had sent thousands of troops to capture his entire region and that Severodonetsk was under massive attack.
He warned an estimated 15,000 civilians still in the city that it was too late to leave. "At this point I will not say: get out, evacuate," Sergiy Gaidai said on Telegram.
"Now I will say: stay in a shelter, because such a density of shelling will not allow us to calmly gather people and come for them."
The Ukrainian presidency said on Tuesday that four people in one house had been killed and four others wounded in the shelling of Severodonetsk, while another three people were killed and six hurt in Donetsk region.
Residents of Bakhmut, a crucial junction that serves as a command centre for much of the Ukrainian war effort, said of the aerial onslaught they had suffered. "I looked up from my prayers and heard a frightening sound," 82-year-old Maria Mayashlapak said next to the splintered remains of her home.
More than six million people have fled Ukraine and eight million have been internally displaced since the war broke out, according to the United Nations. Zelensky said in his address that Russia had carried out nearly 1,500 missile strikes and more than 3,000 air strikes against Ukraine in the first three months of the war. - AFP