The governor of the last remaining eastern province partly under Ukraine's control urged his more than 350,000 residents to flee as Russia escalated its offensive and air alerts were issued across nearly the entire country.
Goernor Pavlo Kyrylenko said that getting people out of Donetsk province is necessary to save lives and enable the Ukrainian army better to defend towns from the Russian advance.
“The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region,” Mr. Kyrylenko told reporters in Kramatrosk, the province's administrative center and home to the Ukrainian military's regional headquarters.
“Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks,” Mr. Kyrylenko said.
The governor’s call for residents to leave appeared to represent one of the biggest suggested evacuations of the war, although it's unclear whether people will be willing and safely able to flee. According to the U.N. refugee agency, more than 7.1 million Ukrainians are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine, and more than 4.8 million refugees left the country since Russia's invasion started Feb. 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said air alerts were issued Tuesday night in nearly all of the country, in many places after a long period of relative calm during which people searched for an explanation.
“You should not look for logic in the actions of terrorists,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “The Russian army does not take any breaks. It has one task — to take people’s lives, to intimidate people — so that even a few days without an air alarm already feel like part of the terror.”
Much of the military activity appeared concentrated in Ukraine's east. The Kramatorsk governor said that because they house critical infrastructure such as water filtration plants, Russia’s main targets are now his city and a city 16 kilometers (10 miles) to the north, Sloviansk. Mr. Kyrylenko described the shelling as “very chaotic” without “a specific target ... only to destroy civilian infrastructure and residential areas.”
Sloviansk also came under sustained bombardment Tuesday. Mayor Vadim Lyakh said on Facebook that “massive shelling” pummeled Sloviansk, which had a population of about 107,000 before Russian invaded Ukraine more than four months ago. The mayor, who urged residents hours earlier to evacuate, advised them to take cover in shelters.
The Ukrainian military withdrew its troops Sunday from the city of Lysychansk to keep them from being surrounded. Russia's defense minister and Putin said the city's subsequent capture put Moscow in control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas.
The office of Ukraine's president said the Ukrainian military was still defending a small part of Luhansk and trying to buy time to establish fortified positions nearby.
The question now is whether Russia can muster enough strength to complete its seizure of the Donbas by taking Donetsk province, too. Mr. Putin acknowledged Monday that Russian troops who fought in Luhansk need to “take some rest and beef up their combat capability.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the war in Ukraine would continue until all of the goals set by Mr. Putin are achieved. However, Mr. Shoigu said “the main priorities” for Moscow at the moment were “preserving the lives and health” of the troops, as well as “excluding the threat to the security of civilians.”