“The [Russians] appointed commander. “The city is so devastated that it will be difficult for people to deal with this situation,” said Oleksandr Stryuk, head of the military administration.
Regional military officials said Friday that the last forces in Severodonetsk were ordered to leave, as it was impossible to continue to defend their positions. This effectively ceded the city to Russia and brought almost the entire eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk under Russian control.
Severodonetsk was one of Ukraine’s last major strongholds in the region. Serhiy Heidi, the top military commander in eastern Ukraine, said the army had taken the decision to evacuate “because the death toll in non-fortified areas may increase every day”.
“Currently, there is no possibility to leave the city, people can try to leave only in the direction of the occupied territories. We will facilitate the evacuation, but so far there is no such opportunity,” Stryuk said.
Several hundred civilians had taken refuge in the Azot chemical plant and had refused their pleas to leave. Earlier on Saturday, Heidi said Russian forces were still bombing the facility.
“Civilians are leaving the territory of the Azote Factory, they [the Russians] Shoot promotional videos with them. People spent almost 3 months in basements and shelters. Right now, they need both physical and psychological help.”
A torrent of missile strikes
Ukraine has been hit by a torrent of missile strikes, and official reports there indicate that Russia has fired more than 40 missiles at targets in Ukraine in the past 24 hours.
North of Sloviansk, the Ukrainian army reported continuing battles in areas that had been on the front lines for months. The Russians used artillery and air strikes against Ukrainian positions 20 kilometers north of the city.
The Zhytomyr Regional Military Administration in central Ukraine also reported explosions, killing one soldier and wounding another, although the city’s mayor said Zhytomyr himself was “not hurt”. The head of the military department said that “about 10 missiles” were shot down by Ukrainian defenders. Regional authorities in Lviv, western Ukraine, also reported missile strikes against military facilities.
The offensive continues in eastern Ukraine
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said, on Saturday, that Russian efforts to cut off the main road from Bakhmut to Lyschansk are continuing. She added that Ukrainian soldiers stopped the advance of the Russian infantry near Volodymyrvka, 5 kilometers from the highway. But the General Staff acknowledged that the Russians advanced one kilometer when they approached Bakhmut.
It appears that the Russian goal is to cut off the Ukrainian forces in the enclave of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. If they captured Bakhmut, they would be able to block most of the resupply efforts of the Ukrainian defenders in Lysichansk and the surrounding areas.
Ukraine announced attacks from Belarusian airspace
“The missile strikes from the territory of Belarus are a large-scale provocation of the Russian Federation in order to increase the involvement of Belarus in the war against Ukraine,” the directorate said.
It added that “Russian bombers struck directly from the territory of Belarus. Six Tu-22M3 aircraft participated in the attack, which fired 12 KH-22 cruise missiles.” The directorate said the missiles were launched from the air over the Petrekov region in southern Belarus.
“After firing the missiles, they returned to the Chekovka airport in Russia. The strike was launched on the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions,” he added.
“This is the first case of an air strike on Ukraine directly from the territory of Belarus,” the directorate said. CNN cannot confirm this claim.
“More than fifty missiles of various types were launched: air, sea and land,” the Ukrainian Air Force Command echoed the defense ministry’s statement, saying on its Facebook page.
There has been no news from the Belarusian government about allegations that its airspace was used in the recent strikes against Ukraine.
Ukraine denies Russia’s allegations of attack on Polish ‘mercenaries’
A Russian missile hit the town of Kostyantinivka in Donetsk, on Saturday, according to local authorities and the Russian Defense Ministry.
But the two sides’ accounts of what was targeted differ. “A target of critical infrastructure has been hit,” said Oleksiy Ruslov, head of the civilian military administration in Kostyantinivka, affecting the gas supply and killing one person.
The Russian Defense Ministry published a short video of the missile attack, saying that it targeted Polish mercenaries stationed at the Megatex factory in Kostyantinivka and killed up to 80 of them, as well as rocket launchers.
Spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov said: “The enemy continues to suffer great losses. Up to 80 Polish mercenaries, 20 armored combat vehicles and eight Grad missile launch systems were destroyed as a result of strikes with high-precision weapons. The Russian Aerospace Forces on Megatex Zinc Factory Buildings.
Roslov denied this claim. “There was no army there. There were a lot of people after the strike, and everyone can confirm that there was no army,” Roslov told CNN.
About 45,000 people remain in the city, which is somewhat off the front lines.
CNN’s Jim Sioto, Sebastian Shukla, and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.