Ukraine braced for a climactic battle for control of the besieged country's industrial east after Russian forces withdrew from the shattered outskirts of Kyiv to regroup and intensify their offensive across the Donbas region, where authorities urged people to evacuate before time runs out.
The mayor of the southern port city of Mariupol said Wednesday that more than 5,000 civilians had been killed there. Meanwhile, in areas north of the capital, Ukrainian officials gathered evidence of Russian atrocities amid signs Moscow’s troops killed people indiscriminately before retreating over the past several days, The Associated Press said.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that the Russian military is building up its forces for a new offensive in the east, where the Kremlin has said its goal is to “liberate” the Donbas, Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial heartland. Ukraine, too, was preparing for battle, he said.
“We will fight and we will not retreat,” he 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.”
Ukrainian authorities urged people living in the Donbas to evacuate immediately.
“Later, people will come under fire,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, “and we won’t be able to do anything to help them.”
A US defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said Russia had completed pulling out all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas in the north, sending them into Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganize, probably to return to fight in the east.
But a Western official, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said it will take Russia’s battle-damaged forces as much as a month to regroup for a major push on eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the US and its Western allies have moved to impose new sanctions against the Kremlin over killings they labeled as war crimes.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said that of the more than 5,000 civilians killed during weeks of Russian bombardment and street fighting, 210 were children. Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death, he said.
Boichenko said more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed. The attacks on the strategic city on the Sea of Azov have cut off food, water, fuel and medicine and pulverized homes and businesses.