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Ukraine’s president urges citizens in the Donbas to evacuate


Residents walk by debris outside a business hit by a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 31, 2022.

By Marc Santora and Ivan Nechepurenko


Hundreds of thousands of civilians living in eastern Ukraine were ordered to evacuate their homes this weekend after months of relentless Russian bombardment destroyed the infrastructure needed to deliver heat and electricity.


While the Ukrainians have stabilized their defensive lines in eastern Ukraine and the Russians have failed to make significant advances in weeks, Russian shelling of towns and villages continues to kill civilians daily.


President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking to the nation in his overnight address, urged the hundreds of thousands of people — including tens of thousands of children — living in Donetsk province to move quickly.


“The sooner it is done, the more people leave Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said.


It is the first time the Ukrainian government has issued such a broad directive. By doing so before winter, it was seeking to give people time to move and to prevent an unmanageable crisis later.


Protecting civilians also takes up valuable resources, taxing beleaguered emergency crews. Zelenskyy said the government would help people logistically and financially.


The Ukrainian president’s emotions sounded raw as he condemned the killing of Ukrainian prisoners of war in an explosion at a detention facility in the Russian-occupied part of Donetsk province as an act of mass murder.


“Everyone is guilty — who approved, who organized, who blasted these people, who knew about it — they all will be found,” he said, calling on the U.S. State Department to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. Both the House and Senate have expressed support for such a move, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has resisted adding Russia to a list that now comprises North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Iran.


The Kremlin has said that Ukraine killed its own soldiers being held in the Russian prison camp using precision U.S.-made missiles. The Pentagon said Friday that there was no evidence to support that claim, and a growing number of Ukraine’s allies have pointed the finger at Russia.


Satellite imagery released by Maxar Technologies on Saturday showed the strike site and the charred remains of the barracks where the soldiers died. Ukrainian officials said the images were not consistent with a missile strike. The Institute for the Study of War, a research body based in Washington, said its analysts could not confirm the cause but said that “it remains more likely that Russian forces were responsible.”


The Russian Ministry of Defense said Sunday that it would allow the International Committee for the Red Cross to visit the site, but the organization has so far said it has not been granted access, adding that this was an obligation under the Geneva Conventions.


The site is a few miles from the front line in Donetsk, where fighting has intensified following a brief pause in July after the Russians gained control over nearly all of the neighboring Luhansk province.


The Russians control around 60% of Donetsk province, and Ukrainian officials have warned that Moscow will step up efforts to take the rest of the province as it moves ahead with plans to annex part of Ukraine.


The Ukrainians reported Sunday morning that they had thwarted several Russian moves toward the eastern city of Bakhmut overnight and inflicted heavy losses. Russian rockets and bombs hit 23 towns and villages in Donetsk overnight, striking 42 residential buildings, four fields with wheat and agricultural machinery, a market, a canteen, a production workshop, a transformer, garages and power lines, according to the National Police.


Russia is also trying to reinforce its defensive positions in the southern region of Kherson as Ukrainians have continued to target Russian supply lines, cutting off Russian forces west of the Dnieper River from the rest of the occupation army.


Late Saturday, the Ukrainians said they had hit a rail bridge spanning the Dnieper.

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