LVIV, Ukraine — Days after Ukrainian officials confirmed their forces had withdrawn from the devastated industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, the city’s exiled mayor on Monday painted a grim picture of life for those left behind- low, in an eastern pocket where Russian forces have focused their attention in recent weeks.
“There is no good news that I can share with you,” Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told a morning news conference as he described a Russian-occupied city battered and in places flattened. by artillery fire.
About 7,000 to 8,000 civilians, out of a pre-war population of 160,000, were still in the city when it fell to Russian forces on Friday, Striuk said, based on information from sources still inside. Their humanitarian situation is dire, with razed infrastructure and a shortage of drinking water and food.
About 90% of the city’s buildings were destroyed, Ukrainian officials said earlier.
The Ukrainian forces retreated west towards Lysychansk, the twin town on the opposite bank of the Siversky Donets River. But with no bridges still standing, they had to use whatever materials they could find in Sievierodonetsk to retreat, Striuk said.
He and other local officials were forced to flee elsewhere in Ukraine when the situation deteriorated. Those who remain will likely only be allowed to evacuate to Russian-held towns, as has been the case in other captured areas.
There was some symbolic importance attached to Sievierodonetsk, the mayor acknowledged, and it had become a regional administrative center in Luhansk province after pro-Russian separatists seized part of the region in 2014.
He also said Russian forces were now likely to focus their efforts on Lysychansk, the last town of Luhansk to remain in Ukrainian hands.
After abandoning their thwarted attempt to take Kyiv early in the war, Russian forces sought to claim full control of Donbass, the eastern region containing the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk where their separatist allies already held territory.
On Monday, Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, called on civilians to evacuate Lysychansk, calling the situation “very difficult”.
“Due to the real threat to life and health, we call for an immediate evacuation,” he said in a message on the social messaging app Telegram. “Run away and your loved ones. Take care of the children. Be sure that you will be supported in evacuation cities on the territory of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army general staff said in a statement on Monday that Russian forces were trying to blockade Lysychansk from the south, with artillery support, and shelling civilian and military infrastructure in the area.
Even after the Ukrainian withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk, the Russian assault in the east did not slow down. Russian troops launched 20 strikes against 12 settlements in Donetsk province from Sunday to Monday, causing civilian casualties, according to a Telegram message from the Ukrainian National Police.
Much of Ukraine, even western and northern regions that had escaped the worst of the fighting in recent weeks, remained on edge Monday after tensions were heightened by a sudden escalation in strikes in Kyiv and in other regions over the weekend.
Dozens of rockets were fired from Belarusian airspace towards Kyiv and the surrounding region, and at least one person was killed in the city.