Civilians in eastern Ukraine are to be evacuated as Russian forces regroup

Ukrainian authorities have ordered civilians in the Donbass region and around Kharkiv to evacuate after Russian forces stepped up their offensive in eastern Ukraine and further evidence of atrocities by Moscow’s forces in other parts of the country emerged.

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said on Wednesday that the military authorities had asked residents of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and parts of Kharkiv province to leave “while they still have the opportunity”.

Russia has withdrawn most of its forces from around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and has begun moving them east, British intelligence has confirmed. Serhiy Haidai, head of Ukraine’s military administration in Luhansk, said Russian forces would regroup and “try to launch an offensive” within three to four days.

The city of Severodonetsk, 60 km northwest of Luhansk, came under heavy shelling on Wednesday.

As Ukrainian forces braced for another Russian attack in Donbass, more evidence emerged of the killing of civilians in areas around the capital that until recently were under Russian control. Images of atrocities in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, this week sparked global outrage and encouragement western capitals to impose further sanctions on Moscow.

Officials and residents in Borodyanka, 40 km northwest of the capital, said mass casualties from Russian bombing and artillery were likely after the town was captured earlier in the war. Most of Borodyanka’s buildings were destroyed before Moscow troops withdrew late last month.

As in Mariupol, the besieged southeastern port city, the remaining residents of Borodyanka had been trapped in their basements by the bombardment and left without electricity, heating and running water.

“Bombs fell for days. We hid in the basements for weeks,” said Halyna Ivanivna, a pensioner. “And when we came out, we found that our city was destroyed.”

Denys Monastyrsky, Ukraine’s Interior Minister, said dozens of civilians had died in Borodyanka and hundreds more were missing. However, it is still too early for an accurate estimate, he said.

Ukrainian investigators have spent the past few days gathering evidence of possible war crimes charges against Russian invaders. Monastyrsky said Ukrainian National Guardsmen found a document vault in a nearby village with details of the Russian military unit that occupied the area “so the criminals are already known by name.”

The scenes of devastation in Borodyanka — which Kyiv claims could only have been caused by Russian artillery and planes targeting residential buildings — are similar to those that unfolded in Mariupol, which was besieged from the start by Vladimir Putin’s invading forces March.

The Ukrainian government estimates that up to 5,000 people were killed in the siege in Mariupol, which had a population of about 400,000 before the war. On Wednesday, the mayor of Mariupol said Russian mobile crematoria had started burning the bodies of people killed in the city.

“The murderers cover their tracks,” said Vadym Boichenko in the city council telegram channel. “In Mariupol, Russian mobile crematoria have started their work,” he wrote.

“Following widespread international publicity about the Bucha genocide, the top leadership of the Russian Federation ordered the destruction of all evidence of crimes committed by its army in Mariupol.”

Citing eyewitnesses, Boichenko said Russia was using special brigades formed by “collaborators” inside the city to carry out the work.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned after hundreds of civilians were found in Bucha and other suburbs of Kiev after the withdrawal of Russian troops Russians planned to ‘hide their guilt’ about other alleged atrocities committed in other parts of Ukraine, including Mariupol. Civilians in eastern Ukraine are to be evacuated as Russian forces regroup

Adam Bradshaw

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