“The [Russians] appointed commander. But the city is so destroyed that it will be difficult for people to cope with this situation,” said the head of the military administration, Oleksandr Striuk.
Regional military officials said on Friday that the last troops in Severodonetsk had been ordered to leave because it was impossible to continue defending their positions. This effectively ceded the city to Russia and placed the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk almost entirely under Russian control.
Severodonetsk was one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in the region. Serhiy Hayday, a senior military commander in eastern Ukraine, said the army made the decision to evacuate “because the death toll in unfortified territories 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 territory. We will facilitate the evacuation, but so far there is no such opportunity” , said Striuk.
Several hundred civilians had taken refuge in the Azot chemical plant and had rejected requests to leave. Earlier Saturday, Hayday said Russian forces were still shelling the factory.
“The civilians leave the territory of the Azot plant, they [the Russians] shoot propaganda videos with them. People spent almost 3 months in basements, shelters. Right now they need physical and psychological help,” Striuk added.
A flurry of missile strikes
Ukraine has been hit by an avalanche of missile strikes, with official accounts estimating that Russia has fired more than 40 missiles at targets in Ukraine in the past 24 hours.
North of Sloviansk, the Ukrainian military reported continued fighting in areas that have been on the front line for months. The Russians used artillery and airstrikes against Ukrainian positions about 20 kilometers north of the city.
Explosions were also reported by the Zhytomyr Regional Military Administration in central Ukraine, killing one soldier and injuring another, although the city’s mayor said Zhytomyr itself had ” not been touched”. The head of the military administration said that “a dozen missiles” were shot down by Ukrainian defenders. Regional authorities in Lviv, western Ukraine, also reported missile fire against military installations.
The offensive continues in eastern Ukraine
Ukraine’s army general staff said on Saturday that Russian efforts to cut off the main road from Bakhmut to Lysychansk were continuing. He said Ukrainian soldiers had halted the advance of Russian infantry near Volodymyrivka, 5 kilometers from the highway. But the general staff acknowledged that the Russians had advanced a kilometer as they approached Bakhmut.
The Russian objective appears to be to cut Ukrainian forces into a pocket of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. If they captured Bakhmut, they could prevent most of the Ukrainian defenders’ resupply efforts in Lysychansk and surrounding districts.
Ukraine claims attacks launched from Belarusian airspace
The Directorate stated that “the missile strikes from the territory of Belarus are a large-scale provocation of the Russian Federation in order to involve Belarus further in the war against Ukraine”.
He said: “Russian bombers struck directly from the territory of Belarus. Six Tu-22M3 aircraft were involved, which launched 12 Kh-22 cruise missiles.” The Directorate said the missiles were launched from airspace over the Petrikov district in southern Belarus.
“After launching the missiles, they returned to Shaikovka airfield in Russia. The strike was launched on Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions.”
“This is the first case of an airstrike on Ukraine directly from the territory of Belarus,” the Directorate said. CNN cannot confirm this claim.
The Ukrainian Air Force command echoed the Defense Ministry’s comments, saying on its Facebook page that “more than fifty missiles of different types were fired: air, sea and land”.
There has been no word from the Belarusian government on the alleged use of its airspace for the latest strikes against Ukraine.
Ukraine denies Russian allegation of attack on Polish ‘mercenaries’
A Russian missile hit the town of Kostiantynivka in Donetsk on Saturday, according to local authorities and the Russian Defense Ministry.
But the two parties’ versions of what was being targeted differ. Oleksii Roslov, head of the Kostiantynivka Military Civil Administration, said a “critical infrastructure object was hit”, affecting the gas supply and killing one person.
The Russian Defense Ministry released a short video of the missile attack, saying it targeted Polish mercenaries based at the Megatex factory in Kostiantynivka and killed up to 80 of them, as well as spearheads – rockets.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov said: “The enemy continues to suffer heavy losses. Up to 80 Polish mercenaries, 20 armored fighting vehicles and eight launcher systems multiple Grad rockets were destroyed as a result of strikes with high-precision weapons of the Russian Aerospace Forces on the buildings of the zinc plant of Megatex.”
Roslov denied the claim. “There was no army there. Many people were there after the strike, everyone can confirm that there was no army,” Roslov told CNN.
About 45,000 people remain in the town, which is some distance from the front lines.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Sebastian Shukla and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.