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Regional governor calls for evacuation of civilians in Sloviansk as Russia advances

A damaged residential building is seen in the town of Vrubivka, in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, on February 17. (Photo by Reuters)

The local governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine has called on civilians to urgently evacuate the city of Sloviansk, as Russian forces push ahead to capture the entire Donbass.

Pavlo Kyrylenko made the appeal for a mass evacuation on Tuesday, a day after Russia announced that all of the neighboring Luhansk region had been "liberated" by Russian forces and separatist Ukrainians.  

"The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region," Kyrylenko said, adding, "Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks."

He said Sloviansk had been subjected to "massive" Russian bombardment in recent days, saying more people were leaving the city to save their lives.

"This week there hasn't been a day without shelling," Kyrylenko said, adding that the city was now within range of Russian multiple-rocket launchers.

He described Russian shelling as "very chaotic" and without "a specific target," stressing that his "main advice is: evacuate!"

Kyrylenko also said that Russia's "number one target" was currently Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, in part because of critical infrastructure in the cities, such as water filtration centers.

Earlier in the day, Kyrylenko said on Telegram that two people had been killed and seven others injured in Russian shelling of Sloviansk's market.

On Sunday, Russia said its troops and separatist forces had fully "liberated" Luhansk following a withdrawal by Ukrainian forces from the city of Lysychansk, the last major stronghold in the restive region.

The fall of Lysychansk came a week after the Ukrainian army also retreated from the twin city of Severodonetsk, as Russian forces pushed to "liberate"  the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which together form the Donbass.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, said at the time he expected the city of Sloviansk and the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk to come under heavy attack as Russia tries to take full control of the Donbass.

The eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Sloviansk are located to the southwest of Lysychansk, and are the main urban areas holding out against Russian forces in Donetsk.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking in his evening address Tuesday, said he was continuing to press for upgraded anti-missile systems as air siren alerts sounded across much of the country, including the capital.

"The Russian army does not take any breaks," he said. "Our task is to hold on."

Back in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics. Russia launched the military offensive in Ukraine on February 24. At the time, the Russian president said one of the goals of what he called a "special military operation" was to "de-Nazify" Ukraine.

The military operation has led to a deeper feud between Russia and the West, with the United States and its allies slapping unprecedented sanctions on Moscow and flooding Ukraine with advanced weapons.

Russia has said the Western flood of weapons into Ukraine and the sanctions would prolong the ongoing war.

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