Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s military said, threatening to shut off the last main escape route for civilians trapped in the path of their invasion, now in its fourth month.
After failing to seize Ukraine’s capital Kyiv or its second city Kharkiv, Russia is trying to take full control of the Donbas, comprised of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk.
Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war aim.
“The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school. As a result of this shelling five civilians died and 12 were wounded,” the Joint Task Force of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.
The statement said 10 enemy attacks were repelled, four tanks and four drones destroyed, and 62 “enemy soldiers” were killed.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian troops “heavily outnumber us” in some parts of the east.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the battlefield reports.
As Moscow seeks to solidify its grip on the territory it has seized, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of newly captured districts to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.
The Russian parliament scrapped the upper age limit for contractual service in the military on Wednesday, highlighting the need to replace lost troops.
In a late night video address, Zelenskiy, commenting on the new Russian enlistment rules, said: “(They) no longer have enough young men, but they still have the will to fight. It will still take time to crush this will.”
Zelenskiy said this week the conflict could only be ended with direct talks between him and Putin.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.