KYIV (REUTERS) - Ten high-rise buildings are on fire in the eastern Ukrainian town of Sievierodonetsk after Russian forces shelled the town on Wednesday (April 6), the governor of the eastern Luhansk region said in an online post.
He said that there was no information yet on any casualties.
Sievierodonetsk is the temporary headquarters of the regional authorities as Luhansk city has been controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014.
Authorities in Luhansk had earlier urged civilians to evacuate “while it is safe”, warning that Russian bombardments could cut off escape routes.
Ukraine has said Russian troops that invaded on Feb 24 are regrouping and preparing for a new offensive in the Donbass area, which includes Luhansk.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in online comments that Ukraine aimed to open 11 humanitarian corridors on Wednesday to evacuate civilians.
“We will take everyone out if the Russians allow us to get to the meeting places (for evacuation). Because, as you can see, they don’t always observe ceasefires,” the Luhansk region governor, Serhiy Gaidai, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
"I appeal to every resident of the Luhansk region – evacuate while it is safe ... While there are buses and trains – take this opportunity." Gaidai said rail connections in the Donetsk region of Donbass had been damaged this week and took several hours to repair.
“This is another alarm bell,” he said.
Gaidai said separately in a video address that Russian forces had not managed to break through Ukrainian defences in his region but are destroying “everything in their path” and would “stop at nothing”.
Russia has said it does not target civilians in its “special military operation” aimed at demilitarising and “denazifying” Ukraine. The Kremlin’s position is rejected by Ukraine and the West as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
Elsewhere, a Red Cross convoy arrived in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday after failing to reach the besieged port city of Mariupol, an AFP journalist on the scene reported.
Accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), seven buses and at least 40 private cars arrived in the city, the journalist said.
The ICRC said in a social media post on Wednesday that more than 500 evacuees in total were escorted to Zaporizhzhia in the operation, including people who had been in Mariupol.
On Monday, the Red Cross said that the team it had dispatched several days earlier to help evacuate civilians from Mariupol was being held by police in Russian-controlled territory.
The organisation said on Twitter on Wednesday that it had attempted for five days to reach the city, which has been under sustained Russia bombardment since Moscow invaded in late February.
“But security conditions made it impossible,” it said.
“Thousands are still trapped in the city. They urgently need a safe passage out, and aid to come in,” it added.
Russian forces late last month struck a Red Cross facility in the city, home to half a million people before the war, where officials have warned of a humanitarian disaster.
Repeated attempts to evacuate residents have collapsed, though some have made the dangerous dash to freedom from the city alone. Both the Russian and Ukrainian sides blame each other for the failed evacuations.
The city’s mayor earlier this week estimated that some 90 per cent of the city had been completely destroyed as a result of the war.
Mariupol’s capture could enable Russia to create a land bridge between two separatist, self-proclaimed people’s republics in Donbass and the Crimea region which Russia seized and annexed in 2014.