Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, forcing Ukrainians to bury civilians killed in mass graves, as Tass news agency reported some 8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war in the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.
After failing to seize Ukraine’s capital Kyiv or its second city Kharkiv in its three-month-old war, Russia is trying to take full control of the Donbas, comprised of two eastern provinces Russia 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 main 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.
It said 10 Russian attacks were repelled, four tanks and four drones destroyed, and 62 “enemy soldiers” killed.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office on Thursday said 11 high-rise buildings were destroyed in Sievierodonetsk and eight in Lysychansk.
Zelenskiy has said Russian troops heavily outnumber Ukrainian forces in some parts of the east and Kyiv has been trying unsuccessfully to arrange a prisoner swap with Moscow.
Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.
“There are a lot of prisoners,” Miroshnik said. “Now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000. That’s a lot, and literally hundreds are being added every day.”
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the battlefield reports.
As Russia 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.