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Mr Zelensky accused Moscow of carrying out “brutal” and “senseless” attacks as it intensified its offensive in the country’s east following the withdrawal of its troops from the around the country’s capital, Kyiv.
Allegations of genocide were also repeated by the Ukrainain president, accusing Vladimir Putin’s forces of attempting to kill as many Ukrainians and do as much damage as possible.
He said that while Ukrainian forces were continuing to liberate the Kharkiv region to the east of Kyiv, Russia was trying to exert even more pressure in the Donbas, which lies in the southeastern part of Ukraine.
In his nightly video address on Thursday, Mr Zelensky said: “It is hell there - and that is not an exaggeration,” adding that 12 people had been killed in the “brutal and absolutely senseless bombardment” of Severodonetsk on Thursday.
“(There are) constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. The Donbas is completely destroyed,” he continued.
“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible, to destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible.”
Alongside the dozen fatalities suffered in Severodonetsk, a further 40 were injured as a result of Russian shelling, according to a local official.
The Luhansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on social media that there were “12 dead and more than 40 injured in Severodonetsk”. He accused Russian forces of “randomly” targeting the city with heavy weaponry.
The attacks had begun early on Thursday and were continuing into the evening, he said.
Mr Gaiday wrote: “Information about the number of dead and injured is still being determined because it is impossible to examine the territory under shelling.”
He also urged people to take shelter should they decide not to leave.
Mr Gaiday said that earlier this week there had been protests in Russian-occupied parts of Luhansk by families of people forcibly mobilised.
Since turning away from Kyiv, Russia has used its massed artillery and armour to try to capture more territory in the Donbas, comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, which the Kremlin claims on behalf of separatists.
Ukraine’s general staff said in a statement on Thursday that Russia’s attacks were focused on the Donetsk region, but added that Moscow’s forces had“suffered significant losses” around Slovyansk to the north of Donetsk. Related video:
Five civilians were killed in Donetsk on Thursday, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
“The enemy is destroying all civil infrastructure even in places relatively far from the front line,” he told local television.
It follows reports from police who on Telegram today claimed that two children had been killed in the Donetsk city of Lyman in a direct hit on a residential building.
Elsewhere, regional governor Roman Starovoit said Ukrainian forces shelled a border village in Russia’s western region of Kursk at dawn on Thursday, killing at least one civilian.