After Russians retreat from Kyiv area, Ukraine’s east girds for major assault

Kyiv mayor tells residents who fled not to return to capital yet; Zelensky calls on West to prevent ‘genocide’; Germany expels Russian diplomats, sparking Moscow’s ire

Ukrainian troops walk past a body, following fighting against Russian forces and Russia-backed separatists near the village of Zolote, Lugansk region, March 6, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)
Ukrainian troops walk past a body, following fighting against Russian forces and Russia-backed separatists near the village of Zolote, Lugansk region, March 6, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)

Russian troops are preparing for a big attack in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine, the local governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram on Monday, urging a mass evacuation.

The warning came as Germany moved to expel a number of Russian diplomats, as Moscow continued to find itself further isolated due to its invasion of the sovereign country of Ukraine.

“We see that equipment is coming from different directions, they are bringing manpower, they are bringing fuel,” Lugansk governor Gaiday said in a video statement.

“We understand that they are preparing for a full-scale big breakthrough,” he added.

Gaiday urged residents to leave the region as soon as possible.

“Please don’t wait for your homes to be bombed,” he said in a separate video.

A serviceman of the Ukrainian Military Forces in the Lugansk region, on March 11, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)

“Do not hesitate,” he added, specifying that 1,000 people had been evacuated on Monday.

A senior Pentagon official said Russia had removed about two-thirds of the troops it had around Kyiv — who were mostly sent back to Belarus with plans to redeploy elsewhere in Ukraine.

In Kyiv as well, Mayor Vitali Klitschko called on the residents who fled the conflict not to return for “at least another week.”

“First, there is a round-the-clock curfew in several districts of the Kyiv region. Also, in the cities near the capital, where the fighting continued, a large number of explosive devices were found — which can pose a great threat,” he said.

In the southern town of Mykolaiv, 10 civilians were killed and 46 wounded as a result of Russian bombardment, the town’s mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said in a video statement Monday.

A first strike by the Russian army Monday morning left “one dead and five wounded, including two seriously,” before another in which “nine people were killed and 41 others wounded,” he said, adding the number of casualties could still rise.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky examines the site of a recent battle in Bucha close to Kyiv, Ukraine, April 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday called on the West to unite to prevent a “genocide” by Russia in Europe, saying the continent’s security depended on the outcome of Moscow’s aggression against his country.

“Together we can stop those who want genocide in Europe,” Zelensky said in a speech to the Romanian parliament, after showing images of bodies in civilian clothes along the streets of Bucha.

The Ukrainian leader visited the town recently retaken by Ukrainian troops, where he denounced the Russian army’s actions as “war crimes” that would be “recognized as genocide.”

The West has called for an investigation into “war crimes” blamed on Russian soldiers in the region, which Moscow denies.

“Ukraine is not the last target of Russian aggression,” he said.

Moscow “wants to occupy Odessa and then there is only one step to Moldova,” he told Romanian lawmakers, calling on the country to “defend its independence and sovereignty.”

Signs reading ‘Embassy of the Russian Federation’ displayed at the entrance of the Russian embassy in Berlin, Germany, March 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber/File)

“It is in Ukraine that the fate of central Europe and the Black Sea region is decided, which is why defending the freedom of Ukraine and Ukrainians amounts to protecting the security of Europe as a whole,” Zelensky added.

He also called for new sanctions against Russia so that it is “deprived of all resources.”

“Close your ports to Russian ships, stop the transit of goods to and from Russia, no longer import resources from Russia,” he said.

Moscow said Monday that a decision by Germany to expel a number of Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine was “unfriendly” and would worsen ties.

“The unfounded reduction in the number of diplomatic staff at Russian missions in Germany will narrow the space for maintaining dialogue between our countries, which will lead to a further deterioration in Russian-German relations,” the Russian embassy in Berlin said in a statement posted on Telegram.

Germany announced the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats amid European outrage over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, which has intensified after the recent discovery of corpses in the city of Bucha.

Journalists stand by a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 4, 2022. Russia is facing a fresh wave of condemnation after evidence emerged of what appeared to be deliberate killings of civilians in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Kremlin has “categorically” rejected accusations linked to the discovery of civilians killed in Bucha, with Russia alleging a “provocation” by Kyiv aimed at discrediting Moscow.

“We expressed our categorical rejection of the unilateral accusations by Berlin, which rushed to side with Kiev, without even waiting for an independent inquiry into the events in Bucha,” the Russian embassy said.

The Russian embassy confirmed that 40 members of Russian diplomatic missions in Germany had been told to leave the territory, as AFP had learned.

Berlin did not give a figure, saying only that there were a “large number” of diplomats.

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