“The sooner it is done, the more people leave Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday.
Zelensky urged Ukrainians to plead with family members who remain in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, which together make up the Donbas region, to leave “especially if they are families with children.”
Russian forces shifted their focus to the Donbas region after suffering major setbacks while invading the whole of Ukraine earlier this year and it has been where the bulk of the fighting has occurred since.
Donbas has been largely held by pro-Russian separatists since Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics before the start of the invasion Feb. 24. Putin is expected to try to annex the region into Russia in coming months.
“There is a government decision on mandatory evacuation from Donetsk region, everything is being organized. Full support, full assistance — both logistical and payments. We only need a decision from the people themselves, who have not yet made it for themselves. Go, we will help,” Zelensky said.
“We are not Russia. That is why every life is important for us. And we will use all available opportunities to save as many lives as possible and to limit Russian terror as much as possible.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a recent civilian casualty update that at least 5,237 civilians have been confirmed to have been killed since Russia invaded in February. Of those, 348 are reported to be children.
More than 560 children are reported to have been injured by the fighting, the agency said.
Data from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees shows that more than 6,162,309 individual refugees have fled Ukraine since February making nearly 10 million border crossings from Ukraine.