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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky had accused Moscow of carrying out a “genocide” in the eastern region of Donbas, where the city of Severodonetsk is suffering an onslaught of Russian shelling.
During his daily televised address, Zelensky condemned Moscowâ€™s brutal assault on the Donbas where it has redirected its forces after having failed to capture Kyiv adding that its bombardment could leave the entire region â€śuninhabitedâ€ť.
â€śAll this, including the deportation of our people and the mass killings of civilians, is an obvious policy of genocide pursued by Russia,â€ť he said.
Pro-Moscow separatist groups have since 2014 controlled parts of Donbas, but Russia now appears set on taking the whole region.
Invading forces are closing in on several cities, including the strategically located Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which stand on the crucial route to Ukraineâ€™s eastern administrative centre in Kramatorsk.
Three people died in attacks on those two cities, Kyivâ€™s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar told journalists, saying that fighting in the east has reached â€śits maximum intensityâ€ť since Russia invaded on February 24.
â€śThe situation remains difficult, because the Russian army has thrown all its forces at taking the Lugansk region,â€ť regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said in a video on Telegram.
â€śExtremely fierce fighting is taking place on the outskirts of Severodonetsk. They are simply destroying the city, they are shelling it every day, shelling without pause.â€ť
In Kramatorsk, children roamed the rubble left by Russian attacks as the sound of artillery fire boomed.
â€śI am not scared,â€ť said Yevgen, a sombre-looking 13-year-old who moved to Kramatorsk with his mother from the ruins of his village Galyna.
â€śI got used to the shelling,â€ť he declared as he sat alone on a slab of a destroyed apartment block.
To the northwest, in Ukraineâ€™s second city of Kharkiv, shelling killed another nine people and wounded 19, officials said.
â€śToday the enemy insidiously fired on Kharkiv,â€ť regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said on social media, warning residents to evacuate to air raid shelters.
An AFP reporter in Kharkiv saw plumes of smoke rising from the stricken area, along with several people injured near a shuttered shopping centre.
The Kremlin on Thursday pointed the finger at Western countries for stopping grain-carrying vessels from leaving ports in Ukraine â€” rejecting accusations that Russia was to blame.
President Putin said in a telephone call with Italyâ€™s Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow was ready to make a â€śsignificant contributionâ€ť to averting a looming food crisis if the West lifts sanctions imposed on his country over Ukraine.