A local official has encouraged civilians staying in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine to evacuate as conflict in the area intensifies.

According to Serhii Haidai, chairman of the Luhansk regional administration, more than 70,000 people of the Luhansk region have not yet fled to secure cities.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, around 330,000 people resided in areas of Luhansk that were not under insurgent control, Haidai stated on his Telegram channel on Saturday.

Over 32,000 people were evacuated by organised transport in 52 days, while over 200,000 departed on their own.

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“It is extremely dangerous to stay in the cities now. The shelling intensified,” Haidai said.

He also accused Russian forces of striking residential areas in the worst-hit towns of Rubizhne, Popasna, and Hirske, which he described as “destroyed beyond recognition.”

About 70% of Severodonetsk, the biggest city in the area under Russian bombardment, was devastated, although he estimated that about 20,000 of the 130,000 residents who lived there before the war remained.

Shelling in Kreminna and Lysychansk continued all hours of the day and night, according to Haidai. Saturday morning, a CNN team in Lysychansk watched the bombardment of the town’s market.

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“Destruction of the area on a ​​terrible scale. It becomes extremely difficult to help those who remain. Volunteers die,” Haidai said.

The comments by Haidai come amid concerns of a big Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, where recent satellite photographs show an influx of Russian troops and armoured vehicles.

Despite economic penalties and sharp criticism from world leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to go to nearly any length to achieve his goal of obtaining control of the region.