The city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine has not yet been blocked off by Russian troops, but they control about 80% of the area and have destroyed all three bridges leading out of it, an official said.
“There is still an opportunity for the evacuation of the wounded, communication with the Ukrainian military and local residents,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai told the Associated Press.
He acknowledged that Ukrainian forces have been pushed out to the industrial outskirts of the city because of “the scorched earth method and heavy artillery the Russians are using”.
About 12,000 people remain in Sievierodonetsk, a city with a pre-war population of 100,000. More than 500 civilians are sheltering in the Azot chemical plant, which is being relentlessly pounded by the Russians, according to Mr Haidai.
A total of 70 civilians have been evacuated from the Luhansk region over the past 24 fours, the governor said.
Two people were killed and another wounded in the Luhansk region, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Russian Colonel-General Mkhail Mizintsev said a humanitarian corridor will be opened on Wednesday to evacuate civilians from the besieged Azot plant, and take them to the town of Svatovo, 35 miles to the north in territory under the control of Russian and separatist forces.
He said the plan was made after Ukraine called for an evacuation corridor leading to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Col-Gen Mizintsev, head of the National Defence Management Centre, is accused by Ukraine of human rights violations while commanding troops during the long siege of Mariupol, Ukraine’s key port on the Sea of Azov that has been taken over by the Russians.
Russian forces in the last few weeks have pressed hard to capture Ukraine’s eastern industrial Donbas area, which borders Russia and is made up of the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
“The situation is difficult,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnky said in a news conference with Danish media. “Our task is to fight back.”
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the aid organisations supplying food to people in the Donbas, said fighting in the past few weeks has made regular food distributions impossible.
Now, he said, the remaining civilians in the city “are almost entirely cut off from aid supplies after the destruction of the last bridge”.
Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday that they had received the bodies of 64 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, in another body swap with Russia.
The statement by the Ministry for Reintegration of Occupied Territories said the exchange took place in the Zaporizhzhia region, but did not clarify how many bodies were returned to Russia.
It was one of several body swaps the warring sides have conducted. Earlier this month Moscow and Kyiv exchanged 160 bodies each.
Meanwhile, Ukraine said its air defence system shot down two Russian cruise missiles targeting the Odesa region.
Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration, thanked the country’s air defence forces for striking down “two enemy” cruise missiles.
There was no independent confirmation and it was not clear if any missiles hit their targets.
Reports of overnight shelling came from other Ukrainian regions as well, with five people were wounded in the Kharkiv region.