Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said 80% of his region’s territory is under Russian control. If Ukraine doesn’t resist, the official said, “Russia is certainly not going to stop here and will push further on.”
Speaking to CNN’s Becky Anderson from an undisclosed location, Haidai concurred with the Russian characterization that the second phase of the war has begun, but cautioned that it is not yet a “complete and total invasion.”
“Certainly they (Russians) are spreading out a lot,” he said. “We’ve established our defenses in a lot of towns. They’re trying to encircle our troops, a lot of nasty business is going on there…but they haven’t had any successes so far. We are doing well to destroy their equipment.”
Haidai added: “We have a very serious situation here. The whole of Luhansk territory is being shelled. There is no safe town… We understand that the Russian government is going to push ahead and going to destroy everything in its path. So what we are doing is trying to evacuate everyone as much as possible.”
The official has been appealing to remaining civilians to leave the eastern region of Ukraine as fighting intensifies. He said out of the 350,000 people that lived in the Ukrainian territory of Luhansk before the war, around 70,000 remain today.
“Most people have left on their own transport or using our national buses or volunteers. We have no idea when the humanitarian corridors will be established, but we are evacuating every day. The point is that Russia always violates the agreements. Shelling, despite the quiet hours, is still going ahead,” he added.
Haidai went on to say that shelling has been happening “without any respite” in the area, which has destroyed the electricity grid and all water supplies. For the 70,000 people that remain, most of them are living in bunkers, cellars and shelters.
“This is the second month we’ve had all these people living underground essentially,” he said. “We are trying to supply them with some kind of aid, trying to get sanitation and water to them and make sure that they don’t starve to death…there’s hardly any stable supply of gas so the situation is pretty desperate,” he added.
Asked to compare the situation in Luhansk to the besieged city of Mariupol — which has been facing a similar fate for weeks — Haidai said, “For us, at least that we can get aid through and we can actually still evacuate people. But bombing goes ahead every day until nightfall and so in that respect it’s very similar to Mariupol.”
The military governor appealed to the West to provide more military equipment to help them in defending Ukraine’s skies and land.
“We need aviation, air defense equipment, lots of UAVs from the United States and long range, heavy precision-fire artillery,” he said. “I think that recent events have shown that the much lauded Russian army is really not up to scratch, not what we thought, so I think it is possible for Ukraine’s armed forces, provided it gets this kind of equipment, to actually beat them.”
When asked how he sees the war ending, Haidai told CNN it’s likely there may be a cessation of hostilities through a political agreement, but added that he felt it was hard to trust the Russians.
“They’re lying all the time,” he said. “Everybody knows about that. Nobody believes them. Everybody knows that an agreement with Russia is not worth the paper that it’s printed on. Russia is the enemy of the entire world today not just Ukraine. Their ambitions spread much further than Ukraine.”