“The occupiers are suffering significant losses, as they themselves admit,” said Gaidai, citing testimonies from Russian POWs and residents who had spoken to Russian soldiers in the fallen cities of Sievieroronetsk and Lysychansk.
Reuters could not independently verify his comments.
Gaidai earlier said Russian forces were engaged in widespread shelling as they launched their assault on Donetsk.
Russia says it wants to wrest control of the entire Donbas from Ukraine on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in two self-proclaimed people’s republics.
On Tuesday, they struck a market and a residential area in Sloviansk, killing at least two people and injuring seven, local officials said.
A Reuters reporter at the scene saw yellow smoke billowing from an auto supplies shop, and flames engulfing rows of market stalls as firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Sloviansk and nearby Kramatorsk had suffered heavy shelling overnight. “There is no safe place without shelling in the Donetsk region.”
Lysychansk, once a city of a 100,000 people, lies in ruins. Buildings are scorched and holed by shells, cars up-ended and streets strewn with rubble, testament to the ferocity of the battle it endured.
Tatiana Glushenko, a 45-year-old Lysychansk resident, told Reuters there were people still hiding in basements and bomb shelters, including children and elderly.
Glushenko said she didn’t think she would be safe in other parts of Ukraine, so remained in Lysychansk with her family.
“All of Ukraine is being shelled: western Ukraine, central Ukraine, Dnipro, Kyiv, everywhere. So we decided not to risk our lives and stay here, at home at least,” she added.
Glushenko now hopes peace will return to her ruined city, but for elderly residents Sergei and Evgenia the prospect of rebuilding from the ruins is daunting.
“We have to get out of here somehow,” said Sergei, sitting in a dark shelter with a lone flashlight.
“The roof is broken. You have to fix it, but how and how do you pay for it?…Winter is coming soon too,” said Evgenia.
Luhansk governor Gaidai said Russian forces were pillaging Lysychansk and its twin city Sievierodonetsk.
“They are hunting down pro-Ukraine residents. They are making deals with collaborators, they are identifying apartments where servicemen lived, breaking in and taking clothing,” he said.
“Everything is being destroyed. Entire book collections in Ukrainian. This is deja vu – 1939 with Nazi Germany.”
Reuters could not immediately verify this report.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a phone call he believed Ukraine’s military could retake territory recently captured by Russia.
Johnson updated Zelenskiy on the latest deliveries of British military equipment, including 10 self-propelled artillery systems and loitering munitions, which would be arriving in the coming days and weeks, a spokesperson said.
Russia’s invasion has killed thousands, displaced millions and flattened cities, particularly in Russian-speaking areas in the east and south-east of Ukraine. It has also raised global energy and food prices and raised fears of famine in poorer countries as Ukraine and Russia are both major grain producers.
Ukraine has asked Turkey to help probe three Russian-flagged ships as part of Kyiv’s efforts to investigate what it says is the theft of grain from Russian-occupied territory, according to official documents. Russia denies stealing Ukrainian grain.