Ukrainians flee Donetsk as battle looms for city

Ukrainians flee Donetsk as battle looms for city

Train tickets are sold out in all directions. Shipping companies are booked weeks in advance. For rent and for sale signs are plastered on stores and apartments like political posters during campaign season.

Rebels who control this area of eastern Ukraine announced this week that they would soon evacuate residents from parts of Donetsk ahead of a possible showdown with the Ukrainian military. But by Friday, many residents had already left, turning what had been a city of one million into a ghostly shell.

Streets are empty and parking lots wide open. McDonald’s restaurants are closed. Plywood is nailed up over store windows, as if in anticipation of a hurricane. Most of the city’s car dealerships have moved the merchandise to a safer place. Shortly after 5 p.m., the last Honda motorcycle, sleek and powder blue, was rolled out of Arda-Moto, a dealership downtown. …

The exodus was taking place as the Ukrainian military suffered its worst day of casualties in weeks. Nineteen soldiers and four border guards were killed when rebels fired what the Ukrainian military said were Grad rockets from a Russian-made truck-mounted artillery system into an army camp near the village of Rovenky. The attack, which began about 4:30 a.m., took place at two points near the border with Russia and lasted for an hour. A photograph of its aftermath showed a scorched field littered with twisted metal and burned military vehicles.

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