Officials say Severodonetsk is being hammered by Russian airstrikes (Picture: Getty/Metro graphics)

Russian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, pounding key cities and aiming ‘to destroy everything there’, president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned.

After taking control of Mariupol Russian forces have turned their attention to Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been attempting to defend the industrial city, in the face of a ‘full-scale offensive in all directions’ from Vladamir Putin’s forces.

Around 10,000 residents are understood to have taken shelter in basements as the city was hit by missiles on Tuesday night.

Sergiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern region of Lugansk, said Severodonetsk was being hammered by airstrikes, rockets, artillery and mortars in a bid by Russia to solidify control over the province and move further into Ukraine.

‘The situation is very difficult and unfortunately, it is only getting worse,’ Mr Gaidai said in a video on Telegram.

‘The Russian army has decided to completely destroy Severodonetsk. They are simply erasing Severodonetsk from the face of the earth.’

A man holds his 7-month old girl in a bunker at a factory in Severodonetsk (Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP)

The Ukrainian military is desperately trying to defend Severodonetsk (Picture: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)

The governor said nearby Rubizhne had already ‘shared the fate of Mariupol’ and been almost completely destroyed.

Thousands of Russian troops were sent to capture Lugansk region, Mr Gaidai said, adding that the bombardment of Severodonetsk was so intense it was too late for its 15,000 civilians to leave.

Thousands of people trapped in the city have taken shelter in basements away from the relentless missile strikes.

Understood to be among those sent to capture Severodonetsk are Wagner mercenaries. A private militia run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, one Putin’s closest allies.

People have taken shelter from Russian shelling in the basements of buildings in Severodonetsk (Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba/ AFP)

There are fears Russia is settling in for a long battle for the Donbas region (Picture: Fadel Senna/ AFP)

Amid the fighting in Severodonetsk, Mr Zelensky has renewed calls for support in the form of weapons from the West.

He called the situation in Donbas ‘extremely difficult’.

‘All the strength of the Russian army which they still have was thrown there for the offensive,’ Mr Zelensky said.

‘The occupiers want to destroy everything there.’

The president added that he believed supplying Ukraine with rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, anti-ship missiles and other weapons was ‘the best investment’ in preventing future Russian aggression.

‘The longer this war lasts, the greater will be the price of protecting freedom, not only in Ukraine, but also in the whole free world,’ he added.

Mr Zelenesky said Ukraine was grateful for US support but urged Europe to step up, specifically naming neighbouring Hungary which is blocking an EU-wide embargo on Russian oil.

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