“There are hundreds of thousands of people, tens of thousands of children,” Zelenskyy said in a video posted on his Telegram channel. “Many refuse to leave… But you really have to do it,” he added.
“The more people who leave the Donetsk region now, the less the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said.
Three people have died in attacks over the past day in the Donetsk region, which is partly under the control of Russian separatist forces, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on his Telegram channel.
Pledging full financial and logistical support from the government to evacuate the area, Zelenskyy said, “We only need a decision from the people themselves, who haven’t made it for themselves yet. Go, we’ll help you.
His comments came as battles continued to rage around the city of Donetsk as Russia tried to take the whole Donbass region, consisting of Donetsk and the Lugansk of which he took full control at the beginning of the month.
The Kremlin has concentrated the majority of its forces in the region since its failure to take control of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, at the start of the war.
Less than 24 hours after his speech, an explosive device carried by a drone exploded at the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Sunday, injuring six people, Russian Black Sea Fleet news service said in a statement.
The explosion at the headquarters of the city of Sevastopol on Crimean Peninsula which Russia annexed to Ukraine in 2014 caused the cancellation of Russian Navy Day celebrations.
Fighting also continued elsewhere in Ukraine. In the southern city of MykolaivMayor Oleksandr Senkevych said on his Telegram channel that two people were killed and three injured in what he called “probably the heaviest ‘Russian bombardment’ ever”.
Oleksiy Opanasovych Vadaturskyi, the chief executive of Ukraine’s largest grain trading company Nibulon, and his wife Raisa Mykhailivna Vadaturska were killed, officials later confirmed.
“Oleksiy Opanasovych has done a lot for the Mykolaiv region, a lot for Ukraine. His contribution to the development of the agricultural industry and shipbuilding, to the development of the region, is invaluable,” the regional government said on its Telegram channel.
Elsewhere in the south, Dnipropetrovsk regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said on his Telegram channel that at least 50 rockets hit residential areas in the town of Nikopol early on Sunday.
The attacks came as both sides continued to trade blame for a attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war Friday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that it had invited the The United Nations and the Red Cross to investigate the prison site near Olenivka in Donetsk “in the interest of conducting an objective investigation”.
The ministry had released a list of 50 Ukrainian POWs killed and 73 injured in what it said was a Ukrainian military attack with a US-made device. High mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS).
Kyiv vehemently denied such a strike and said Moscow was to blame, accusing the Kremlin of deliberately bombing the prison to falsely accuse Ukraine of war crimes and cover up its own.
NBC News has not been able to independently verify either party’s claims.
Meanwhile, the UN had said it was ready to send experts to investigate if it got the consent of both sides. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was seeking access and had offered to help evacuate the injured.
Reuters, Anna Tsybko and Associated Press contributed.