The United Nations announced, Thursday, that more than a million people fled Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion, in the fastest mass exodus of refugees this century, while Russian forces continued their bombardment of the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and besieged two strategic seaports.
The tally released by the United Nations refugee agency to the Associated Press was reached on Wednesday, which amounts to more than 2% of Ukraine’s population forced to leave the country in less than a week. A mass evacuation can be seen in Kharkiv, where residents desperate to escape shells and bombs falling at the city’s train station crowded and squeezed trains, not always knowing where to turn.
Overnight, Associated Press reporters in Kyiv heard at least one explosion before videos of what appeared to be raids on the capital began to circulate.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had destroyed a backup radio center in the Lysa Hora region, about 7 kilometers south of the government headquarters. It added that unspecified precision weapons were used, and there were no injuries or damage to residential buildings.
A statement of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces did not address the strikes, saying only that Russian forces were “regrouping” and “trying to reach the northern outskirts” of the city.
“The progress in Kyiv was not very organized and now they are somewhat stuck,” military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told the Associated Press in Moscow.
In a videotaped speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukrainians to continue the resistance. He vowed that the invaders would not have “a moment of calm” and described the Russian soldiers as “confused children who were used”.
Moscow’s isolation deepened when most of the world lined up against it at the United Nations to demand withdrawal from Ukraine. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into possible war crimes.
With the Russian economy already suffering, Felgenhauer said, there could be a “serious domestic political crisis” if Russian President Vladimir Putin does not find a way to end the war quickly.
“There is no real money to go to fight this war,” he said, adding that if Putin and the military “are not able to finish this campaign very quickly and victoriously, they are in trouble.”
As fighting continues on multiple fronts across Ukraine, the British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces are encircling Mariupol, a large city on the Sea of Azov, while laying down another vital port, Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 280,000 people. , is still unclear.
The Ukrainian military said that Russian forces “did not achieve the main objective of capturing Mariupol” in its statement, which did not mention Kherson.
Putin’s forces claimed to have taken complete control of Kherson, which would be the largest city to fall in the invasion. A senior US defense official questioned that.
“Our view is that Kherson is a highly contested city,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Zelensky’s office told the AP that it could not comment on the situation in Kherson while the fighting was still going on.
The mayor of Kherson, Igor Kulekhaev, said that Russian soldiers were in the city and arrived at the city administration building. He said he told them not to shoot civilians and to allow staff to collect bodies from the streets.
“We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to live,” he said in a statement later posted on Facebook.
The mayor said Kherson will maintain a strict curfew from 8 pm to 6 am and will restrict traffic in the city to deliver food and medicine. The city will also require infantry to march in groups of no more than two, to obey orders to stop and not to “provoke troops.”
“The Ukrainian flag that flies over us,” he wrote. In order to remain that way, these demands must be taken into account.
Mariupol mayor Vadim Boychenko said the attacks there were relentless.
“We cannot even take the wounded out of the streets, houses and apartments today because the bombing does not stop,” he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
Russia reported its military losses for the first time in the war, saying nearly 500 of its soldiers were killed and nearly 1,600 wounded. Ukraine did not disclose its military losses but said that more than 2,000 civilians were killed, a figure that could not be independently verified.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian army said in a Facebook post that Russian forces had suffered about 9,000 casualties in the fighting. She did not clarify whether this number included the dead and wounded soldiers.
It also said Russia had lost 217 tanks and about 30 each of its warplanes and helicopters. It was not possible to verify these figures from independent sources.
In an address to the nation early Thursday morning, Zelensky praised his country’s resistance.
“We are a people who were destroyed during the week of the enemy’s plans,” he said. They will not have peace here. They will not have food. They won’t have a single moment of calm here.”
He said the fighting casts a shadow on the morale of the Russian soldiers, who “go to the groceries and try to find something to eat.”
He said, “These are not superpower warriors. These are confused children who have been used.”
Meanwhile, a senior US defense official said a huge Russian column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles had apparently stopped about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Kyiv and had not made real progress in the past two days.
The official said the convoy, which appeared earlier in the week to be ready to launch an attack on the capital, was short of fuel and food.
On the far fringes of Kyiv, volunteers in their 60s set up a checkpoint to try to block the Russian advance.
“In my old age, I had to take up arms,” said Andrei Goncharuk, 68, and said that the fighters needed more weapons, but “we will kill the enemy and take their weapons.”
Across Ukraine, others crowded train stations, carrying babies wrapped in blankets and puppy bags with wheels into new lives as refugees.
In an email, UNHCR spokeswoman Jung Ah Gdenny Williams told the Associated Press that the number of refugees exceeded one million as of midnight in central Europe, based on figures compiled by national authorities.
Shabiya Mantu, another spokeswoman for the agency, said mass exodus from Ukraine “at this rate” could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis of this century”.
Russian forces bombed Kharkiv, Ukraine’s largest city after Kyiv and home to about 1.5 million people, in another round of air attacks that smashed buildings and lit the skyline with fire. Over the past day, at least 21 people were killed, said Oleg Senhopov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration.
Several Russian planes were shot down over Kharkiv, according to Oleksiy Aristovich, Zelensky’s chief adviser.
“Today’s Kharkiv is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” Aristovich said, citing what is considered one of the most heroic events in Russian history, the city’s five-month defense against the Nazis during World War II.
“The city is united and we will stand firm,” Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov told the BBC from his basement.
The Russian attacks, many of them with rockets, torpedoed the roof of the five-storey regional police building in Kharkiv, set the top floor on fire, and hit the intelligence headquarters and university building, according to officials, and videos and photos released by Ukraine’s state emergency service. . Officials said apartment buildings were also bombed, but did not give details.
Isachnikov and Litvinova reported from Moscow; Karmanau reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Mstislav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine; Sergey Grits in Odessa, Ukraine; Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake from Kyiv; Jamie Keaton in Geneva; Lynne Berry, Robert Burns, and Eric Tucker from Washington; Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; Other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the Ukraine crisis on https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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