- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calls attack on Kharkiv’s main square “frank, undisguised terror,” blaming a Russian missile and calling it a war crime.
- Sprawling convoy of Russian tanks and vehicles moving toward Kyiv.
- More than 660,000 people have fled Ukraine — with still more trying to cross into neighbouring nations after Russian invasion.
- What questions do you have about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Russian shelling pounded civilian targets in Ukraine’s second-largest city again Tuesday and a convoy of tanks and other vehicles threatened the capital — tactics Ukraine’s embattled president said were designed to force him into concessions.
With the Kremlin increasingly isolated by tough economic sanctions that have tanked the ruble currency, Russian troops advanced on Ukraine’s two biggest cities. In the strategic eastern city of Kharkiv, videos posted online showed explosions hitting the region’s Soviet-era administrative building and residential areas. A maternity ward relocated to a shelter amid shelling.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack on Kharkiv’s main square “frank, undisguised terror,” blaming a Russian missile and calling it a war crime. “Nobody will forgive. Nobody will forget…. This is state terrorism of the Russian Federation.”
As the fighting reached beyond military targets on Day 6 of a Russian invasion that has shaken the 21st century world order, reports emerged that Moscow has used cluster bombs on three populated areas. If confirmed, that would mean the war has reached a worrying new level.
The Kremlin denied Tuesday that it has used such munitions and insisted again that its forces only have struck military targets — despite evidence documented by AP reporters of shelling of homes, schools and hospitals.
The Russian defence minister vowed Tuesday to press the offensive until it achieves its goals, after a first round of talks between Ukraine and Russia yielded no stop in the fighting. Both sides agreed to another meeting in coming days.
“It is a nightmare’
“It is a nightmare, and it seizes you from the inside very strongly. This cannot be explained with words,” said Kharkiv resident Ekaterina Babenko, taking shelter in a basement with neighbours for a fifth straight day. “We have small children, elderly people and, frankly speaking, it is very frightening.”
A Ukrainian military official said Belarusian troops joined the war Tuesday in the Chernihiv region, without providing details. But Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he had no plans to join the fight.
With Western powers sending weapons to Ukraine and driving a global squeeze of Russia’s economy, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s options diminished as he seeks to redraw the global map — and pull Ukraine’s western-leaning democracy back into Moscow’s orbit.
The Kremlin has twice in as many days raised the spectre of nuclear war and put on high alert an arsenal that includes intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers. Stepping up his rhetoric, Putin denounced the United States and its allies as an “empire of lies.”
Meanwhile, an embattled Ukraine moved to solidify its ties to the West by applying to join the European Union — a largely symbolic move for now, but one that won’t sit well with Putin, who has long accused the United States of trying to pull Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit.
A top Putin aide and head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said that during the first talks held between the sides since the invasion, the envoys “found certain points on which common positions could be foreseen.” He said they agreed to continue the discussions in the days ahead.
The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas despite abundant evidence of shelling of homes, schools and hospitals.
The UN human rights chief said at least 102 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded — warning that figure is probably a vast undercount — and Ukraine’s president said at least 16 children were among the dead.
What’s happening on the ground
As the talks along the Belarusian border wrapped up, several blasts could be heard in Kyiv, and Russian troops advanced on the city of nearly three million. The convoy of armoured vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles was 25 kilometres from the centre of the city, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.
People in Kyiv lined up for groceries after the end of a weekend curfew, standing beneath a building with a gaping hole blown in its side. Kyiv remained “a key goal” for the Russians, Zelensky said, noting that it was hit by three missile strikes on Monday and that hundreds of saboteurs were roaming the city.
“They want to break our nationhood, that’s why the capital is constantly under threat,” Zelensky said.
Messages aimed at the advancing Russian soldiers popped up on billboards, bus stops and electronic traffic signs across the capital. Some used profanity to encourage Russians to leave. Others appealed to their humanity.
“Russian soldier — Stop! Remember your family. Go home with a clean conscience,” one read.
Shelling hits residential areas in Kharkiv
Ukrainian authorities say the centre of the country’s second-largest city has been hit by renewed Russian shelling.
Oleh Sinehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said the administration building in the centre of Kharkiv came under Russian shelling Tuesday along with residential buildings. Sinehubov didn’t give any specific numbers of casualties from the latest shelling.
Previously, Sinehubov said at least 11 people were killed and scores of others were wounded in the shelling in Kharkiv on Monday. He said Ukrainian troops are fending off Russian attempts to advance on the city of roughly 1.4 million people.
In the seaside resort town of Berdyansk, dozens of protesters chanted angrily in the main square against Russian occupiers, yelling at them to go home and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They described the soldiers as exhausted young conscripts.
“Frightened kids, frightened looks. They want to eat,” Konstantin Maloletka, who runs a small shop, said by telephone. He said the soldiers went into a supermarket and grabbed canned meat, vodka and cigarettes.
“They ate right in the store,” he said. “It looked like they haven’t been fed in recent days.”
The strategic port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, is “hanging on,” said Zelensky adviser Oleksiy Arestovich.
In a later Facebook post, he said many Russian soldiers and some local residents also were killed during the fighting on Sunday. The report could not immediately be confirmed. Despite its superior military strength, Russia still lacked control of Ukrainian airspace. This may help explain how Ukraine has so far prevented a rout.
What’s happening on the borders?
The UN refugee agency says that about 660,000 people have fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries since the Russian invasion began. The number, given on Tuesday, was up from a count of more than 500,000 a day earlier.
UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said in Geneva that “at this rate, the situation looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.”
Earlier, when the overall figure still stood at around half a million, she said the count included 281,000 in Poland, more than 84,500 in Hungary, about 36,400 in Moldova, more than 32,500 in Romania and about 30,000 in Slovakia. The rest were scattered in other countries, she said.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET
For many, Russia’s announcement of a nuclear high alert stirred fears that the West could be drawn into direct conflict with Russia. But a senior U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States had yet to see any appreciable change in Russia’s nuclear posture.
As far-reaching Western sanctions on Russian banks and other institutions took hold, the ruble plummeted, and Russia’s Central Bank scrambled to shore it up, as did Putin, signing a decree restricting foreign currency.
But that did little to calm Russian fears. In Moscow, people lined up to withdraw cash as the sanctions threatened to drive up prices and reduce the standard of living for millions of ordinary Russians.
In yet another blow to Russia’s economy, oil giant Shell said it was pulling out of the country because of the invasion. It announced it will withdraw from its joint ventures with state-owned gas company Gazprom and other entities and end its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project between Russia and Europe.
The economic sanctions, ordered by the U.S. and other allies, were just one contributor to Russia’s growing status as a pariah country.
Russian airliners are banned from European airspace, Russian media is restricted in some countries, and some high-tech products can no longer be exported to the country. On Monday, in a major blow to a soccer-mad nation, Russian teams were suspended from all international soccer.
Facing disquiet at home and danger abroad, U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.