Kyiv: A Russian armoured column bore down on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Tuesday and forces fired rocket barrages into the centre of the country’s second largest city Kharkiv, on the sixth day of Russia’s assault on its western neighbour.
Rocket strikes on Kharkiv killed at least 10 people and wounded 35, Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said. Similar strikes killed and wounded dozens in the city the previous day.
“The rubble is being cleared and there will be even more victims and wounded,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the artillery barrages on Kharkiv amounted to state terrorism.
Nearly a week since Russian troops poured over the border, they have failed to capture a single major Ukrainian city after running into fierce resistance. The civilian deaths of the last 48 hours were an ominous sign that frustrated Russian commanders could be resorting to more devastating tactics.
Russia still has more forces to throw into the fight even though President Vladimir Putin faces worldwide condemnation and international sanctions for his actions.
Oil company Shell became the latest Western firm to announce it was pulling out of Russia. The sanctions and global financial isolation have already had a devastating impact on Russia’s economy, with the rouble in freefall and queues outside banks as Russians rush to salvage their savings.
Russia’s TASS news agency reported new peace talks would be held on Wednesday. Talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials held on Monday at the Belarus border failed to reach a breakthrough. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv was ready to talk to Moscow but would not just follow Russian ultimatums.
Zelenskiy’s government remains in control of Kyiv with soldiers and civilians ready to fight street by street.
Pictures released by US satellite company Maxar showed Russian tanks, artillery and fuel trucks stretching for 60km along a highway to the north.
“For the enemy, Kyiv is the key target,” Zelenskiy, who has remained in the capital rallying Ukrainians, said in a message overnight. “We will neutralise them all.”
Some residents in the capital of 3 million people have been sheltering in underground metro stations at night. There are long lines for fuel and some products are running out in shops, but by day the city is still holding out, with a semblance of ordinary life on the streets.
Russian troops fired artillery at Kyiv, Kharkiv and the southern port city of Mariupol overnight while the Ukrainian side shot down Russian military planes around the capital, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a briefing.
Ukrainian authorities also reported 70 soldiers killed in a rocket attack in a town between Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Zelenskiy, addressing the European Parliament by video link a day after he signed an official request to join the European Union, urged the bloc to prove that it sided with Ukraine.
“Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans and then life will win over death and light will win over darkness. Glory be to Ukraine,” he said in an emotional speech.
Risk to civilians
In Moscow, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Kremlin would press its military operation in Ukraine until it achieves its goals. It aimed to protect itself from threats created by the West and was not occupying Ukraine’s territory.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told a Geneva disarmament meeting via video link on Tuesday that Ukraine had been seeking nuclear weapons. Dozens of diplomats walked out as he began his speech.
Britain’s defence ministry said in an intelligence update that the Russian advance on Kyiv had made little progress in the past 24 hours, probably due to logistical problems. But it also warned of a shift in Russian tactics that could worsen the plight of civilians.
“The use of heavy artillery in densely populated urban areas greatly increases the risk of civilian casualties,” it said.
Nick Reynolds, a land warfare analyst at RUSI in London, said that after failing to quickly topple the Kyiv government, Russia was falling back on tactics that would involve far more intense bombardment of Ukrainian cities.
“The Russian army is an artillery army primarily, and it looks like they are shifting into war-fighting mode,” he said.
“The failure of the Russians to achieve their goals quickly has galvanised Ukraine resistance to them. Really what we are seeing now is the Russian military shifting gears.” Kharkiv, a mainly Russian-speaking city of 1.5 million people near the Russian border, has borne the brunt of attacks since Monday.
Human rights groups and Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States have accused Russia of using cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, weapons condemned by many organizations.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian losses included 5,710 personnel, 29 destroyed and damaged aircraft and 198 tanks, all figures that could not be verified.
Russia has not given a full account of its battlefield losses, but pictures from Ukraine have shown burnt-out Russian tanks and bodies on the road where they have been attacked by Ukrainian defenders.
‘I saw war’
More than 660,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries such as Poland and Romania, the UN refugee agency said.
At the Hungarian border crossing Tiszabecs, a mother cradled a baby in her arms after a four-day drive from Kyiv.
“I saw war, I saw rockets,” said her older son Ivan, 15, who looked exhausted and pale after the journey. His father had stayed behind to fight.
At the United Nations, the General Assembly met ahead of a vote to isolate Russia, deploring Moscow’s “aggression against Ukraine” and demanding its troops stop fighting and withdraw.
Russia faces near total international isolation, with the notable exception of China, over his decision to launch what he called a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and capture “neo-Nazis and drug addicts” that lead it.
Most effective so far have been sanctions on Russia’s central bank that prevent it from using its $630 billion foreign reserve war chest to prop up the rouble. The currency recouped some losses on Tuesday after hitting a record low on Monday.
Oil companies Shell, BP and Norway’s Equinor have said they would exit positions in Russia.
Russia announced a ban on Tuesday on foreign companies selling assets, to try to halt the flight.
Banks, airlines and automakers have ended partnerships and halted shipments. Mastercard and Visa are blocking Russian banks from using their payment systems, and even Hollywood studios have pulled film releases in Russia.
FIFA and the International Olympic Committee moved to bar Russian teams and athletes from competing.