The number of refugees exceeds one million; Russians besiege Ukrainian ports
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The number of people sent fleeing Ukraine by Russia’s invasion topped 1 million on Wednesday, the fastest refugee exodus this century, the United Nations said, as Russian forces continued their bombardment of the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and laid siege to two strategic seaports.
The UN refugee agency’s tally, reported to The Associated Press, is more than 2% of the Ukrainian population expelled from the country in less than a week. The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, where residents desperate to flee shells and bombs swarmed the city’s railway station and tried to squeeze onto trains, not always knowing where they were heading.
In a videotaped address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukrainians to maintain resistance. He swore the invaders would have “not a single quiet moment” and described the Russian soldiers as “confused children who have been used”.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s isolation deepened as most of the world aligned against it at the United Nations to demand that it withdraw from Ukraine. And the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into possible war crimes.
As fighting unfolds on multiple fronts across the country, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Mariupol, a major city on the Sea of Azov, was surrounded by Russian forces, while the status of another Vital port Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 280,000, remained unclear.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces claimed to have taken full control of Kherson, making it the largest city ever to fall in the invasion. But a senior US defense official disputed that.
“Our view is that Kherson is a very contested city,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Zelenskyy’s office told The Associated Press it could not comment on the situation in Kherson while fighting continued.
But Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaev said Russian soldiers were in the city and went to the city’s administrative building. He said he had asked them not to shoot civilians and to allow teams to pick up bodies from the streets.
“I just asked them not to shoot people,” he said in a statement. “We have no Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE.”
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the attacks there had been relentless.
“We can’t even get the wounded out of the streets, houses and apartments today, since the shelling doesn’t stop,” he said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
Russia reported its military casualties for the first time since the invasion began last week, saying nearly 500 of its soldiers were killed and nearly 1,600 injured. Ukraine did not reveal its own military casualties, but said more than 2,000 civilians had died, a claim that could not be independently verified.
In a video address to the nation on Thursday morning, Zelenskyy hailed his country’s resilience.
“We are a people who in one week destroyed the enemy’s plans,” he said. “They won’t have peace here. They won’t have food. They won’t have a single quiet moment here.
He said the fighting was hurting the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go to grocery stores and try to find something to eat”.
“They are not superpower warriors,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”
Meanwhile, the top US defense official said a huge column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles appeared to be stuck about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Kiev and had made no real progress in the past few months. last two days.
The convoy, which earlier in the week looked set to launch an assault on the capital, was plagued by fuel and food shortages and faced fierce Ukrainian resistance, the official said.
On the outskirts of Kiev, volunteer fighters well into their 60s manned a checkpoint in an attempt to block the Russian advance.
“In my old age, I had to take up arms,” said 68-year-old Andrey Goncharuk. He said the fighters needed more weapons, but “we will kill the enemy and take their weapons.”
Around Ukraine, others piled into train stations, carrying children wrapped in blankets and dragging wheeled suitcases into new lives as refugees. Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the refugee agency known as UNHCR, said on Wednesday that “at this rate” the exodus from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis of this century”.
A large explosion rocked central Kyiv on Wednesday night in what the president’s office said was a missile strike near the capital’s southern train station. There was no immediate word on the dead or injured. Thousands of Ukrainians fled the city through the sprawling railway complex.
Russian forces pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city after Kyiv with around 1.5 million people, in another round of airstrikes that destroyed buildings and lit the skyline with flames. At least 21 people were killed and 112 injured over the past day, said Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration.
Several Russian planes were shot down over Kharkiv, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, a senior adviser to Zelenskyy.
“Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” Arestovich said, referring to what is considered one of the most heroic episodes in Russian history, the city’s five-month defense against the Nazis during the Second World War.
From his basement bunker, Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov told the BBC: “The city is united and we will stand firm.”
Russian attacks, many with missiles, blew off the roof of the five-story building of the Kharkiv regional police and burned down the top floor, and also hit the intelligence headquarters and a university building, according to officials and sources. videos and photos released by the Ukrainian State Emergency Service. . Officials said residential buildings were also hit, but gave no details.
The head of the UN’s nuclear monitoring agency has warned that the fighting poses a danger to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors.
Rafael Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency noted that the war is “the first time a military conflict has occurred at the facilities of a large, established nuclear program”, and he said to himself ” gravely concerned”.
Russia has already taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, scene in 1986 of the worst nuclear disaster in the world.
In New York, the United Nations General Assembly voted to demand that Russia halt its offensive and immediately withdraw all its troops, with world powers and small island states condemning Moscow. The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.
Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but can reflect and influence world opinion.
The vote came after the 193-member assembly convened its first emergency session since 1997. The only countries to vote with Russia were Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea. Cuba came to Moscow’s defense but ultimately abstained.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya said Russian forces “came to Ukrainian soil, not only to kill some of us…they came to deprive Ukraine of the very right to ‘to exist”. He added: “The crimes are so barbaric that it is difficult to understand.”
Russia has stepped up its rhetoric. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded the world of the country’s vast nuclear arsenal when he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that “a Third World War could only be nuclear.”
In the northern city of Chernihiv, two cruise missiles hit a hospital, according to Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, which quoted the head of the health administration, Serhiy Pivovar, as saying that authorities were trying to determine the number of victims.
In other developments:
— A second round of talks aimed at ending the fighting was expected on Thursday, but there appeared to be little common ground between the two sides.
— The price of oil continued to soar, reaching $112 a barrel, the highest since 2014.
— Russia found itself further economically isolated as Airbus and Boeing announced they would cut spare parts and technical support to the country’s airlines, a blow. Airbus and Boeing jets make up the vast majority of Russia’s passenger fleet.
Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow; Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine; Sergei Grits in Odessa, Ukraine; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Robert Burns and Eric Tucker in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; and other AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine