Ukraine crisis intensifies as Russians gain ground

Russian forces said they had captured a Ukrainian port on Wednesday as Russian and Ukrainian troops battled for another urban center and President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow wanted to “erase” his country.

AFTER THE AIR STRIKE. Police officers examine the body of a passerby killed in yesterday’s airstrike that hit Kyiv’s main television tower on March 2, 2022. AFP

As the conflict intensified further on the seventh day of the invasion, the Russian army said it had taken control of the Black Sea port of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

Russian paratroopers also landed in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, triggering clashes in the streets, Ukrainian forces said.

Four people have been killed and another nine wounded during a shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s emergencies services said.

“Four dead, nine injured,” the services said, citing preliminary information.

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Kharkiv, a largely Russian-speaking city near the Russian border, has a population of around 1.4 million.

It has been a target for Russian forces since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine last Thursday and which intensified on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s army said there were immediate clashes after Russian troops landed earlier in the day.

Ukraine on Wednesday invited the worried mothers of Russian troops captured on the battlefield to come and collect their sons, in an apparent attempt to embarrass Moscow. “A decision has been taken to hand over captured Russian troops to their mothers if they come to collect them in Ukraine, in Kyiv,” the defense ministry said.

“Russian airborne troops landed in Kharkiv… and attacked a local hospital,” the army said in a statement on messaging app Telegram. “There is an ongoing fight between the invaders and the Ukrainians.”

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser for Ukraine’s interior minister, was quoted in a statement on Telegram as saying that “practically, there are no areas left in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet hit.”

The number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has surged to nearly 836,000, United Nations figures showed Wednesday.

In all, 835,928 people have fled across the country’s borders, according to the website of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

The airborne operation came as US President Joe Biden branded Putin a “dictator,” warning the sanction campaign to cripple Russia’s economy would escalate and its oligarchs were being targeted.

In his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden warned the sanctions campaign to cripple Russia’s economy would escalate and its oligarchs were being targeted.

“A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs around the world,” Biden told lawmakers, promising “robust action to make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at Russia’s economy.”

Russian troops rolled into Ukraine last week to achieve Putin’s mission of overthrowing Zelensky’s pro-Western government.

Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces were in “full control” of Kherson, a city with a population of 290,000 people.

Konashenkov said in televised remarks that public services and transport were operating as usual.

A woman, who fled Ukraine, comforts a girl wrapped in a blanket after crossing the Moldova-Ukrainian border’s checkpoint near the town of Palanca. AFP

“The city is not experiencing shortages of food and essential goods,” he said.

He said talks were under way between the Russian army and local authorities on maintaining order, protecting the population and keeping public services functioning.

Kherson’s mayor Igor Kolykhaiev said in a post on Facebook: “We are still Ukraine. Still firm.”

Apparently contradicting the Russian army’s claims, he said he needed to find a way to “collect the (bodies of the) dead” and “restore electricity, gas, water and heating where they are damaged.”

As fears grew of an all-out assault on Kyiv, residents spent another night crammed into makeshift bomb shelters.

Teacher Irina Butyak, 38, sought safety in the basement of her apartment block sheltering with some 20 people.

“We have train tickets for western Ukraine for tomorrow,” she told AFP as air raid sirens blared directly overhead.

“I don’t think we will make the train.”

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