casualties rise | 

Russian forces pound Ukraine’s second city as 40-mile tank convoy nears Kyiv

Videos posted online showed explosions hitting Kharkiv.

The military convoy north west of Invankiv (Maxar Technologies/AP)

Associated Press

Russian shelling has again pounded civilian targets in Ukraine’s second-largest city and a 40-mile convoy of tanks and other military vehicles threatened the capital.

With the Kremlin increasingly isolated by economic sanctions that have tanked the rouble currency, Russian troops attempted to advance on Ukraine’s two biggest cities.

In strategic Kharkiv, an eastern city with a population of about 1.5 million, videos posted online showed explosions hitting the Soviet-era administrative building and residential areas.

Throughout the country, many Ukrainian civilians spent another night huddled in shelters, basements or corridors.

The casualty toll mounted as Ukraine faced day six of a Russian invasion that has shaken the 21st century world order.

Hopes for a negotiated solution to the war dimmed after a five-hour session of talks between Ukraine and Russia yielded no halt in the fighting, though both sides agreed to another meeting in coming days.

With western powers sending weapons to Ukraine and driving a global squeeze of Russia’s economy, 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.

(PA Graphics)

“I believe Russia is trying to put pressure (on Ukraine) with this simple method,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late on Monday in a video address, referring to stepped-up shelling.

He did not offer details of the talks between Ukrainian and Russian envoys, but said Kyiv was not prepared to make concessions “when one side is hitting another with rocket artillery”.

As the talks at the Belarusian border wrapped up, several blasts could be heard in the capital, and Russian troops advanced on the city of nearly three million.

The convoy of armoured vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles was 17 miles from the centre of the city and stretched about 40 miles, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.

A Russian armoured personnel carrier burns amid damaged and abandoned light utility vehicles after fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. The city authorities said that Ukrainian forces engaged in fighting with Russian troops that entered the country’s second-largest city on Sunday. (AP Photo/Marienko Andrew)

“They want to break our nationhood, that’s why the capital is constantly under threat,” Mr Zelensky said, adding that it was hit by three missile strikes on Monday and hundreds of saboteurs were roaming the city.

Kharkiv, near the Russian border, is another key target. One after the other, explosions burst through a residential area of the city in one video verified by the Associated Press.

The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas despite abundant evidence documented by AP reporters around Ukraine of shelling of homes, schools and hospitals.

Regional administration chief Oleh Sinehubov said the administration headquarters in Kharkiv city centre also came under Russian shelling.

Images posted online showed the building’s facade and interior badly damaged by a powerful explosion that also blew up part of its roof. The state emergencies agency said that attack wounded six people, including a child.

Mr Sinehubov said that at least 11 people were killed and scores wounded during Monday’s shelling of the city.

Meanwhile, flames shot up from a military base north east of Kyiv, in the suburb of Brovary, in footage shot from a car driving past.

Ukrainian authorities also released details and photos of an attack on Sunday on a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, saying more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed along with some local residents.

The Russian military’s advance has been stalled by fierce resistance on the ground and a surprising inability to dominate Ukraine’s air space.

(PA Graphics)

In the face of that resistance, 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, Mr Putin denounced the US and its allies as an “empire of lies”.

Western nations have increased weapons shipments to Ukraine to help its forces defend themselves — but have so far ruled out sending in troops.

The embattled country moved to solidify its ties to the West by applying to join the European Union — a largely symbolic move for now, but one that will not sit well with Mr Putin, who was already infuriated by Ukraine’s desire to join the Nato alliance.

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.

Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

Fighting raged in other towns and cities. The strategic port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, is “hanging on”, said Zelensky adviser Oleksiy Arestovich. An oil depot was reported bombed in the eastern city of Sumy.

As far-reaching western sanctions on Russian banks and other institutions took hold, the rouble plummeted, and Russia’s Central Bank scrambled to shore it up, as did Mr 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.

The economic sanctions, ordered by the US and other allies, were just one contributor to Russia’s growing status as a pariah country.

Russian airliners are banned from European air space, Russian media is restricted in some countries, and some hi-tech products can no longer be exported to the country.

On Monday, international sports bodies moved to exclude Russian athletes and officials from international events, including football’s World Cup.

The UN human rights chief said on Monday that at least 102 civilians had been killed and hundreds wounded — warning that figure is probably a vast undercount.

More than half a million people have fled the country since the invasion, another UN official said, many of them going to Poland, Romania and Hungary.

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