Russia intensified its bombardment of Ukraine’s two biggest cities on Tuesday, using air strikes to target densely populated areas in attacks reminiscent of the ruthless campaigns the Kremlin has waged in Syria and Chechnya.
The day began with a missile attack on the main public square in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, that killed 10 people and damaged the regional administration building. Later, five people were killed in Kyiv, the capital, when a missile struck the main TV tower, a building that also housed several businesses and non-governmental organizations. The tower is directly adjacent to the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial, a wooded area on the edge of Kyiv where Nazi Germany rounded up and executed tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews in September, 1941.
More than 660,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries in the past six days, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.
The West, meanwhile, continued to respond with an escalating barrage of sanctions that have seen Russia increasingly cut off from the international financial system, with its airlines banned from flying over most of Europe and North America.
In Russia, the country’s last two significant liberal media outlets, the Echo of Moscow radio station and TV Rain, were taken off the air after being accused of spreading “deliberately false information.” The Kremlin insists that its invasion of Ukraine – which has killed thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians – is a “special military operation,” and Russian media have been ordered to avoid the words “war” and “invasion.”
Hours before the attack on the TV tower, Russia’s Defence Ministry warned it would begin targeting sites in Kyiv that house intelligence or communications facilities and urged residents living nearby to leave their homes. However, no list of potential targets was given.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for NATO to impose a no-fly zone. “This is not about dragging NATO countries into war. The truth is everyone has long since been dragged into war and definitely not by Ukraine, but by Russia – a large-scale war is going on,” Mr. Zelensky said in a joint interview with CNN and Reuters in Kyiv.
He said peace negotiations – which began Monday and with follow-up talks scheduled for Wednesday – could only make progress once Russia ended its campaign of air strikes and rocket attacks. “It’s necessary to at least stop bombing people, just stop the bombing and then sit down at the negotiating table.”
Russian forces mounted major new offensives in multiple directions on Tuesday with the main thrust being a 65-kilometre-long military convoy that has reached the outskirts of Kyiv. There were reports later in the day that the convoy had paused, perhaps pointing to logistical problems that have plagued Russian forces since the outset of the conflict.
More parts of the country were gradually falling out of Ukrainian control, however. The southern cities of Mariupol and Kherson were reportedly surrounded, as was Chernihiv in the north, where Ukraine said Belarusian troops were poised to join the fighting on the Russian side. Moscow claimed to have complete control of the Sea of Azov, a body of water bordered only by Russia and Ukraine.
The assault will not stop until Moscow’s goals “are achieved,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said as air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine, including in Kyiv. Russia has said its objectives include “demilitarizing” Ukraine and removing a government it claims has “Nazi” tendencies – even though Mr. Zelensky is Jewish.
Video of the attack on Kharkiv, which has a population of 1.4 million, showed a massive fireball erupting at the regional administration building, flinging debris high into the air. Subsequent images showed the building still standing, but extensive damage to the street. The missile struck near a blue and yellow tent that had been staffed by volunteers – who told The Globe last month they were on guard for a Russian attack on their city – since a pro-Western revolution in 2014.
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The Kharkiv attack involved cruise missiles and Grad rockets, regional leader Oleg Synegubov said in a social-media post. Ukrainian forces continue to hold the city, he said, but thousands there are now without power and heat.
Chernihiv Governor Viacheslav Chaus said two districts of his city were also hit with Grads, which are truck-mounted systems that fire barrages of rockets at a single target.
Kyiv’s Regional Military Administration reported that the northern part of Vyshhorod District “is occupied by the enemy” and without light, water or medicine. Other parts of the Kyiv region remained under Ukrainian control, although some experienced heating outages after coming under attack.
In the southern city of Kherson, a rocket struck a large apartment complex. “I heard the hiss of the rocket and the sharp and loud explosion,” Donald Flett, an American living in Kherson, told The Globe. It hit the base of an apartment building in the northwest corner of the city, he said.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both said Russian forces appeared to have used widely banned cluster munitions, with Amnesty accusing them of attacking a preschool in northeastern Ukraine while civilians took shelter inside.
Russia has denied using such weapons.
Visa and Mastercard moved to cut off access to their networks for Russian banks subject to international sanctions. Russia has already been banned from major sporting competitions, and on Tuesday the Interfax news service reported that Western musicians including Franz Ferdinand, Green Day and Iggy Pop had cancelled planned shows in the country.
In response to the spreading economic repercussions, Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president who is now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, warned: “Do not forget that economic wars in the history of mankind often turned into real ones.”
Until Tuesday, the Russian military advance had “made little progress,” the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update, adding that over the first five days of war, Russia had failed to gain airspace control. However, artillery fire on Kharkiv, Chernihiv and northern parts of Kyiv has increased, which “greatly increases the risk of civilian casualties,” the update said.
Mr. Zelensky, meanwhile, reprised a demand that the European Union admit Ukraine, which formally applied for membership Monday.
“Now we are fighting for survival. And this is the highest of our motivations. But we are fighting also to be equal members of Europe. I believe that today we are showing everybody that’s exactly what we are,” he told the European parliament in a video address.
Hours after his impassioned appeal, which left a translator in tears, the parliament voted to recommend granting EU status to Ukraine.
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