Refugee count tops 1 million; Russians besiege Ukraine ports

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One million refugees have fled across the borders of Ukraine since Russian forces invaded a week ago, the United Nations said Wednesday, calling it the swiftest refugee exodus this century, as Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the country’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, and laid siege to two strategic seaports.

‘In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries,’ U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrote in a tweet Wednesday.

‘For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it’s time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided.’

The tally from the U.N. refugee agency released to The Associated Press Wednesday amounts to more than two percent of Ukraine’s population being forced out of the country in less than a week. 

The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, where residents desperate to get away from falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and tried to press onto trains, not always knowing where they were headed.

In a videotaped address early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance. 

He vowed that the invaders would have ‘not one quiet moment’ and described Russian soldiers as ‘confused children who have been used.’

A family arrive at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, after fleeing from the Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency said the number topped 1 million of those who have fled Ukraine for neighboring countries since the Russian invasion began

A group of women and a boy walk to the train station as they try to leave Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded cities in what Ukraine's leader called a blatant campaign of terror

A group of women and a boy walk to the train station as they try to leave Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded cities in what Ukraine’s leader called a blatant campaign of terror

Ukraine war: The latest 

  • Ukraine’s president addresses the nation again in the early hours of Thursday, giving an upbeat assessment of progress
  • ‘These are not warriors of a superpower,’ he says. ‘These are confused children who have been used’
  • Kyiv is coming under renewed attack in the early hours of Thursday morning 
  • Russian paratroopers land on Wednesday in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv amid heavy fighting
  • ‘There are practically no areas left in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet hit’: Interior Ministry official 
  • Joe Biden brands Vladimir Putin a ‘dictator’ in his annual State of the Union address as he bans Russian aircraft from US airspace
  • Russia steps up its bombing campaign and missile strikes, hitting Kyiv’s main television tower, two residential buildings in a town west of the city and the city of Bila Tserkva to the south of the capital 
  • Russian attacks leave Mariupol, another Black Sea port further to the west, without electricity
  • More than 677,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the UN’s refugee agency says
  • The UN’s International Court of Justice says it will hold public hearings on March 7 and 8 over Ukraine’s allegations of ‘genocide’ by Russia
  • Russia blocks an independent television channel and a liberal radio station, tightening a virtual media blackout
  • A string of Western companies announce they are freezing or scaling back business with Russia
  • Russians race to withdraw cash after the introduction of capital controls and as the ruble hits record lows 
  • Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 goes insolvent after Germany halts the pipeline following Moscow’s invasion
  • Oil prices soar past $110 a barrel, despite agreements to release 60 million barrels from stockpiles
  • The World Bank prepares a $3-billion aid package for Ukraine, including $350 million in immediate funds  

Moscow’s isolation deepened when most of the world lined up against it at the United Nations to demand it withdraw from Ukraine. And the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into possible war crimes.

With fighting going on on multiple fronts across the country, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Mariupol, a large city on the Azov Sea, was encircled 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 complete control of Kherson, which would make it the biggest city to fall yet in the invasion. A senior U.S. defense official disputed that.

‘Our view is that Kherson is very much a contested city,’ the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Zelenskyy’s office told the AP that it could not comment on the situation in Kherson while the fighting was still going on.

The mayor of Kherson, Igor Kolykhaev, said Russian soldiers were in the city and came to the city administration building. He said he asked them not to shoot civilians and to allow crews to gather up the bodies from the streets.

‘We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE,’ he said in a statement later posted on Facebook.

The mayor said Kherson would maintain a strict 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew and restrict traffic into the city to food and medicine deliveries. 

The city will also require pedestrians to walk in groups no larger than two, obey commands to stop and not to ‘provoke the troops.’

‘The flag flying over us is Ukrainian,’ he wrote. ‘And for it to stay that way, these demands must be observed.’

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the attacks there had been relentless.

‘We cannot even take the wounded from the streets, from houses and apartments today, since the shelling does not stop,’ he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Russia reported its military casualties for the first time since the invasion began last week, saying nearly 500 of its troops have been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. 

Ukraine did not disclose its own military losses but said more than 2,000 civilians have died, a claim that could not be independently verified.

In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Zelenskyy praised his country’s resistance.

‘We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,’ he said. ‘They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.’

He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who ‘go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.’

‘These are not warriors of a superpower,’ he said. ‘These are confused children who have been used.’

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, published another video to his social media in the early hours of Thursday, providing an upbeat assessment of his country's resilience and saying the Russian advance was not going according to their plan

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, published another video to his social media in the early hours of Thursday, providing an upbeat assessment of his country’s resilience and saying the Russian advance was not going according to their plan

Kherson, 300 miles south of Kyiv, is considered an important strategic asset, being on an inlet in the Black Sea

Meanwhile, the senior U.S. defense official said an immense column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles appeared to be stalled roughly 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Kyiv and had made no real progress in the last couple of days.

The convoy, which earlier in the week had seemed poised to launch an assault on the capital, has been plagued with fuel and food shortages, the official said.

On the far edges of Kyiv, volunteers well into their 60s manned a checkpoint to try to block the Russian advance.

‘In my old age, I had to take up arms,’ said Andrey Goncharuk, 68. He said the fighters needed more weapons, but ‘we’ll kill the enemy and take their weapons.’

Around Ukraine, others crowded into train stations, carrying children wrapped in blankets and dragging wheeled suitcases into new lives as refugees.

Passengers rush to board a train leaving to Slovakia from the Lviv railway station, in Lviv, west Ukraine, on March 2

Passengers rush to board a train leaving to Slovakia from the Lviv railway station, in Lviv, west Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Women and children walk to the train station as they try to leave Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 2

Women and children walk to the train station as they try to leave Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 2

Local militiamen help an old woman crossing a bridge destroyed by artillery, as she tries to flee, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Local militiamen help an old woman crossing a bridge destroyed by artillery, as she tries to flee, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022

People walk next to a row of cars waiting to pick up family members and refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, in Palanca, Moldova, on March 2, 2022

People walk next to a row of cars waiting to pick up family members and refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, in Palanca, Moldova, on March 2, 2022

In an email, U.N. refugee agency spokesperson Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams told the AP that the latest data indicates the refugee count surpassed 1 million as of midnight in central Europe, based on figures collected by national authorities.

Shabia Mantoo, another spokesperson for the agency, said that ‘at this rate’ the exodus from Ukraine could make it the source of ‘the biggest refugee crisis this century.’

A large explosion shook central Kyiv on Wednesday night in what the president’s office said was a missile strike near the capital city’s southern railway station. There was no immediate word on any deaths or injuries.

Russian forces pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s biggest city after Kyiv, with about 1.5 million people, in another round of aerial attacks that shattered buildings and lit up the skyline with flames. 

At least 21 people were killed 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 top adviser to Zelenskyy.

‘Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,’ Arestovich said, invoking what is considered one of the most heroic episodes in Russian history, the five-month defense of the city from the Nazis during World War II.

From his basement bunker, Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov told the BBC: ‘The city is united and we shall stand fast.´´

Russian attacks, many with missiles, blew the roof off Kharkiv’s five-story regional police building and set the top floor on fire, and also hit the intelligence headquarters and a university building, according to officials and videos and photos released by Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. Officials said residential buildings were also hit, but gave no details.

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency 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 is happening amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program,’ and he said he is ‘gravely concerned.’

Russia already has seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, the scene in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Displaced Ukrainians take shelter in an auditorium in Lviv, western Ukraine, on March 2

Displaced Ukrainians take shelter in an auditorium in Lviv, western Ukraine, on March 2

A woman from Ukraine covered with a blanket, stands at a train station in Przemysl, southeastern Poland, Wednesday, March 2

A woman from Ukraine covered with a blanket, stands at a train station in Przemysl, southeastern Poland, Wednesday, March 2

People seeking shelter from Russian airstrikes and shelling sit in the small basement of a house in Gorenka, outside the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022

People seeking shelter from Russian airstrikes and shelling sit in the small basement of a house in Gorenka, outside the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Ukrainian volunteers sort donated foods for later distribution to the local population while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appears on television in Lviv, western Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Ukrainian volunteers sort donated foods for later distribution to the local population while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appears on television in Lviv, western Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022

A refugee from Ukraine hugs her dog at a temporary shelter in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, on the border with Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. While the fighting raged, so did the humanitarian toll, hundred of thousands people have fled Ukraine

A refugee from Ukraine hugs her dog at a temporary shelter in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, on the border with Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. While the fighting raged, so did the humanitarian toll, hundred of thousands people have fled Ukraine

In New York, the U.N. General Assembly voted to demand that Russia stop its offensive and immediately withdraw all troops, with world powers and tiny island states alike condemning Moscow. The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.

Assembly resolutions aren’t 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 spoke in Moscow’s defense but ultimately abstained.

Ukraine´s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said Russian forces ‘have come to the Ukrainian soil, not only to kill some of us … they have come to deprive Ukraine of the very right to exist.’ He added: ‘The crimes are so barbaric that it is difficult to comprehend.’

Russia ramped up its rhetoric. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded the world about 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 the Ukrainian UNIAN news agency, which quoted the health administration chief, Serhiy Pivovar, as saying authorities were working to determine the casualty toll.

A second round of talks aimed at ending the fighting was expected Thursday, but there appeared to be little common ground between the two sides. 

The price of oil continued to soar, reaching $112 per barrel, the highest since 2014.

Russia found itself even more isolated economically as Airbus and Boeing said they would cut off spare parts and technical support to the country’s airlines, a major blow. 

Airbus and Boeing jets account for the vast majority or Russia’s passenger fleet.





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