Over a million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began last week

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — More than a million people fled Ukraine after Russia invaded in the fastest refugee exodus this century, the United Nations said Thursday, as Russian forces continued their bombardment of the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and laid siege to two strategic seaports.

The tally published by the UN refugee agency to The Associated Press was reached on Wednesday and stands at more than 2% of Ukraine’s population expelled from the country in less than a week. The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, where residents desperate to escape shells and bombs swarmed the city’s railway station and crowded onto trains, not always knowing where they were heading.

A woman walks with a child wrapped in a blanket as she waits at a refugee crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Thursday. (AP Photo/)

Markus Schreiber via Associated Press

Overnight, Associated Press reporters in Kyiv heard at least one explosion before videos began circulating of apparent strikes on the capital. The objectives were not immediately clear.

A statement from the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff did not address the strikes, saying only that Russian forces were “regrouping” and “trying to reach the northern outskirts” of the city.

“The advance on Kiev was not very organized and now they are more or less stuck,” military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told the AP in Moscow.

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”.

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.

Felgenhauer said with the Russian economy already suffering, there could be a “serious internal political crisis” if Russian President Vladimir Putin does not find a way to end the war quickly.

“There is no real money to run to fight this war,” he said, adding that if Putin and the military “are unable to conclude this campaign very quickly and victoriously, they are in the mess”.

As fighting unfolds on multiple fronts across Ukraine, the British Ministry of Defense said Mariupol, a major city on the Sea of ​​Azov, was surrounded by Russian forces, while the status of a Another vital port, Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 280,000, remained uncertain. .

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces “did not achieve the main objective of capturing Mariupol” in its statement, which did not mention Kherson.

Putin’s forces claimed to have taken full control of Kherson, which would be the biggest city to fall in the invasion so far. A senior US defense official disputed this.

“Our view is that Kherson is a very contested city,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Zelenskyy’s office told the AP it could not comment on the situation in Kherson as the fighting continued.

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 fire on civilians and to allow teams to pick up bodies from the streets.

“We have no Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE,” he said in a statement posted later on Facebook.

The mayor said Kherson would maintain a strict curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and limit traffic in the city to food and medicine deliveries. The city will also require pedestrians to walk in groups of no more than two, obey orders to stop and not “provoke the troops.”

“The flag flying over us is Ukrainian,” he wrote. “And for it to stay that way, those requirements must be met.”

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 in the war, saying nearly 500 of its soldiers were killed and nearly 1,600 wounded. Ukraine did not disclose its own military losses, 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.”

A rocket fragment lies on the ground next to a Ukrainian security service building after a rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city.
A rocket fragment lies on the ground next to a Ukrainian security service building after a rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

Andrew Marienko via Associated Press

Meanwhile, the top US defense official said a huge Russian 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 during of the last two days.

The convoy, which earlier in the week appeared poised to launch an assault on the capital, was plagued by fuel and food shortages, the official said.

On the outskirts of Kiev, volunteers 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.

In an email, UN refugee agency spokesman Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams told the AP that the number of refugees exceeded one million as of midnight in central Europe, on the based on figures collected by national authorities.

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

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 have been 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 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.

Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow; Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine; Sergei Grits in Odessa, Ukraine; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Lynn Berry, Robert Burns and Eric Tucker in Washington; Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; and other AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.


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