More deaths, injuries as Ukrainian cities defend themselves from Russian onslaught

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WATCH: Russia grows more isolated as Western allies unite against Putin – Feb 28, 2022

Latest updates as of 3 a.m. EST on Tuesday:

  • Russian missiles have struck the centre of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, injuring at least six people including a child. Two people were killed by shelling earlier Tuesday.
  • British intelligence says Russia’s advance on Kyiv has made little progress in the past 24 hours due to logistical difficulties.
  • More than 70 Ukrainian servicemen were killed when Russian troops shelled a military base in the town of Okhtyrka in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region on Monday, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said on Facebook.
  • Ukraine’s military says situation around Kyiv “remains tense,” says Russian forces inflicting damage despite “losing offensive potential.”
  • New satellite images show a Russian military convoy over 60 kilometres long headed toward Kyiv.

Russian forces continued to batter one of Ukraine’s largest cities on Tuesday, killing at least two more people as international pressure on Moscow to withdraw its invasion continued to grow.

After an initial round of ceasefire talks a day earlier failed to yield any progress, Ukraine’s state emergency service said over a dozen more people in Kharkiv and the surrounding district had been injured and several homes and businesses were damaged by shelling and resulting fires.

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Kharkiv region head Oleg Synegubov said on Tuesday Russian missile attacks hit the centre of Ukraine’s second-largest city, including residential areas and the city administration building, as Moscow started day six of its invasion. Officials say at least six people were injured, including a child.

The military said the situation around the capital of Kyiv “remains tense” as a huge military convoy, estimated to be nearly 65 kilometres long, drew closer to the city.

Yet a British military intelligence update released Tuesday said Russia’s advance on Kyiv has made little progress in the past 24 hours due to logistical difficulties.

“Russian forces have increased their use of artillery north of Kyiv and in vicinities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv,” it said. “The use of heavy artillery in densely populated urban areas greatly increases the risk of civilian casualties.

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“Russia has failed to gain control of the airspace over Ukraine prompting a shift to night operations in an attempt to reduce their losses,” the assessment continued.

At the same time, Russia’s economy is beginning to see the impact of harsh Western sanctions, with multiple industries cancelling sporting and entertainment events in the country.

“Evil armed with missiles, bombs and artillery must be stopped immediately,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late night address just before midnight Tuesday.

“Destroy the economy, to show that humanity knows how to defend itself.”

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Ukraine’s military said early Tuesday that Russian forces are continuing to inflict damages on multiple targets across the country, including civilian areas, despite “losing offensive potential.”

Air raid sirens sounded at multiple times in Kyiv and other cities throughout the night before dawn broke Tuesday.

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There are still no signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin will call an end to the invasion he launched last Thursday despite the international pressure. Still, a first round of potential peace talks were held, though it appeared little progress was made.

Ukraine wants an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces, the Ukrainian president’s office said earlier in the day Monday. Vladimir Medinsky headed the Russian delegation in Belarus, and said the two sides “found certain points on which common positions could be foreseen.” The Kremlin has declined to comment on its goals.

Another round of talks will happen in the “coming days on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Medinsky said. Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskyy, gave few details on the talks but said a second round could take place “in the near future.”

Members of delegations from Ukraine and Russia, including Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky (2L), Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak (2R), Volodymyr Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” lawmaker Davyd Arakhamia (3R), hold talks in Belarus’ Gomel region on February 28, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sergei Kholodilin/Belta/AFP via Getty Images
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Ukraine ceasefire talks with Russia to continue – Feb 28, 2022

Meanwhile in Ukraine, Zelenskyy announced he had signed an official request for the nation to join the European Union. EU leaders could discuss Ukraine’s application at an informal summit in March, a senior EU official told Reuters.

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A Polish government spokesperson said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will discuss support for Ukraine joining the EU with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Tuesday.

In his late night address, Zelenskyy condemned Russia’s role in the United Nations Security Council, whose revolving door presidency is currently held by Russia — something Zelenskyy said should not be permitted for a country that commits war crimes.

He also called for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which the United States has already ruled out due to the potential of creating a direct confrontation between Moscow and NATO.

Five days into the conflict, Russian forces have seized two small cities in southeastern Ukraine, and the Zaporizhzhya area, which is home to a nuclear power plant, the Interfax news agency said on Monday. Ukraine has denied the nuclear plant has fallen into Russian hands, according to the news agency.

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Russian forces are closing in on Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, but have yet to take the city. Ukrainian resistance has been stiff throughout the country.

A decree signed by the Ukrainian president that takes effect Tuesday has lifted the requirement for entry visas for any foreigner willing to join Ukraine’s International Defense Legion and fight on Ukraine’s side against Russian troops.

New satellite images from Maxar show a Russian military convoy headed toward the capital city that the space technology company says is nearly 65 kilometres long — much larger than the 27 kilometres the company had estimated earlier in the day.

This picture shows Russian infantry mobility vehicles GAZ Tigr destroyed as a result of fight in Kharkiv, located some 50 kilometres from the Ukrainian-Russian border on Feb. 28. Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images

Monday’s talks were held on the border with strong Russian ally Belarus, where a referendum on Sunday approved a new constitution ditching the country’s non-nuclear status at a time when the former Soviet republic has become a launchpad for Russian troops invading Ukraine.

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Despite the peace talks, Russian shelling killed 11 Ukrainians and injured dozens more in Kharkiv on Monday morning, according to Ukrainian officials.

Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city and has been able to hold off Russian forces intent on capturing it. The city is approximately 50 kilometres away from the Russian border and is home to 1.4 million people.

“Control over Kharkiv is completely ours! The armed forces, the police, and the defence forces are working, and the city is being completely cleansed of the enemy,” regional governor Oleh Sinegubov wrote on Telegram, according to Reuters.

More than 70 Ukrainian servicemen were also killed when Russian troops shelled a military base in the town of Okhtyrka in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region on Monday, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said on Facebook Tuesday.

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A senior U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press that Belarus is expected to send troops into Ukraine as soon as Monday to fight alongside Russian forces.

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The American official has direct knowledge of current U.S. intelligence assessments and said the decision by Belarus’ leader on whether to bring Belarus further into the war depends on the talks between Russia and Ukraine. The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive information.

Amid the development, the U.S. State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Belarus and is allowing non-essential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Russia to leave the country due to the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, as tensions mount, 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations were expelled by the U.S. over national security concerns.

Read more: Canadians urged to avoid non-essential travel to Russia amid Ukraine war

The Western-led response to the invasion has been sweeping, with sanctions effectively cutting off Moscow’s major financial institutions from Western markets. Countries have also stepped up weapons supplies to Ukraine.

There was fighting around the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol overnight, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration, on Monday. He did not say whether Russian forces had gained or lost any ground in the region.

Click to play video: 'Tensions continue to escalate as Russian troops approach Kyiv' Tensions continue to escalate as Russian troops approach Kyiv
Tensions continue to escalate as Russian troops approach Kyiv – Feb 28, 2022

As the conflict rages on resulting in civilian casualties, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he would proceed with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

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At least 102 civilians in Ukraine have been killed since Thursday, with roughly 304 wounded, but the actual figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. said Russia used a vacuum bomb on Monday, adding that it is “prohibited by the Geneva convention”.

“The devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is large,” Ambassador Oksana Markarova said after a meeting with lawmakers.

A senior U.S. defence official said Russia has fired more than 350 missiles at Ukrainian targets since Thursday, some hitting civilian infrastructure.

As the conflict continues, more than half a million people have fled to neighbouring countries, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Poland said Tuesday over 350,000 refugees have crossed the border from Ukraine over the past five days.

West response continues

Allies with the NATO defence alliance are providing Ukraine with air-defence missiles and anti-tank weapons, chief Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet on Monday.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will send anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to support Ukraine. This is in addition to the $7.8 million worth of lethal aid the federal government sent earlier this month.

Read more: Western sanctions will sink Russian ruble, but unlikely to end war in Ukraine: experts

At a news conference on Monday, Trudeau added that Canada also plans to prohibit all imports of Russian crude oil — a commodity he said has enriched Putin and the Russian oligarchs surrounding him.

The response has not been limited to Western governments. Movie studios Disney, Warner Bros. and Sony announced they will suspend theatrical releases in Russia, while Russian soccer teams have been suspended from all international matches, including World Cup qualifiers.

The Kremlin has accused the European Union of hostile behaviour, saying weapons shipments to Ukraine are destabilizing and proved Russia was right in its efforts to demilitarize its neighbour.

It refused to say whether there was a risk of confrontation between Russia and NATO. Russia has demanded NATO never admit Ukraine to the alliance.

This photograph shows a view of a school destroyed as a result of fight not far from the centre of Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, located some 50 kilometres from the Ukrainian-Russian border on Feb. 28. Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union slapped sanctions on 26 more Russians, including oligarchs, senior officials and an energy insurance company, in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine, bringing the total number of people targeted to 680.

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Elsewhere in Europe, Germany said it would increase defence spending massively, casting off decades of reluctance to match its economic power with military strength. Switzerland, a historically neutral country in the continent, announced on Monday it will adopt European Union sanctions against Russians involved in the invasion and freeze their assets.

In Moscow, the ruble dropped in value after Western nations on Saturday introduced sweeping sanctions including blocking some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system.

Russia’s central bank has scrambled to manage the broadening fallout, indicating it would resume buying gold on the domestic market, launch a repurchase auction with no limits, and ease restrictions on banks’ open foreign currency positions.

A view of a wreckage after a missile hit buildings as Russian attacks continue in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Feb. 28. Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It also ordered brokers to block attempts by foreigners to sell Russian securities. Western nations have promised more sanctions unless Russia de-escalates its war with Ukraine.

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On Monday, Ottawa announced it’s prohibiting all Canadian financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with Russia’s central bank. Canada is also imposing an asset freeze and a dealings prohibition on Russian sovereign wealth funds.

The move follows the United States’ decision to block Americans from engaging in any transactions involving Russia’s central bank, National Wealth Fund and the finance ministry.

The action “immobilizes” any assets Russia’s central bank holds America that will in a move that will hinder Russia’s ability to access hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, a senior U.S. official said.

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Over the weekend, the European Union shut all Russian planes out of its airspace, as did Canada, forcing Russian airline Aeroflot to cancel all flights to European destinations until further notice. Russia responded on Monday by closing its airspace to carriers from 36 nations, including European countries and Canada.

U.S. President Joe Biden held a call with allies and partners on Monday to coordinate a further united response, the White House said.

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Minister Joly demands end to Russian invasion of Ukraine, says world has responsibility to act – Feb 28, 2022

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory, but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

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In the weeks leading up to the war, Moscow had built up roughly 150,000 troops near the border, and continuously denied Western accusations it was planning an invasion of Ukraine.

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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