The city of Kiev was rocked by explosions early Thursday morning as Ukrainians fled the country and Russian troops continued their assault on towns across the country.
The Russian barrage had crippled Kherson on Wednesday and Moscow claimed to have taken control of the port city.
That claim was disputed by a US defense official who said the Black Sea port was “a very contested city”, on condition of anonymity.
Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaev said Russian soldiers in the city were not meeting resistance from Ukrainian forces, as they had decreed a strict curfew and ordered civilians not to provoke the troops.
“We have no Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE,” Kolykhaev wrote on Facebook.
“They are not superpower warriors,” he said of the Russian troops who had come to the city’s administrative building. “These are confused children who have been used.”
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“The flag flying over us is Ukrainian,” he wrote.
Fighting in the port city of Mariupol has been constant, officials told an independent Russian news agency, as authorities cracked down on free speech in Moscow.
“We can’t even get the wounded out of the streets, houses and apartments today, because the shelling doesn’t stop,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said.
Airstrikes continued to shell Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. At least 21 people were killed on Wednesday, officials said.
Ukrainian forces shot down several planes, Zelensky’s office said, comparing the resistance to Russia’s defense of Stalingrad during World War II.
The airstrikes posed a danger to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, according to the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency, while an official said he was “gravely concerned”.
“The city is united and we will stand firm,” Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov told the BBC.
Meanwhile, as Ukraine shot down a missile near Kyiv’s central train station, the huge Russian convoy heading for the capital stalled as elderly volunteers manned checkpoints.
“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.”
The convoy remained plagued by fuel and food shortages, a dire situation that was hammered home by a viral video of a starving young Russian soldier being fed by sympathetic Ukrainians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed his country’s resilience in a recorded address to the nation on Thursday.
“We are a people who in a week destroyed the enemy’s plans,” he said, noting low Russian morale. “They won’t have peace here. They won’t have food. They won’t have a single quiet moment here.
Russia for the first time reported its war casualties, saying 500 soldiers had been killed and 1,600 wounded. The figures were well below the 5,000 Russian dead reported by Western intelligence, but an indicator of the heavy resistance the invaders faced. By comparison, less than 2,500 American soldiers were killed during a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan.
Ukraine said more than 2,000 civilians had been killed. The death toll has not been independently verified.
More than a million people have fled the Eastern European country, creating “the biggest refugee crisis of this century”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said.
Talks between Ukraine and Russia were due to resume in Belarus on Thursday, although there appears to be little common ground between the occupying forces and the former Soviet democratic republic.
Russia has accelerated its moves to crack down on independent reporting of the invasion, a censorship the United States has called “all-out war on media freedom and truth.”
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday repeated false claims that his war was motivated by “self-defense against NATO expansion”, as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned potential intervening countries that “a third world war could only be nuclear”, in an interview. with Al-Jazeera.
In Manhattan, the United Nations General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution calling on Russia to withdraw in its first emergency session since 1997. The vote passed 141 to 5 with 35 abstentions. Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea were the only countries to reject the measure.
With AP wires
New York Post