Humanitarian convoy to Chernihiv hit by Russian shelling: Ukrainian official

A Ukrainian official says that at least one person has been killed and four others have been wounded in the Russian shelling of a humanitarian convoy.

At least 1 person was killed, 4 others wounded in attack

Market buildings damaged by shelling are seen in Chernihiv on March 20, an area where Ukraine says a humanitarian convoy was hit Thursday by Russian shelling. (Press service of the National Police of Ukraine/Handout/Reuters)

A Ukrainian official says that at least one person has been killed and four others have been wounded in the Russian shelling of a humanitarian convoy.

Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova said those who came under the shelling on Thursday were volunteers accompanying a convoy of buses sent to the northern city of Chernihiv to evacuate residents.

She said that the Russian forces besieging Chernihiv have made it impossible to evacuate civilians from the city that has been cut from food, water and other supplies.

Ukraine also reported Russian artillery barrages in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

The Russian shelling continued two days after Moscow announced it would scale back military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv. NATO's chief said on Thursday this was a regrouping rather than a withdrawal.

A man walks past a burning gas pipeline that was hit during shelling from Russian positions in a neighbourhood in northern Kharkiv Thursday. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

"Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. At the same time, he said, pressure is being kept up on Kyiv and other cities, and "we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering."

Zelensky warns of difficult times ahead 

In his nighttime video address to the nation Thursday, Zelensky said it was heartening for all Ukrainians to see Russian troops retreating from north of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy in the northeast.

But he urged Ukrainians not to let up, saying the withdrawal was just a Russian tactic.

"We know their intentions. We know what they are planning and what they are doing," Zelensky said. "We know that they are moving away from those areas where we hit them in order to focus on other, very important areas ... where it may be difficult for us.

"We all want to win," Zelensky added. "But there will be battles ahead. We still have to go through a very difficult path ahead to get everything we are striving for."

The southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and a "corridor" between two eastern towns, Izyum and Volnovakha, are becoming the key battlefronts in Ukraine, an interior ministry adviser said on Thursday.

A view shows an apartment building destroyed during the conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Five weeks into an invasion that has blasted cities into wastelands, U.S. and European officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by his generals about the dire performance of Russia's military.

Tough resistance by Ukrainian forces has prevented Russia from capturing any major city, including the capital Kyiv, which it assaulted with armoured columns from the northwest and east.

Moscow says it is now focusing on "liberating" the Donbas region — two southeastern provinces partly controlled by separatists Russia has backed since 2014.

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Attempts to reach civilians in Mariupol

That includes Mariupol, once a city of 400,000 people, where most buildings have been damaged or destroyed in four weeks of constant Russian bombardment and siege.

A convoy of buses headed to Mariupol in another bid to evacuate people from the besieged port city after the Russian military agreed to a limited ceasefire in the area. But Russian forces blocked 45 of the buses, and only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars, according to the Ukrainian government.

Twelve Ukrainian trucks were able to deliver humanitarian supplies to Mariupol, but the supplies were seized by Russian troops, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said late Thursday.

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Local resident Pavel, 42, is seen on Wednesday standing next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by gunfire while they were riding together in a car in the southern port city of Mariupol. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The city's mayor said this week that up to 170,000 residents were trapped in Mariupol with no power and dwindling supplies.

The United Nations believes thousands of people have died there, many buried in unmarked graves. 

"Everyone knows there is a humanitarian catastrophe there," Zelensky told Belgian legislators in an address via video link on Thursday.

An intelligence update from Britain's defence ministry said heavy fighting continues in Mariupol but that Ukrainian forces remain in control of the centre of the city.

In Russian-held parts of Mariupol, people occasionally climb out of cellars to appear, ghostlike, among the ruins.

A man identified only as Pavel was placing a bowl and spoon as a tribute on a makeshift grave, in a patch of grass outside a wrecked apartment block, marked with a plain wooden cross.

"Our friend. March 16. Driving in a car. A bullet hit him in the throat. He was dead in five minutes," he said. "I was in the car. I brought him home."

Ukrainian service members survey the area from their position along the front line north of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Thursday. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Grain storage facilities hit

Meantime, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Ukraine said the United Nations and its partners have delivered supplies for thousands of people in the country's northeast but have been unable to reach some encircled cities in the south.

Osnat Lubrani said Thursday that food rations from the humanitarian organization People in Need and the UN World Food Program will benefit nearly 6,000 people in Sumy and other areas such as Trostianets and Okhtyrka.

In addition, she said, basic household items from the UN refugee agency, including blankets and kettles, will support 1,500 people and sanitation kits will help provide hygiene supplies and drinking water to 6,000 people.

Also on Thursday, a U.S. official said government images showed damage to grain storage facilities in eastern Ukraine that was indicative of the severity of Russian attacks impacting the global food supply.

The two black-and-white images, seen by Reuters, showed long rectangular buildings in eastern Ukraine, first seen intact in January and then with damaged roofs and what a key official calls "impact craters" in March.

A food warehouse is seen damaged by shelling in Brovary, Kyiv region, in this handout picture released March 30. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/Reuters)

"As of late March, at least six grain storage facilities had been damaged as a result of these attacks," the official said.

The development comes as officials around the world worry about the fallout to the global food supply from the invasion of Ukraine, the world's fourth-largest grain exporter in the 2020-21 season.

"With countries across Africa and the Middle East reliant on Ukrainian wheat exports, the destruction of these food stocks and storage facilities could result in shortages and drive up prices in already vulnerable economies," the official said.

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Russian troops leave Chornobyl

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it has been informed by Ukraine that the Russian forces which were in control of the Chornobyl nuclear site have "in writing, transferred control" of the facility to Ukrainian personnel.

The last Russian troops left the Chornobyl plant early Friday, the Ukrainian government agency responsible for the exclusion zone said.

The agency said it has not been able to confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation while being inside the exclusion zone of the now-closed plant, but is seeking further information in order to provide an independent assessment of the situation.

A wounded man talks to a soldier, left, after being evacuated from Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv on Wednesday. (Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press)

Death toll rises in Mykolaiv

The death toll after a Russian missile strike Tuesday on the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 20, the Ukrainian emergency services said on Thursday.

The regional governor accused Russia of waiting until people arrived for work before striking the building.

Emergency services said they are still working at the scene.

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Putin 'not fully informed'

The White House has said the Russian president's advisers have not given him an accurate account of his military's failures in Ukraine.

"We would concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin has not been fully informed by his ministry of defence, at every turn over the last month," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday.

Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that "neither the State Department nor the Pentagon possess the real information about what is happening in the Kremlin."

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Advisers to Russian President Vladimir Putin are shielding him from how badly the invasion of Ukraine is going, top U.S. officials have said. The head of the U.K.'s intelligence agency says Russia has massively misjudged Ukraine's ability to defend itself.

New intelligence showed some Russian soldiers in Ukraine had refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft, the head of Britain's GCHQ spy agency, Jeremy Fleming, said on Wednesday.

The old sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant is seen in 2017. Russian forces have reportedly returned control of the plant to Ukraine. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

"And even though Putin's advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what's going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime," Fleming said in a speech at the Australian National University in Canberra on Thursday.

"[Putin] underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory."

Russia is able to cope with Western sanctions, according to an official of the Russian parliament's lower house.

Vladimir Gutenev, chair of the State Duma's committee on industry and trade, said Russia's economy has become "more and more resilient" in recent years and can cope with the "severe" challenges of sanctions.

Talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume Friday by video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia.

With files from Reuters