Status of key Ukrainian port city of Kherson unclear ahead of 2nd round of talks

Russia continued to pound major cities across Ukraine Wednesday, including the capital Kyiv and Kharkiv, while the status of another vital port, Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of nearly 300,000, remained unclear.

1 million people have now fled Ukraine since invasion began

Kyiv mayor vows 'patriotic' fight as Russia pummels Ukrainian cities

4 months ago
Duration 1:22
Cities across Ukraine are feeling the brunt of Russian attacks. In Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko says his citizens are ready to fight for 'every square, every street.'

The latest:

  • Russia claims control of the strategic port city of Kherson, while Ukraine says battle ongoing.
  • Ukraine and Russia set to resume talks on Thursday aimed at stopping war.
  • Russia gives first casualty estimate.

Russia continued to pound major cities across Ukraine Wednesday, including the capital Kyiv and Kharkiv, while the status of another vital port, Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of nearly 300,000, remained unclear.

Ukraine denied Russia's claim earlier Wednesday that its forces had taken Kherson, saying that the battle for control was still underway. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office said fighting was occurring around the strategic city, but the city's mayor, Igor Kolykhayev, said Russian troops were in the streets and had forced their way into the city council building.

Kolykhayev urged Russian soldiers not to shoot at civilians and publicly called on civilians to walk through the streets only in daylight and in ones and twos.

"We do not have the Armed Forces in the city, only civilians and people who want to live here!" he said in a statement Wednesday.

In a video address released early Thursday in Ukraine, Zelensky didn't comment on whether the Russians have seized several cities, including Kherson.

"If they went somewhere, then only temporarily. We'll drive them out," he said.

Kherson is located on the banks of the Dnieper River near where it flows into the Black Sea. If Russian troops were to take the city, they could unblock a water canal and restore water supplies to the Crimean Peninsula.

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The growing humanitarian crisis at Poland-Ukraine border

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A train station near the Poland-Ukraine border is the site of a growing humanitarian crisis as many Ukrainians arrive without money and an uncertain future ahead, something Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly witnessed first-hand.

The battle in the Kherson region began last Thursday, the first day of the invasion, and by the next day, the Russian forces were able to take a bridge that connects the city with territory on the western bank.

More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine following Russia's invasion, in the swiftest refugee exodus this century, the United Nations said Thursday. The tally the U.N. refugee agency released to The Associated Press was reached Wednesday and amounts to more than 2 per cent of Ukraine's population being forced out of the country in less than a week. 

A military truck and tank are seen on a street of Kherson, Ukraine on Tuesday, in this screengrab from a video obtained by Reuters. Russia says it has captured the city, while Ukraine rejects the claim. (Obtained by Reuters)

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defence official said Wednesday that they have seen claims that the Russians have taken Kherson, but that the Ukrainian military is rejecting that claim.

"Our view is that Kherson is very much a contested city at this point," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to make military assessments.

With fighting going on on multiple fronts across the country, Britain's Defence Ministry said Mariupol, a large city on the Azov Sea, was encircled by Russian forces.

Also in his videotaped address Thursday, Zelensky called on Ukrainians to keep up the 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."

More talks scheduled

Earlier, most of the world lined up against Moscow in the United Nations to demand that it withdraw from Ukraine, as Russian forces renewed their bombardment of Kharkiv, the country's second-biggest city.

Russia continued to escalate its attacks on crowded urban centres, even as both sides were set to resume talks on Thursday aimed at stopping the new devastating war in Europe.

Envoys from Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet in Belarus, but there appeared to be little common ground between the two sides.

In a move that aimed to politically isolate Russia, the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday voted to demand that Russia stop its offensive and immediately withdraw all troops. The vote was 141 to five, with 35 abstentions. It came after the 193-member assembly convened its first emergency session since 1997.

Countries that voted against the resolution included Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea. The abstentions included China and India, as expected, but also two usual Russian allies, Cuba and Nicaragua. Assembly resolutions aren't legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion. 

PHOTOS | Ukrainians endure 7th day of attacks, chaos amid Russian invasion:

Ramped-up rhetoric of nuclear war

Still, Russia ramped up its rhetoric, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminding the world about the country's vast nuclear arsenal. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, he said: "A third world war will be nuclear, and devastating," according to Russian news sites.

The Pentagon announced in Washington that it is postponing a nuclear missile test launch scheduled for this week to avoid any possible misunderstanding in light of Putin's recent decision to put his nuclear forces on higher alert.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the decision to delay the test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was made by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"We wanted to make sure we were being very clear about our responsibilities in the nuclear realm," Kirby said at a Wednesday afternoon briefing. He said the delay is not affecting the U.S.'s strategic nuclear posture and that Austin is "comfortable that the strategic deterrence posture that we have in place is up to the task of defending the homeland and our allies."

The head of the UN 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."

"When there is a conflict ongoing, there is of course a risk of attack or the possibility of an accidental hit," he said. Russia already has seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, the scene in 1986 of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

A firefighter walks among debris in a building entrance after Russian forces shelled Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, a Russian strike hit the regional police and intelligence headquarters in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city of about 1.5 million people. At least 21 people were killed and 112 injured over the past day, said Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration.

A blast blew the roof off the five-storey police building and set the top floor alight, according to videos and photos released by the service. Pieces of the building were strewn across adjacent streets.

Several Russian planes were also shot down over Kharkiv, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century," Arestovich said, invoking what is considered one of the most heroic moments in Russian history, the five-month defence of the city from the Nazis during the Second World War.

WATCH | Giving birth in a bomb shelter: 

New moms in Kyiv hide out in hospital basement

4 months ago
Duration 1:23
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a special crisis for hospitals. Pregnant women are being forced to give birth in the basement or move there shortly after their delivery upstairs.

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

The attack came a day after one in Kharkiv's central square that killed at least six people and shocked many Ukrainians for hitting at the centre of life in a major city. 

In the south, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that city officials, "cannot even take the wounded from the streets, from houses and apartments today, since the shelling does not stop."

Zelensky tweeted that he spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday, thanking him for the sanctions imposed on Russia so far, but reiterating the need for more. 

The prime minister's office later said Trudeau expressed solidarity and further support to the people of Ukraine. It said Trudeau "commended President Zelensky's outstanding bravery and front-line leadership, calling it inspirational for Canadians and people around the world," and that two leaders discussed ways Canada could continue to support Ukraine. 

The overall death toll from the seven-day-old war is not clear.

On Wednesday, Russia put a figure on its casualties for the first time since the invasion began last week.

Russia's Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that 498 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine and another 1,597 had been wounded since the beginning of Moscow's military operation there,

A Ukrainian serviceman guards the entrance to an underpass in Independence Square in Kyiv on Wednesday. Russian forces continued their advance on the Ukrainian capital for the seventh day. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The ministry also said that more than 2,870 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and about 3,700 wounded, according to Interfax. The numbers could not be independently verified. Ukraine insisted Russia's losses were far higher but did not immediately disclose its own casualties.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukraine's emergency service issued a statement saying the Russian invasion has killed more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians and destroyed hundreds of structures including transport facilities, hospitals, kindergartens and homes.

Children, women and defence forces "are losing their lives every hour," said the statement, which could not be independently verified.

What's happening on the ground

Sergyi Badylevych hugs his wife and child in an underground metro station used as bomb shelter in Kyiv on Wednesday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
  • In the south: The invading forces also pressed their assault on other towns and cities, including the strategic ports of Odesa and Mariupol.
  • In besieged Mariupol, at least one teenager died and two more were wounded by apparent Russian shelling. The boys' families told the Associated Press the attack came while they were playing soccer near a school.
  • In the capital region: a large explosion shook central Kyiv 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. Thousands of Ukrainians have been fleeing the city through the sprawling railway complex.
  • A sprawling convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles advanced slowly on Kyiv, a city of nearly three million people. However, a senior U.S. defence official said Russia's military progress has slowed, plagued by logistical and supply problems.
  •  Another Russian airstrike hit a residential area in the city of Zhytomyr. Ukraine's emergency services said Tuesday's strike killed at least two people, burned three homes and broke the windows in a nearby hospital. About 140 kilometres west of Kyiv, Zhytomyr is the home of the elite 95th Air Assault Brigade, which may have been the intended target.
  • In the north: Ukrainian UNIAN news agency quoted the health administration chief of the northern city of Chernihiv as saying two cruise missiles hit a hospital there. The hospital's main building suffered damage, Serhiy Pivovar said, and authorities were working to determine the casualty toll. No other information was immediately available. 
  • At the borders: The U.N. refugee agency says one million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion less than a week ago, an exodus it called without precedent in this century for its speed. The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than two per cent of Ukraine's population.

Medical aid arriving

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that a shipment of medical aid for Ukraine is expected to arrive in Poland on Thursday.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's emergencies program, said Wednesday that ensuring health facilities have reliable access to oxygen supplies is critical, for both those who required it before the invasion and those who are being injured as a result of the fighting.

"You need it when you need it. You can't wait until tomorrow for oxygen," Ryan said. "Oxygen saves your life, right now."

The same is true for insulin, he said, noting that the shipments heading toward Ukraine are carrying supplies of the vital drug.

People are dying needlessly on the ground in Ukraine, Ryan said — but that situation will be even worse if medicines don't make it to health facilities quickly.

WATCH | Ukraine needs 'life-saving' oxygen 'right now,' says WHO: 

Ukraine desperately needs oxygen at hospitals, says WHO

4 months ago
Duration 1:20
The World Health Organization is trying to establish a safe corridor to deliver medical supplies to Ukraine, among them oxygen, which is critical for hospitals.

Among the thousands trying to flee every day are students from African and Asia who are in Ukraine to study. Some say they are not being treated the same as Ukrainians when it comes to getting on trains or buses to neighbouring countries. 

"The treatment was not equal," said Belisky Mbua Ngale, a student from Cameroon. 

"From the action, you just know that now it's the white people that need to go inside first, then the Black who stay outside until when all the whites have gone inside, then the Black now. If there's no space, if you're Black, you just stay there."

WATCH | Some African students in Ukraine say they face unequal treatment as they try to flee: 

'The treatment was not equal,' says African student trying to flee Ukraine

4 months ago
Duration 1:33
Belisky Mbua Ngale, a student in Ukraine from Cameroon, says it was clear to him that white people were given priority when boarding trains and buses as they all tried to flee the fighting. He eventually made it safely to Slovakia.

More sanctions against Russia

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukraine's president have agreed on a call that sanctions need to go further to exert maximum pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin in coming days, a Downing Street spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The White House announced additional sanctions Wednesday against Russia and its ally Belarus, including extending export controls that target Russian oil refining and entities supporting the Russian and Belarusian military.

Among the new measures are sanctions targeting 22 Russia defence entities that make combat aircraft, infantry fighting vehicles, electronic warfare systems, missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles for Russia's military.

WATCH | The Canadians going to fight, assist in Ukraine

The Canadians going to fight, assist in Ukraine

4 months ago
Duration 3:03
As thousands flee the war in Ukraine, some Canadians are travelling there to take up arms or assist with the growing humanitarian needs even though many don't have direct ties to the country.

In a video address Wednesday, Zelensky addressed the strike Tuesday on Babyn Yar, a Holocaust memorial, where Nazi occupiers killed more than 33,000 Jews over two days in 1941.

"We all died again by Babyn Yar. Although the world has promised again and again that it will never happen again," he said.

"Don't you see what is happening? That's why it is very important now that you, millions of Jews around the world, do not stay silent. Because Nazism is born in silence. Scream about murdering of civilians, scream about murdering of Ukrainians."

PHOTOS | Damage from shelling in Kharkiv:

U.S. President Joe Biden used his first state of the union address Tuesday to highlight the resolve of a reinvigorated Western alliance that has worked to rearm the Ukrainian military and adopt tough sanctions, which he said have left the Russian president "isolated in the world more than he has ever been."

"Throughout our history we've learned this lesson — when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos," Biden said. 

WATCH | Biden calls Putin's latest attack on Ukraine 'premeditated and totally unprovoked': 

'Putin was wrong,' Biden says in state of the union

4 months ago
Duration 1:02
U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine in his first state of the union address, saying Vladimir Putin thought the world could be divided, but the Russian president had been proven wrong. Jabin Botsford/Reuters

Ukraine's Defence Ministry, meanwhile, said it had evidence that Belarus, a Russian ally, is preparing to send troops into Ukraine.

A ministry statement posted early Wednesday on Facebook said the Belarusian troops have been brought into combat readiness and are concentrated close to Ukraine's northern border. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country has no plans to join the fight.

A rocket fragment lies on the ground next to a building of Ukrainian Security Service after a rocket attack in Kharkiv Wednesday. A Russian strike hit the regional police and intelligence headquarters, according to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service. (Andrew Marienko/The Associated Press)

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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