Russia has reportedly taken control of Kherson in what would be its first seizure of a major Ukrainian city, while leaders in the south of the country have warned “we are being destroyed” after attacks wiped out water and power supplies.
The southern port city of Mariupol said critical infrastructure was being targeted and that constant attacks meant people could not be evacuated.
“They are breaking food supplies, setting us up in a blockade, as in the old Leningrad,” the city’s council said in a statement.
“Deliberately, for seven days, they have been destroying the city’s critical life-support infrastructure. We have no light, water or heat again.”
Mariupol is surrounded by Russian forces but Ukrainian officials said on Thursday that they still controlled the city.
Pro-Moscow rebels have threatened to launch targeted strikes there unless government forces surrender.
It comes as Russia claimed to have captured another southern city, Kherson, in what would be their first major urban seizure.
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• A second round of talks between Russia and Ukraine is expected later
Kherson’s mayor Igor Kolykhaev said invading forces were in control, but the UK and US said the situation in the city of 280,000 was unclear.
“I simply asked them [Russian forces] not to shoot at people,” said Mr Kolykhaev in a statement.
“We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE.”
In Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, the central rail station was rocked by an explosion on Wednesday evening as thousands of civilians were trying to flee.
It was caused by the wreckage of a shot-down Russian cruise missile hitting a heating pipe, according to Ukraine’s interior ministry. There were no reports of casualties.
Several loud explosions were also reported in Kyiv in the early hours, though the target of the blasts remains unclear.
A major assault on the capital was believed imminent but appears to have been delayed after a Russian convoy – pictured on Monday and estimated at 40 miles long – apparently ground to a virtual standstill.
It remains about 18 miles (30 km) from the centre of Kyiv after being delayed by “staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown and congestion”, according to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Food and fuel shortages have also plagued the convoy, according to a US defence official.
Attacks have also been continuing on the second-largest city of Kharkiv, in the east, and Chernihiv, in the north, but the UK’s MoD said they remain in government hands.
As Russian attacks on cities intensify, the UN said more than a million people had now fled to neighbouring countries in just a week – with many more expected to follow.
Ukraine’s president again struck a powerful note of defiance on Thursday as he claimed nearly 9,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in the first week of the war.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the invaders would be “destroyed” wherever they go, and compared them to the “disease” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“They will not have calm here, they will not have food, they will not have one quiet moment,” he said.
He also praised the fortitude of Ukrainians: “We are a people who broke the enemy’s plans in a week.
“These plans had taken years to write – they are mean, with hatred for our country, for our people.”
Mr Zelenskyy said Russian soldiers were “not warriors of a superpower” but “confused children who have been used”.
In a later message, he likened the fight against Russia to dealing with the first outbreak of COVID.
“Exactly two years ago, the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Ukraine,” said the president.
“The first weeks of fighting it were extremely difficult. But we were united, and therefore strong, and therefore we withstood. Exactly a week ago, Ukraine was attacked by another virus. Another disease.”
Meanwhile, British diplomatic efforts are continuing today with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Lithuania to meet foreign ministers from that country, as well as from Estonia and Latvia.
She will also meet UK military personnel from the Army Air Corps and the RAF’s 18 Squadron, who are deployed in the country.
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