Russian paratroopers have landed in Kharkiv where deadly street battles erupted, while Russian troops made advances in the south on the seventh day of an invasion that Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday aimed to erase his country’s history.
Russian military attacks on Ukraine’s second-largest city, near the Russian border, killed 21 civilians and injured 112 others overnight, the regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said in a Telegram post, adding that Russian forces had attacked a military hospital.
Renewed Russian shelling on Wednesday morning struck several buildings, including a university, and killed four people, emergency services said.
Kharkiv, a largely-Russian speaking city, has a population of around 1.4 million.
Vladimir Putin’s military assault also intensified in Ukraine’s south, where the Russian defense ministry claimed to have captured the city of Kherson on the Dnieper river, which connects it to the Black Sea.
Kherson’s mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev called for a humanitarian corridor out of the city to evacuate the wounded and deliver food and medicine.
In an earlier Facebook post, he claimed that the city was “still Ukraine” but said that the town hall had been attacked while he and his team were inside. He urged citizens not to leave their homes and said the city “needed a miracle.”
Authorities in Mariupol, strategically located on the Black Sea near territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, said the city was under constant Russian bombardment, while the deputy mayor said he feared “hundreds” of civilians have been killed.
Zelensky, who remains in Kyiv, said Wednesday morning that Russia’s military had orders to erase Ukraine’s history, a day after a missile struck near the Holocaust memorial to Babyn Yar on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital where, in 1941, German Nazi forces murdered over 33,000 Jews in just two nights.
“They don’t know a thing about Kyiv, about our history. But they all have orders to erase our history, erase our country, erase us all,” Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, added.
Zelensky claimed that over 6,000 Russian troops had been killed since Moscow launched its invasion six days ago.
Russia’s defense ministry, meanwhile, has said that 498 Russian soldiers have died in addition to 1,597 wounded, the first time Moscow has acknowledged that it has suffered casualties since the invasion began on Thursday.
Scheduled peace talks between Ukrainian officials and a delegation from Moscow – the second meeting this week – have been postponed to Thursday, Russian media reported.
A previous meeting held near the Belarus border failed to secure a ceasefire but concluded that further discussions would take place.
In the first emergency meeting since 1997, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution condemning the Russian invasion, with the backing of 141 of the 193 UN member states.
The document denounced Moscow’s aggression and demanded an immediate end to hostilities as well as the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
The non-binding resolution received only five votes against – Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea – and 35 abstentions, most notably from India, Pakistan, Iran and China.
The US, the European Union and allies such as neutral Switzerland and Japan have slapped tough sanctions on Russia’s financial system with an agreement to block several lenders from the international transfer system Swift, freeze the Russian central bank’s foreign assets and, in the case of much of Europe and the US, close airspace to Russian aircraft.
The EU on Wednesday confirmed that seven Russian banks would be disconnected from Swift although spared the country’s largest lender Sberbank and Gazprombank, which is part-owned by state energy firm Gazprom and handles natural gas trade with the bloc.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, US president Joe Biden said that Putin had tried to “shake the very foundations of the free world” but had “badly miscalculated.”
Meanwhile, jailed Putin-critic Alexei Navalny on Wednesday called for Russians to protest against Moscow’s military action in Ukraine, according to posts on his official Twitter page.
“Putin is not Russia,” the statement said before urging Russians and Belarusians to protest in the main squares.
The Organization for European Security and Cooperation on Tuesday said at least 6,500 people had been arrested in anti-war protests in Russia so far while 860 had been detained in Belarus, which is also facing Western sanctions for its involvement in the Russian invasion.
Earlier on Wednesday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that his country was committed to securing the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine, pointing out that “no weapons that can threaten Russia’s security should remain there.”
Russia is also demanding recognition of its sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and of the independence of pro-Russian separatist people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.