Russia targets urban areas; Biden promises Putin will ‘pay’
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s leader has denounced Russia’s escalating attacks on crowded urban areas as a blatant campaign of terror, while U.S. President Joe Biden warned that if his Russian counterpart is not obliged to “pay the price” of the invasion, the aggression would not stop at a single country.
“No one will forgive. No one will forget,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised after Tuesday’s bloodshed in the central square of Kharkiv, the country’s second city, and the deadly attack on a television tower in the capital. He called the attack on the square “frank and undisguised terror” and a war crime.
Biden gave his first State of the Union address to underscore the resolve of a reinvigorated Western alliance that has worked to rearm Ukraine’s military and enact tough sanctions, which it says have left Russian President Vladimir Putin “more isolated in the world than he was never been”.
“Throughout our history, we’ve learned this lesson – when dictators don’t pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said. “They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world continue to mount.
Biden devoted the first 12 minutes of his Tuesday night speech to Ukraine, with lawmakers from both parties repeatedly standing and clapping as he praised the bravery of the Ukrainian people and condemned Putin’s assault.
As Biden spoke, a 40-mile (64 kilometer) convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles slowly advanced on Kiev, the capital of nearly 3 million people, in what the West feared would be an offer from Putin overthrow the government and install a pro-Kremlin regime.
The invading forces also pushed their assault on other towns and cities, including the strategic ports of Odessa and Mariupol in the south.
As the seventh day of the war dawned on Wednesday, Russia found itself increasingly isolatedplagued by sanctions that have thrown its economy into turmoil and left the country virtually friendless except for a few nations like China, Belarus and North Korea.
As the fighting raged, so did the humanitarian toll. Around 660,000 people have fled Ukraine and countless others have taken refuge underground.
The death toll was less clear, with neither Russia nor Ukraine releasing the number of soldiers lost. The UN human rights office said it recorded 136 civilian deaths, although the true toll is certainly much higher.
A senior Western intelligence official estimated that 5,000 Russian troops had been captured or killed in Europe’s largest ground war since World War II.
Many military experts fear that Russia is changing tactics. Moscow’s strategy in Chechnya and Syria was to use artillery and aerial bombardment to pulverize cities and crush the resolve of fighters.
The UK Ministry of Defense said it had seen an increase in Russian air and artillery strikes on populated urban areas over the past two days. He also said three cities – Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol – were surrounded by Russian forces.
Ukrainian authorities said five people were killed in the attack on the TV tower near central Kiev. A television control room and an electrical substation were hit, and at least some Ukrainian channels briefly stopped broadcasting, officials said.
Russia previously told people living near transmission facilities used by Ukraine’s intelligence agency to leave their homes.
Zelenskyy’s office also reported a missile attack on Tuesday at the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site near the tower. A memorial spokesman said a Jewish cemetery at the site, where Nazi occupiers killed more than 33,000 Jews in two days in 1941, was damaged, but the extent would not be clear until daylight.
In Kharkiv, with a population of around 1.5 million, at least six people were killed when the region’s administrative building in Freedom Square was hit by what was believed to be a missile . The Slovenian Foreign Ministry said its consulate in Kharkiv, located in another large building in the square, had been destroyed.
The attack on Freedom Square – the nucleus of the city’s public life – was seen by many Ukrainians as shameless proof that the Russian invasion was not only aimed at hitting military targets, but also at breaking their mind.
The bombardment blew out the windows and walls of buildings surrounding the square, which was piled with debris and dust. Inside one building, pieces of plaster were strewn about and doors ran through the hallways.
“People are under the ruins. We pulled out bodies,” said Yevhen Vasylenko, an emergency officer.
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 down three houses and shattered the windows of a nearby hospital. About 85 miles (140 kilometers) west of Kiev, Zhytomyr is the headquarters of the elite 95th Air Assault Brigade, which may have been the intended target.
Zelenskyy scoffed at Russia’s claim that it only targets military targets, noting that 16 children were killed on Monday.
“Where are the children? What kind of military factories do they work in? What tanks do they go to?” Zelensky said.
Human Rights Watch said it documented a cluster bomb attack outside a hospital in eastern Ukraine in recent days. Residents also reported the use of such weapons in Kharkiv and in the village of Kiyanka. The Kremlin denied using cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs fire smaller “bomblets” over a wide area, many of which do not explode until long after being dropped. If their use is confirmed, it would represent a new level of brutality in warfare.
The first talks between Russia and Ukraine since the invasion took place on Monday, but only resulted in an agreement to talk again. On Tuesday, Zelenskyy said Russia should stop the bombings first.
In his speech, Biden announced that the United States was joining several other countries in closing their airspace to Russian planes. He also warned the country’s oligarchs that the Justice Department was assembling a task force to investigate any crimes they allegedly committed.
“We join our European allies in finding and seizing your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets,” he said. “We come for your ill-begotten gains.”
Biden trumpeted that global measures have already weighed on the Russian economy, including a stock market crash and currency devaluation.
Moscow has issued new escalation threats, days after raising the specter of nuclear war. A senior Kremlin official has warned that the West’s “economic war” against Russia could turn into a “real war”.
In Russia, a radio station critical of the Kremlin was taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down for its coverage of the invasion. Among other things, the Kremlin does not allow the fighting to be called an “invasion” or a “war.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had evidence that Belarus, an ally of Russia, was preparing to send troops to Ukraine. A ministry statement posted early Wednesday on Facebook said Belarusian troops have been brought to combat readiness and are concentrated near Ukraine’s northern border. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country has no plans to join the fight.
A senior US defense official said Russia’s military progress – including through the massive convoy – has slowed, plagued by logistics and supply problems. Some Russian military columns are running out of fuel and food, the official said, and morale has suffered.
Overall, the Russian military was held back by fierce ground resistance and a surprising inability to completely dominate Ukrainian airspace.
The huge convoy, with vehicles piled up along narrow roads, would apparently be “a big target” for Ukrainian forces, the senior Western intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. But it also showed Russia was confident it would not be attacked by air, rocket or missile, the official said.
Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine; Sergei Grits in Odessa, Ukraine; Robert Burns, Zeke Miller and Eric Tucker in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and other AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine