Artillery vehicle

40-mile-long Russian convoy including tanks and artillery advances on Kiev

Nabih Bulos, David Pierson and Henry Chu

Los Angeles Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces continued to batter targets in Ukraine on Tuesday, striking the beleaguered country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and assembling a 40-mile-long column of tanks, artillery and other military vehicles outside the capital, Kyiv, in what could be a sign of impending aggression.

The specter of more violence and scenes of civilians huddled in bomb shelters or crossing Ukraine’s western borders come as Russia finds itself increasingly isolated on the world stage, with sanctions inflicting damage immediate to its economy and its currency. The UN refugee agency says 660,000 people have fled Ukraine in the past six days, a pace that puts the situation on track to “become Europe’s biggest refugee crisis”. this century,” agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said in Geneva.

As Kiev braced for a Russian assault, a missile slammed into a central square in the city of Kharkiv early Tuesday morning, in front of a large ornate government building, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said. Video of the explosion was widely shared on social media, showing cars engulfed in flames.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said 10 people were killed and 24 injured in the attack on Freedom Square, the site of the Kharkiv regional government headquarters. A nearby opera house and concert hall were also hit.

The blast came after a barrage of what observers say may have been cluster bombs on a residential area on Monday night, killing at least nine civilians and injuring dozens more in Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people in northeastern Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack “state terrorism”.

Ukrainian authorities have also confirmed reports that around 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a Russian attack on a military base in the town of Okhtyrka, west of Kharkiv, on Sunday.

Members of a Ukrainian civil defense unit pass new assault rifles across a destroyed bridge on Kiev’s northern front on March 1, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The shelling hints at a new, more violent phase of a Russian incursion that seems to have stalled in part in the face of fierce resistance and possible logistical problems, such as a shortage of fuel. Civilian casualties are mounting, as are fears of increased airstrikes and suspicions that Russian President Vladimir Putin will order his troops to surround and blockade major population centers such as Kiev and Kharkiv, bombing them or starving them into submission.

“We have to accept the grim reality that Putin will continue to tighten the noose, and if you’re going by the size and firepower of Vladimir Putin’s war machine, the odds have always been very unfavorable. [the] Ukrainian Armed Forces,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in Warsaw on Tuesday, adding that he remained convinced the invasion would fail.

Monday’s talks between Ukraine and Russia did not lead to the ceasefire demanded by Kiev. Further negotiations are in sight, but Zelenskyy expressed skepticism about any breakthrough, saying he only agreed to talks to show he was not avoiding any opportunity to try to restore peace.

As the invasion stretched into its sixth day, Kyiv residents braved freezing temperatures and walked in the snow on Tuesday to queue outside supermarkets, gas stations and even small coffee kiosks who dot the sidewalks here to stock up before a Russian assault.

Throughout the capital, there were signs of a city squatting. Makeshift checkpoints popped up overnight in greater numbers than before. Reservists dressed in civilian clothes – some of them young men who looked fresh out of high school – wrapped yellow armbands around their sleeves. Armed with guns, they hastily erected barriers of tires, trash cans and other rubbish and stopped motorists to check their cars.

To the northwest of the city, closer to the Russian positions, traffic was almost non-existent; even the big neighborhood supermarket didn’t have a queue. The soldiers chased anyone approaching, warning them that Russian artillery fire had begun.

Volunteers from territorial defense units stand in formation, check their weapons, don yellow armbands, receive marching orders and proceed to their posts to defend the city from the Russian invasion, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday February 28, 2022. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Moments later, an explosion hit nearby, rippling through the tall birch forests beside the highway.

Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to London, told UK lawmakers that Ukrainian troops still maintain control of the western approach to Kiev and the western part of the country, which is vital to prevent the capital from being strangled by Russian forces. He said the Ukrainian army had 200 tanks and 700 trucks to help defend the country and keep supply routes open.

But the massive convoy of Russian armored vehicles north of Kiev, which satellite images showed stretching 40 miles, portends a major assault.

“They want to smash our national identity – that’s why the capital is under constant threat,” Zelenskyy said in a video address late Monday, adding that Kiev was hit by three missile strikes on Monday and hundreds of Russian saboteurs roamed the area. town.

Many Western countries, most recently Australia, have agreed to provide military aid to Ukraine. But they have pushed back on calls to impose a NATO-led no-fly zone over Ukraine because of the risk of starting a much larger war.

Volunteers from Territorial Defense Units arrive and march past trenches dug to defend their positions against the impending Russian invasion, in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

“Unfortunately, this implies that the UK” – and other countries – “would be engaged in shooting down Russian planes,” Johnson said. “He would be engaged in direct combat with Russia. It’s not something we can do or have considered. … The consequences of that would be really very, very difficult.

Kyiv and Kharkiv, as the two most populated cities in Ukraine, have enormous symbolic significance and are therefore prime targets, Ambassador Prystaiko said, citing the historical example of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia a few years ago. more than a century.

“They use the same manual they used from 1918 when they couldn’t take Kiev,” Prystaiko said. “They took Kharkiv” and proclaimed the Ukrainian People’s Republic, with Kharkiv as its capital. Then, “as soon as Kiev fell, they brought the capital back to Kiev. So I think that’s one of the scenarios [now].”

Johnson, following a meeting with the Polish prime minister, said the West was ready to step up sanctions against Moscow to punish it for the “disaster unfolding on our European continent”.

“I say to Vladimir Putin and his regime: there is only one way out of this quagmire, and that is to stop the tanks, push back the tanks, on the way to Kiev – get them turn around and take the path of peace,” Johnson said.

A woman gestures in front of a building that was destroyed by a recent shelling at a checkpoint in the town of Brovary outside Kiev on March 1, 2022. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

In a virtual address to a UN conference in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – who was unable to travel to Switzerland because much of European airspace was closed to Russian planes – accused the West of ignoring alleged atrocities in eastern Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians live. And he said Moscow was determined to prevent Ukraine from acquiring nuclear weapons, although there was no indication that Kiev ever expressed such an intention.

In a dramatic moment, Western diplomats stood up and left the meeting room en bloc when Lavrov began to speak.

By contrast, Zelenskyy received a standing ovation when he appeared via video in a speech at the European Parliament early Tuesday afternoon. The day before, he had signed a bid for Ukraine to join the 27-nation club, although membership was a distant prospect.

“We are also fighting to be equal members of Europe,” Zelenskyy said. “I believe that today we are showing everyone who we are. … We have proven that at the very least, we are like you.

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(Bulos reported from Kiev, Pierson from Singapore and Chu from London.)

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