KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia renewed its assault Wednesday on Ukraine’s second-largest city in a pounding that lit up the skyline with balls of fire over populated areas, even as both sides said they were ready to resume talks aimed at stopping the new devastating war in Europe.
Following a Monday round of talks between Russia’s nuclear power Russia and Ukraine, that ended with a vague promise of meeting again on Monday, an escalation occurred in the attacks against crowded cities. It was not clear when new talks might take place — or what they would yield. Ukraine’s leader earlier said Russia must stop bombing before another meeting.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has decried Russia’s bombardment as a blatant terror campaign, while U.S. President Joe Biden warned on Tuesday that if the Russian leader didn’t “pay a price” for the invasion, the aggression wouldn’t stop with one country.
Wednesday’s bombardment went on. According to Ukrainian UNIAN news agency, the chief of health in the north city Chernihiv stated that two cruise missiles struck a hospital.
The hospital’s main building suffered damage, Serhiy Pivovar said, and authorities were working to determine the casualty toll. There was no other information immediately.
A Russian strike also hit the regional police and intelligence headquarters in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of about 1.5 million, killing four people and wounding several, the state emergency service of Ukraine said. The state emergency service of Ukraine said that several residential buildings had been also damaged, but didn’t provide any further information.
According to video and photos, the blast caused the roof of the 5-story police station to burst and ignited the top floor. The building was left in pieces on adjacent streets.
The attack followed a day after one in Kharkiv’s central square that killed at least six people and shocked many Ukrainians for hitting at the center of life in a major city. Also, a Russian strike targeted the TV tower of Kyiv.
The U.N. refugee agency said that approximately 874,000 Ukrainians fled Ukraine. Many others sought shelter underground.
While the death toll for the entire seven-day conflict is unknown, neither Russia nor Ukraine have released any information about the losses. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said more than 2,000 civilians have died, though it was impossible to verify that claim. While the U.N. human right office only counts 136 deaths among civilians, it acknowledges that the true toll could be much higher.
Ukrainian authorities claim that five people died in the strike on TV towers, which also targeted Babi Yar Holocaust monument. According to a spokesperson for the memorial, a Jewish cemetery on the spot, which was the scene of the Nazi occupation that killed 33,000 Jews in two days, was destroyed.
Russia previously told people living near transmission facilities used by Ukraine’s intelligence agency to leave their homes. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson claimed that no residential structures were hit by the strike on Wednesday. He didn’t address reports of Babi Yar being killed or damaged.
Zelenskyy, who called the strike on the square in Kharkiv a war crime that the world would never forget, expressed outrage Wednesday at the attack on Babi Yar and concern that other historically significant and religious sites, such as St. Sophia’s Cathedral, could be targeted. The town of Uman was a major pilgrimage spot for Hasidic Jews, and it was earlier shelled.
“This is beyond humanity,” Zelenskyy said in a speech posted on Facebook. “They have orders to erase our history, our country and all of us.”
Zelenskyy is a Jewish man who called for the protest of the invasion by all Jews.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said Wednesday that the Kremlin would have a delegation ready to meet with Ukrainian officials later in today.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also said his country was ready — but noted that Russia’s demands have not changed and that he wouldn’t accept any ultimatums. Both sides didn’t say exactly where the talks would take place.
Russia is becoming more isolated as the conflict drags on. Russia has been hit hard by sanctions, which have caused turmoil in its economy and rendered it virtually unfriendly to some countries like China, Belarus, and North Korea. Sberbank, the Russian leading bank announced Wednesday it was pulling out from European markets because of tightening Western sanction.
Biden’s first State of the Union Address Tuesday in Washington was a reminder of the determination of the Western alliance to reaffirm its commitment to Ukraine and to adopt tough sanctions.
“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson — when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said. “They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising.”
Biden began speaking, as a convoy made up of hundreds of Russian tanks and vehicles moved slowly onto Kyiv. This was Kyiv’s capital, with nearly 3,000,000 inhabitants.
Invading troops also attacked other cities and towns. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Kharkiv and the strategic port of Mariupol were encircled by Russian forces and that troops had reportedly moved into the center of a third city, Kherson. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had seized Kherson, although the city’s mayor denied Russia had taken full control.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, said it had received a letter from Russia saying its military had taken control around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant. According to the letter, personnel at the plant continued their “work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation,” and it said the “radiation levels remain normal.”
Russia has already seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
The IAEA says that it has received a request from Ukraine to “provide immediate assistance in coordinating activities in relation to the safety” of Chernobyl and other sites.
Numerous military experts fear that Russia could be changing its tactics. Moscow’s strategy in Chechnya and Syria was to use artillery and air bombardments to pulverize cities and crush fighters’ resolve.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said it had seen an increase in Russian air and artillery strikes on populated urban areas over the past two days. Human Rights Watch said it documented a cluster bomb attack outside a hospital in Ukraine’s east in recent days. Also, residents reported that such weapons were used in Kharkiv’s Kiyanka village. However, the Kremlin has denied that cluster bombs are used.
Cluster bombs shoot smaller “bomblets” over a large area, many of which fail to explode until long after they’ve been dropped. Their use would be a step up in war brutality if confirmed.
Mariupol was the port in southern Russia. The mayor stated Wednesday morning that there had been constant attacks.
“We cannot even take the wounded from the streets, from houses and apartments today, since the shelling does not stop,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
Boychenko referred to Russia’s actions as a “genocide” — using the same word Putin has used to justify the invasion.
Moscow threatened to escalate its threats on Tuesday after raising concerns about nuclear war. A top Kremlin official warned that the West’s “economic war” against Russia could turn into a “real one.”
Russia has blamed the conflict on Western threats to Russia’s security, and Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Moscow was weighing counter-sanctions against “unfriendly countries.” He didn’t elaborate on what they could target.
Peskov acknowledged the global economic punishment hitting Russia and Russians now is “unprecedented” but said Moscow had been prepared for all manner of sanctions, and the potential damage had been taken into account before launching the invasion.
“We have experience with this. We have been through several crises,” he said.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry 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 Belarusian troops have been brought into combat readiness and are concentrated close to Ukraine’s northern border. Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus stated that his country is not planning to fight in the conflict.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow, Litvinova from Odesa, Ukraine; Karmanau from Lviv. Mstyslav Cernov in Mariupol (Ukraine); Sergei Grits at Odesa (Ukraine); Robert Burns and Zeke Miller in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman, Andrew Drake and Andrew Drake respectively in Kyiv; Lorne Cooper in Brussels; other AP reporters from all over the globe contributed to this report.