Brutal onslaught rages in Ukraine as Zelensky calls for more international support
Originally Published: 02 MAR 22 00:35 ET
(CNN) -- Russia's brutal onslaught on Ukraine was raging on multiple fronts Wednesday, but despite desperate pleas for more international assistance, the country faces Moscow's offensive largely alone.
Key cities in Ukraine are being attacked from several sides, with Russia launching strikes on buildings in the center of the capital Kyiv and in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, while its troops battle Ukrainian forces for control of the southern city of Kherson.
In other developments:
- Fighting continues in the southern city of Mariupol, with residents reporting heavy shelling overnight.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has appealed for more help to face down the Russian assault as a 40-mile Russian convoy of tanks, armored vehicles and towed artillery continues to edge towards Kyiv.
- US President Joe Biden condemned Russia in his first State of the Union address, saying he would not send US troops to Ukraine, but that those in Europe are there to "defend our NATO allies in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west."
- At least 136 people, including 13 children, have been killed during the Russian invasion and another 400 civilians have been injured, according to the United Nations, but the real death toll is likely much higher.
- Efforts to isolate Russia continue, with the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) set to make a decision about whether to ban Russian athletes from the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing.
- A Russian delegation will meet with Ukrainian counterparts on Wednesday afternoon for a new round of talks, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Russian's defense ministry claimed its troops had taken full control of the southern city of Kherson, Russian state news agency TASS reported, although Ukraine denied the city had fallen and said some parts remained under Ukrainian control.
CNN was unable to immediately verify Russia's claims, although video and social media posts verified by CNN provided new evidence that the Russians are moving throughout the city apparently unimpeded.
In Kharkiv, a Wednesday morning strike on the regional police department and Kharkiv National University left the buildings engulfed by fire, according to Ukraine's State Emergency Service and videos geolocated by CNN.
As the attacks continue, Russia is facing increased criticism over its invasion of Ukraine, with Biden slamming Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in his State of the Union speech Tuesday for a "premeditated and unprovoked war."
"Putin is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been," Biden said, as he announced a ban on Russian aircraft and airlines from entering US airspace.
But while the US and NATO allies have aided Ukraine by sharing arms, military equipment and intelligence while imposing dramatic sanctions on Russia, the alliance has thus far made clear it has no plans to send soldiers into Ukraine.
Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, has mounted a fierce resistance, but in a rare interview from a Kyiv bunker Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that his country -- which has a much smaller military than Russia -- needs more help to prevent the crisis from spreading across Europe.
"I've spoken to Biden many times," Zelensky told CNN's Matthew Chance. "And I've told them many times that Ukraine will resist and fight stronger than anyone else but on our own against Russia we won't manage it."
Onslaught in Ukraine
As Russia launched strikes on key cities Tuesday, Zelensky warned that Russia was indiscriminately attacking Ukrainian citizens and historical landmarks.
"As you can see, no one is being very careful about the targets. We see the children are being killed," he said. "We are defending our right for life."
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence update Wednesday that Russia's overall gains have been limited in the past 24 hours, adding this was probably due to "ongoing logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance."
Russia has continued to target built-up areas with air strikes and heavy artillery, it added, focusing mainly on Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv.
A 40-mile Russian convoy of tanks, armored vehicles and towed artillery continues to edge toward the Ukrainian capital, according to satellite images from Maxar Technologies. A US official said the convoy had been stalled due to fuel supply issues, while the UK said in a Tuesday intelligence update that the column continued to make slow progress toward Kyiv.
In Kyiv, sick children are being treated in a hospital's underground bomb shelters. A missile hit a private maternity clinic near the capital Kyiv on Tuesday, leaving the clinic damaged but still standing, according to the Adonis maternity clinic chief Vitaliy Gyrin's Facebook post. Separately, a military strike tore through two apartment blocks in a town west of Kyiv.
Russian forces also fired rockets that hit near a TV tower. In a statement Wednesday, Russia's defense ministry acknowledged carrying out long-range strikes on communications infrastructure in Ukraine.
Kharkiv was rocked by at least two large explosions on Tuesday evening in the city's north, a resident said.
New videos posted to social media early Wednesday and verified by CNN showed badly damaged buildings in western Kharkiv in an area with markets, stores and residential buildings. The damage is unrelated to a major explosion that took part in the northern part of the city.
And fighting took place overnight in the city between Russian and Ukrainian forces near a Kharkiv military hospital, the head of the local police told Ukraine's public broadcaster, Suspilne News. It's unclear whether the explosion and reported fighting are related.
Russian and Ukrainian delegations will meet Wednesday afternoon for a new round of talks, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call with foreign journalists. He gave no additional details about the location or format of the discussions.
On Monday, talks took place between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus, not far from the Ukrainian border. The two sides discussed a potential ceasefire, according to a Ukrainian presidential adviser, but the talks did not yield any concrete result.
Peskov also acknowledged in the call that the Russian economy was taking "serious blows" as a result of sanctions imposed by the West, but said there was a "certain margin of safety" and that the economy "will stay on its feet."
As the civilian death toll rises, the international community is stepping up pressure on Putin, leaving Russia increasingly isolated.
Biden said the US stood with Ukraine, adding "let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people."
US oil and gas company ExxonMobil pledged Tuesday to leave its last remaining oil and gas project in Russia, while a spokesperson for US multinational Boeing confirmed in a statement to CNN that the company has suspended major operations in Moscow and temporarily closed its office in Kyiv.
But Zelensky has urged the international community to do more, calling on the US and NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine or put boots on the ground.
"If somebody wants to help us, everybody has to act swiftly," Zelensky added. "This is the moment."
Zelensky also predicted troubles in NATO member states if Russia seizes control of his country. "If Ukraine fails, then all these troops will be at your borders, Poland, Lithuania ... and you'll be facing greater issues. There'll be other provocations there," he said.
In his speech Tuesday, Biden reiterated that US would not deploy troops to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
Instead, American troops were in Europe to "defend our NATO allies in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west."
"As I've made crystal clear, the United States and our Allies will defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our collective power," he said. "When the history of this era is written, Putin's war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger."
The UN launched emergency appeals Tuesday to support Ukrainian refugees after saying that some 677,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in "less than a week."
"We are looking at what could become Europe's largest refugee crisis this century," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
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