The number of people who have fled Ukraine since Russian forces invaded on Feb. 24 has reached 1 million, the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday.
The tide of people fleeing Ukraine — by car, train and on foot — marks the swiftest exodus of refugees this century. Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said “at this rate,” it could become “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”
Russia and Ukraine said Wednesday that they were prepared to hold talks for the second time, expected to take place Thursday in Belarus. There appears to be little common ground between the two sides.
Also Wednesday, the U.N. General Assembly condemned the invasion and called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
Russia claimed to have taken control of its first major Ukrainian city, Kherson. Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaev said Russian soldiers were in the city and had come to the city administration building. He said he asked them not to shoot civilians and to allow crews to gather bodies from the streets.
“We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook.
In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance but didn’t comment on whether the Russians have seized any cities, including Kherson.
“They will have no peace here," Zelenskyy said. "They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.”
Here's a look at key things to know about the conflict:
The Ukrainian president’s office said Wednesday evening that the country’s delegation was on its way to the second round of talks with Russia since the invasion began, but it didn’t say when it was expected to arrive. Vladimir Medinsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aide and the head of Russia's delegation, told reporters that the Ukrainians were expected to arrive Thursday for the talks in the Brest region of Belarus, which borders Poland.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier Wednesday that his country was ready for talks to resume, but he noted that Russia’s demands hadn't changed and that he wouldn’t accept any ultimatums.
DID KHERSON FALL?
Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said Wednesday that the key Black Sea port city of nearly 300,000 people was under Russia's “complete control," and that talks were underway between Russian commanders and city and regional authorities over how to maintain order. The status of the city was unclear.
Kolykhaev, the mayor, said the port city would maintain an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, restrict incoming traffic to food and medicine deliveries, and require pedestrians to walk alone or in pairs only and to obey commands to stop.
“The flag flying over us is Ukrainian,” he wrote. “And for it to stay that way these demands must be observed.”
Kherson was one of at least three cities that Russian troops had encircled, along with the coastal city of Mariupol and Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN KHARKIV?
Russia's assault on Kharkiv, which has nearly 1.5 million residents, continued with a strike on the regional police and intelligence headquarters, and a university building across the street, according to the Ukrainian emergency services and government officials. A central square near other government buildings, including the city council's, was also hit by explosions.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said an advance of Russian troops on Kharkiv was stopped, so Russia shelled the city with rockets and airstrikes in response.
“Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” said Arestovich, who added that several Russian planes were shot down over the city.
Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said 21 people had been killed and at least 112 wounded over the previous 24 hours.
WHAT ABOUT VIOLENCE ELSEWHERE?
Russia reported its military casualties for the first time since the invasion began last week, saying nearly 500 of its troops had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. Ukraine insisted Russia’s losses were far higher but did not immediately disclose its own.
Russia's 40-mile-long (64-kilometer-long) convoy of tanks and other vehicles remained outside Kyiv as the capital continued to be struck by shelling.
Zelenskyy’s office reported a powerful explosion Wednesday night between the Southern Railway Station and the Ibis hotel in Kyiv. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry is located near that area. Ukrainian Railway Service said at the time of the strike, thousands of women and children were being evacuated from the station, which suffered only minor damage.
Two cruise missiles hit a hospital in the northern city of Chernihiv, the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN quoted the city's chief health administrator, Serhiy Pivovar, as saying. The hospital’s main building was damaged and authorities were working to determine the casualty toll, he said.
And in Mariupol, at least one teenager died and two more were wounded by apparent Russian shelling. The boys’ families said they had been playing soccer near a school.
WHAT IS THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION?
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted: “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries.”
The tally amounts to more than 2% of Ukraine’s population, though some of those fleeing Ukraine are citizens of other countries.
The U.N. agency has predicted that up to 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine but cautioned that even that projection could be revised upward. The World Bank counted Ukraine's population at 44 million at the end of 2020.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said more than 2,000 civilians have died, though it was impossible to verify the claim. The U.N. human rights office said it had recorded the deaths of 136 civilians, including 13 children, in Ukraine since the Feb. 24 start of the invasion.
The EU Commission said Wednesday that it will give temporary residence permits to refugees fleeing the violence and allow them to study and work in the 27-nation bloc. The move would need the approval of member states, which have already expressed broad support.
U.N. CONDEMNATION AND WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION
The U.N. General Assembly voted Wednesday to demand that Russia stop its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all troops, with nations from world powers to tiny island states condemning Moscow. The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the vote “demonstrates the extent of global outrage at Russia’s horrific assault on a sovereign neighbor.”
The resolution deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms.” General Assembly resolutions aren’t legally binding.
The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor opened an investigation Wednesday into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Ukraine, dating back to 2013 and covering the current conflict.
Prosecutor Karim Khan said he did so after 39 of the court’s member states requested an investigation.
ARE THE SANCTIONS HURTING RUSSIA?
Russia has found itself increasingly isolated, hit by sanctions that have thrown its economy into turmoil and left the country practically friendless, apart from China, Belarus and a few other countries.
Leading Russian bank Sberbank said Wednesday that it was pulling out of European markets amid tightening Western sanctions. The bank said its subsidiaries in Europe were facing an “abnormal outflow of funds and a threat to the safety of employees and branches,” according to Russian news agencies.
In Washington, the White House announced additional sanctions against Russia and Belarus, including extending export controls that target Russian oil refining and entities supporting both countries’ militaries.
The West’s sanctions and resulting crash of the ruble have left the Kremlin scrambling to keep the economy running. Putin got some good news Wednesday when the head of China’s bank regulator said China wouldn't impose financial sanctions on Russia. China is a major buyer of Russian oil and gas and the only major government that has refrained from criticizing the Ukraine invasion.
WHAT ABOUT THE SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA'S ULTRA-RICH?
The war has sent shockwaves through the global community of wealthy Russians, who face sanctions that threaten their London mansions, Mediterranean yachts and children’s places at elite European private schools. Some have begun, albeit tentatively, to speak out — though it may be too little to end the war, or to protect their Western fortunes.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich confirmed Wednesday that he's trying to sell the Premier League soccer club that he turned into an elite trophy-winning machine with his lavish investment. Pressure has been growing on the British government to include him among the wealthy Russians to be targeted by sanctions.
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