Russia pummels Kharkiv as massive convoy nears capital Kyiv

Ukraine’s second-largest city pounded; Russian defense minister says operation will go on till ‘goals achieved;’ UK won’t agree to NATO no-fly zone; Australia to send ‘lethal’ aid

Ukrainian servicemen and volunteers of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces stand behind a damaged car at a checkpoint in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)
Ukrainian servicemen and volunteers of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces stand behind a damaged car at a checkpoint in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Russian shelling pounded civilian targets in Ukraine’s second-largest city again Tuesday and a 40-mile convoy of tanks and other vehicles threatened the capital Kyiv — tactics Ukraine’s embattled president said were designed to force him into concessions in Europe’s largest ground war in generations.

Russia will continue the offensive in Ukraine until its “goals are achieved,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, almost a week into Moscow’s invasion.

At a press conference aired on state television, Shoigu said Moscow aims to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine, as well as protect Russia from a “military threat created by Western countries.”

Satellite photos showed a convoy of Russian forces north of Ukraine’s capital stretching for 40 miles. The vast convoy of armored vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles was nearing Kyiv, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.

The images also showed “additional ground forces deployments and ground attack helicopter units” in southern Belarus near the Ukraine border, Maxar said.

Initial ceasefire talks between Moscow and Kyiv on Monday failed to secure a breakthrough, with Russia shelling residential areas in Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv and other areas of the country after the negotiations.

A satellite image taken February 27, 2022, by a private satellite company shows a large convoy of Russian forces some 40 miles northwest of Kyiv. (Maxar Technologies)

The Russian army has been regrouping and massing its forces over the past 24 hours “primarily to encircle and take control of Kyiv and other major cities,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces wrote on Facebook.

UK says no to no-fly zone

Britain’s deputy prime minister again rejected calls for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it would risk widening the war by putting the alliance in direct conflict with Russian forces.

Dominic Raab told Sky News that Britain instead is pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin to change course by working with other countries to ratchet up sanctions and investigate war crimes during the conflict.

“We’re not going to (impose a no-fly zone) because it would put us in a position where we would have to enforce it by, in effect, shooting down Russian planes,” Raab said in an interview with Sky.

The comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked NATO to impose a complete no-fly zone for Russian airplanes, helicopters and missiles.

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab arrives at 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 18, 2022. (Alastair Grant/AP)

The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia has failed to gain control of the skies over Ukraine, forcing it to shift to night operations to reduce its losses.

Russian forces have “made little progress” in their advance to Kyiv over the past 24 hours, probably because of logistical difficulties, the ministry said.

Kyiv prepares, Kharkiv is pounded

In the capital, many were preparing for a fresh assault with makeshift barricades dotting the streets.

“We will greet them with Molotov cocktails and bullets to the head,” bank employee Viktor Rudnichenko told AFP. “The only flowers they might get from us will be for their grave.”

A man cleans a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 28, 2022. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Explosions were also reported in and around Brovary, a city on the outskirts of the capital.

Russia has been shelling Kharkiv, pounding civilian targets there. Casualties mounted and reports emerged that more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery recently hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv.

Kharkiv’s Mayor Igor Terekhov, quoted by Ukrainian media, warned that Moscow’s armored vehicles and tanks are “everywhere around the city.”

Regional administration chief Oleh Sinehubov said that Kharkiv’s administration headquarters also came under Russian shelling. Images posted online showed the building’s facade and interior badly damaged by a powerful explosion that also blew up part of its roof. The state emergencies agency said that attack wounded six people, including a child.

Meanwhile, the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea has been left without electricity following attacks from advancing Russian forces, the head of the region Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

“Mariupol and Volnovakha are ours!” Kyrylenko wrote on Facebook. “The two cities are under pressure from the enemy but they are holding on. In Mariupol, electricity lines have been cut and the city is without power.”

Both cities lie between territory held by Russian-backed separatists and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, and Russian forces have been working to join the two regions.

The separatist forces in Donetsk said they have established two corridors for the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, an indication that a large attack could be imminent.

A spokesman for the separatists’ military said civilian safety of movement is guaranteed until Wednesday in the corridors.

More than 350 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the invasion last Thursday, Ukraine says, while more than half a million people have fled the country.

The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas.

This file photo taken on January 6, 2022 shows Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. (AFP)

Russia’s movements have been stalled by fierce resistance on the ground and a surprising inability to dominate Ukraine’s airspace.

Western nations have increased weapons shipments to Ukraine to help its forces defend themselves — but have so far ruled out sending in troops.

Australia said Tuesday it will provide Ukraine with $50 million in missiles, ammunition and other military hardware to fight Russian invaders.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison elaborated on his country’s plans after revealing a day earlier that his government would provide Zelensky with lethal military equipment. Morrison had promised only non-lethal military equipment last week.

Australia had committed to provide both lethal and non-lethal defensive support for Ukraine through NATO, he said.

“The overwhelming majority of that… will be in the lethal category,” Morrison said.

“We’re talking missiles, we’re talking ammunition, we’re talking supporting them in their defense of their own homeland in Ukraine and we’ll be doing that in partnership with NATO,” Morrison said.

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