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Russians shell Kharkiv, besiege Mariupol as Ukraine says over 2,000 civilians killed

Moscow says some 500 of its troops killed and nearly 1,600 wounded, in first official casualty figures since the beginning of the war

  • A woman stands in the backyard of a house damaged by a Russian airstrike, according to locals, in Gorenka, outside the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022 (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
    A woman stands in the backyard of a house damaged by a Russian airstrike, according to locals, in Gorenka, outside the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022 (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
  • People gather in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded cities in what Ukraine's leader called a blatant campaign of terror. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    People gather in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded cities in what Ukraine's leader called a blatant campaign of terror. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • Firefighters work to contain a fire in the complex of buildings housing the Kharkiv regional SBU security service and the regional police, allegedly hit during recent shelling by Russia, in Kharkiv on March 2, 2022. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
    Firefighters work to contain a fire in the complex of buildings housing the Kharkiv regional SBU security service and the regional police, allegedly hit during recent shelling by Russia, in Kharkiv on March 2, 2022. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
  • Ukrainian firefighters stand beneath a television broadcast tower in the Jewish cemetery located in Kyiv's Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site on March 1, 2022. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine)
    Ukrainian firefighters stand beneath a television broadcast tower in the Jewish cemetery located in Kyiv's Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site on March 1, 2022. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine)
  • Firefighters work to contain a fire at the Economy Department building of Karazin Kharkiv National University, allegedly hit during recent shelling by Russia, on March 2, 2022. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
    Firefighters work to contain a fire at the Economy Department building of Karazin Kharkiv National University, allegedly hit during recent shelling by Russia, on March 2, 2022. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
  • A view of the square outside the damaged local city hall of Kharkiv on March 1, 2022, destroyed as a result of Russian troop shelling. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
    A view of the square outside the damaged local city hall of Kharkiv on March 1, 2022, destroyed as a result of Russian troop shelling. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
  • Ukrainian emergency service personnel carry a body of a victim out of the damaged City Hall building following shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (AP/Pavel Dorogoy)
    Ukrainian emergency service personnel carry a body of a victim out of the damaged City Hall building following shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (AP/Pavel Dorogoy)
  • A view of the central square following shelling of the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Dorogoy)
    A view of the central square following shelling of the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Dorogoy)

Russian troops continued to besiege major Ukrainian cities on Wednesday night, shelling the northeastern city of Kharkiv and encircling the southern cities of Mariupol and Kherson, as casualties on both sides continued to rise.

Ukraine’s emergency service announced on Wednesday night that over 2,000 civilians have been killed so far in Russia’s invasion of the country, as the war neared the end of its seventh day, according to the Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, Moscow said that 498 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine, in the first death toll Russian authorities have published since the invasion began. Another 1,597 have been wounded, a Russian defense ministry spokesperson said.

Ukraine has claimed the toll is far higher, at nearly 6,000 dead soldiers. The Russian Defense Ministry failed to publish any figures on the matter for several days, despite reports of a rising death count following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade.

Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov rejected reports of “incalculable losses” among the Russians as “disinformation.” He claimed that more than 2,870 Ukrainian troops have been killed and some 3,700 more sustained injuries, while 572 others have been captured by the Russians.

Ukrainian officials did not comment on the claim and it could not be immediately verified.

Fighting has raged across Ukraine, while miles-long convoys of Russian troops have sought to encircle and besiege major Ukrainian cities. Nearly 836,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations.

A Ukrainian national flag swings on a tree by a destroyed accommodation building near a checkpoint in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

So far, Ukrainians have succeeded in denying Russians the lightning victory they apparently sought in the opening hours of the war. Although Russian forces have heavily bombarded Ukrainian cities, they have yet to conquer a major city.

According to Ukraine’s emergency service, hundreds of buildings have been destroyed, among them hospitals, homes, kindergartens and more.

“Children, women and defense forces are losing their lives every hour,” the service said.

Russian forces shelled several Ukrainian cities as troops battled in the streets of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, all day on Wednesday. Airborne Russian forces landed in the city at dawn in an attempt to win the Russians their first major prize.

Kharkiv, a largely Russian-speaking city near the Russian border, has a population of around 1.4 million.

After a day of battle, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday night that the advance of Russian troops in Kharkiv had been stopped. In response, Russians had shelled the city with heavy rocket launchers and air attacks.

Explosions thundered on Kharkiv’s Constitution Square, near the buildings of the City Council and the Palace of Labor. A missile attack also destroyed the building of the regional police department and the university building, which is located across the street.

Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said that over the past 24 hours 21 people were killed and at least 112 were injured by Russians.

“Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” said Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Russians used Iskander missile systems to bombard Ukrainian cities, including Kharkiv, Kyiv, Zhytomyr and Chernihiv, according to AFP.

“There is nowhere in Kharkiv where shells have not yet struck,” said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister.

Ukrainian emergency service personnel carry a body of a victim out of the damaged City Hall building following shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. (AP/Pavel Dorogoy)

Arestovich said that several Russian planes were shot down over Kharkiv. He added that Iskander missile systems can deviate from their target, making them “a danger to civilian objects.”

Russian troops encircled the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in the south on Tuesday night, leading Ukrainian officials to fear that the city could fall into Moscow’s hands. Russian forces bombarded the city for over 15 hours, Deputy Mayor Serhiy Olov told the BBC.

Orlov said that Russian forces deployed near the city had launched intensive strikes on civilian neighborhoods.

“We cannot count the number of victims there, but we believe at least hundreds of people are dead. We cannot go in to retrieve the bodies. My father lives there, I cannot reach him, I don’t know if he is alive or dead,” Orlov said.

Russian forces claimed earlier on Wednesday that the southern city of Kherson had fallen into Russian hands. The Ukrainian government, however, has insisted that the local municipality is still functioning.

“The Russian divisions of the armed forces have taken the regional center of Kherson under full control,” Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson, said in televised remarks.

He said talks were underway between the Russian army and local authorities on maintaining order, protecting the population and keeping public services functioning.

Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaiev rejected the Russian claim in a post on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon: “We are still Ukraine. Still firm.”

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry later reported that the battle for the city was still ongoing.

“According to the info from our brigade the battles are going on now,” a spokesperson for the ministry said, according to CNN. “The city is not captured totally, some parts are under our control.”

Both sides, meanwhile, have been engaged in an intense propaganda war in an effort to gain the upper hand. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry invited the mothers of captured Russian troops to come and collect their sons, in an apparent attempt to embarrass Moscow.

“A decision has been taken to hand over captured Russian troops to their mothers if they come to collect them in Ukraine, in Kyiv,” the defense ministry says in a statement.

Kyiv has also sought to undermine Russian public support for the invasion by opening a telephone hotline for Russian parents to find out if their sons are among the dead or captured.

“You will be received and taken to Kyiv where your son will be returned to you,” the ministry said. “Unlike Putin’s fascists, we Ukrainians are not waging war against mothers and their captured children.”

Firefighters work to contain a fire at the Economy Department building of Karazin Kharkiv National University, allegedly hit during recent shelling by Russia, on March 2, 2022. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)

Separately, Ukrainian forces published videos of captured Russian prisoners describing being kept in the dark about the invasion even as it was underway, and condemning the Russian military’s conduct.

The videos were likely shot under duress, placing the credibility of the soldiers’ testimonies in doubt. Nonetheless, the accounts are striking: in one, a soldier said his commander refused to tell him where the unit was going.

“We acted like Nazis. We attacked people here, so they were forced to defend their territory,” another soldier said.

The International Criminal Court has opened a war crimes investigation against Russia.

Zelensky on Wednesday accused Russia of seeking to “erase” Ukrainians, their country and their history, after missiles fell near the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Site, lightly damaging it.

In a video address, the Ukrainian leader said a missile strike on a target at the Babyn Yar site shows that “for many people in Russia our Kyiv is completely foreign.

“They know nothing about our capital. About our history. But they have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all,” he said.

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