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Shelling of Ukrainian cities, growing refugee crisis: Day 6 of Russia’s invasion

Moscow launches deadly strikes on Kharkiv, Kyiv as massive convoy moves toward capital; sanctions bite Russian economy, causing ruble to tumble

A man reacts inside a vehicle damaged by shelling, in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A man reacts inside a vehicle damaged by shelling, in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its sixth day on Tuesday, with a huge convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles inching closer to the capital of Kyiv and fighting intensifying there and in other big cities.

Russia shelled several key sites in Kyiv and in the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens of others, Ukrainian officials said. Among the sites hit were Kyiv’s main TV tower and holocaust memorial.

Although Ukrainian forces still control Kharkiv and the coastal cities of Kherson and Mariupol, all three are encircled, according to the UK Ministry of Defense.

The Russian economy is paying a price, with Western sanctions causing the ruble to tumble and leading some major companies to pull out of Russian investments.

Here are key things to know Tuesday about the conflict:

What’s happening in Ukraine’s major cities?

Russian shelling struck central Kharkiv’s Freedom Square just after sunrise Tuesday, badly damaging a regional administration building and other structures, and killing at least six people and wounding dozens of others, Ukrainian officials said.

It was the first time the Russian military hit the center of the city of 1.5 million people, though shells have been hitting residential neighborhoods for days.

A view of the central square following shelling of the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Dorogoy)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy blamed a Russian missile and called the attack a war crime: “It’s frank, undisguised terror… Nobody will forgive. Nobody will forget.”

Hours later, more Russian shelling struck Kyiv’s main TV tower and holocaust memorial, killing five people and injuring five others, according to Ukrainian officials. TV broadcasts were temporarily knocked offline, but some channels were up and running again a short time later.

Where is that massive Russian convoy?

The Russian military convoy threatening Kyiv and its nearly 3 million residents is far bigger than initially thought, with satellite images showing it occupying much of a 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of road north of the capital.

The convoy was no more than 17 miles (25 kilometers) from the city center on Monday, according to satellite imagery from the Maxar company.

A satellite image taken by the US company Maxar, which it says shows part of a 40-mile-long Russian military convoy assembled north-west of Kyiv, Ukraine. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech/Agencies)

What’s the battle like in Ukraine’s southern front?

Kyiv’s outgunned but determined troops have slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities. But the attacks have taken a toll.

Russian strikes on the key southern port city of Mariupol seriously wounded several people. Separatist forces in Donetsk said they have established two corridors for the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, which suggests that a large attack on the city could be imminent. The city is a key port on the Azov Sea.

Russian forces have blocked the port city of Kherson, according to Ukrainian officials. And Russian artillery hit a military base in Okhtyrka over the weekend, killing more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers, the head of the region wrote on Telegram.

UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths said Tuesday that shelling and bombing have damaged pipes, electricity lines and basic services in Ukraine, and that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian families are without drinking water.

What does Putin want and how are NATO allies reacting?

Western officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a compliant regime, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.

The United States and European Union have levied sanctions on Russia’s biggest banks and its elite, frozen the assets of the country’s Central Bank located outside the country, and excluded its financial institutions from the SWIFT bank messaging system — but have largely allowed its oil and natural gas to continue to flow freely to the rest of the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 21, 2022. (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Sanctions experts expect Russia to try to mitigate the impact of the financial penalties by relying on energy sales and leaning on the country’s reserves in gold and Chinese currency. Putin also is expected to move funds through smaller banks and accounts of elite families not covered by the sanctions, deal in cryptocurrency and rely on Russia’s relationship with China.

With Russia playing such an outsized role in global energy markets as the third-largest oil producer, the International Energy Agency’s 31 member countries agreed Tuesday to release 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves — half of that from the US — “to send a strong message to oil markets” that supplies won’t fall short due to the invasion of Ukraine.

How many people have fled Ukraine?

The UN refugee agency said Tuesday that about 660,000 people have fled Ukraine for neighboring countries since the invasion began. Agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said “at this rate, the situation looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has said the UN expects the total to reach 4 million in the coming weeks. Poland has seen the most refugees, with Hungary, Romania and Moldova also accepting tens of thousands. Germany’s national train company issued a special free ticket for Ukrainian refugees to reach relatives.

Maria Lisicka, who fled to Poland with her two children when shelling began in their western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, said she would do anything for her kids: “I didn’t want to take them away, I wanted them to be at home, but what can be done? I want their psyche to be normal.”

People crowd on a platform as they wait to board a Lviv-bound train in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

What’s happening to the Russian economy?

Sanctions are “going to cause the Russian economy to collapse,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France Info radio on Tuesday. Nations have blocked some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system and are restricting Russia’s use of its massive foreign currency reserves.

Russia’s central bank has taken drastic steps to prop up the plunging ruble, but foreign investment is flooding out of the country.

Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday that the government had readied measures to temporarily restrict foreign investors from divesting Russian assets, saying the step would help them make “a considered decision” rather than succumb to political pressure of sanctions.

Oil companies such as BP and Shell have pulled out of their stakes in Russian energy ventures. Norwegian Oil and Gas, an association for oil and supplier companies in the world’s third-largest natural gas exporter, followed suit Tuesday by suspending two Russian companies. And the French energy conglomerate TotalEnergies said it wouldn’t fund any new projects in Russia, but it stopped short of abandoning its holdings there.

The world’s biggest shipping company, A.P. Moller-Maersk, announced that all new bookings to and from Russia “will be temporarily suspended, with exception of foodstuffs, medical and humanitarian supplies.” Britain and Canada closed ports to Russian ships.

What happened at the United Nations?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the UN’s top human rights body to hold Russia accountable for the invasion.

In recorded remarks delivered to the Human Rights Council, the top US diplomat also urged it to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he should unconditionally stop the “unprovoked attack” and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

The comments came as the US returned to its seat at the council, which was abandoned under former president Donald Trump, who alleged that the 47-member-state body was too accepting of autocratic governments and too biased against Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears on a screen as he delivers a remote speech, during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 1, 2022. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, Pool)

Meanwhile, the UN’s 193-nation General Assembly met Tuesday for a second day of speeches about the war. More than 110 member states signed up to speak. The assembly, which allows no vetoes, is expected to vote later in the week on a resolution coordinated by EU envoys, working with Ukraine.

The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, demands that Russia immediately stop using force against Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

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