The Russian invasion of Ukraine has killed more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians and destroyed hundreds of structures including transport facilities, hospitals, kindergartens and homes, Ukraine’s emergency service said on Wednesday.
“Children, women and defence forces are losing their lives every hour,” it said in a statement.
Ukrainians said they were fighting on in the first sizeable city Russia claimed to have seized, Kherson, while Moscow stepped up its lethal bombardment of major population centres that its invasion force has so far failed to tame.
With Moscow having failed in its aim of swiftly overthrowing Ukraine’s government nearly a week after the start of the invasion, western countries are worried that it is switching to new, far more violent tactics to blast its way into cities it had expected to take easily.
The most intensive bombardment has struck Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people in the east, whose centre has been turned into a bombed-out wasteland of ruined buildings and debris.
“The Russian ‘liberators’ have come,” one Ukrainian volunteer lamented sarcastically, as he and three others strained to carry the dead body of a man wrapped in a bedsheet out of ruins on a main square.
The roof of a police building in the centre of the city collapsed as it was engulfed in flames. Authorities said four more people were killed by shelling and air strikes there on Wednesday morning. Russian paratroopers landed in Kharkiv at 3am, security chiefs said, with officials saying the paratroopers were engaged in heavy fighting.
Kharkiv’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said: “We never expected this could happen: total destruction, annihilation, genocide against the Ukrainian people – this is unforgivable.”
Russia was reprimanded on Wednesday by the UN General Assembly, where a motion demanding Moscow immediately stops the invasion of Ukraine was overwhelmingly backed. Meeting in New York, 141 nations voted in favour of the motion calling for the withdrawal of all occupying forces, while five were against and 35 countries abstained.
Resolutions of the General Assembly are not legally binding but do show the strength of international feeling on the issue.
Apple, Exxon, Boeing and other firms joined an exodus of companies around the world from the Russian market, which has left Moscow financially and diplomatically isolated since Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion last week.
“He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he could never anticipated or imagined: he met Ukrainian people,” US president Joe Biden said in his annual state of the union address to Congress.
A second round of ceasefire talks was due to start, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying a delegation was ready to meet Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, also said his country was ready for talks, but noted that Russia’s demands had not changed and that Ukrainians would not accept any ultimatums.
Russia’s TASS news agency, citing Zelenskiy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, reported that a second round of talks between Russia and Ukraine would take place on Wednesday.
Moscow said on Wednesday it had captured Kherson, a provincial capital of about one-quarter of a million people on the southern front, but Ukraine disputed the claim.
The regional governor had said overnight that the city was surrounded, under fire, and Russian troops were looting shops and pharmacies. On Wednesday, Mr Arestovych said street fighting was going on in the port, which sits at the Dnieper river’s exit into the Black Sea.
“The city has not fallen, our side continues to defend,” said the adviser.
Also in the south, Russia is putting intense pressure on the port of Mariupol, which it says it has surrounded in a ring around the entire coast of the Sea of Azov. The besieged city’s mayor said Mariupol had suffered mass casualties after a night of intense strikes. He gave no full casualty figure, but said it was impossible to evacuate the wounded.
But on the other two main fronts in the east and north, Russia so far has little to show for its advance, with Ukraine’s two biggest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv, holding out in the face of increasingly intense bombardment.
In Kyiv, the capital of 3 million people where residents have been sheltering at night in the underground metro, Russia blasted the main television tower near a Holocaust memorial on Tuesday, killing bystanders.
Mr Zelenskiy, in his latest update to his nation, said that attack proved that the Russians “don’t know a thing about Kyiv, about our history. But they all have orders to erase our history, erase our country, erase us all.”
Earlier, a tired and unshaven Mr Zelenskiy, wearing green battle fatigues in a heavily guarded government compound, told Reuters and CNN in an interview that the bombing must stop for talks to end the war.
“It’s necessary to at least stop bombing people, just stop the bombing and then sit down at the negotiating table.”
Russia’s main advance on the capital – a huge armoured column stretched for miles along the road to Kyiv – has been largely frozen in place for days, western governments say. A senior US defence officia