Major Ukrainian cities still avoiding Russian control

Major Ukrainian cities still avoiding Russian control


The latest details about Russia’s attack on Ukraine:

Despite bombing, Russian forces have not been able to capture major cities

3:15 p.m. EST March 3

Roughly 170,000 of the 190,000 Russian troops amassed along Ukraine’s border two weeks ago are now in the country, according to the Pentagon’s latest assessment.

Despite “heavy bombardment” of northern and eastern Ukrainian cities, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters on Thursday, it appears the Russian effort to take the capital city of Kyiv is still “largely stalled across the north.”

“Air space over Ukraine remains contested, as yesterday,” the official said. “We assess that Ukrainian air and missile defense systems remain intact and they remain effective.”

Despite bombing in and around Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv, Russian forces have not been able to take the cities.

To the south, the official said, the Pentagon can’t confirm whether Kherson is under Russian control.

“Our assessment is that Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control, although we have seen and observed Russian forces advancing on Mariupol, as I said yesterday, with the intention to isolate the city,” he said.

There haven’t been indications so far, he added, that Russian forces will move on Odessa “anytime soon,” though the assumption is that they will attempt to take it either from the Black Sea or on land.

“We cannot confirm reports of the use of cluster munitions. We cannot confirm reports of the presence or use of thermobaric weapons,” the official said. “We still assess that the convoy that everybody’s been focused on is stalled, and that we have no reason to doubt Ukrainian claims that they have the day have contributed to it being stalled by by attacking it.

Meghann Myers, Military Times

Ukraine says agreement reached for safe corridors to evacuate civilians, deliver aid

1:20 p.m. EST March 3

A member of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia says the parties have reached a tentative agreement to organize safe corridors for civilians to evacuate and for humanitarian supplies to be delivered.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who took part in Thursday’s talks in Belarus near the Polish border, said that Russia and Ukraine reached a preliminary understanding that cease-fires will be observed in areas where the safe corridors are established.

-The Associated Press

Zelenskyy asks West for more military aid

1:00 p.m. EST March 3

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to sit down for talks while urging the West to offer a stronger military assistance to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion.

In a sarcastic reference to a long table Putin used for his recent meetings with foreign leaders and Russian officials, Zelenskyy said: “Sit down with me to negotiate, just not at 30 meters,” adding, “I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?”

During Thursday’s news conference, Zelenskyy said that prospects for another round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiations don’t seem promising, but emphasized the need to negotiate, adding that “any words are more important than shots.”

He said the world was too slow to offer support for Ukraine and prodded Western leaders to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine to deny access to the Russian warplanes. The U.S. and NATO allies have ruled out the move that would directly pit Russian and Western militaries.

Zelenskyy charged that if the West remains reluctant to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine, it should at least provide Kyiv with warplanes.

-The Associated Press

Putin claims Russia is offering safe corridors

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Russian military has offered safe corridors to civilians to allow them to leave areas of fighting in Ukraine.

Putin, speaking in a video call with members of his Security Council, has charged that Ukrainian nationalist groups are preventing civilians from leaving.

The Russian leader said the groups were also using civilians as shields, taking up firing positions to provoke the Russian retaliatory fire. Putin’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.

The Russian military says it has only struck military facilities and haven’t targeted residential areas, a claim that has been contradicted by the abundant evidence of massive casualties and damage to residential areas of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and other cities in Ukraine documented by The Associated Press.

Putin reaffirmed his claim that the Russian military was fighting “neo-Nazis,” adding that some Ukrainians were also “fooled by nationalist propaganda.”

He hailed the Russian military as heroes and ordered additional payments to families of the soldiers who were killed and servicemen who were wounded in action.

-The Associated Press

Russia is trying to cut off Ukraine from the sea

8:49 a.m. EST March 3

Russian forces seized a strategic Ukrainian port and besieged another Thursday in a bid to cut the country off from the sea, as the two sides headed for another round of talks aimed at ending the fighting that has sent more than 1 million people fleeing over Ukraine’s borders.

Moscow’s attempt to quickly take over the Ukrainian capital has apparently stalled, but the military has made significant gains in the south as part of efforts to sever the country’s connection to Black and Azov seas.

The Russian military said it had control of Kherson, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.

Elsewhere, the Russians pressed their offensive on multiple fronts, though a column of tanks and other vehicles outside the capital of Kyiv has made little progress in recent days. Heavy fighting continued Thursday on the outskirts of another strategic port city on the Azov Sea, Mariupol, plunging it into darkness, isolation and fear. Electricity and phone connections are largely down, and homes and shops are facing food and water shortages.

Without phone connections, medics didn’t know where to take the wounded.

In just seven days of fighting, more than 2% of Ukraine’s population has been forced out of the country, according to the tally the U.N. refugee agency released to The Associated Press. The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, a city of about 1.4 million people and Ukraine’s second-largest. Residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and pressed onto trains, not always knowing where they were headed.

At least 227 civilians have been killed and another 525 wounded in that time, according to the latest figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. It acknowledges that is a vast undercount, and Ukraine earlier said more than 2,000 civilians have died. That figure could not be independently verified.

As the toll of war mounted, a second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations was expected later Thursday in neighboring Belarus — though the two sides appeared to have little common ground.

“We are ready to conduct talks, but we will continue the operation because we won’t allow Ukraine to preserve a military infrastructure that threatens Russia,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, repeating an accusation Moscow has repeatedly used to justify its invasion.

Lavrov said that the West has continuously armed Ukraine, trained its troops and built up bases there to turn Ukraine into a bulwark against Russia.

The U.S. and its allies have insisted that NATO is a defensive alliance that doesn’t pose a threat to Russia. And the West fears Russia’s invasion is meant to overthrow Ukraine’s government and install a friendly government — though Lavrov said Moscow would let the Ukrainians choose what government they should have.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier raised the specter of nuclear war, putting his country’s nuclear forces on high alert, but his foreign minister shrugged off questions of whether Russia could escalate the conflict with nuclear weapons, saying such talk comes from the West.

In Kherson, the Russians took over the regional administration headquarters, Hennady Lahuta, the governor of the region, said Thursday — while adding that he and other officials were continuing to perform their duties and provide assistance to the population.

Kherson’s mayor, Igor Kolykhaev, previously said that the national flag was still flying, but that there were no Ukrainian troops in the city. Britain’s defense secretary said it was possible the Russians had taken over, though not yet verified.

The mayor said the city would maintain a strict curfew and require pedestrians to walk in groups no larger than two, obey commands to stop and not to “provoke the troops.”

“The flag flying over us is Ukrainian,” he wrote on Facebook. “And for it to stay that way, these demands must be observed.”

Earlier Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russian land forces have stalled and Moscow is now unleashing air attacks, but that they are being parried by Ukrainian defense systems, including in Kherson.

“Kyiv withstood the night and another missile and bomb attack. Our air defenses worked,” he said. “Kherson, Izyum — all the other cities that the occupiers hit from the air did not give up anything.”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions heard overnight in the Ukrainian capital were Russian missiles being shot down by air defense systems.

From Kherson, Russian troops appeared to roll toward Mykolaiv, another major Black Sea port and shipbuilding center to the west along the coast. The regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said that big convoys of Russian troops are advancing on the city but said that they will likely need to regroup before trying to take it over.

A group of Russian amphibious landing vessels is also heading toward the port of Odesa, farther west, the Ukrainian military said.

Moscow’s isolation deepened when most of the world lined up against it at the United Nations to demand it withdraw from Ukraine. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into possible war crimes. And in a stunning reversal, the International Paralympic Committee banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Winter Paralympic Games.

While Moscow wreaked devastation on Ukrainian cities, global sanctions plunged Russia’s economy deeper into crisis.

The ruble, which has tanked since the invasion, lost a further 15% against the dollar while the economy took another hit when two ratings agencies cut Russia’s credit rating, saying the invasion and Western sanctions have hurt Moscow’s ability to repay debts and raised risks for the economy and stability.

Russia reported its military casualties Wednesday for the first time in the war, saying nearly 500 of its troops have been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. Ukraine did not disclose its own military losses.

Ukraine’s military general staff said in a Facebook post that Russia’s forces had suffered some 9,000 casualties in the fighting. It did not clarify if that figure included both killed and wounded soldiers.

In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Zelenskyy praised his country’s resistance.

“We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,” he said. “They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.”

He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.”

“These are not warriors of a superpower,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”

Meanwhile, the senior U.S. defense official said an immense Russian column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles appeared to be stalled roughly 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Kyiv and had made no real progress in the last couple of days.

The convoy, which earlier in the week had seemed poised to launch an assault on the capital, has been plagued with fuel and food shortages, the official said.

On the far edges of Kyiv, volunteers well into their 60s manned a checkpoint to try to block the Russian advance.

“In my old age, I had to take up arms,” said Andrey Goncharuk, 68. He said the fighters needed more weapons, but “we’ll kill the enemy and take their weapons.”

Around Ukraine, others crowded into train stations, carrying children wrapped in blankets and dragging wheeled suitcases into new lives as refugees.

Among the million-plus refugees who have fled Ukraine in recent days were some 200 orphans with severe physical and mental disabilities who arrived from Kyiv by train in Hungary on Wednesday.

Some of them spent more than an hour in underground shelters during a bombing, said Larissa Leonidovna, the director of the Svyatoshinksy orphanage for boys.

– Jim Heintz. Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow; Yuras Karmanau from Lviv, Ukraine; Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine. Sergei Grits in Odesa, Ukraine; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Lynn Berry, Robert Burns and Eric Tucker in Washington; Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

ICC prosecutor launches Ukraine war crimes investigation

5:30 a.m. EST March 3

The International Criminal Court prosecutor has launched an investigation that could target senior officials believed responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide amid a rising civilian death toll and widespread destruction of property during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan announced the probe late Wednesday night after dozens of the court’s member states asked him to take action.

“An investigation by the International Criminal Court into Russia’s barbaric acts is urgently needed and it is right that those responsible are held to account,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said. “The U.K. will work closely with allies to ensure justice is done.”

After informing the court’s judges of his decision to open an investigation that covers all sides in the conflict, Khan said: “Our work in the collection of evidence has now commenced.”

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service has said that more than 2,000 civilians have died since the Russian invasion, a claim that was impossible to verify.

There also have been reports of the use by Russian troops of cluster bombs, with a preschool and a hospital both reportedly hit.

President Vladimir Putin’s “military machine is targeting civilians indiscriminately and tearing through towns across Ukraine,” Truss said.

Rights groups on Thursday welcomed the nations’ request for an investigation.

“The request for an ICC investigation reflects the growing alarm among countries about the escalating atrocities and human rights crisis that has gripped Ukraine,” said Balkees Jarrah, interim international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “These governments are making clear that serious crimes will not be tolerated and that the court has an essential role to play in ensuring justice.”

The court already has conducted a preliminary probe into crimes linked to the violent suppression of pro-European protests in Kyiv in 2013-2014 by a pro-Russia Ukrainian administration and allegations of crimes in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where Moscow has backed rebels since 2014. It found “a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed” in Ukraine, Khan’s predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, said at the time.

Those findings also will be included in Khan’s investigation.

Putin and his military top brass could potentially face charges for ordering attacks that breach the laws of war, said Marieke de Hoon, assistant professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam.

“The ICC is created to circumvent Putin’s head of state immunity in foreign courts,” De Hoon said. “The ICC can now continue its investigation, open cases and issue arrest warrants.”

But she also noted the ICC can only put a suspect on trial in The Hague if they are arrested. The court doesn’t have a police force to detain suspects and relies on international cooperation to enforce its arrest warrants. Under ICC rules, suspects can’t by tried in their absence.

How armies are allowed to act during military conflicts is governed by what is known as international humanitarian law, the aim of which is to protect civilians and rein in the use of force.

“That means that a certain category of people — so-called combatants, who distinguish themselves from civilians and are engaged in the armed conflict — can use force but only against military targets and then only when those are necessary, and only with proportional means,” said De Hoon

To be classed as crimes against humanity, attacks have to be part of what the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, calls “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”

The use of munitions such as cluster bombs also likely will, if confirmed, qualify as war crimes because of their indiscriminate nature.

“It’s impossible with those types of weapons to distinguish between military targets and civilians,” De Hoon said.

While Khan has now opened an investigation, he most likely won’t be able to send investigators into Ukraine to collect evidence and speak to witnesses while war is still raging.

“It is hard to investigate on the ground now,” De Hoon said. “But there are a lot of open source investigations possible, using for instance satellite images and social media posts. Other states can also share the evidence they collect with the ICC.”

The ICC was set up in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The crime of aggression, which can’t be investigated in Ukraine because neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the court, was added later. The ICC is a court of last resort, taking on cases when national authorities are unwilling or unable to prosecute.

Over the past 20 years, its prosecutors have filed charges against military and government leaders in several countries, but it hasn’t managed to bring many to justice.

One of the first suspects charged by the court was Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord who leads the cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. An international arrest warrant for Kony was issued in 2005 but he remains at large.

Another high profile fugitive is ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who still hasn’t been handed to the ICC despite arrest warrants dating back to 2009 and 2010 for allegedly ordering atrocities in the Darfur region.

As Khan launched the court’s latest investigation, he put combatants and their leaders on notice that he is watching them.

“With an active investigation now underway, I repeat my call to all those engaged in hostilities in Ukraine to adhere strictly to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law,” he said. “No individual in the Ukraine situation has a license to commit crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”

-Mike Corder, The Associated Press



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.