A Russian armoured column bore down on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Tuesday after the deadly shelling of civilian areas in its second largest city indicated that frustrated Russian commanders could resort to more devastating tactics to achieve the goals of their invasion.
Nearly a week since Moscow unleashed its war on its neighbour, its troops have failed to capture a single major Ukrainian city after running into fierce resistance.
But it still has more forces to throw into the fight even though Russian President Vladimir Putin faces worldwide condemnation and international sanctions for his actions.
Oil company Shell became the latest Western firm to announce it was pulling out of Russia. The sanctions and global financial isolation have already had a devastating impact on Russia’s economy, with the rouble in freefall and queues outside banks as Russians rush to salvage their savings.
Kyiv was still in the hands of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government, with soldiers and civilians ready to fight the invaders street by street.
But pictures released by U.S. satellite company Maxar showed Russian tanks and fuel trucks stretching for 40 miles (60 km) along a highway and bearing down on Kyiv from the north.
“For the enemy, Kyiv is the key target,” Zelenskiy, who has remained in the capital rallying Ukrainians, said in a message overnight.
“We did not let them break the defence of the capital, and they send saboteurs to us…We will neutralise them all.”
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russian forces were trying to lay siege to Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine.
Russian troops fired artillery at Kyiv, Kharkiv and the southern port city of Mariupol overnight while the Ukrainian side shot down Russian military planes around the capital, Arestovych said.
Ukrainian authorities also reported 70 soldiers killed in a rocket attack in a town between Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Risk to civilians
In Moscow, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said ’’the Kremlin would continue its military operation in Ukraine until it achieves its goals. It aimed to protect itself from threats created by the West and Russia was not occupying Ukraine’s territory.’’
Britain’s defence ministry said in an intelligence update that the Russian advance on Kyiv had made little progress in the past 24 hours, probably due to logistical problems.
But it also warned of a shift in Russian tactics.
“The use of heavy artillery in densely populated urban areas greatly increases the risk of civilian casualties,” it said.
Kharkiv bore the brunt of the attack. Officials say dozens of people were killed and injured by missile strikes that hit civilian areas.
Zelenskiy said the artillery attacks on Kharkiv amounted to state terrorism.
“The terror aims to break us, to break our resistance,” he said in a video address.
Human rights groups and Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States have accused Russia of using cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, weapons that have been condemned by many organizations.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian losses included 5,710 personnel, 29 destroyed and damaged aircraft and 198 tanks, all figures that could not be verified.
Russia has not given a full account of its battlefield losses, but pictures from Ukraine have shown burnt-out Russian tanks and bodies on the road where they have been attacked by Ukrainian defenders.
Talks held at the Belarus border failed to reach a breakthrough. Negotiators have not said when a new round will take place.
Public health experts say Ukraine is running low on critical medical supplies and fears of a wider public health crisis are growing as people flee their homes and health services and supplies are interrupted.
More than 500,000 people have fled Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency, setting off a refugee crisis as thousands await passage at European border crossings.
At the United Nations, the General Assembly met ahead of a vote to isolate Russia, deploring Moscow’s “aggression against Ukraine” and demanding its troops stop fighting and withdraw.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described Putin’s decision on Sunday to put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert as a “chilling development”, telling the General Assembly that nuclear conflict is “inconceivable”.
Putin’s Russia faces near total international isolation, with the notable exception of China, over his decision to launch what he called a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and capture “neo-Nazis and drug addicts” that lead it.
Most devastating for Russia have been sanctions on its central bank that prevent it from using its $630 billion foreign reserve war chest to prop up the rouble.
Oil companies Shell, BP and Norway’s Equinor have said they would exit positions in Russia, which relies on oil and gas for export earnings.
Canada said it would ban imports of Russian crude oil, and U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged the Biden administration to target the Russian energy sector with sanctions.
Leading banks, airlines and automakers ended partnerships, halted shipments and called Russia’s actions unacceptable.
Mastercard said it had blocked multiple financial institutions from its payment network as a result of sanctions on Russia and Visa said it would take action too.
Three major studios, Sony, Disney and Warner Bros., said they would pause theatrical releases of upcoming films in Russia while FIFA and the International Olympic Committee moved to bar Russian teams and athletes from competing.
Putin, who takes pride in athleticism and is passionate about martial arts, had his honorary black belt from World Taekwondo stripped from him over the invasion, the group said.
A number of international sports bodies have now censured Russia, a sign of the widespread global revulsion at its actions.