Refugee count tops 1 million; Russians besiege Ukraine ports
The U.N. refugee agency says 1 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded the country a week ago, setting off the swiftest exodus of refugees this century, and more millions more may follow.
The United Nations says that “while the scale and scope of displacement is not yet clear, we do expect that more than 10 million people may flee their homes if violence continues, including 4 million people who may cross borders to neighboring countries,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday.
The count came as Russian forces besieged two strategic Ukrainian seaports on the Black Sea and pressed their bombardment of the country’s second-biggest city.
The Russian military said Thursday it had control of Kherson, which has a population of 280,000 people, making it the first major city to fall since a Russian invasion began last week.
Russian armored vehicles were seen in the otherwise empty streets of Kherson, in videos shared with The Associated Press by a resident.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in Mariupol, in the outskirts of the strategic the Azov Sea port city. Electricity and phone connections are mostly not working in Mariupol, which faces food and water shortages.
33 civilians reported dead in strike on northern city
Ukraine’s state emergencies agency now says at least 33 civilians have been killed and another 18 wounded in a Russian strike on a residential area in Chernihiv, a city of 280,000 in Ukraine’s north.
The agency said Thursday night that it was forced to suspend the search for more casualties in the rubble because of new shelling.
Video taken in the aftermath of shelling in the city shows firefighters standing in rubble dousing flames with hoses as rescue crews carried at least one person on a stretcher and another helper assisted a person down a ladder.
Smoke spewed from a high-rise building just behind what appeared to be a children’s swing set, according to video released Thursday by the Ukrainian government.
Battle in city near Europe’s largest nuclear plant
The mayor of Enerhodar, site of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, says Ukrainian forces are battling Russian troops on the edges of the city.
Enerhodar is a major energy hub on the left bank of the Dnieper River and the Khakhovka Reservoir that accounts for about one quarter of the country’s power generation due to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is Europe’s largest.
Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, said Thursday that a big Russian convoy was approaching the city and urged residents not to leave homes.
UN: 249 civilians killed as of Thursdau morning
The U.N. human rights office said Thursday morning its latest count of casualties in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week has risen to 249 civilians killed and 553 injured.
That was only a small increase from its previous tally a day earlier, when it counted 227 civilian deaths and 525 people injured, likely a testament to the difficulty it has had in confirming deaths amid the continued fighting and bloodshed. Seventeen of those killed were children, and 27 were women, the latest count found.
The rights office admits that its figures so far are a vast undercount. It uses a strict methodology and counts only confirmed casualties. The latest count is as of midnight local time from Tuesday to Wednesday. Ukrainian officials have presented far higher numbers.
The U.N. office acknowledged that many reports are pending corroboration, such as in the town of Volnovakha in the government-controlled part of eastern Ukraine, “where mass civilian casualties have been alleged.”
Zelenskyy asks West for more military aid
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.
At least seven educational institutions damaged
The United Nations’ cultural agency says it is assessing the damage to Ukraine’s educational and cultural institutions and its heritage sites amid Russia’s invasion.
UNESCO’s director general Audrey Azoulay is calling on the Russian forces and the international community to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage.
She said in a statement Thursday that the UN agency is coordinating efforts with Ukrainian authorities to mark as quickly as possible key historic monuments and sites across Ukraine with an internationally recognized sign for the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.
UNESCO will also organize a meeting with the country’s museum directors to help them safeguard collections and cultural property as the war rages.
Ukraine has seven World Heritage sites, located in the western city of Lviv; in the capital, Kyiv; in the Black Sea port city of Odesa; and in the second largest city of Kharkiv. All four cities have been subjected to artillery attacks and air bombardment by the invading Russian forces.
At least seven educational institutions have been damaged in attacks over the past week, including the Karazin National University in Kharkiv on Wednesday, the UNESCO statement said.
The nationwide closure of schools and education facilities since the assault on Ukraine began has affected the entire school-aged population: 6 million students between ages of 3 and 17, and more than 1.5 million enrolled in higher education institutions, according to the statement.