Ukraine pounded and exodus mounts as Russia seizes key city

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Kyiv is sending a delegation to Thursday’s ceasefire talks, but has warned it will not accept ‘ultimatums’

Russian troops seized Kherson, the first major Ukrainian city to fall in a war that has drawn global outrage and driven one million civilians from their homes, ahead of ceasefire talks Thursday.

With the diplomatic and economic costs mounting for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky extolled his own people’s “heroic” resistance.

“We are a nation that broke the enemy’s plans in a week,” President Zelensky said in a video posted on the Telegram messaging service.

However, after a three-day siege that left Kherson short of food and medicine, Ukrainian officials conceded the loss of the Black Sea city of 290,000 people.

The Russians “just wanted to destroy us all”, Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko said, accusing their forces of shooting at residential buildings. 

Oleg Rubak’s wife Katia, 29, was crushed in the rubble of their family home in Zhytomyr, 150 kilometres (93 miles) west of Kyiv, by a Russian missile strike.

“I hope she’s in heaven and all is perfect for her.”

– Junk status –

But the Russian president now finds himself an international pariah, his country the subject of swingeing sanctions that sent the ruble into further freefall on currency markets Thursday.

The unfolding financial costs were underlined as ratings agencies Fitch and Moody’s slashed Russia’s sovereign debt to “junk” status. 

The UN General Assembly voted 141-5 to demand that Russia “immediately” withdraw from Ukraine. Only four countries supported Russia — Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria — while China abstained.

The invasion has triggered a dramatic realignment of security policy in Europe, with NATO reinforcing its eastern flank and Germany planning a big increase in military spending. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the human costs were already “staggering”, accusing Russia of attacking places that “aren’t military targets”.

Kyiv is sending a delegation to Thursday’s ceasefire talks, at an undisclosed location on the Belarus-Poland border but has warned it will not accept “ultimatums”.

– Leaving everything behind –

“We left everything there as they came and ruined our lives,” refugee Svitlana Mostepanenko told AFP in Prague. 

Nathalia Lypka, a professor of German from the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, fled to Berlin with her 21-year-old daughter.

“We thank Europe for its support.”

Scores of images have emerged of burned-out Russian tanks, the charred remains of transporters and of unarmed Ukrainians confronting bewildered occupying forces.

Russian authorities have imposed a media blackout on what the Kremlin euphemistically calls a “special military operation”.

But Russians have still turned out for large anti-war protests across the country, in a direct challenge to Putin’s 20-year rule.

“I couldn’t stay at home. This war has to be stopped,” student Anton Kislov, 21, told AFP.

Originally published as Ukraine pounded and exodus mounts as Russia seizes key city


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