| 24 February 2024, Saturday |

Ukraine’s second city heavily bombed as U.N. assembly denounces Russia

Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was heavily bombarded on Wednesday as the United Nations condemned Russia’s week-long incursion in a historic vote and dozens of nations referred Moscow to be investigated for alleged war crimes.

The largest attack on a European state since 1945 has resulted in almost 870,000 people fleeing, a bombardment of economic sanctions on Russia, and unthinkable worries of larger conflict in the West for decades.

The incursion has yet to overturn the government in Kyiv, but many are believed to have killed or been injured, and it might deal another severe blow to the world economy that is still recovering from the coronavirus outbreak.

For Russians, the fallout has included queues outside banks, a plunge in the value of the rouble, and an exodus of international firms. As sanctions have tightened, Russian billionaires are moving their superyachts and the owner of Chelsea sold the soccer club.

In Ukraine, the human toll was mounting in Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people, where bombing has left its center a 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 the ruins on a main square.

A U.N. resolution reprimanding Moscow was supported by 141 of the assembly’s 193 members, passed in a rare emergency session, a symbolic victory for Ukraine that increases Moscow’s international isolation.

“More is at stake even than the conflict in Ukraine itself. This is a threat to the security of Europe and the entire rules-based order,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters after the vote.

An investigation into possible war crimes will immediately be opened by the International Criminal Court, following requests by 39 of the court’s member states, an unprecedented number.

The body will start collecting evidence for “any past and present allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed”, prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement.

No one at Russia’s foreign ministry was available for comment when contacted out-of-hours.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbor’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

The Kremlin said its forces had taken the Black Sea port of Kherson, a southern provincial capital of around 250,000 people strategically placed where the Dnipro River flows into the Black Sea. Kyiv earlier denied this.

Late on Wednesday, Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said Russian troops were in the streets and had forced their way into the city council building.

An explosion also rocked the Kyiv railway station during the night, where thousands of women and children were being evacuated.

An interior ministry adviser said the blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, not a direct rocket strike. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have so far failed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow still sought Ukraine’s “demilitarisation” and that there should be a list of specified weapons that could never be deployed on Ukrainian territory. Moscow opposes Kyiv’s bid to join NATO.

A Ukrainian delegation had left for a second round of talks with Russian officials on a ceasefire after a first round made little progress on Monday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Russia must stop bombing if it wants to negotiate.

  • Reuters