Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has accused Russia of committing a war crime after his country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, was targeted by heavy shelling and Russian forces massed outside the nation’s capital.
“The missile strike against Kharkiv is a war crime, an act of state terror,” Zelensky said in a video statement following the deadly March 1 attack that targeted the northwestern regional capital’s central square and struck the city administration building. “After such an attack, Russia is a terrorist country.”
Emergency services reported that at least 10 people were killed in the attack, which came after dozens were killed by Russian shelling a day earlier. Moscow has repeatedly claimed that it is not targeting civilian areas during what it calls its “military operation” in Ukraine, which has entered its sixth day.
The attacks on Kharkiv came as a convoy of artillery and armored vehicles extending more than 65 kilometers massed outside Kyiv.
“Kharkiv and Kyiv are now Russia’s most important objectives. The terror aims to break us and break our resistance,” Zelensky said in his video address. “They advance on the capital in the same way as on Kharkiv. This is why the defense of the capital today is the key priority for the state.”
Zelenskiy went on to announce that he had appointed General Mykola Zhyrnov as Kyiv’s military governor to “secure a proper defense of the capital.”
Satellite images showed that the convoy that has been steadily approaching Kyiv was within kilometers of the city in what Ukraine’s armed forces see as an attempt to surround and take control of the country’s largest city.
The developments came after cease-fire talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials on February 28 failed to reach a breakthrough, although each side agreed to continue negotiations in the coming days.
Zelenskiy, who in a video address on February 28 directly appealed to Russian troops to ignore their orders and stop fighting, offered no details of the hours-long talks that took place in neighboring Belarus. However, he said, Kyiv was not prepared to make concessions “when one side is hitting another with rocket artillery.”
Zelenskiy said Kyiv was hit by three missile strikes on February 28, that hundreds of Russian saboteurs were roaming the city, and that taking the capital remained a “key goal” for Moscow.
“They want to break our nationhood. That’s why the capital is constantly under threat,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy also challenged European lawmakers to “prove” they stand with Ukraine. Speaking on March 1 via video link to the European Parliament a day after Ukraine made an official request to join the European Union, Zelenskiy said in an impassioned plea that his country had proven its strength in six days of resistance to Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
“The European Union is going to be much stronger with us, that’s for sure. Without you, Ukraine is going to be alone,” Zelenskiy said in an address given by video link on March 1.
“Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans and then life will win over death and light will win over darkness,” he added.
The air force command also said that a Russian cruise missile had been destroyed by a Buk anti-missile system and that Ukrainian jets had struck columns of Russian armored vehicles in the Kyiv and neighboring Zhytomyr regions.
Ukrainian warplanes also reportedly dropped bombs and fired missiles at Russian forces in areas outside Kyiv.
Video images of fighting in Kharkiv on February 28 showed residential areas being shelled and apartment buildings shaken by powerful explosions. Reports that the northeastern city had been heavily bombarded had tempered optimism of an agreement.
Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko has said dozens of people were killed in the February 28 rocket strikes. On March 1, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the attacks on Kharkiv as a war violation.
“The shelling against civilian infrastructure yesterday [February 28] in Kharkiv violates the laws of war,” Borrell said after a call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “The EU stands unwavering at the side of Ukraine in these dramatic moments.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the head of the Sumy region, Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, wrote on Facebook on March 1 that more than 70 Ukrainian servicemen were killed when Russian troops shelled a military base in the town of Okhtyrka, located between Kharkiv and Kyiv.
In Kherson, a city located just northwest of the Crimean Peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, Mayor Ihor Кolykhayev wrote on Facebook that the Russian military was setting up checkpoints at the entrances to the city. Kolykhayev vowed that “Kherson has been and will stay Ukrainian.”
Mariupol has been left without electricity following attacks by Russian forces, according to Donetsk region head Pavlo Kyrylenko, who wrote on Facebook on March 1 that Ukrainian forces still held the Azov Sea port city.
The head of the separatists in the eastern region, Denis Pushilin, said that the goal was to encircle the strategically important city by the end of the day.
In the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, near the border with Belarus, witnesses said a rocket blast set a building ablaze early on February 28. Locals blamed the Russian military for the attack.
In his February 28 address, Zelenskiy appealed to invading Russian soldiers to lay down their arms.
“Abandon your equipment. Get out of here. Don’t believe your commanders. Don’t believe your propagandists. Just save your lives,” Zelenskiy said, adding that more than 4,500 Russian soldiers had already lost their lives during the Kremlin’s assault on the country.
There have been no independent confirmed numbers of casualties. Russia’s army on February 27 admitted for the first time that some of its soldiers had been “killed and injured,” but did not give any figures or further details.