housands of terrified people were seeking to flee Kyiv on Wednesday amid fears Vladimir Putin will “carpet bomb” Ukraine’s capital as his troops suffer “significant losses” in his blundering invasion plan.
Air raid sirens sounded overnight in the city as it was hit with fresh bombardment.
An eery quiet hung over the streets early on Wednesday.
But Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky issued a chilling warning on the Russian threat to Kyiv, stressing: “They know nothing about our capital. About our history. But they have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all.”
His grim words came after Russian missiles targeted the TV tower in the city on Tuesday, striking the nearby Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site and killing five people, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
A UN convoy was reportedly due to have left Kyiv at about 9am, with local residents able to join the exodus in cars.
Distressing video footage from Kyiv station showed hundreds of women, some with young children, desperately seeking to clamber onto a packed train on Tuesday night for a journey to greater safety in the west of the country.
More than 450,000 people have entered Poland from Ukraine since the Russian invasion began last Thursday, said Poland’s deputy interior minister Pawel Szefernaker.
Many of them have harrowing stories of how they fled to safety in Poland, as well as to other countries.
Russian software engineer Mikhail Liublin and his Ukrainian girlfriend travelled on trains and buses for five days to get to Hungary from Kyiv, hearing bombs go off en route and sometimes thinking they would not make it.
As they stood in the queue for tickets to get on a train to Budapest from the Zahony border crossing, the young couple kissed and Mr Liublin said “Unlike all the other people here, I am from Russia. I lived in Ukraine for about a year.”
More women and children were seeking to head west from Kyiv as the threat of the city being encircled by Russian troops and hit by heavy bombing grew.
A 40-mile column of tanks and other military vehicles was still snaking along roads some 15 miles from Kyiv, amid reports it had been delayed by fuel shortages and other logistical problems.
Another convoy was reported to be moving towards Kyiv from the south-east.
A photo also appeared to show several Russian military vehicles destroyed as they sought to enter the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, reportedly by NLAW anti-tank missiles supplied to the Ukrainian forces by Britain.
As Russia suffered more setbacks, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned that Russia would use indiscriminate carpet bombing tactics against Ukrainian cities.
He told Sky News that Russian advances were being hampered by resistance, including Ukrainian forces using drones to attack petrol convoys and blow up railway lines.
With the Russian forces having failed to destroy Ukrainian air defences, Putin’s military chiefs were also changing tactics.
“What you are seeing now is those heavy bombardments at night, they won’t come into the cities as much, they will – I’m afraid, as we have seen tragically by the looks of things – carpet-bomb cities, indiscriminately in some cases,” explained Mr Wallace.
“They will fly their air at night rather daytime because what we have seen is they get shot down in the daytime and they will slowly but surely try and surround the cities and then either bypass them or bombard them.
“That is the brutality I’m afraid we are witnessing and it’s going to get worse.”
In other developments
- Ukraine’s second biggest city of Kharkiv which was hit with a wave of airstrikes before Russian paratroopers sought to gain control of it but were meeting strong resistance. Mr Wallace said the Russian forces had suffered “significant losses”.
- Mariupol city council said the southern city was under Ukrainian control but locked in battles with Russian troops.
- Russian forces were reported to have taken control of the southern city of Kherson.
- Ukraine accused Russia of risking nuclear catastrophe after vowing to defend Europeans largest atomic plant Energodar.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that if a third World War were to take place, it would involve nuclear weapons and be destructive, the RIA news agency reported.
- The Kremlin said a Russian delegation would be ready this evening to resume talks with Ukrainian officials about the war in Ukraine.
- Mr Wallace rejected calls for RAF jets to enforce a no-fly zone, warning it would trigger a Europe-wide conflict and could also hamper the Ukrainian forces’ ability to counter Russia’s military.
- Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Russians to demonstrate against the war.
- “We – Russia – want to be a nation of peace. Alas, few people would call us that now,” he said in a tweet put out in his name.
- One senior Western intelligence official estimated that 5,000 Russian soldiers had been captured or killed.
- The price of natural gas soared to a record high amid fears that the Ukraine conflict could escalate.
The Ministry of Defence said the latest intelligence suggested Russian forces had reportedly moved into the centre of Kherson in south Ukraine but that overall they were still making “limited” progress.
Meanwhile, pressure was growing on China to intervene to try to persuade Mr Putin to stop the invasion as casualties mounted.