he human cost of the first week of war in Ukraine was laid bare as officials said hundreds of civilians had been killed since the Russian invasion began.
The death toll rose as Russian forces were closing in on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and attacks across the country’s main cities intensified.
The key Ukrainian port city of Mariupol was “near to a humanitarian catastrophe” on Wednesday after more than 15 hours of continuous bombardment by Russian forces and hundreds of civilians were believed to have died, the city’s deputy mayor said.
There was more rocket fire and air strikes in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv where least 21 people were killed and 112 injured over the past day, according to Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration.
A Ukraine official said several Russian planes had been shot down.
There was also fierce fighting for control for the port city of Kherson with Russia claiming it had taken control – something both the Us and Ukraine disputed.
While a large explosion shook central Kyiv on Wednesday night in what the president’s office said was a missile strike near the capital city’s southern railway station where thousands of women and children were reportedly waiting to be evacuated.
Kyiv’s mayor said Russia is gathering forces “closer and closer” to the Ukrainian capital after a long convoy of military vehicles stalled around 20 miles northwest of the city in the early hours of Wednesday.
More than 2,000 civilians have died since the invasion, Ukraine’s state emergency service said, although that figure has not been independently verified.
While Russia reported its military casualties for the first time since the invasion began last week, saying nearly 500 of its troops had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. Ukraine has said the number was far higher.
Describing the assault on the key Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the city’s deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov told the BBC: “The Russian army is working through all their weapons here – artillery, multiple rocket launch systems, airplanes, tactical rockets. They are trying to destroy the city.”
Mr Orlov said Russian forces were several kilometres from the city on all sides and had launched strikes on key infrastructure, cutting water and power supplies to parts of the city. One densely populated residential district on the city’s left bank had been “nearly totally destroyed”, he said.
“We cannot count the number of victims there, but we believe at least hundreds of people are dead. We cannot go in to retrieve the bodies. My father lives there, I cannot reach him, I don’t know if he is alive or dead.”
The UN said more than 870,000 people have fled Ukraine in a mounting refugee crisis on the European continent.
In New York, the UN General Assembly voted to demand that Russia stop its offensive and immediately withdraw all troops, with world powers and tiny island states alike condemning Moscow. The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.
Assembly resolutions aren’t legally binding but can reflect and influence world opinion.
The vote came after the 193-member assembly convened its first emergency session since 1997. The only countries to vote with Russia were Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea.
In the UK Boris Johnson condemned the ‘abhorrent assault’ on Ukraine as he answered Prime Minister’s Questions.
Vladimir Putin’s forces are committing war crimes as Russian troops step up the bombardment of Ukraine’s cities, Mr Johnson said.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday evening the UK and 37 allies had referred “atrocities in Ukraine” to the International Criminal Court.
Envoys from Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet on Thursday in Belarus for a second round of talks aimed at ending the fighting.
However experts held out little hope as there appeared to be little common ground between the two sides.
On Wednesday the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency warned that the fighting poses a danger to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors.
Rafael Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency noted that the war is “the first time a military conflict is happening amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program,” and he said he is “gravely concerned.”
“When there is a conflict ongoing, there is of course a risk of attack or the possibility of an accidental hit,” he said. Russia already has seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, the scene in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.