Ukraine war: 1 million leave in search of refuge as Russians continue bombardment of cities

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Displaced Ukrainians take shelter in an auditorium in Lviv, western Ukraine

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The number of people sent fleeing Ukraine by Russia’s invasion topped 1 million, the swiftest refugee exodus this century, the United Nations said.

Heavy bombardment of urban areas including the capital Kyiv continued early on Thursday, while Russian airborne units have reportedly landed in Kharkiv after several bombings in the city centre the day before, which the regional governor said killed at least 21 people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday morning the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers. “These are confused children who have been used,” he said.

Follow our live blog below for the latest updates:

06:28

Today’s key points: 

    The Russian army has bombed Kyiv overnight, with at least two bright blasts indicating large explosions reported by numerous witnesses in the capital.Fighting continues around the southern port of Kherson, which was claimed to be taken by the Russian army. Ukraine denied the claims.The shelling of Mariupol also continued overnight. If the city falls to Moscow troops, that would create a land bridge between Crimea and the rebel territories in the Donbas.President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a positive assessment of the war on early Thursday and called on the Ukrainians to “keep up the resistance”.Ukraine’s emergency service says 2,000 civilians have been killed since last week’s invasion. The claim cannot be verified.Russia finally admitted to some losses, saying 498 of its soldiers had died. Ukraine had earlier said more than 6,000 Russian troops have been killed.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will start a five-day European tour on Thursday, visiting Belgium, Poland, Moldova and the Baltics. Latest UN figures say 1 million refugees have crossed into neighbouring countries since last Thursday.

07:27

Two powerful explosions in Kyiv, witnesses claim

The bombardment of the Ukrainian capital continued overnight, with at least two massive explosions around 4 am local time were reported by witnesses and captured by reporters in the city.The cause of the exceptionally bright blasts and any casualties or damage caused by them is still undetermined. The local outlets reported that air raid sirens were still sounded off in Kyiv around 8 am local time.Earlier, the Ukrainian air defence claimed it took down a Russian cruise missile above the capital on Wednesday night. The wreckage of the downed rocket damaged the heating main, but the damage will be repaired by morning, the authorities said.If this missile had hit a target somewhere in the centre of Kyiv, the casualties and destruction would have been tremendous, Euronews correspondent Valérie Gauriat reported. 07:14

OSCE representative among Kharkiv casualties, monitoring organisation reports

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe says one of its members died during shelling in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Maryna Fenina was killed while getting supplies for her family, the group said in a news release on late Wednesday. Fenina worked with the organisation’s monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“In Kharkiv and other cities and towns in Ukraine, missiles, shells and rockets are hitting residential buildings and town centers, killing and injuring innocent civilians — women, men and children alike,” it said.

The organisation’s chairperson, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, and Secretary-General Helga Maria Schmid extended their condolences.

“Our deepest condolences and sympathies go to Maryna’s family. Maryna was a valued member of the SMM team, and our colleagues in Ukraine remain in close contact with her family to offer our support,” it said.

The organisation launched its Ukraine monitoring mission in 2014 in response to a request from Ukraine’s government and the consent of the group’s 57 participating states. The mission observes and reports on the situation in Ukraine and aims to facilitate dialogue.

07:12

Zelenskyy on Russian soldiers: ‘Confused children who have been used’

In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an upbeat assessment of the war and called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance.

“We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,” he said. “They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.”

Zelenskyy didn’t comment on whether the Russians have seized several cities, including Kherson.

“If they went somewhere, then only temporarily. We’ll drive them out,” he said.

He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.”

“These are not warriors of a superpower,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”

He said the Russian death toll has reached about 9,000.

“Ukraine doesn’t want to be covered in bodies of soldiers,” he said. “Go home.”

07:12

Sputnik Light vaccine producer fears complications

A South Korean pharmaceutical company manufacturing Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine says it is bracing for business complications as the West escalates sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

The recently expanded sanctions include targeted measures against the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund run by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin that globally markets the Sputnik vaccines.

Kim Gi-young, an official from Seoul-based GL Rapha, said the sanctions would not directly impede its production of the jabs as the measures are not aimed at essential medical supplies.

However, the company is concerned about potential problems arising from the financial side as South Korea joins other countries in a move to cut off key Russian banks from global payment systems.

“Right now, we are watching how the situation develops,” Kim said.

07:10

UNHCR: At least 1 million refugees left Ukraine

The UN refugee agency says the number of people who have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion less than a week ago has reached 1 million — an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.

The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2% of Ukraine’s population on the move based on counts collected by national authorities. 

The UN agency has predicted that up to 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine but cautioned that even that projection could be revised upward.

On Twitter, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, wrote: “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighbouring countries.”

UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that “at this rate” the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”

06:49

Fighting continues outside Kherson

A Russian official says troops have taken the Ukrainian port city of Kherson — a claim that the Ukrainian military denies.

The city is under Russian soldiers’ “complete control,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy didn’t comment on Thursday on whether the Russians have seized several cities, including Kherson.

“If they went somewhere, it’s only temporarily. We’ll drive them out,” he said.

06:37

Four Russian military planes violated Swedish airspace

Sweden says four Russian fighter jets violated its airspace over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday.

The four aircraft — two SU-27 and two SU-24 fighters — flew briefly over the Swedish airspace east of the island of Gotland, according to a statement from the Swedish Armed Forces.

“In light of the current situation we are very concerned about the incident,” Swedish Air Force chief Carl-Johan Edstrom said. “This is unprofessional and irresponsible behavior from the Russian side.”

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