Blast rocks Kyiv railway station as Russian advances stall

A man holds a boy with a Ukrainian flag, as they wait for an evacuation train at Kyiv's railway station, on March 2, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

KYIV/KHARKIV, UKRAINE (REUTERS) - An explosion rocked a Kyiv railway station late on Wednesday (March 2) where thousands of women and children were being evacuated, Ukraine's state-run railway company said, as the UN General Assembly demanded that Russia end its invasion.

An interior ministry adviser said the blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, not a direct rocket strike.

There was no immediate word on casualties and the station building suffered minor damage. Trains continued to run.

Ukraine's second biggest city, Kharkiv, also suffered heavy bombardment on the seventh day of the war but Ukrainians denied Russia's claim that its forces had taken the Black Sea port of Kherson.

A US official also said control of Kherson remained contested and said Russian forces appeared to be getting more aggressive in targeting infrastructure inside Kyiv as its advances slow in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.

The invasion has yet to achieve Russian President Vladimir Putin's aim of overthrowing Ukraine's government but it has sent more than 870,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries and jolted the global economy as governments and companies line up to isolate Moscow.

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to deplore the invasion "in the strongest terms". It demanded that Russia withdraw its forces in a resolution backed by 141 of the assembly's 193 members.

While General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they carry political weight, with Wednesday's vote representing a symbolic victory for Ukraine and increasing Moscow's international isolation.

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the courage of Ukrainians faced with a war he said was Putin's responsibility alone. "The days ahead are likely to be increasingly difficult," Macron said in a televised national address.

The UN Human Rights Office said it had confirmed the deaths of 227 civilians and 525 injuries during the conflict in Ukraine as of midnight on March 1, mostly caused by "the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area". It cautioned that the real toll would be much higher due to reporting delays.

After failing to swiftly take major cities and to subdue Ukraine's military, US officials have said for days that they believe Russia will instead seek to encircle cities, cutting off supply and escape routes, then attacking with a combined force of armour, ground troops and engineers.

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'They just want to destroy'

The most intensive bombardment has struck Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people in the east, turning the centre into a bombed-out 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.

At least 25 people have been killed by shelling and air strikes in Kharkiv in the past 24 hours, authorities said.

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Pavel Dorogoy, 36, a photographer who lives near the city centre, said Russian forces had targeted the council building, which was empty at the time, a telephone exchange, and a television tower.

"Most people hid in the basements for most of the day today and last night... The Russians cannot enter the town so they're just attacking us from afar, they just want to destroy what they can," he said.

Moscow denies targeting civilians and says it aims to disarm Ukraine in a "special military operation".

Hopes for a diplomatic way out of the crisis continued to flicker. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters that 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.

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

Women walk among the remains of residential buildings destroyed by shelling, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, on March 2, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

In Washington's assessment, the US official said, there has been no significant change on the ground in Ukraine since Tuesday despite the launch of more than 450 Russian missiles against Ukrainian targets.

Russia said it had captured Kherson, a southern provincial capital of around 250,000 people strategically placed where the Dnipro River flows into the Black Sea.

Zelensky adviser Oleksiy Arestovych denied Kherson was fully under Russian control, saying: "The city has not fallen, our side continues to defend."

Company exodus

Apple, Exxon, Boeing and other firms joined an exodus of international companies from Russian markets that has left Moscow financially and diplomatically isolated.

Both the European Union and the United States also imposed new sanctions on Belarus for its supporting role in the invasion.

Amid calls for him to face sanctions, Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell London's Chelsea Football Club and donate money from the sale to help victims of the war.

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

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Russia's defence ministry said 498 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine and another 1,597 had been wounded since the start of the invasion, the first time Moscow put a figure on its casualties. It said more than 2,870 Ukrainian soldiers and"nationalists" had been killed, Interfax news agency reported.

Ukraine said more than 7,000 Russian soldiers had been killed so far and hundreds taken prisoner.

The numbers given by Moscow and Kyiv could not be independently verified.

Russia's main advance on the capital - a huge armoured column, stretching for miles along the road to Kyiv - has been largely frozen in place for days, Western governments say.

The Kremlin's decision to launch war - after months of denying such plans - has shocked Russians accustomed to viewing Putin, their ruler of 22 years, as a methodical strategist.

Russia's rouble currency plunged to a new record low on Wednesday, a slide that will hit Russians' living standards, and the stock market remained closed. The central bank, itself under sanctions, has doubled interest rates to 20 per cent.

In an echo of the post-Soviet economic collapse of the 1990s, Russians have queued at banks to salvage their savings.

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