Central square of Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv, shelled

Kharkiv has been a target for Russian forces since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV (AFP) - The central square of Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv, was shelled on Tuesday (March 1) by advancing Russian forces who hit the building of the local administration, regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said.

"This morning the central square of our city and the headquarters of the Kharkiv administration was criminally attacked," Sinegubov said in a video on Telegram.

"Russian occupiers continue to use heavy weaponry against the civilian population," he said.

He posted footage of the massive blast and debris inside the building.

Kharkiv, a largely Russian-speaking city near the Russian border, has a population of around 1.4 million.

It has been a target for Russian forces since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine last Thursday.

In the south, a Russian-backed separatist leader in eastern Ukraine said his forces aimed to encircle the Ukrainian port of Mariupol on Tuesday, RIA news agency said.

“The task for today is to directly encircle Mariupol,” it quoted Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin as saying in a television interview.

Earlier, Mariupol's mayor said the city was under constant shelling which had killed civilians and damaged infrastructure.

“We have had residential quarters shelled for five days. They are pounding us with artillery, they are shelling us with GRADS, they are hitting us with air forces,” Vadym Boichenko said in a live broadcast on Ukrainian TV.

“We have civilian infrastructure damaged – schools, houses. There are many injured. There are women, children killed,” he said.

The city is also without electricity following the attacks, the head of the region Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

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“Mariupol and Volnovakha are ours!” Kyrylenko wrote on Facebook. “The two cities are under pressure from the enemy but they are holding on. In Mariupol, electricity lines have been cut and the city is without power."

Ukraine’s largest steelmaker Metinvest BV has most of its facilities located in Mariupol where it has halted production. The company sent most workers home while reduced shifts ensured equipment was not breaking down.

Separately, an official in the region of Sumy, which lies north of Kharkiv close to Russia's border, said early on Monday that some 70 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in Russian shelling on a military facility in the area.

"Many died. Currently, places are being prepared in the cemetery for about 70 dead Ukrainian soldiers," Dmytro Zhyvytsky, the head of the Sumy region, wrote on Telegram after strikes on the town of Okhtyrka.

He posted images of charred buildings with caved-in walls and rescue workers digging through rubble.

The Ukrainian military, however, has not confirmed the deaths.

Russia has denied targeting civilian areas despite rockets landing in residential neighbourhoods.

Ukraine says more than 350 civilians have been killed since Moscow launched the attack last week.

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