On the seventh day of the invasion launched by Vladimir Putin, Russian airborne troops landed in Kharkiv, the country’s second city, the Ukrainian army announced at dawn, without giving an idea of their number.
After several bombings in the city center on Tuesday which killed at least 21 people according to the regional governor, strikes on Wednesday hit the regional headquarters of the security and police forces as well as the university and the town hall of this metropolis located 50 km from the Russian border. Emergency services reported at least four dead and nine injured.
“There is no longer an area in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet struck,” said Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of the Interior.
In the capital Kyiv, some 500 km further west, where residents who have not fled have been preparing for an assault for days, relative calm reigns on Wednesday, after strikes the day before on the television tower, which left five people dead.
“This tower is our symbol of truth, free information, real news, it is our truth that they want to attack,” said lawyer-turned-volunteer fighter Volodymyr Roudenko.
The tower dominates the district of the Babi Yar memorial park, where more than 33,000 Jews were slaughtered in 1941, under the Nazi occupation.
If no monument in tribute to the victims of this massacre was touched, President Volodymyr Zelensky, the first Jewish Ukrainian president, accused Moscow of seeking to “erase” Ukraine and called on the Jews “not to remain silent”.
“They have the order to erase our history, to erase our country, to erase us all,” he said on Wednesday.
The mayor of the capital, ex-boxer Vitaly Klitschko, reported fighting in the suburbs of the city and called on all residents to resist: “Kyiv is holding and will hold”.
Photos from the American satellite imagery company Maxar released overnight from Monday to Tuesday showed a long Russian convoy advancing towards the capital. A Pentagon official, however, indicated that its progress towards the capital seemed “at a standstill”, citing problems with the supply of food and fuel.
Russia says it took Kherson
In the south, the Russian army claimed complete control of the city of Kherson. Shortly before, its mayor, Igor Kolykhaiev, nevertheless ensured that the city remained under Ukrainian control.
In Mariupol, further east, more than a hundred people were injured on Tuesday in a Russian fire, according to the town hall.
The control of this port is of key importance for the Russian army, in order to ensure territorial contiguity between its forces coming from Crimea and those coming from the separatist territories of Donbass further north. The two groups joined forces on Tuesday, according to Moscow.
In this context of generalized offensive, the spokesman of the Kremlin announced that a Russian delegation would wait Wednesday evening in an unspecified place “the Ukrainian negotiators”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba, however, said no date had been agreed and accused Russia of issuing ultimatums.
Initial negotiations on Monday had remained without tangible results. Kyiv demanded an immediate end to the invasion, while Moscow seemed to be waiting for a surrender.
In the immediate future, the Ukrainian army on Wednesday invited the mothers of Russian soldiers captured on its territory, which it claims to hold by the dozens, to pick them up.
Putin isolated as never before
The strikes on Kyiv and Kharkiv have aroused great emotion in the world, where anti-war demonstrations and gestures of solidarity with Ukraine have multiplied.
US President Joe Biden said overnight that Vladimir Putin was now more isolated than ever from the rest of the world.
He said the Kremlin ‘dictator’ was wrong to ‘think the West and NATO would not respond’ to this invasion. “We are united,” he said in his first State of the Union address in Washington.
But Vladimir Putin seems determined to continue his offensive, despite international pressure and unprecedented economic sanctions.
Among these measures, the EU confirmed on Wednesday that seven Russian banks, including the country’s second-largest bank VTB, would, from March 12, be excluded from the Swift messaging system, a key cog in international finance.
The measure, however, spares the first Russian bank Sberbank – whose European subsidiary filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday – and Gazprombank, Gazprom’s financial arm.
Berlin also announced Wednesday the release of 1.5 billion euros to buy liquefied natural gas outside Russia.
American payment card issuers Visa, MasterCard and American Express have also announced measures to prevent Russian banks from using their network, and giants of the American economy, from ExxonMobil to Apple via Boeing, Ford indicated distance themselves from Russia.
For the Russian authorities, it is a question of avoiding financial haemorrhage and panic: the ruble has lost more than a third of its value in foreign currency in a few days. Russian planes can now only land in a handful of countries. Jobs, wages, bank loans seem potentially threatened.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted on Wednesday that the Russian economy was “severely hit”, but that it would remain standing.
Gas and oil are blazing
The consequence of these tensions: The prices of oil, gas and raw materials of which Russia is a major exporter soared on Wednesday.
The barrel of WTI oil notably reached 111.5 dollars for the first time since 2013, while the European benchmark price for natural gas, the Dutch TTF, reached the historic high of 194,715 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh).
Ditto for wheat and corn, at a record level in Europe.
In addition to economic sanctions, Russia has been excluded from a multitude of sporting and cultural events, from the 2022 World Cup to the Davis Cup in tennis, including the Cannes Film Festival.
Throughout the world, demonstrations and actions of solidarity with Ukraine are increasing.
In Russia, the opponent Alexeï Navalny, from his prison, called on his fellow citizens to demonstrate every day, calling Putin a completely crazy little tsar.
The closure on Tuesday of two renowned independent media, Echo Moscow radio and Dojd online television, however, raised fears that the last dissenting voices, and alternative sources of information on the war in Ukraine, are being stifled.
836,000 people on the run
After nearly a week of the conflict, more and more Ukrainians are fleeing.
Since the start of the invasion on February 24, more than 836,000 people have gone abroad, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Wednesday.
Most of them fled to the west, notably via Lviv, to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, all EU and NATO member countries.
Thousands, coming in particular from the large port of Odessa, on the Black Sea, also flock to the Moldovan border, noted AFP.
The World Bank has announced three billion dollars in emergency aid for Ukraine. At least 350 million could be released this week.
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