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Russia war crimes call as Ukraine bombardment worsens

World

Ukraine’s second biggest city has suffered heavy bombardment as Russia’s week-long invasion was denounced by the United Nations and dozens of countries referred the Kremlin to be probed for potential war crimes.

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The biggest attack on a European state since 1945 has caused more than 870,000 people to flee, launched a barrage of sanctions against Russia and stoked fears of wider conflict in the West.

Bombing of Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people in eastern Ukraine, has left its centre a wasteland of ruined buildings and debris.

A UN resolution reprimanding Moscow was supported by 141 of the assembly’s 193 members, passed in a rare emergency session, a symbolic victory for Ukraine that increases Moscow’s international isolation.

“More is at stake even than the conflict in Ukraine itself,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters after the vote.

“This is a threat to the security of Europe and the entire rules-based order.”

A total of 38 countries have also referred Russia to the International Criminal Court, which probes alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“We are crystal clear that Putin cannot commit these horrific acts with impunity,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

The Kremlin said its forces had taken the Black Sea port of Kherson, a southern provincial capital of around 250,000 people strategically placed where the Dnipro River flows into the Black Sea. Kyiv earlier denied this.

Late on Wednesday, Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said Russian troops were in the streets and had forced their way into the city council building.

An explosion also rocked Kyiv railway station during the night, where thousands of women and children were being evacuated.

An interior ministry adviser said the blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, not a direct rocket strike. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have so far failed.

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

A Ukrainian delegation had left for a second round of talks with Russian officials on a ceasefire, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.

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

The UN Human Rights Office said it had confirmed the deaths of 227 civilians and 525 injuries during the conflict as of midnight on March 1, mostly caused by “the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area”.

It cautioned the real toll would be much higher due to reporting delays.

Russia’s defence ministry said 498 Russian soldiers had died and another 1597 had been wounded. It said more than 2870 Ukrainian soldiers and “nationalists” had been killed, Interfax news agency reported.

Ukraine said more than 7000 Russian soldiers had been killed so far and hundreds taken prisoner.

Neither side’s claims could be independently verified.

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

Russia’s main advance on the capital 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.

It has also prompted a backlash from global firms.

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

The European Union and the US also imposed new sanctions on Belarus for its supporting role in the invasion.

-AAP

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