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By DAVID AVERRE FOR MAILONLINE
Part of the Karazin National University campus in the city of Kharkiv is destroyed after being struck by a Russian missile which was seemingly intended for a nearby police or interior ministry building
Russia’s invasion – which met with heavy defeat in its initial plan to seize key targets and infrastructure in precision strikes – entered a new phase on Monday, with the aim seemingly to surround and bombard cities such as Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy and Kherson.
Kherson has been overrun by Russian forces according to the Kremlin, but Ukrainian army units and civilian defence forces have otherwise put up fierce resistance and largely stalled the Russian onslaught on the ground, prompting Putin to launch an indiscriminate bombing campaign of Ukraine’s two largest cities – Kyiv and Kharkiv.
The civilian death toll has increased significantly in the past three days since Russia began its bombardment, with Ukrainian authorities yesterday reporting 352 civilian deaths since the start of the invasion, including 14 children.
Roughly 874,000 people have fled the country, with the UN refugee agency warning the number will likely cross the 1 million mark soon. Countless others have taken shelter underground in metro stations, basements and makeshift shelters.
The overall death toll from the seven-day war is not clear, with neither Russia nor Ukraine releasing an official number of troops they have lost.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said more than 2,000 civilians have died, though it was impossible to verify that claim.
The UN human rights office on Monday had tallied 136 civilian deaths, but acknowledged the actual toll was surely far higher.
The civilian death toll is likely to have increased dramatically since then in the wake of sustained bombing campaigns of several cities, with missiles slamming in to several administrative and civilian targets including schools and hospitals.
The move has seen Putin accused of war crimes, after multiple reports of the use of cluster bombs on residential high-rises and non-military structures.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan confirmed Monday that a probe will be launched into Russia’s bombing campaign: ‘I wish to announce that I have decided to proceed with opening an investigation into the situation in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible’.
‘I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine,’ he added.
This morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has become a symbol of Ukrainian defiance and courage since the war began, told his people that Russians ‘know nothing about our capital. About our history. But they have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all.’
The president, unshaven and wearing a military-style khaki T-shirt, said the West’s response was not enough, calling for more international support, including backing Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.
‘This is no time to be neutral,’ he added.
As he spoke, troops were preparing barricades to defend the city of Zaporizhzhia – including setting up defences around the reactors of Energodar power plant. Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, called on generals to bypass the city while warning they could create a ‘new Chernobyl’ if the plant is damaged.
‘Because of Putin’s madness, Europe is again on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe,’ he wrote on Facebook. ‘The city where the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located is preparing for a battle with the invaders.
The comments came after Zelensky’s statement in the early hours of Tuesday morning in which he said there would ‘definitely be an international tribunal’ for what he described as a ‘violation of all conventions’ and added that ‘no one in the world will forgive [Putin] for killing peaceful Ukrainian people.’
The Kremlin though has denied that the Russian military used cluster munitions in Ukraine and insisted that the Russian forces have only struck military targets.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that ‘the Russian troops don’t conduct any strikes against civilian infrastructure and residential areas.’
But Peskov’s claim contradicts abundant evidence of indiscriminate shelling of homes, schools, and hospitals across Ukraine.
Firefighters battle to put out a blaze in Kharkiv as the city came under renewed airstrikes today, with an official saying there is almost no area of the city left that has not been hit
Speaking in a conference call with reporters, he wouldn’t respond to questions about whether the Kremlin is happy with the pace of the offensive and wouldn’t comment on Russian military casualties.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also declared Monday that Russia ‘did not and does not have any land-based, short or medium-range missiles’, though he did not explicitly deny the widespread reports of Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian cities.
A military source told MailOnline that videos of the onslaught showed ‘cluster’ munitions had been used.
‘The BM-21 Grad is a multiple launch rocket system used for ‘area denial’, dropping cluster bombs on a concentrated area,’ the expert said.
‘It’s mainly used on enemy troops before an offensive. Used against civilians, it’s not only a war crime, but has only one purpose – to spread terror and alarm among the civilian population.’
But despite Russia’s ruthless bombing campaign and sustained ground assault, the Ukrainian army and its territorial defence forces have remained resolute.
Huge convoys of Russian armour have rumbled into several Ukrainian cities, only to be met with fierce resistance as well-armed troops used a mixture of their own and NATO-supplied anti-tank weapons to wreak havoc on the invaders
Dozens of images and videos published on Monday showed Ukrainian forces parading defeated Russian soldiers who were captured as the remainder of their units retreated or were killed.
Footage posted online show tied up ‘demoralised and exhausted’ prisoners of war captured after they failed to break through defences in Kyiv and Kharkiv over the weekend.
Several of the videos were posted on a Telegram channel set up on Saturday by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry called ‘Find Your Own’.
Many Russian troops claimed that they believed they were conducting training exercises in the border regions and did not know they were being sent to invade Ukraine.
The Russian onslaught seems to have been slowed considerably, but there are fears that this lack of success on the ground will give rise to a prolonged bombing campaign designed to inflict maximum damage and beat Ukraine’s cities into submission.
Author: Frances Rice