Britain says Russian column inches towards Kyiv, Ukrainian refugees top 1 million.

003, Mar 2022

KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) Russia's advance on Kyiv has made scant progress, and Ukrainian forces still held Kharkiv and several other cities under attack, British military intelligence said on Thursday, a day after Moscow claimed to have captured the Black Sea port of Kherson.

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Russian forces have yet to overthrow the government in Kyiv. Still, thousands are reported to have died or been injured, and more than a million people have fled Ukraine in the week since President Vladimir Putin ordered the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.

"The main body of the large Russian column advancing on Kyiv remains over 30 km (19 miles) from the center of the city, having been delayed by staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown, and congestion," Britain's defense ministry said in an intelligence update.

"The column has made little discernible progress in over three days," it said. "Despite heavy Russian shelling, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol remain in Ukrainian hands."

At Borodyanka, a town 58 km (36 miles) northwest of Kyiv, a resident gave a breathless account of their encounter with the enemy. Reuters Television footage showed shell-damaged buildings, fires burning in the streets, and destroyed military vehicles.

"They (Russian military) started shooting from their BMP (military vehicle), towards the park in front of the post office in the centre of Borodyanka," said a Ukrainian man, who did not give his name.

"Then those bastards started the tank and started shooting into the Fora (supermarket) which was already burned. It caught fire again."

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BARRAGE OF SANCTIONS

Russia's attack has led to a barrage of international sanctions that threaten the global economic recovery from the COVID pandemic and stoked fears of wider conflict as Western countries send arms to help the Ukrainian military.

The capture of Kherson, strategically located at the mouth of the Dnipro River, would be the first significant urban center to fall since Moscow launched its invasion on February 24.

Kherson's Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said late on Wednesday that Russian troops were in the streets and had entered the council building.

"I didn't make any promises to them ... I just asked them not to shoot people," he said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department called on Putin and the Russian government to "immediately cease this bloodshed" and withdraw forces from Ukraine. It also accused Moscow of launching a "full war on media freedom and the truth" by blocking independent news outlets and social media to prevent Russians from hearing news of the invasion of Ukraine.

The second round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials on a ceasefire was expected after initial talks on Monday ended without agreement.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" that is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbor's military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

It denies targeting civilians, although there have been widespread reports of civilian casualties and the shelling of residential areas.

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

Russian forces have captured the town of Balakliya near the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, and the Interfax news agency quoted Russia's defense ministry as saying on Thursday.

It also reported a strike on a radio and television center in Kyiv, where Russian missiles hit a T.V. tower earlier this week.

Russian shelling killed six adults and two children in Izyum, about 120 km (75 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine's parliament said. Reuters was unable to verify either side's claims.

The U.N. Human Rights Office has confirmed the deaths of 227 civilians and 525 injuries during the conflict as of midnight on March 1, cautioning that the real toll would be much higher due to reporting delays.

An explosion also rocked the Kyiv railway station, where thousands of women and children were evacuated. A Ukrainian interior ministry adviser said that the blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

An investigation into possible war crimes will immediately be opened by the International Criminal Court, following requests by 39 of the court's member states, an unprecedented number.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

A U.N. resolution reprimanding Moscow was supported by 141 of the assembly's 193 members, a symbolic victory for Ukraine that increased Moscow's international isolation.

"More is at stake even than the conflict in Ukraine itself. This is a threat to the security of Europe and the entire rules-based order," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

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

On Thursday, oil and commodity prices spiraled ever higher in a grim omen for global inflation.

Japanese automakers, including Toyota, were forced to halt production in Russia as sanctions scrambled logistics and cut off supply chains.

Russia's central bank, itself under sanctions, has doubled interest rates to 20%, and Fitch and Moody's (NYSE: MCO) rating agencies downgraded Russia's sovereign credit rating to 'junk' status. [nL1N2V50QW]

At least five superyachts owned by billionaires were anchored or cruising in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell London's Chelsea Football Club and donate money to help victims of the war in Ukraine.

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