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Russia Ukraine live updates: Origin of 64km-long Russian convoy is Belarus, huge explosions light up night sky in Kyiv

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Shocking footage of a Russian missile hitting a regional government building in Kharkiv has been released on social media.

Huge explosions have lit up the night sky in Kyiv as Russian air strikes hit the Ukrainian capital, while missiles rain down on the second-largest city Kharkiv 400km to the east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly ordered the military to take both cities by force today, and new satellite pictures showed a vast column of Russian forces stretching 64km moving towards Kyiv from Belarus.

It comes after the first peace talks between the two nations ended on Monday without resolution, with Mr Putin stressing “that a settlement is possible only if Russia’s legitimate security interests are unconditionally taken into account, including the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the demilitarisation and denazification of the Ukrainian state and ensuring its neutral status”, the Kremlin said.

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There was a pause in fighting overnight which experts say signalled that the Russian army is recalibrating and will come next with even greater force. That appears to be happening now with reports of shelling in Kyiv and “dozens” dead in Kharkiv, including civilians, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Moscow of “war crimes”.

At least two other Ukrainian cities – Berdyansk and Kakhovka – have been lost to Russia, with the nation’s military reporting it had claimed air superiority over the defenders.

Ukraine says 352 civilians have been killed, including 14 children, since the invasion began last Thursday.

Read on for live updates below.

Missile hits downtown Kharkiv

Disturbing footage has captured the moment a Russian missile hit the Kharkiv Region State Administration Building on Freedom Square.

The targeted strike – which Ukraine’s operational command says was an attempt to kill Kharkiv’s governor – took place around 8am local time on Tuesday.

The grainy footage shows civilian cars fleeing the scene after the explosion engulfed the street. It’s unclear whether anyone was killed in the attack.

“Today showed that this is not only a war, it is the murder of us, the Ukrainian people,” Kharkiv’s mayor Igor Terekhov said in a video posted to Facebook.

“This is the first time in its many-year history that the city of Kharkiv has been through something like this: shells that hit residential homes, killing and maiming innocent citizens.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called for an international tribunal to investigate Russia’s actions.

“Today, Russian troops shelled Kharkiv using rocket artillery,” Zelensky said in a video posted on his Facebook page. “This is, without any doubt, a military crime. A peaceful city. Peaceful residential neighborhoods. Not a single military object in sight.”

Former ABC Russia correspondent Michael Brissenden warned viewers to expect “more of this in the coming days”.

“Very clearly the Russians are stepping up their artillery attacks,” he said.

Ukrainian official reports 70 dead after artillery strike

More than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, the head of the region claimed on Tuesday.

Dmytro Zhyvytskyy posted photographs of the charred shell of a four-story building and rescuers searching rubble.

In a later Facebook post, he said many Russian soldiers and some local residents also were killed during the fighting on Sunday.

It came as the Russian military surrounded the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

“The Russian army is setting up checkpoints at the entrances of Kherson,” mayor Igor Kolykhayev said in a Facebook update. ”Kherson has been and will stay Ukrainian.”

Videos on local media in Kherson showed the Russian army entering the city.

“Today, I am responsible for the life of our city and provide protection in the way that our capabilities allow,” Kholykhayev said.

He asked people not to leave their homes outside curfew hours. “The greatest value this city has is your lives. This is not a fight, this is a war,” he said.

Kherson has a population of around 280,000 and lies north of the Crimea peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Russia claimed to have besieged the city on Sunday.

The Russian army also says it controls the port city of Berdyansk, which lies north-west of Crimea on the Azov Sea.

Source of 64km tank queue is Belarus

Satellite images that emerged on Tuesday showed a 40km-long convoy of military vehicles on its way to Kyiv.

We now know the line is much bigger and, perhaps equally important, where it originated.

Maxar Technologies released images showing a line of Russian tanks, logistical vehicles and artillery travelling along roads northwest of Kyiv.

The line of vehicles is now believed to stretch 64km and, according to an analysis of the images, leads straight from Belarus.

As CNN points out, every major road northwest of Kyiv ends in Belarus — the country helping Russians fund and fight Europe’s first war in decades.

Satellite images taken in the last two days also show Russia is building a new bridge over River Pripyat in Belarus, just 6km from the border with Ukraine.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been a long-standing ally of President Putin and, in the months before Russia invaded, helped stockpile weapons, soldiers and vehicles in Belarus.

China’s surprise response to Ukraine invasion

China has started evacuating its citizens from Ukraine, state media reported Tuesday, amid fears for their safety due to the invasion by Beijing’s ally Russia but also reports of resulting hostility from angry Ukrainians.

Some 600 Chinese students were evacuated Monday from Kyiv and the southern port city of Odessa, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported, citing the Chinese embassy in the Ukrainian capital.

They travelled by bus to neighbouring Moldova under an embassy escort and local police protection, according to the report, which cited an evacuee as saying the six-hour journey was “safe and smooth”.

China has trod a cautious diplomatic tightrope on the conflict, balancing its oft-repeated insistence on the sanctity of state sovereignty with an unwillingness to call out its close ally Russia.

While countries including the US, UK and Japan evacuated diplomats and urged citizens to leave in the weeks before the invasion, China waited until Thursday before announcing it would organise charter flights to evacuate its nationals.

But the flights have not yet materialised and Ukraine later closed its airspace, leaving the Chinese ambassador to deny he had fled Kyiv and stress the need to “wait until it is safe” to evacuate during a Sunday video message.

Russia’s terrifying arsenal of nuclear weapons revealed

The decision by Putin to place the world’s biggest atomic arsenal on standby is being taken very seriously by nations which could be in the firing line.

When the Russian President announced his invasion, he warned the West that it would face “consequences never encountered in your history” if Nato was to interfere militarily.

The Sun reports that Putin “certainly has the hardware for every scenario” — including an estimated 5977 warheads of which 1600 are ready to be deployed.

The weapons can be launched from land, submarines and planes and includes non-strategic “battlefield” nukes which have a smaller destructive power — and radioactive fallout — and are intended to destroy military capabilities rather than civilian populations.

Putin also has at his disposal intercontinental ballistic missiles which would take just 20 minutes to get to Britain and 30 minutes to get to the US.

These strategic weapons, with deliberately terrifying names such as Satan, are designed to wipe out entire cities.

The Sun reports that NATO signatories have plenty of nuclear weapons of their own — the US retains about 5400 warheads and the UK and France have more than 200 each.

Newlywed Ukrainian soldiers: ‘People are laughing at Russia’

A recently married couple in Ukraine who have stayed behind to join the resistance against Russia say Ukrainians are “laughing”.

“They are laughing at Russians,” Yaryna Arieva told CNN.

“They are laughing at these animals who came to our land. No-one has doubt about that we will win. Just the question of time.”

She said Ukrainians have settled into life under the city.

“People here are sitting in a shelter and joking about that. They’re not shaking and crying. Maybe playing cards.”

Putin’s ‘unusual bursts of anger’ as Russia’s failures mount

The Russian President has “fallen behind” in his mission to take Ukraine and is exhibiting bizarre behaviour, sources say.

A US official briefed on intelligence has told NBC News that Putin is “frustrated and expressing unusual bursts of anger at people in his inner circle” as Russia enters its sixth day of the invasion in Ukraine.

One diplomat told the network Putin is increasingly insulated and misinformed.

It comes as one US Senator shared several “key takeaways” from a classified briefing on the Ukraine crisis, including that Putin’s mission has not gone to plan.

Chris Murphy, a Senator for Connecticut, wrote on Twitter that the Russians “have fallen behind their timeline” in part because “Ukrainian resistance has been fierce”.

He also noted that America expects the fight for Ukraine’s capital Kyiv to be a “long and bloody” battle that rages for weeks.

PM warns Aussies thinking of going to fight: ‘Don’t do it’

Scott Morrison has again warned any Australians thinking of travelling to Ukraine to fight not to go.

“Our travel advice is do not travel to Ukraine,” the Prime Minister said on Tuesday.

“The legal position of those who may seek to do that is very unclear. Particularly as the formation of what would be informal militias and the extent to which they are surely part of any sort of sovereign, defined force in Ukraine, that’s very unclear.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday called for fighters to join the resistance against Russia’s invasion, saying the Ukrainian armed forces were in the process of setting up a foreign legion unit for international volunteers.

Mr Morrison warned that any volunteers for “disorganised civilian militias” would risk being subjected to “very, very violent attacks” and it was unclear how “potluck forces” would fall under any command structure.

“Others have described those sorts of things as suicide missions and that’s not an unreasonable assessment,” he said.

But the PM said people were free to leave Australia, and it would be an “overestimation” to expect Border Force to know who to intercept “without that clear intent, and without any intelligence”.

“I’d say two things,” he said. “One, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Secondly, the legal position, at best, is unclear. And as a result, we would not encourage people to join in those efforts.”

‘We’re talking missiles’: Australia to send weapons

Australia will send $US50 million ($69 million) worth of aid to Ukraine, the “overwhelming majority” of which “will be in the lethal category”, Scott Morrison says.

“We’re talking missiles, ammunition, we’re talking supporting them in their defence of their own homeland in Ukraine and we will do that in partnership with NATO,” the Prime Minister told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“I’m not going to go into the specifics of that because I don’t plan to give the Russian government a heads-up about what is coming their way, but I can assure them it is coming your way.”

Australia will provide an additional $35 million in humanitarian support to international aid organisations “to support their efforts with shelter, food, medical care, water and education support”, Mr Morrison said.

“This will be our opening contribution. We expect over time there will be further requests and we will be addressing those as time goes on.”

Mr Morrison had flagged over the weekend that Australia would be providing “lethal aid” via NATO.

Russia accused of using banned ‘vacuum bomb’

Russia used a devastating “vacuum bomb” during its invasion on Monday, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US has claimed.

A vacuum bomb, also known as a thermobaric bomb, sucks oxygen out of the air. The resulting massive explosion is second only to a nuclear blast.

“They used the vacuum bomb today, which is actually prohibited by the Geneva Convention,” Oksana Markarova said. “The devastation that Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is large.”

Ms Markarova made the unverified allegation during a briefing to members of US Congress on Monday evening, The Telegraph reported.

Her comments came as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “war crimes” in a late-night address, saying there would “definitely be an international tribunal” for its “violation of all conventions”.

“No one in the world will forgive you for killing peaceful Ukrainian people,” he said.

“Today, Russian forces brutally fired on Kharkiv from jet artillery. It was clearly a war crime.”

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan confirmed on Monday he was launching an investigation on the “situation in Ukraine” following Russia’s invasion.

“Today I wish to announce that I have decided to proceed with opening an investigation into the situation in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible,” Mr Khan said in a statement.

“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 (since 2014). Given the expansion of the conflict in recent days, it is my intention that this investigation will also encompass any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of my office that are committed by any party to the conflict on any part of the territory of Ukraine.”

Military experts had previously raised fears Russia would deploy thermobaric weapons, after also using them in Syria in 2016.

Russia’s most infamous thermobaric weapon has been dubbed “Father of All Bombs” (FOAB). It’s rumoured to produce a blast equivalent to 44 tons of TNT over a 300-metre area.

If true, it would be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the world.

African Union condemns ‘shockingly racist’ treatment

The African Union has condemned the “shockingly racist” treatment of Africans attempting to flee Ukraine.

Footage emerged this week of Africans in Ukraine allegedly being prevented from boarding trains to flee the country. Other videos reportedly showed hundreds of Africans stranded at the Polish border, blocked from entering.

In a statement on Monday, the African Union said it was monitoring the situation in Ukraine and was “particularly disturbed by reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side of the border are being refused the right to cross the border to safety”.

“All people have the right to cross international borders during conflict, and as such, should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine, notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity,” the statement said.

“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of international law.”

US downplays Putin nuclear mobilisation

President Joe Biden and other top US officials played down the threat of Russia’s “dangerous” nuclear mobilisation Monday as the war in Ukraine intensified with more arms being sent to Kyiv by the West.

Asked if Americans should be worried about nuclear war after President Vladimir Putin said he was putting his strategic forces on alert, Mr Biden gave a calm “no” in response.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington sees “no reason” to change the alert levels of the US nuclear force, and a senior defence official said the Pentagon had not seen any palpable shift by the Russians despite Mr Putin’s Sunday announcement.

The Pentagon continues to “review and analyse and monitor” Russia’s posture, said Defence Department spokesman John Kirby.

Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin “is comfortable with the strategic deterrence posture of the United States and our ability to defend the homeland”, Mr Kirby told reporters.

US expels 12 Russian diplomats

Russia’s ambassador in Washington on Monday described the US expulsion of 12 UN staff as a “hostile move”.

“This is a hostile move against our country,” Anatoly Antonov said on Facebook, adding that Moscow was “deeply disappointed” and “totally rejected” the US claims.

A spokeswoman for the US mission to the UN said those ordered to leave had “abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security”.

But Mr Antonov said Washington had once again failed to “fulfil its obligations to ensure normal conditions for the working of foreign missions to the UN. “Russian diplomats have once again been targeted,” he said.

“Washington’s acts are neither aimed at calming the scene on the international front, nor maintaining bilateral relations between two great powers at a level necessary for peace and international security,” he added.

The 12 have been ordered to leave by March 7.

‘Mama, I’m afraid’: Dead Russian soldier’s text messages

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations has read out alleged text messages between a Russian soldier and his mother “moments before he was killed”.

Speaking during an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly on Monday, Sergiy Kyslytsya held up what he said was a screenshot from the dead soldier’s smartphone.

“Mama, I’m no longer in Crimea – I’m not in training sessions,” the soldier reportedly wrote, after his mother asked why it had been so long since he responded.

“Mama, I’m in Ukraine. There is a real war raging here. I’m afraid. We are bombing all of the cities together, even targeting civilians. We were told that they would welcome us. They are falling under our armoured vehicles, throwing themselves under the wheels and not allowing us to pass. They call us fascists. Mama, this is so hard.”

During the meeting, Mr Kyslytsya likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to “the man in the bunker” who perished in Berlin in May, 1945.

‘No question’: US’ bleak prediction for Kyiv

Military experts have cautioned against underestimating Russia’s chances of success in Ukraine, with some saying Moscow’s takeover of the capital is inevitable.

“From a purely military/tactical standpoint, Russia has the manpower and firepower to take Kyiv. No question,” one US intelligence source told CNN. “And no matter how much resistance the Ukrainians put up.”

Meanwhile, experts speaking to AFP warned against jumping to conclusions from the apparent slowdown, saying the Russian war effort was far from running out of steam. The army is preparing strikes on Kyiv and other cities and, at the same time, trying to link together its attack forces in the south of the country.

“They’re not bogged down,” said Olivier Kempf, head of strategy consultancy La Vigie. “This is war, so there are difficulties. They may have logistics issues. But regardless of what we’re told, they are making progress. Only in video games do you conquer a country in two days.”

Battles are raging in southern Ukraine where Russian troops have pushed forward from Crimea, with now a gap of only a few dozen kilometres left between the Russian army’s southwestern and southeastern flanks.

Ukrainian forces are fighting hard to prevent a link-up of the two Russian attack wings, which experts say would be a game changer.

Russia’s overall superiority, especially in the skies, gives it “a significant degree of freedom of movement across the country”, said Nick Brown at Janes, a British defence intelligence service.

“Satellite imagery of long columns of vehicles in the open suggests that they remain confident of their own positions and Ukraine’s inability to roll them up,” he said.

EU fighter jet promise falls apart

The European Union’s promise to supply fighter jets to Ukraine appears to have collapsed.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, made the promise on Sunday saying the planes would help prevent Russian air superiority.

But Politico reports today that Bulgaria and Poland, the two countries with the Mig fighter jets Ukrainian pilots already know how to fly, have refused the request.

It came as Russia warned there would be consequences for nations supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Among dozens of countries sending aid to Ukraine, those providing military support – through weaponry or armour – include the US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Portugal, Greece and Romania.

Putin lays out conditions for ceasefire

Russian President Vladmir Putin on Monday levelled conditions on ending Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine as Russian forces shelled the country’s second city in the face of sweeping Western sanctions.

The Russian attacks on Kharkiv killed at least 11 people, Ukrainian officials said. Kyiv says more than 350 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the invasion began on Thursday. The United Nations said more than half a million people have fled the country.

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators on Monday met for the first time since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion with Ukraine demanding a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

The talks ended with both sides agreeing to continue a second-round of negotiations “soon”.

In a lengthy telephone call, Mr Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that “the demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine and Western recognition of Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula were prerequisites to ending fighting in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

Isolated Russia defends Ukraine war at UN

Facing deepening isolation on the world stage, Russia faced a crucial test of support Monday as the 193 members of the UN General Assembly held a rare emergency special session to debate on a resolution condemning Moscow’s “unprovoked armed aggression” in Ukraine.

A vote may not come until Tuesday. Its authors hope they may exceed 100 votes in favour — though countries including Syria, China, Cuba and India are expected to either support Russia or abstain.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia reiterated Moscow’s stance — flatly rejected by Kyiv and its Western allies — that its military operation was launched to protect residents of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

“The hostilities were unleashed by Ukraine against its own residents,” he said.

China says ‘nothing can be gained’ from new Cold War

At the meeting, China’s UN wared “nothing can be gained” from a new Cold War between America and Russia.

“The Cold War has long ended. The Cold War mentality based on block confrontation should be abandoned,” Zhang Jun said during the debate about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Nothing can be gained from starting off a new Cold War, but everyone will stand to lose,” he added.

‘Empire of lies’: Putin hits back at the West

Vladimir Putin has labelled the West an “empire of lies” after sweeping sanctions were imposed on Russia over the Ukraine invasion.

The Russian President made the comments in a discussion of the economy with top officials on Monday, according to a transcript of the meeting released by the Kremlin.

“(Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin) and I discussed this topic, naturally bearing in mind the sanctions that the so-called Western community – as I called it in my speech, the ‘empire of lies’ – is now trying to implement against our country,” he said.

‘Dozens dead’ as Russia bombs Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv

The death toll in Kharkiv has grown into the dozens as Russian missile strikes hit Ukraine’s second largest city on Monday, according to officials.

“Kharkiv has just been massively fired upon by grads (rockets). Dozens of dead and hundreds of wounded,” the interior ministry said on Facebook.

Earlier, the regional governor said at least 11 civilians had been killed.

“The Russian enemy is bombing residential areas,” Oleg Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “As a result of the bombardments that are ongoing, we cannot call on the emergency services … currently there are 11 dead and dozens wounded.”

Ukraine leader makes desperate call

President Volodymyr Zelensky has revealed that all prisoners who have real combat experience will be released from jail and will be able to “compensate for their guilt in the hottest spots of war”.

He made the announcement as delegates from Ukraine and Russia meet in Belarus for peace talks.

“We have taken a decision which is not easy from the moral point of view, but which is useful from the point of view of our defences,” he said.

Peace talks officially underway

Russian and Ukrainian delegations on Monday began their first talks since Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine last week, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported.

“Russia and Ukraine are holding the first talks,” Belta said. Ahead of the talks, the Ukrainian presidency had demanded an immediate Russian ceasefire and troop withdrawal.

— with AFP

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