Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its third week on Thursday, with no end to the devastation in sight.
Moscow announced a new ceasefire in Ukraine on Wednesday to let civilians flee besieged cities, but there were only limited signs of progress in providing escape routes for hundreds of thousands trapped without basic supplies.
The Kremlin claimed its invasion of Ukraine was “going to plan”, despite its failure to seize key Ukrainian cities. A spokesperson also denied wanting to overthrow the Kyiv government.
The comments came as authorities in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol buried their dead in a mass grave.
Civilians from besieged towns northwest of Kyiv worked their way toward the capital, crossing over a small river via a damaged bridge.
The bridge area has come under sporadic mortar fire in recent days, with civilians killed.
But with little shelling reported in the area on Wednesday, civilians took their chance to leave their homes in the hope of finding safety.
Most of those fleeing the war have entered countries on Ukraine‘s western border, such as Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
The majority have gone into Poland, where 1.33 million refugees have crossed, according to the Polish Border Guard agency.
They left behind their lives and belongings, taking what meagre belongings they could, including pets.
Protests sprang up outside Russian embassies the world over.
The refugee crisis is likely to get worse as Russian forces step up their bombardment of cities throughout the country in response to stronger than expected resistance from Ukrainian forces.
Russian losses have been “far in excess” of what Putin and his generals expected, CIA Director William Burns says.
An intensified push by Russian forces could mean “an ugly next few weeks,” Mr Burns said.
On a Kyiv square where recent popular uprisings have scuppered Moscow’s ambitions in Ukraine, an orchestra assembled before a small crowd on Wednesday to play the national anthem as Russian forces advanced on the city.
The Kyiv-Classic Symphony Orchestra also performed an excerpt from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, on which the European Union’s anthem is based - a nod to the Ukraine government’s desire to move closer to Europe and away from Russia’s orbit.
Dozens of people gathered to watch on the central Maidan Square, some waving Ukrainian flags. They applauded when the national anthem was finished and a woman cried out “To Ukraine!”
Fighting continued northwest of Kyiv on Wednesday. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol were being heavily shelled and remain encircled by Russian forces.
Russian forces were placing military equipment on farms and amid residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukraine‘s general staff said.
In the south, Russians dressed in civilian clothes were advancing on the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding centre of half a million people, it said.
The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, is building up defences in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive.
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