1 million flee Ukraine as Russian assault targets key cities, fuels exodus

1 million flee Ukraine as Russian assault targets key cities, fuels exodus

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One million people have fled Ukraine in a rapid exodus after a week of war, with Russia’s military bombarding key cities across the country in an effort to overcome staunch resistance to their invasion.

The conflict has fueled a growing humanitarian crisis in Europe and left those who have remained in Ukraine facing an intensifying assault from the air and ground.

But the mileslong Russian military convoy threatening the Ukrainian capital has made little progress over the last three days, with Russian forces struggling to overcome fierce defense and their own logistical issues in their northern advance. They appear to have had more success in the south, with two key port cities struggling to hold out.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on his countrymen to keep up their resistance, while branding Russian soldiers “children who are being used.”

The Kremlin’s international isolation grew on Wednesday when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution denouncing its invasion and calling for the end of hostilities in Ukraine.

Latest developments on Ukraine:

  • 1 million people have fled the war in Ukraine in the week since the invasion began, according to the U.N.

  • Russia’s long military convoy stalled 18 miles outside Kyiv.

  • Two key port cities in Ukraine’s south were struggling to hold out amid fierce Russian attacks.

  • Russia said nearly 500 of its troops have been killed, but the actual number is likely considerably higher, Western officials say.

From the central capital, Kyiv, to Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south, Russia’s advances have brought destruction to major cities and civilian areas.

The bombardment of Ukrainian cities has pushed residents to flee for neighboring countries and displaced many more inside the country of 44 million people.

“I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement issued Thursday.

People fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine shelter in Tiszabecs (Bernadett Szabo / Reuters)

People fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shelter in Tiszabecs (Bernadett Szabo / Reuters)

Residential areas of several cities came under attack early Thursday, according to an update from the Ukrainian military posted on Facebook.

Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, and surrounding towns came under particularly heavy shelling on Wednesday and into Thursday. In the last 24 hours, 34 people died and 285 were injured in the region, including 10 children, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.

The strategic port city of Mariupol remained in Ukrainian hands, according to the Ukrainian military statement, despite days of intense Russian attacks.

The statement did not mention Kherson, further along the coast on the Dnieper river, where it was unclear who was in control of the city.

In the latest update from the city’s mayor late Wednesday, he said there had been “armed visitors in the city council building,” but insisted the Ukrainian flag was still flying.

Nearly 20 miles outside Kyiv, Russia’s military column stood largely in place, with both mechanical breakdowns and the Ukrainian defense delaying its advance, according to British military intelligence. “The column has made little discernible progress in over three days,” the country’s defense ministry said on Twitter.

“The enemy is trying to break through to the capital. But Ukrainian defenders hold the defense and stop the occupiers on the outskirts of the capital,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in an update on Telegram.

Shells landed overnight in residential areas damaging homes and cars, but not causing any casualties, he said.

Russia reported military casualties for the first time since it launched the invasion of its democratic neighbor last week, saying nearly 500 of its troops had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded.

In line with Ukrainian estimates, two Western officials told NBC News that about 5,800 Russians have been killed. One U.S. official, however, cautioned that the estimates are extremely difficult to pin down in the fog of war and have ranged from as low as 500 to more than 5,000.

NBC News has not confirmed the numbers of any deaths from the conflict.

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