Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces claimed to have taken complete control of Kherson, which would make it the biggest city to fall yet in the invasion. But a senior U.S. defense official disputed that. “Our view is that Kherson is very much a contested city," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office told The Associated Press that it could not comment on the situation in Kherson while the fighting was still going on. But the mayor of Kherson, Igor Kolykhaev, said Russian soldiers were in the city and came to the city administration building. He said he asked them not to shoot civilians and to allow crews to gather up the bodies from the streets.
"I simply asked them not to shoot at people,” he said in a statement. “We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE.” Kherson, a city of 300,000, is strategically located on the banks of the Dnieper River near where it flows into the Black Sea. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the attacks there had been relentless.
“We cannot even take the wounded from the streets, from houses and apartments today, since the shelling does not stop,” he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying. Meanwhile, the senior U.S. defense official said the immense column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles appeared to be stalled roughly 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Kyiv and had made no real progress in the last couple of days.
Russian forces laid siege to two strategic Ukrainian seaports Wednesday and pressed their bombardment of the country's second-biggest city, while the huge armored column threatening Kyiv appeared stalled outside the capital. The convoy has been plagued with fuel and food shortages and has faced fierce Ukrainian resistance, the official said.
Russia also pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with about 1.5 million people, in another round of aerial attacks that shattered buildings and lit up the skyline with flames. At least 21 people were killed and 112 injured over the past day, said Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration. Several Russian planes were shot down over Kharkiv, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, a top adviser to Zelenskyy.
“Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” Arestovich said, invoking what is considered one of the most heroic episodes in Russian history, the five-month defense of the city from the Nazis during World War II.
From his basement bunker, Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov told the BBC: “The city is united and we shall stand fast.’’
Russian attacks, many with missiles, blew the roof off Kharkiv’s five-story regional police building and set the top floor on fire, and also hit the intelligence headquarters and a university building, according to officials and videos and photos released by Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. Officials said residential buildings were also hit, but gave no details.
A second round of talks aimed at ending the fighting was expected Thursday, but there appeared to be little common ground between the two sides.
Moscow's isolation deepened, meanwhile, when most of the world lined up against it at the United Nations to demand it withdraw from Ukraine. And the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into possible war crimes.
With fighting going on on multiple fronts across the country, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Mariupol, a large city on the Azov Sea, was encircled by Russian forces, while the status of another vital port, Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 280,000, remained unclear.