Updated Mar 2, 2022 - World

Russian forces land in Kharkiv as bombardment of Ukraine cities intensifies

Aftermath of shelling in Kharkiv. Photo: Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Explosions rang out on in Kyiv and Kharkiv as Russian forces intensified their bombing campaign on Ukrainian cities Wednesday on the seventh day of the invasion.

The latest: At least 21 people were killed and 112 others wounded in the Kharkiv bombardment after Russian airborne troops landed in the city about 8:30pm Tuesday ET, according to Ukrainian officials.

  • A child was among four people killed in a Russian missile strike on their homes near an air base in Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv, said Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, on Telegram.
  • The mayor of the southeastern port city of Mariupol reported that it's encircled by Russian troops and "has practically no electricity and centralized heating," while the Black Sea city of Kherson was surrounded, according to multiple reports.

State of play: Kharkiv has been the scene of some of the worst shelling by Russian troops since the invasion began. President Volodymyr Zelensky has denounced attacks on civilians, calling the striking of Kharkiv's central square Tuesday an act of state terrorism.

  • The bombardment of civilian areas and the miles-long armored Russian military convoy nearing Kyiv, appear to herald a new, more brutal phase of fighting after seven days of stiff Ukrainian resistance.

What they're saying: Zelensky accused Russian forces of wanting to "erase" Ukraine and praised Ukrainians as "a symbol of invincibility" in a video marking seven days of war on Wednesday.

What else is happening: Ukrainian authorities claimed they had foiled an assassination plot against Zelensky by a unit of elite Chechen special forces, in part thanks to tips from members of Russia's Federal Security Service who do not support the war.

  • The Russian military launched missiles at Kyiv's TV tower on Tuesday after saying it would strike targets tied to "information attacks" from Ukraine's security services, temporarily taking TV channels off air.
  • Ukrainian officials said a missile hit the nearby Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial site, killing at least five people. "To the world: what is the point of saying 'never again' for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?" Zelensky tweeted.

Between the lines: A senior Pentagon official said seizing Mariupol and Kharkiv would allow Russia to cut off eastern Ukraine and pin Ukrainian forces away from Kyiv.

Emergency crews respond after a missile strikes Kyiv TV tower. Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Other key developments: Kharkiv's historic Freedom Square — one of the largest city squares in Europe — was hit by a Russian missile strike on Tuesday, causing massive damage to the local city hall.

  • Zelensky released a video accusing Russia of "terrorism" and war crimes for its siege of Kharkiv, a mostly Russian-speaking city near the border that has endured some of the heaviest shelling of the conflict.
  • He also spoke to the European Parliament in an emotional address on Tuesday and urged the EU to admit Ukraine as a member, saying Ukrainians were fighting to be "equal members of Europe." (Watch the full video).
  • A Ukrainian military spokesperson for the northern district claimed that Belarusian troops had crossed the border into the Chernihiv region, north of Kyiv. Belarus dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko denies his troops will join the invasion.
Russian invasion of Ukraine, as of Feb. 28
Data: Institute for the Study of War; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

The big picture: Peace talks ended with no sign of concessions Monday. About 660,000 refugees have fled Ukraine, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, which said "the situation looks set to become Europes largest refugee crisis this century."

Impact on Russia: Russia's currency is collapsing due to unprecedented, crippling Western sanctions. Massive corporations continue to announce said they will suspend or restrict operations in Russia, most recently shipping giant Maersk and oil titan Exxon.

  • The Russian central bank raised interest rates from 9.5% to 20% and announced a raft of measures — including the suspension of stock trading on the Moscow Exchange — in response.
  • Russia's prosecutor general demanded that two liberal media outlets — radio station Echo of Moscow and TV Rain — be shut down over to their coverage of the Russian invasion. Hours later, Echo of Moscow was taken off the air and access to TV Rain was restricted.
Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries
Data: UNHCR; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

As Russia's economy unravels and its military suffers setbacks, military analysts expected the fighting to grow more intense and dangerous for civilians.

  • Michael Kofman, a leading expert on Russia’s military at CNA, says Moscow's plans of sprinting to Kyiv and forcing a swift surrender — ideally with limited Western sanctions or domestic blowback — have largely failed. He expects more artillery and air power.

Meanwhile, the military convoy, estimated to stretch over 40 miles, moved to within 17 miles of Kyiv from the north by Monday afternoon, per satellite imagery from Maxar. The Pentagon official said it had slowed Tuesday due to logistical issues.

Russian forces have claimed the most territory in the south.

  • In Berdyansk, a town near Mariupol now under Russian control, residents shouted at occupying troops to go home and sang the Ukrainian national anthem in the main square. Elsewhere, civilians have attempted to block the advance of tanks with their bodies.
  • Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said any Russian soldier who voluntarily surrendered to Ukrainian captivity would receive 5 million rubles ($47,000).
  • A senior U.S. defense official told said Tuesday that Russia's advance on Kyiv had stalled, and that there were signs of flagging Russian morale: "A lot of these soldiers are conscripts who have never been in combat before. Some of them, we believe, weren't even told they were gonna be in combat."
  • 80% of Russia's combat power that had assembled on the border has now been committed to Ukraine, the official said.
Russian convoy
Russian convoy north of Kyiv. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

NATO countries continued to promise and provide hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of weaponry.

  • Norway became the latest NATO country to join the fray on Tuesday, pledging to send up to 2,000 M72 anti-tank grenade launchers to Ukraine.
  • Russia warned it would hold countries that provide such weaponry responsible if they're used to attack Russian troops.
  • Former President Dmitry Medvedev tweeted a warning Tuesday that "in human history, economic wars quite often turned into real ones."
  • As with Putin's Sunday announcement that he would put Russia's nuclear deterrent on alert, it was an ominous indication that this war could intensify.

What to watch: Russia still has a good deal of capabilities "on the sidelines," including most of its air force, Kofman said. He's expecting a new scale of warfare in the days to come.

Zelensky signs application for EU membership
Zelensky (C) signs an application for EU membership. Photo: Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Go deeper: Get the latest with the Ukraine-Russia dashboard

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper