Russia has stepped up its bombardment of Ukraine’s biggest cities, firing missiles on targets in populated areas and killing at least five people near the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial, according to the country’s president.
The attacks, including unguided rocket barrages on urban areas, came as Vladimir Putin’s forces turned to more brutal military tactics in a bid to regain momentum on the sixth day of the invasion.
One Russian missile hit Kyiv’s television tower, knocking out transmission for a short period. A video posted by Ukrainian officials showed secondary explosions near the Babyn Yar memorial with plumes of smoke rising from the area.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian president, wrote on Twitter: “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? At least 5 killed. History repeating . . . ”
The Holocaust memorial is adjacent to a wooded area where troops from Nazi Germany on executed tens of thousands of Jews in September 1941 before later killing Ukrainians and ethnic minorities, with estimates of the death toll between 100,000 and 150,000.
Yakov Bleich, chief Rabbi of Kyiv, said the bomb “fell on the exact location of the Jewish cemetery of Babyn Yar”, adding: “I saw it. It is 100 per cent true.”
Russia’s offensive in Ukraine has created diplomatic, economic and humanitarian shockwaves that have upended Europe’s postwar order and triggered the most far-reaching sanctions regime imposed on a major world economy.
The Kyiv assault capped another mixed day for Russian forces that easily outgun and outnumber the Ukrainian army but have struggled to make the fast progress expected, particularly in the north of the country.
The Pentagon said 80 per cent of the Russian forces that had amassed on the border before the invasion had entered Ukraine. But a senior defence official said Ukrainian resistance and logistical problems including insufficient fuel supplies seemed to be slowing the advance on Kyiv.
“We are also picking up signs that they’re having problems feeding their troops,” the senior defence official added.
British military officials said a column of heavy armour had moved to within about 30km of the capital city, putting urban areas in range of the BM-21 Grad rockets that Russian forces used this week with devastating effect on the north-eastern city of Kharkiv.
An estimated 660,000 civilians have already fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict, a movement of people the UN warned could become “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century”.
EU member states on Tuesday discussed cutting off seven Russian banks, including its second-largest lender VTB, from the Swift messaging network that underpins trillions of dollars of transactions a year.
It marks the latest in a series of rolling measures that have in effect shut Moscow off from crucial parts of the world’s financial system as well as international sport competitions and cultural events.
Stung by its unexpectedly slow progress, Russia has shifted its approach on the battlefield, with its overstretched forces stepping up the use of artillery and other unguided weapons on cities including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Kherson.
A rocket attack on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Tuesday targeted a local government building that was engulfed by a ball of fire. Videos of the aftermath showed the entire Independence Square covered in rubble and the windows blown out of several adjacent buildings.
In a video statement, Zelensky described the attack as “outright, undisguised terror”.
“After this, Russia is a terrorist state,” he added. “No one will forgive. No one will forget.”
The deteriorating situation in many of Ukraine’s biggest cities could accelerate an exodus from the country of civilians fleeing the conflict. Reports from the Polish border suggest some refugees are already waiting for up to 60 hours to cross it, the UN said on Tuesday.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people — the largest, surely, within Europe, since the Balkan wars.”
As the effect of hefty western sanctions on Russia grew, Bruno Le Maire, French finance minister, promised to wage a “total economic and financial war” against the country, saying: “We will provoke the collapse of the Russian economy.”
His comments were met with scorn by Moscow. “Watch your tongue, gentlemen!” Dmitry Medvedev, a top security official and former Russian president, wrote on Twitter. “Don’t forget that in human history, economic wars quite often turned into real ones.”
Zelensky used a series of statements to accuse Russia of breaking the laws of war with indiscriminate attacks, adding that Ukraine had suffered 56 missile strikes since the invasion began and that Russia had fired a further 113 cruise missiles.
“A peaceful city. Peaceful residential areas. No military object,” Zelensky said of the attack on Kharkiv. “The Russians knew where they were shooting.”