A massive, 40-mile convoy of Russian tanks and vehicles appeared to bog down on its push toward the capital of Kyiv on Tuesday while residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, were being pounded by Russian shells.
The Russian military advance drew to within 15 miles of Kyiv’s center amid signs that troops are running out of gas and food, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Tuesday. Russia has committed about 80% of the combat force President Vladimir Putin deployed to invade Ukraine, the official said.
Ukrainian resistance is continuing, and it has helped stymie the advance, according to the official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings. It is also possible the Russians are pausing to regroup and reassess their attack, the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke with President Joe Biden on Tuesday concerning Russian sanctions and defense assistance to Ukraine. The White House confirmed that they spoke for more than 30 minutes.
“We must stop the aggressor as soon as possible,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Thank you for your support!”
In Kharkiv, at least 11 people were killed and 35 wounded in the rocket strike, Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said, adding that the death toll is expected to rise. Closed-circuit television footage showed a fireball engulfing a street in front of one building, and a few cars rolled out of the billowing smoke.
Hospital workers transferred a Kharkiv maternity ward to a bomb shelter. Amid mattresses piled up against the walls, pregnant women paced the crowded space to the cries of dozens of newborns.
Zelenskyy called the attack on the city’s main square “frank, undisguised terror. Nobody will forgive. Nobody will forget. This attack on Kharkiv is a war crime.”
Zelenskyy said he believes Russian shelling of civilian areas is an attempt by Russia to put pressure on Ukraine to make concessions. No peace deal can be reached “when one side is hitting another with rocket artillery,” he said.
In Geneva, dozens of diplomats from the U.S., the U.K. and other European countries walked out in protest when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was addressing the UN Human Rights Council and Conference on Disarmament.
THE NEWS COMES TO YOU: Get the latest updates on the situation in Ukraine. Sign up here
►Apple said it would stop selling it products in Russia. The company doesn’t have physical stores in Russia but ships devices through its online stores and sells its products through retail stores there.
►At least two international humanitarian groups accused Russia of using cluster bombs, which open in the air and rain down multiple explosives over a wide area with little accuracy. Moscow denied the allegation.
►At least 677,000 refugees have already fled from Ukraine into neighboring countries, most to Poland, said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
►Zelenskyy, in an address to the European parliament Tuesday, said his country is fighting “to be equal members of Europe. We have proven that, as a minimum, we are the same as you.”
►The State Department has closed the U.S. Embassy in Belarus, a Russian neighbor and supporter, and is allowing non-essential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Russia to leave the country.
►The Swiss-based company that built the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was supposed to transport gas from Russia to Germany before it was shut down by sanctions may file for bankruptcy, Reuters reported.
USA TODAY FACT CHECK ROUNDUP:What’s true and what’s false about the Russian invasion of Ukraine
The U.S. is expected to join the European Union and Canada in closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The U.S. ban on Russian-owned and operated aircraft could be issued within 24 hours, the newspaper reported. It would be the latest in a host of major sanctions imposed on President Vladimir Putin’s government for its attack on Ukraine.
On Sunday, the EU and Canada took the unprecedented step of barring Russian airliners from their airspace. The Russian government responded in kind by barring European flights.
Russian strikes on Kyiv’s TV tower killed five people, wounded others and damaged the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, Ukrainian authorities said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office tweeted that a “powerful barrage” was underway and that a missile hit the center.
The Nazis shot tens of thousands of people at Babi Yar, including almost the entire Jewish population of Kyiv.
“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?” Zerenskyy tweeted. “At least 5 killed. History repeating…”
The 40-mile convoy approaching Kyiv has made little progress because of resistance and a lack of gas and food, according to a senior U.S. Defense Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings.
The official said the Russians also are likely protecting the convoy, explaining why it does not appear to have been attacked. The airspace over Ukraine continues to be contested by Ukrainian and Russian forces, the official said.
There are also signs that there are morale problems among Russian troops, many of whom have been drafted into service, the official said, declining to say how the Pentagon has made that assessment. Many of the soldiers are young men who have not been thoroughly trained or even aware why they were sent to Ukraine.
The Russians, however, have a potent force in and around Ukraine, the official said.
The Russians have systems capable of launching thermobaric weapons in Ukraine, the official said. Those fuel-air weapons are used primarily to kill people on the ground or in bunkers.
– Tom Vanden Brook
At a time when desperate Ukrainians are fleeing their country by the hundreds of thousands, online connections are helping them find refuge in other countries.
Facebook groups such as Host A Sister and Accommodation, Help & Shelter for Ukraine are among the sites serving as a link between those escaping the war in Ukraine and hosts willing to open their doors to them.
Iryna Yarmolenko, who served as a council member for the Ukrainian city of Bucha, fled with her mother and 5-year-old son last week and found a safe place with a couple in Lublin, Poland, after posting a request for help on the Host A Sister page.
“Even if it was just with their words: ‘Iryna, we are here. Tell me what you need,’ … I felt myself not so alone.” she said. “I was totally broken because I left all my stuff, all my dreams, all my house, all my career, all my everything.”
– Bailey Schulz and Eve Chen
On Tuesday, Russia was barred from competing in international ice skating, skiing, basketball, track and some tennis events, a day after being kicked out of soccer competitions and hockey – President Vladimir Putin’s favorite team sport. The decisions follow the IOC’s request to international sports federations to keep Russian athletes out of events they organize.
The International Skating Union, which runs the sport around the world, said it won’t allow any competitors from Russia to participate in its events, which would exclude Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova and 15-year-old star Kamila Valieva from the world figure skating championships in France later this month. Athletes from Belarus, which has supported Russia’s attack, will also be barred.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of committing war crimes during the invasion, and the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said he would investigate.
But what exactly are war crimes? Are they attacks on civilian populations? Launching rockets into residential areas? Other forms of cruelty in what’s an inherently brutal endeavor like war?
The definition of a war crime has evolved over time, but Dustin Lewis, research director for the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, said it encompasses two criteria.
“First, the conduct must be committed with a sufficient connection to an armed conflict,” he said. “Second, the conduct must constitute a serious violation of the laws and customs of international humanitarian law that has been criminalized by international treaty or customary law.”
– Ryan W. Miller
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said Tuesday that his government remained in control but said the city is surrounded by Russian troops.
“Military equipment and armored vehicles are coming from different directions,” he told The Washington Post in a phone interview.
Terekhov said a government building and the opera and ballet theater were among buildings shelled. Transformer stations were also struck by artillery, cutting off power to much of the city, he said. The shelling stalled efforts to supply the city with food and medical supplies, he said.
“There are casualties, and by now, there are certainly a lot more of them, after the night and morning shelling,” he told the Post. “The situation is pretty grave.”
More than 100 diplomats from dozens of nations walked out on a speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday in protest of the invasion. Lavrov spoke remotely from Russia because he said his flight path to Geneva was blocked by governments that closed their airspace to Russian planes. He accused the West of “Russophobic frenzy.”
Ambassador Michèle Taylor, the U.S. representative to the council, said the diplomats were working to ensure Russia’s leaders were held accountable for the “illegal war” against Ukraine.
“As widespread human rights abuses continue + civilian casualties mount, we #StandwithUkraine in rejecting Lavrov’s lies,” Taylor tweeted. “Russia is isolated.”
Filmmaker and actor Sean Penn confirmed he has evacuated to Poland after spending time in Ukraine working on a documentary about the conflict. The actor shared a photo of himself Monday carrying a suitcase while walking along the side of a backed-up highway as many others attempted to flee Ukraine.
“Myself & two colleagues walked miles to the Polish border after abandoning our car on the side of the road,” Penn wrote. “Almost all the cars in this photo carry women & children only, most without any sign of luggage, and a car their only possession of value.”
Penn said Putin has made a “most horrible mistake for all of humankind” and that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people “have risen as historic symbols of courage and principle. Ukraine is the tip of the spear for the democratic embrace of dreams.”
Penn’s visit drew accolades from Zelenskyy.
“Sean Penn demonstrates the courage that many others, especially western politicians lack,” the president’s office wrote on Facebook. “The director specially came to Kiev to record all the events that are currently happening in Ukraine and to tell the world the truth about Russia’s invasion of our country.”
– Elise Brisco
The war has thrown a global spotlight on Ukraine’s two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv. Kyiv’s (KEE-ev) population of 2.7 million people would make it the third largest in the U.S. slightly ahead of Chicago. The city covers 330 square miles – bigger than Chicago or New York, about the size of San Diego. Kyiv is in north central Ukraine, not far from the borders with Russia and Belarus. Ukrainian and Russian are commonly spoken in the city, among the oldest in Eastern Europe.
Kharkiv (kar-KEEV), 300 miles east of Kyiv and near the Russian border, has a population of about 1.4 million spread over about 135 square miles – about the size of Philadelphia, which has a population of about 1.5 million.
Ukraine has a population of about 44 million people, 4 million more than California, and is about 233,000 square miles – a bit smaller than Texas.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday visited troops in Poland with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Poland shares a border with Ukraine, and the air base in the central Poland city of Lask is home to NATO’s Polish and U.S. F-15 and F-16 fighter jets.
“We are increasing our presence in the east to defend & protect our people,” Stoltenberg said in a social media post. “Allies are stepping up support for #Ukraine & imposing costs on #Russia. The world stands with Ukraine in calling for peace.”
Despite Russia’s threats about nuclear weapons, the alliance sees no need to change its nuclear weapons alert level, Stoltenberg said. And while Ukraine is not a member of NATO, it is the alliance’s responsibility to “ensure that we don’t see a development where a conflict in Ukraine spiraled out of control and becomes a full-fledged confrontation between NATO and Russia in Europe.”
Big tech platforms have begun restricting Russian state media from using their platforms to spread propaganda and misinformation. Google announced Tuesday that it’s blocking the YouTube channels of those outlets in Europe effective immediately but said it could take some time to get all of them removed. Other U.S.-owned tech companies have also taken steps, including labeling more content so people know it originated with the Russian government and cutting Russian state organizations off from ad revenue.
The changes are intended to slow the Kremlin from pumping propaganda into social media feeds without persuading Russian officials to block their citizens from access to platforms during a crucial time of war, said Katie Harbath, a former public policy director for Facebook. Read more here.
“They’re trying to walk this very fine line; they’re doing this dance,” she said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns about the country’s relationship with the United States in space, a union that has remained intact despite geopolitical rifts between the two countries.
Four NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and one European Space Agency astronaut are stationed aboard the International Space Station, their home traveling 17,500 mph some 200 mile above Earth – where Russia has drawn international rebuke for its invasion of Ukraine. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is scheduled to return March 30 aboard a Russian spacecraft.
President Joe Biden has promised sanctions will target the Russian aerospace industry, a warning that led to a tweet from Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin asking “who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe.”
The European Space Agency also works with Russia. A planned launch of a European-Russian mission to Mars this year is “very unlikely,” the space agency said Monday.
– Emre Kelly, Florida Today
More than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, the head of the region wrote on Telegram. Dmytro Zhyvytskyy posted photographs of the charred shell of a four-story building and rescuers searching rubble. In a later Facebook post, he said many Russian soldiers and some residents also were killed during the fighting on Sunday. The report could not immediately be confirmed.
– Celina Tebor
The Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros. are joining the list of businesses retaliating against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Disney is pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia, including the upcoming “Turning Red” from Pixar, in response to the attack, the company said in a statement Monday. Disney said it is working with nongovernmental organizations to provide aid and other humanitarian assistance to refugees.
WarnerMedia is putting the release of The Batman on hold in Russia. The film starring Robert Pattinson had been set to open in Russia on Thursday. “We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “We hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to this tragedy.”
Sony Pictures is also pausing planned theatrical releases in Russia, including the upcoming release of Morbius, which is due out in early April,
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been impacted and hope this crisis will be resolved quickly,” Sony Pictures told USA TODAY in a statement.
– Michael Collins
Mastercard announced Monday that it was blocking “multiple financial institutions from the Mastercard payment network” as a result of sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The U.S.-based financial services company said in a statement it will continue to work with regulators to stay in compliance and is actively monitoring and preparing to respond to cyberattacks. Mastercard also said it would donate $2 million in humanitarian relief.
The U.S. and EU have sanctioned top Kremin officials and Russian elites as well as taken steps to remove Russian banks from the SWIFT network, which allows for payments between financial institutions, and to restrict Russia’s use of its massive foreign currency reserves.
– Celina Tebor
Contributing: Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY; The Associated Press