Blast rocks Kharkiv as Russia 'takes child hostages' amid claims Putin used vacuum bomb

1 March 2022, 00:42 | Updated: 1 March 2022, 10:34

The UN has warned 'Ukraine is on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe'
The UN has warned 'Ukraine is on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe'. Picture: Twitter

By Megan Hinton

The main square of Ukraine's second biggest city was "blown up" as the Russians continue their attacks on civilian targets.

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The massive rocket strike took place in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, in the early hours of Tuesday, targeting the region's administrative buildings, which are being used by Ukrainian defenders.

Six people were injured, including a child, according to local reports, after the strike missed its intended target by a matter of metres.

Russia has also been accused of using terrifying thermobaric weaponry, so-called vacuum bombs, which are capable of vaporising human bodies near the blast and suck all oxygen out of the air in a wider area.

Meanwhile, a huge convoy stretching 40 miles has been seen closing in on Ukraine's capital as the country's president accused Vladimir Putin of "war crimes".

Satellite images showed the column of tanks and military support vehicles heading towards Kyiv as the conflict entered its sixth day.

The developments come as Deputy PM Dominic Raab told LBC that any Russian commanders found to have committed war crimes would "spend their twilight years behind bars."

Mr Raab also said the Russian war machine was being "starved" by global economic sanctions.

Speaking on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said the move was "absolutely inhumane".

She said: "Just now I received a video of Kharkiv – the second biggest city in Ukraine – and the main square was blown up.

"Literally, the building of the administration of the second biggest city in Ukraine just blown up in a huge explosion.

"That is inhumane. Absolutely inhumane."

Ms Vasylenko also accused Russia of shooting at civilians and taking women and children hostage.

She claimed: "The things that the Russians are doing right now are disgusting – they are targeting civilians, they are shooting at residential blocks and residential areas, they are getting women and children to board buses in the pretence that it's an evacuation and then they hold them hostage and as live targets in the warfare they lead."

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More than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were previously killed after Russian artillery hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, according to a post by the head of the region Dmytro Zhyvytsky on Telegram.

And explosions and gunfire were heard in embattled cities in eastern Ukraine as Russia's invasion met unexpectedly stiff resistance.

More ground force deployments and helicopter units were also seen in Belarus in satellite imagery - less than 20 miles north of its border with Ukraine.

Satellite imagery of the northern end of the 40-mile convoy with logistics and resupply vehicles
Satellite imagery of the northern end of the 40-mile convoy with logistics and resupply vehicles. Picture: Getty/Maxar Technologies

Meanwhile, Ukraine's president gave an address directed at Russia on Monday evening, claiming Putin had violated "all conventions".

Speaking during the address, Volodymyr Zelensky said: "Today, Russian forces brutally fired on Kharkiv from jet artillery. It was clearly a war crime."

He added: "Kharkiv is a peaceful city, there are peaceful residential areas, no military facilities.

"Dozens of eyewitness accounts prove that this is not a single false volley, but deliberate destruction of people: the Russians knew where they were shooting.

"There will definitely be an international tribunal for this crime - it's a violation of all conventions.

"No one in the world will forgive you for killing peaceful Ukrainian people."

The address followed talks between the two countries' delegations throughout Monday, which concluded with no agreement.

Mothers and their newborns live underground while medical personnel continue to provide care at Okhmadyt Hospital in Kyiv
Mothers and their newborns live underground while medical personnel continue to provide care at Okhmadyt Hospital in Kyiv. Picture: Alamy

It comes after fears were raised around the safety of civilians in Ukraine as Putin began to use "exceptionally lethal weaponry" and the UN warned of "humanitarian catastrophe".

Russian troops were accused of launching "indiscriminate attacks against men, women and children" during an address by the UK permanent representative to the United Nations.

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York, Dame Barbara Woodward described Ukraine as a country "on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe" a she described of food shortages and missiles "raining down" on key cities.

The stark warning comes as Ukrainian ambassador Oksana Markarova confirmed Russia has used a vacuum bomb during its invasion of Ukraine, with Western allies believing Russia is likely to step up artillery attacks in the coming days.

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York, Dame Barbara Woodward said: "As a result of President Putin's decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a country of 44 million people is now on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe.

"Whatever my Russian colleague claims, the world can see Russia's indiscriminate attacks against men, women and children across Ukraine, and its disregard for international humanitarian law."

She said missiles had "rained down" on Ukrainian city Kharkiv, that "hundreds of civilians had been killed as a result of the Russian invasion" and seven million people had been displaced, with the figure "rising exponentially".

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The UK's Ministry of Defence gave an update on the attack as of Monday afternoon
The UK's Ministry of Defence gave an update on the attack as of Monday afternoon. Picture: Ministry of Defence

She concluded: "We know that a humanitarian response is not enough to save the Ukrainian people from the disaster that Russia is inflicting upon them.

"So, our message today is simple. Once again, for the sake of humanity, we call on President Putin to stop this war and withdraw his forces from Ukraine."

US diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield said America was "alarmed by the mounting reports of civilian casualties, videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, and the widespread destruction of civilian facilities".

Adding: "To the Russian officers and soldiers, I say: The world is watching. Photographic and video evidence is mounting, and you will be held accountable for your actions. We will not let atrocities slide."

Empty shelves in Kyiv grocery stores
Empty shelves in Kyiv grocery stores. Picture: Alamy

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he plans to open an investigation "as rapidly as possible" into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

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The Ukrainian capital Kyiv has been rocked by explosions with Vladimir Putin accused of using banned cluster munitions to indiscriminately target civilians in Kharkiv.

People in Kyiv reported windows shaking and air raid sirens ringing out on Monday evening following the explosions.

Video filmed in the embattled city shows a large fireball in the sky in the northwestern part of Kyiv, with reports claiming the site of the explosion was a military radar communication centre.

Today Boris Johnson has said the UK will "continue to bring maximum pressure to bear" on Russia as he pledged that Vladimir Putin would "feel the consequences" for invading Ukraine.

On the eve of his trip on Tuesday to Poland and Estonia, the Prime Minister said international leaders were united in agreeing that the Russian president "must fail" after his decision to send troops into the neighbouring country.

Mr Johnson is due to meet with Warsaw and Tallinn leaders and visit British troops serving in Estonia, which shares a border with Russia.

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Speaking before his visit to the two eastern European members of Nato, the Prime Minister said: "Today I will visit Poland and Estonia, two countries that are acutely affected by the current crisis in Ukraine.

"We have shared values that are more important than ever to protect, as the humanitarian situation gets worse.

"Alongside all our international allies the UK will continue to bring maximum pressure to bear on Putin's regime to ensure he feels the consequences of his actions in Ukraine.

"We speak with one voice when we say, Putin must fail."

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is travelling to Geneva on Tuesday to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

In a speech to the council, she is expected to urge the international community to isolate Russia and condemn its actions unreservedly.