Russian warships head towards Odesa amid fears of imminent attack on historic port

3 March 2022, 10:24

People crowd into a railway station in Odesa. Inset: A Russian warship
People crowd into a railway station in Odesa. Inset: A Russian warship. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Several Russian warships are said to have left Crimea and are moving towards the historic Ukrainian port city of Odesa.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine posted on Thursday morning that naval ships were moving through the Black Sea in the direction of the port.

US officials also said that an amphibious assault on Ukraine's third largest city could happen on Thursday.

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People in Odesa, a city of about one million on the country's southern coast, were filmed building sandbag fortifications along a beach earlier this week in anticipation of a possible attack.

There have been widespread reports that previous attempts to launch an assault there have been aborted due to bad weather.

Russian forces have already laid siege to two strategic Ukrainian ports.

Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 280,000, has become the first major city to fall as Vladimir Putin's forces claimed last night to have taken complete control there.

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."

Mariupol, a large port city on the Azov Sea, has been encircled by Russian forces, with mayor Vadym Boychenko saying 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 Russians have pressed their bombardment of the country's second-biggest city, Kharkiv, while the huge armoured column threatening Kyiv appears to be stalled outside the capital.

A senior US defence official said the immense column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles appeared to be stalled roughly 16 miles from Kyiv and had made no real progress in the last couple of days.

The convoy, which earlier in the week had seemed poised to launch an assault on the capital, has been plagued with fuel and food shortages and has faced fierce Ukrainian resistance, the official said.

Russia also pounded Kharkiv, a city of about 1.5 million people, in another round of aerial attacks that shattered buildings and lit up the skyline with balls of fire.

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 Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

"Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century," Mr Arestovich said, invoking what is considered one of the most heroic episodes in Russian history, the five-month defence of the city from the Nazis during the Second World War.