Putin's invasion of Ukraine leaves 2,000 civilians dead as pleas for escape routes grow

2 March 2022, 13:44 | Updated: 2 March 2022, 18:14

Ukraine's cities are being devastated by Russian bombardments
Ukraine's cities are being devastated by Russian bombardments. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed 2,000 civilians, it emerged today - as the Pope was called on talk to Vladimir Putin about letting innocent people flee the war.

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Downing Street has claimed that apparent war crimes are occurring almost hourly as cities including the capital Kyiv are being bombarded. People are trying to escape the violence on packed trains and roads to neighbouring countries.

Some 15,000 Russian soldiers are approaching the city, whose residents will have recent images of the attack on Kharkiv fresh in their minds.

Ukrainian authorities later said that 21 people died and 112 were injured, while some Russian planes were shot down.

The Russian bombardment of Kharkiv in Ukraine has killed 21 people and hurt 112, a Ukrainian official said. Some Russian planes have been shot down, they added.

The attack on Kyiv has seen a TV tower get hit by Russian strikes - a landmark near a Holocaust memorial.

Ukraine's State Emergency Service said that 2,000 civilians have been killed during the invasion.

On Wednesday evening the UN General Assembly voted to demand that Russia stop its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all troops, with nations from world powers to tiny island states condemning Moscow's actions.

The vote was 141 to five, with 35 abstentions. Syria, Russia, North Korea, Eritrea and Belarus made up the five votes in favour of Russia.

Read more: Battle to flee Kyiv as 15,000 Russian troops descend on capital and US closes airspace

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It comes after the 193-member assembly convened its first emergency session since 1997.

Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion.

A Russian veto sank a similar resolution in the more powerful UN Security Council on Friday but the assembly allows no vetoes.

Under special emergency session rules, a resolution needs approval of two-thirds of those countries voting, and abstentions do not count. More than 90 countries co-sponsored the assembly resolution.

It deplored Russia's "aggression" against Ukraine "in the strongest terms" and demanded an immediate halt to Moscow's use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine's internationally recognised borders.

The measure also called on Russia to reverse a decision to recognise two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent.

Amid calls for humanitarian solutions to allow Kyivans to escape – many having been forced to seek shelter in basements and the metro system – Ukraine’s deputy prime minister called on Pope Francis to intervene.

"I hope the conversation will take place," she said, pleading for the head of the Catholic Church to speak to Putin about humanitarian corridors – escape routes for noncombatants.

The Vatican has said it is willing to facilitate talks between Ukraine and Russia and called on an end to violence.

Well over 800,000 Ukrainians have become refugees, the UN believes. Their escape comes as footage from places such as Kharkiv showed heavy bombardments as Russia appeared to step up its attacks on cities.

Boris Johnson told the House of Commons during Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions that the bombing of civilians "in my view already fully qualifies as a war crime".

Read more: Russian convoy blitzed near Kyiv by Ukrainian troops 'armed with Brit anti-tank weapons'

Read more: Boris accuses Russia of 'war crimes' after MPs give standing ovation to Ukraine ambassador

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On Wednesday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said "I think no one can be in any doubt that what we're seeing daily, almost hourly now, are horrific acts that would certainly appear to be war crimes".

There are fears about what kind of attacks Russia will try next as they attempt to claim cities from Ukraine's determined defenders.

Their drive to Kyiv has stalled amid logistic issues, according to Western analysis. An armoured convoy has been pictured dozens of miles from the capital but it has not moved.

A group of Russian forces were struck near the town of Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, by Ukrainians using Western-supplied anti-tank missiles, as well as artillery and drone attacks.

A Russian convoy was attacked on a bridge nearby, too, and corpses were seen lying by the road in the aftermath, which is said to have encouraged Ukrainian forces.