Russia tells Kyiv residents to flee, warning of further strikes on Ukraine’s capital

Dead civil servants pulled from rubble of attack on regional government building in Kharkiv

Russia warned residents of Kyiv to flee their homes as it bombed the capital's main television tower and warned more strikes would follow after a troop and tank advance over land stalled amid fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Missile strikes killed civilians in the central square of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, as residents hid in their basements or attempted to flee east in the sixth day of an all-out invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"This is the price of freedom," said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a charged address to the European Parliament that caused the English language translator to sob as he related the words. "We have a desire to see our children alive. I think it's a fair one."

There were fears of a shift in tactics from Russia to focus on aerial bombardment, with a US official saying a miles-long armoured column had stopped short of Kyiv, perhaps hampered by supplies and logistics problems.

The mayor of Kharkiv Igor Terekhov told The Irish Times 10 bodies had so far been pulled from the rubble of a hit to the regional government administration building described by his government as a war crime, with civil servants among the dead.

“The situation is very difficult in Kharkiv because it is under permanent attack by Russian activity – rockets, bombs,” Mr Terekhov said, explaining he expected his city’s death toll to rise significantly.

Russia has sent tens of thousands of troops along with missile systems, tanks, fighter jets, helicopters and warships to Ukraine for what it calls a special operation to remove “Nazis” from positions of power and to “demilitarise” the pro-western country of 41 million.

Banned its media

As protests against the war burgeoned across Europe including on the streets of Russia, Moscow banned its media from using the words “war” and “invasion” in relation to the attack and is threatening anyone found guilty of helping Ukraine with a jail term of up to 20 years.

In a new tactic in this war, Russia’s defence ministry warned it would use “high-precision weapons” to strike facilities of the Ukrainian security services in Kyiv – the headquarters of which is in the very heart of the city.

“We call on Ukrainian citizens who are being pulled by Ukrainian nationalists into carrying out provocations against Russia, as well as residents of Kyiv living near relay stations, to leave their homes,” the ministry said.

Ukrainian officials have urged their citizens not to panic as they retreat to basements, bomb shelters and metro stations to hide from Russian bombardment.

Yuriy Zarko, the mayor of the city of Bilopillya close to the Russian border, said all routes out were controlled by Russian troops and he was coordinating efforts to organise food supplies. “Nevertheless, we are flying Ukrainian flags from the city and this means the city still belongs to Ukraine,” he said.

Concerns of a large-scale humanitarian disaster are growing, and supplies of food and fuel are being shuttled to Ukraine’s borders as refugees pour the other way. The UN estimates more than half a million have entered the EU.

Join the union

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to voice support for Ukraine and its ambitions to one day join the union. Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have indicated that they personally supported the request for candidate country status, but officials in Dublin confirmed last night that there was no Government decision on the issue. MEPs also backed with a huge majority decisions to send military supplies and impose sanctions that have plunged Russia into profound economic isolation.

Ukrainians have called for Western countries to go further and use their airforces to impose a no-fly zone over their country to prevent Russian bombing. But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ruled this out in remarks in Estonia, echoing similar comments from Washington.

"We have to accept the reality that, that involves shooting down Russian planes," he said. "That is a very, very big step that is simply not on the agenda of any Nato country."

China signalled it may be prepared to play a role in brokering a ceasefire, stating it was "extremely concerned about the harm to civilians", in comments following a phone call between Beijing's foreign minister and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Meanwhile, Irish Government figures have acknowledged that Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality is likely to come under severe scrutiny in the coming weeks. Sources said the fast-moving situation in the EU on defence policy would present difficult choices. Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “I think we’ll need to think about deeper involvement in European defence.”

Government officials are making preparations to accommodate thousands of Ukrainian refugees. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told the Cabinet that Ireland could be expected to take in some 6,000 refugees, but Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney later indicated the figure could be as high as 20,000, adding that people may be asked to accommodate Ukrainians in their own homes. Officials later played down the 20,000 figure.