Russian forces have seized a strategic Ukrainian seaport and besieged another as part of efforts to cut the country off from its coastline, even as Moscow said Thursday it was ready for talks to end the fighting that has sent more than 1 million people fleeing over Ukraine’s borders.
The Russian military said it had control of Kherson, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.
Elsewhere, the Russians pressed their offensive on multiple fronts, though a column of tanks and other vehicles has apparently been stalled for days outside the capital of Kyiv. Heavy fighting continued Thursday on the outskirts of another strategic port city on the Azov Sea, Mariupol, plunging it into darkness, isolation and fear. Electricity and phone connections are largely down, and homes and shops are facing food and water shortages.
Without phone connections, medics didn’t know where to take the wounded.
In just seven days of fighting, more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population has been forced out of the country, according to the tally the U.N. refugee agency. The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, a city of about 1.4 million people and Ukraine’s second-largest. Residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and pressed onto trains, not always knowing where they were headed.
At least 227 civilians have been killed and another 525 wounded in that time, according to the latest figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. It acknowledges that is a vast undercount, and Ukraine earlier said more than 2,000 civilians have died. That figure could not be independently verified.
As the toll of war mounted, a second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations was expected later Thursday in neighboring Belarus — though the two sides appeared to have little common ground.
“We are ready to conduct talks, but we will continue the operation because we won’t allow Ukraine to preserve a military infrastructure that threatens Russia,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, repeating an accusation Moscow has repeatedly used to justify its invasion.
Lavrov said that the West has continuously armed Ukraine, trained its troops and built up bases there to turn Ukraine into a bulwark against Russia.