Innocent victims slaughtered by Putin: The moment Ukrainian parents rush dying 18-month-old boy to hospital after he was hit by Russian shelling – as artillery also wipes out mother, her two children and five others while world watches in horror

This is the moment the grieving parents of an 18-month-old boy rushed into hospital weeping over their son’s dead body after the toddler was killed by Russian shelling – as Russian forces spent another day shelling Ukrainian civilians yesterday killing at least eight.  

The 18-month-old boy named Kirill was fatally wounded in the the southern city of Mariupol after Russian forces shelled Ukraine’s second city just minutes into an agreed ceasefire on Saturday. 

Kirill’s devastated mother Marina Yatsko and her boyfriend Fedor were later seen grieving as they embraced their son’s lifeless body laid out on a stretcher in the besieged city.   

And yesterday, in some of the most harrowing scenes of the war so far, the bodies of those killed in the mortar attack were seen lying motionless on a road.

Beside them were suitcases packed ahead of what they hoped would be a journey to safety. There was even a pet carrier among the luggage.

Three members of the same family were among those killed in the attack by Vladimir Putin’s forces on Irpin, a town 12 miles from Kyiv.

Horrific images captured the terrifying experience of mothers, fathers, grandparents and children running from Russian artillery fire.

It came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife has pleaded with inernational media to ‘tell the terrible truth’ that Putin’s troops are killing children ‘consciously and cynically’.

Olena Zelenska took to Instagram to say Russians had been killing Ukrainian children since Putin’s forces invaded on February 24.

She asked Nato to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine to ‘save our children, because tomorrow it will save yours’.

She said: ‘The Russian occupiers are killing Ukrainian children. Consciously and cynically

On the 11th day of the conflict, men, women and children were needlessly targeted and their neighbourhoods reduced to ruins.

Across Ukraine, ceasefires brokered by the Red Cross were breached and humanitarian corridors were closed. The UK Government said Russia was targeting ‘populated areas’ to break the resistance of the Ukrainian people.

The use of this heinous tactic was beyond dispute last night despite Putin’s denials and the disinformation emitting from Moscow.

Ukrainians are dying in towns and cities which, before February 24 when the invasion began, hardly anyone in Britain had heard of.

Less than a fortnight later, places such as Mariupol and Irpin are becoming horribly familiar as each day brings further suffering.

There were also scenes of devastation after attacks on residential areas in the city of Ovruch and village of Markhalivka, which are both close to Kyiv.

Almost 1,000 children have already been wounded, according to Ukraine’s government, while 331 civilians, including at least 28 children, have been killed.

The United Nations suggested yesterday that these figures will need to be readjusted upwards as devastated residential areas are thoroughly searched.

The total number of people fleeing Ukraine also passed 1.5million yesterday, making it Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since the Second World War. 

In other developments:

  • Putin told French president Emmanuel Macron in a call lasting one hour and 45 minutes that Moscow would achieve its aims in Ukraine ‘either through negotiation or through war’;
  • A fresh attempt to broker a ceasefire to evacuate civilians from the port of Mariupol failed after ‘Russian shelling’ resumed, according to the city council; 
  • Experts warned that British motorists could face even higher petrol prices after America pushed for a total ban on Russian oil imports; 
  •  The Home Office revealed it had granted only 50 visas to Ukrainians under the UK’s family scheme by yesterday morning; 
  • Some 1.5million people have now escaped the country, with more than one million refugees crossing the border into Poland. n Boris Johnson faces a backbench rebellion today over new sanctions laws which critics say do not go far enough;
  • The Archbishop of York hailed the generosity of Daily Mail readers as our Ukraine Appeal soared past £4million last night;
  • Nearly 20,000 foreign citizens have applied to go to Ukraine to fight, according to the country’s foreign minister;
  • A 72-year-old retired British colonel from the Coldstream Guards became the oldest member of the International Brigade volunteering to oppose Putin’s forces;
  • More than 3,500 people were detained at protests yesterday in 49 cities across Russia against the invasion of Ukraine;
  • The Prime Minister last night pledged £75million to help Ukraine’s government keep critical state functions operating.

Irpin

In a shocking video recorded yesterday, families in Irpin were seen dragging suitcases along a woodland path.

They looked cold and tired, their neighbourhood having been bombed repeatedly by the Russians over recent days and nights.

Bent over beneath the weight of their belongings they made steady progress on the long journeys to safety. Suddenly, the dull thud of a bomb dropping nearby shatters the silence.

Instinctively, the men, women and children of all ages fall to the ground. Ukrainian soldiers shout instructions, hurrying them along.

As a fallen tree blocks their progress, the troops carry children over the trunk. Behind them a building where the Russian ordnance landed is ablaze. They are urged to run as the soldiers fear another shell will land any second.

But they struggle with their heavy loads, their bodies bent double by rucksacks and bulging carrier bags, their treasured belongings stuffed inside.

One father protectively clutches his young daughter against his shoulder, another carries a baby in his arms as they speed up. The troops’ instincts prove correct and there is another thud as the ground shakes beneath their feet.

Older members of the fleeing group are gasping for breath and must be lifted by the soldiers over a roadside barrier. But finally they make it to a bus and clamber inside as snow gently falls.

They look utterly exhausted – spent of physical and emotional energy. They were among the lucky ones as at least eight people were killed while attempting to leave Irpin yesterday. 

According to reports, some of those who died belonged to the same family. Disturbing pictures showed victims lying in the middle of a road, their bodies wrapped up against the winter chill.

The town, to the north-west of Kyiv, is in Russia’s firing line because of its proximity to Hostomel airfield – the scene of intense fighting since the first day of the campaign.

Yesterday, Russian mortar rounds targeted a damaged bridge being used as a makeshift shelter by residents of the town.

Last night, Ukrainian military sources insisted none of their soldiers were near the civilians as they sought to escape the shelling. Thousands of people have been seeking to leave Irpin and the nearby towns of Hostomel and Bucha because of the fighting.

Following yesterday’s attacks, Kyiv’s military commander Oleksiy Kuleba said: ‘Unfortunately because there is not a ceasefire people cannot get out.’

Mariupol

Meanwhile, a fresh attempt to evacuate civilians from the southern city of Mariupol began at 10am UK time yesterday.

Under an agreement brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), refugees had five hours to flee westwards along humanitarian corridors.

But soon after the proposed start time, the city council said the attempt was not possible due to ‘Russian shelling’. Later, the ICRC revealed the two sides had failed to agree on who could be evacuated, whether aid could be brought in and what routes could be used.

It stopped short of confirming Ukrainian reports the Russians breached the evacuation agreement. Instead, the ICRC presented a more neutral assessment, indicating ‘hostilities resumed’ on the Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia road.

Its teams remained in Mariupol last night to secure a third attempt to help around 200,000 civilians flee. A separate ceasefire also failed yesterday in the nearby city of Volnovakha, which has also been under bombardment.

The ICRC hoped 15,000 residents would be able to escape. But only an estimated 400 refugees managed to flee before Ukrainian reports suggested the Russians had breached the ceasefire. Commenting on the breached ceasefire, UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘Russian generals have sunk to a new low. The world can see them for what they are. Shelling civilians is not a mark of a real soldier but a coward.’

In temperatures of -2C (28F), Mariupol has been without heating and electricity since Thursday. The Russians cut off internet and mobile telephone communications on the same day.

There were reports over the weekend of food and fresh water supplies running low inside the city. The aid agency Doctors Without Borders described the situation as ‘catastrophic’ and urged both sides to reach an agreement.

Local mayor Vadym Boychenko has likened the encirclement of Mariupol to the deadly Nazi siege of Volgograd – then Stalingrad – during the Second World War.

Last night, he said: ‘They’re destroying us. They will not even give us the opportunity to count the wounded and the dead because the shelling does not stop.’

Mariupol is strategically significant due to its port. Capturing the city would allow Russia’s Black Sea fleet to bring ashore much needed supplies. 

Today US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said there are ‘very credible reports’ that Russia had committed war crimes during its invasion of Ukraine – particularly in attacking civilians. 

It came as a second attempt to evacuate refugees from Mariupol was scuppered again after the city was shelled just minutes into an agreed ceasefire.

Some 400,000 residents were hoped to be evacuated from 12pm today, with an initial agreement in place until 9pm, but residents are now having to take cover in bomb shelters without electricity and water.

It followed similar attempts on Saturday when plans to evacuate refugees were halted when shelling recommenced 45 minutes into a ceasefire.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said: ‘Amid devastating scenes of human suffering in Mariupol, a second attempt today to start evacuating an estimated 200,000 people out of the city came to a halt.

‘The failed attempts yesterday and today underscore the absence of a detailed and functioning agreement between the parties to the conflict.’

However, in a telephone call with French President Emmanual Macron, Putin blamed Kyiv for the failed evacuations.

Putin instead claimed ‘Ukrainian nationalists’ prevented civilians and foreign citizens from leaving the port city and neighbouring Volnovakha.

But Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky today warned that Russian forces are preparing to shell Odessa – a historic port city on the Black Sea coast.

In a video address, the Ukrainian leader said: ‘They are preparing to bomb Odessa.

‘Russians have always come to Odessa. They have always felt only warmth in Odessa. Only sincerity. And now what? Bombs against Odessa? Artillery against Odessa? Missiles against Odessa?

‘It will be a war crime. It will be a historical crime.’ 

Almost a million people live in Odessa, a cosmopolitan harbour on Ukraine’s southern coast with both Ukrainian and Russian speakers and Bulgarian and Jewish minorities. 

Analysts have previously said that taking Odessa would be a huge strategic victory and would give Russia a chokehold on Ukraine’s economy. 

Russia has made progress in southern Ukraine since its invasion 11 days ago, overrunning the city of Kherson and shelling the port of Mariupol, but Odessa has so far been largely spared. 

Separately, on Sunday, the head of Kyiv-controlled Lugansk regional administration, said a train would be organised to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Lysychansk.

Lysychansk is near the frontline between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists, who are fighting to link up with the Russian forces and control the entire southeast.  

If Russian forces succeed in capturing Mariupol which held out against rebel forces in the previous 2014 conflict, they will control Ukraine’s entire Azov Sea coast.

This would give them a land bridge from Russia to Russian-annexed Crimea and an important supply route and port if they decide to push north in a bid to take all of eastern Ukraine.  

But although the Russian bombardment of Ukraine thus far has resulted in widespread destruction and considerable civilian casualties, Ukraine’s armed forces and territorial defence units have also inflicted major losses on Russia’s air force.    

Today footage showed the moment an alleged Russian jet was shot down over Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv earlier today. 

Oleg Synegubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, claimed that the Russian Su-25 fighter was destroyed by Kharkiv’s Air Defence Forces, which was later confirmed by the Kyiv Independent. 

Kharkiv is one of the cities worst-hit by Russian bombing campaigns in recent days, after Putin ordered his forces to engage in sustained shelling of several locations across the country.  

Kyiv reported late last night that they have downed a total of 44 Russian planes and 44 helicopters in the past eleven days, providing further evidence of Russia’s failure to gain air superiority – a tactical advantage that Putin thought would be achieved on the first day of the war.

The Armed Forces Air Command reported early this morning that one Su-25 fighter, two Su-34 fighter-bombers, two Su-30 SM planes, and three helicopters were shot down yesterday alone.

On Saturday, Kyiv cancelled a planned evacuation of more than 200,000 civilians from Mariupol and Volnovakha on Saturday after Moscow ignored a promised ceasefire and continued pounding the strategic port city.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said that talks were underway to establish a ceasefire and ensure the humanitarian corridor originally agreed for five hours between 12pm and 5pm Moscow time after local authorities told people to shelter.

Mariupol’s deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov told the BBC: ‘The Russians are continuing to bomb us and use artillery. It is crazy. There is no ceasefire in Mariupol and there is no ceasefire all along the route. Our civilians are ready to escape but they cannot escape under shelling.’

An official told NPR: ‘When the people organised in evacuation points, they [Russians] started attack on evacuation points. Not all the city. Just evacuation points.’

But Russia’s defence ministry claimed that the firing came from inside both communities against Kremlin positions, that no one was using the two humanitarian corridors provided, and that Ukraine’s ‘nationalists’ had prevented civilians from leaving, RIA news agency reported.

In a defiant address on Saturday morning, Zelensky urged Ukrainians to continue fighting Putin’s forces. 

Ukraine’s comic-turned-wartime president then thundered ‘what more is needed’ to convince Joe Biden to enforce a no-fly zone – an action which could widen the war and suck in NATO.

Ukraine’s military claims that it has killed around 10,000 Russian troops since the invasion on February 24 – far beyond the 498 claimed by Moscow. And Kyiv estimates that Russian losses also include 269 tanks, 105 artillery systems, 39 aircraft, 40 helicopters and 409 vehicles.

The Russian defence ministry said on Saturday that its units had opened humanitarian corridors near the two cities encircled by its troops for five hours between 12pm and 5pm Moscow time, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

In Mariupol, citizens would be allowed to leave during a five-hour window, it quoted the city’s officials as saying. The Russian defence ministry said a broad offensive would then continue in Ukraine, RIA said.

The Ukrainian government said the plan was to evacuate around 200,000 people from Mariupol and 15,000 from Volnovakha, and the Red Cross would be the ceasefire’s guarantor.

The evacuation would have been seen as a prelude to a final assault that, if successful, would see the Russian army push north from occupied Crimea and link up with their forces from the east and take control of Ukraine’s coast on the Sea of Azov.

Civilians spoke on Saturday of how the corridor collapsed as the evacuates went nowhere thanks to – according to Ukrainian officials – Russian forces breaking the ceasefire.

‘I’m right now in Mariupol, I’m on the street, I can hear shelling every three to five minutes,’ Alexander, a 44-year-old engineer and local, told the BBC. 

‘I can see cars of people who tried to flee and they are coming back. It is chaos.’ The evacuation was postponed just three hours before it was due to begin.

Since Russia invaded on February 24, Moscow has pummelled Ukrainian cities, with officials reporting hundreds of civilians killed.  

Europe’s largest atomic power plant has even come under attack sparking fears of a catastrophic nuclear accident. But Russia has so far only seized two key cities, Berdiansk and Kherson on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.

Capturing Mariupol represents a bigger prize for Russian forces as it would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s maritime access and connect with troops coming from annexed Crimea and the Donbas.

Zelensky said on Saturday: ‘We managed to get an agreement to provide assistance to those cities in Ukraine that are in the dire and worst situation, Mariupol and Volnovakha, to save children and women and older people. To provide medication and food to those who stay there in those places.

‘Those people willing to leave these places should be able to do so now using the humanitarian corridor, but those who can should continue fighting.

‘We do everything we can on our side to make sure this agreement works, regarding the humanitarian corridors and we will see if we can move even further about our negotiations with Russia.’ 

Aid agencies have warned of an unfolding humanitarian disaster as food, water and medical supplies run short and refugees stream into western Ukraine and neighbouring European countries.

In the southeastern port city of Mariupol – whose capture would be a key prize for Russia – there is no water, heat or electricity and food is running out, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko. ‘We are simply being destroyed,’ he said. 

The siege of Mariupol came as more Russian forces inched closer to Kyiv, encountering stiff resistance and shelling the western suburbs and the northern town of Chernihiv, where there have been heavy civilian casualties in recent days.

In a bitter and emotional speech late on Friday, Zelensky lashed out at NATO powers for refusing to impose a no-fly zone over his country, warning that ‘all the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you’. He claimed the West’s hesitancy will fully untie Russia’s hands as it escalates its air attack.

NATO says a no-fly zone could provoke widespread war in Europe with nuclear-armed Russia. But as the United States and other NATO members send weapons for Kyiv and more than 1million refugees spill through the continent, the conflict is already drawing in countries far beyond Ukraine’s borders.

And Putin has warned that Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as ‘participation in the armed conflict’. 

Speaking at a meeting with female pilots on Saturday, Putin said Russia would view ‘any move in this direction’ as an intervention that ‘will pose a threat to our service members’.

‘That very second, we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are,’ he said.

In an address, Zelensky said NATO ‘has given the green light to the bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages’, warning that ‘the history of Europe will remember this forever’. In a separate video message to anti-war protesters in several European cities, he said: ‘If we fall, you will fall’.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had earlier ruled out the possibility of a no-fly zone, saying Western planes would have to shoot down Russian aircraft.

In a warning of a hunger crisis yet to come, the UN World Food Programme says millions of people inside Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, will need food aid ‘immediately’. The UN Security Council will hold an open meeting Monday on the worsening humanitarian situation.  

More than 840 children have been wounded in the war, and 28 have been killed, according to Ukraine’s government. A total of 331 civilians had been confirmed killed but the true number is probably much higher, the UN human rights office said.

Biden has dismissed the notion of no-fly zones because of the risk of open conflict between NATO and Russian forces, despite opinion polling showing that a growing number of Americans want the US to take more aggressive action against the Kremlin.

Russia has faced an unprecedented Western diplomatic, economic and cultural boycott since its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

It comes as Germany said it would build a liquefied natural gas terminal on its North Sea coast, as it seeks to reduce its reliance on Russian gas imports. 

The roads on Kyiv’s western edge bear witness to a human tragedy whose scale grows ever greater as Russia’s assault on the Ukrainian capital becomes more determined and indiscriminate.

The Russian forces’ initial assault on Kyiv – launched with missile strikes and an airborne assault on an airbase – stalled at the end of last week.

The two sides have since been locked in a long-range shelling war along Kyiv’s outskirts that has put working class towns such as Bucha and Irpin in the line of fire.

But people fleeing the two towns said their resolve to stay broke down when Russian warplanes started circling overhead and dropping bombs on Friday.

‘Warplanes. They are bombing residential areas – schools, churches, big buildings, everything,’ accountant Natalia Dydenko said after a quick glance back at the destruction she left behind.

The 58-year-old was one of thousands of people walking with their children and whatever belongings they could carry down a road leading toward central Kyiv and away from the front.

The metric booms of Russia bombs dropped from warplanes circling over Bucha and Irpin provided a morbid backdrop for their desperate march.

‘It began two days ago. It wasn’t as heavy before, but two days ago it started getting really heavy,’ she said.

People were trying to get to the remains of a bridge leading to Kyiv over the Irpin River which Ukrainian forces blew up last week to stall the Russian advance.

Ukrainian soldiers with assault rifles swinging off their shoulders helped wheelchair-bound pensioners and mothers with prams cross a few wooden planks tossed over the river on Saturday.

Thousands of people massed in stony silence under the shattered remains of the original concrete bridge while awaiting their turn to pass.

A group of soldiers was digging anti-tank missile launchers into foxholes on the Kyiv side of the river.

Another group was preparing new supplies of shoulder-launched missiles and Kalashnikovs that could be ferried back across the wooden planks toward the front.

A long-range missile whistled overhead. A hollow thud about half a minute later signalled still more destruction somewhere in the general vicinity of northern Kyiv.

‘We were waiting it out. But yesterday, when a plane flew by and dropped something on us, we simply had to run,’ said Galina Vasylchenko, walking with her 30-year-old daughter toward the makeshift bridge.

A supermarket and petrol station that on Friday stood at a large junction on the border between Bucha and Irpin was just ruins on Saturday.

Soldiers were ushering the fleeing residents onto buses on the Kyiv side of the Irpin River because walking on that part of the city’s streets was no longer safe. Thousands more piled their belongings into cars and tried to get out of Irpin by taking a circuitous route that leads to Kyiv’s main train station from the southwest.

A queue of cars stretching at least 3 miles snaked its way past dozens of sandbagged checkpoints manned by armed Ukrainian volunteers in western Kyiv on Saturday.

Many had signs reading ‘children’ taped to their windshields.

The White House on Friday said it was weighing cuts to US imports of Russian oil, though it is proceeding cautiously, concerned about a spike in gasoline prices that would add to already high inflation.

On Friday, the United States flew B-52 Stratofortress bombers over NATO’s eastern flank above Romania, exercising with the German and Romanian militaries.

The largest strategic bombers in the US Air Force took off from RAF Fairford, a Royal Air Force station in England, and conducted ‘close air support and integration mission training’, according to a statement from US Air Forces in Europe. The B-52s then flew to Romania, where they conducted more close air support training as part of the Bomber Task Force (BTF) missions.

The White House announced that US Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Poland and Romania next week to meet with officials to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine and impact the war is having on the region.

Harris’ agenda for the March 9-11 visit to Warsaw and Bucharest is expected to centre on economic, security and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

‘The Vice President’s meetings will also focus on how the United States can further support Ukraine’s neighbours as they welcome and care for refugees fleeing violence,’ Harris’ deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said.

Biden spoke on Friday with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda. Poland is assisting about 700,000 Ukrainians and others who have fled the war so far. The United States has also more than doubled its military presence in Poland, which is a member of NATO, to 9,000 troops in recent weeks.

While the vast Russian armoured column threatening Kyiv remained stalled outside the capital, Putin’s military has launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites across the country.

Russian forces did not make significant progress Friday in their offensive to sever Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which would deal a severe blow to its economy. There were also no changes in the north and the east, where the Russian offensive has stalled, meeting fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Invading Russian troops have blockaded the strategic Ukrainian port city Mariupol, its mayor announced Saturday, as Moscow and Kyiv aimed to hold new talks over the weekend.

While laying siege to Mariupol for days, Russian forces also cut its electricity, food, water, heating and transportation in the depths of winter, prompting comparisons to the Nazi blockade of Leningrad in World War II.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba claimed that Russian troops have raped women in cities they have already captured. He did not give evidence to back his claim, but Ukrainian media reported that 11 cases of rape had been reported in Kherson, the only major city captured by Russia after more than a week of fighting. 

Earlier, it was revealed that no radiation was released from a Russian attack at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said on Friday the building hit by a Russian ‘projectile’ at the Zaporizhzhia plant was ‘not part of the reactor’ but instead a training centre at the plant.

Nuclear officials from Sweden to China said no radiation spikes had been reported, as did Grossi.

Ukrainian officials have said Russian troops took control of the overall site, but the plant’s staff were continuing to ensure its operations. Grossi said the Ukrainians were in control of the reactor. 

In the frenzied initial aftermath when the risk of a radiation release was not clear, the attack caused worldwide concern – and evoked memories of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, at Ukraine’s Chernobyl.

Facing worldwide indignation over the attack, Russia sought to deflect blame. Without producing evidence, defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov blamed arson rather than artillery fire.

He claimed a Ukrainian ‘sabotage group’ had occupied the training building at the plant, fired on a Russian patrol and set fire to the building as they left.

There had been conflicting reports earlier over which part of the Zaporizhzhia facility had been affected in the attack, with an official saying at one point that shells fell directly on the facility and set fire to a reactor not in operation as well as a training building. Grossi later said that the fire was in the training centre.

The confusion itself underscored the dangers of active fighting near a nuclear power plant. It was the second time since the invasion began just over a week ago that concerns about a nuclear accident or a release of radiation materialized, following a battle at Chernobyl.

Grossi said only one reactor of six at Zaporizhzhia is currently operating, at about 60 per cent capacity, and that two people at the site were injured in the fire.

Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator Enerhoatom said three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two wounded.

The plant fire came as the Russian military advanced on a strategic city on the Dnieper River near where the facility is located, and gained ground in their bid to cut the country off from the sea.

That move would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s economy and could worsen an already dire humanitarian situation.

With the invasion in its second week, another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid to the country, overturned by a war that has sent more than 1million fleeing over the border and countless others sheltering underground.

A handful of cities are without heat and at least one is struggling to get food and water.

In the centre of the capital, Kyiv, frequent shelling could still be heard Friday, although more distant than in recent days, with loud thudding every 10 minutes resonating over the rooftops.

The West has heaped sanctions on Russia, and most of the world lined up to demand Russia withdraw its troops in a vote in the UN General Assembly this week.

In the latest show of international opposition to the invasion, the UN’s top human rights body voted 32-2 on a resolution that would among other things set up a panel of experts to monitor human rights in Ukraine. Only Russia and Eritrea opposed; there were 13 abstentions.

The attack on the nuclear facility led to phone calls between the Ukrainian president and Biden and other world leaders. The US Department of Energy activated its nuclear incident response team as a precaution.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to raise the issue of Russia’s attack on the plant.

In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, Zelensky said he feared an explosion that would be ‘the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe’. But most experts saw nothing to indicate an impending disaster.

‘The real threat to Ukrainian lives continues to be the violent invasion and bombing of their country,’ the American Nuclear Society said in a statement.

Putin’s forces have brought their superior firepower to bear over the past few days, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country and making significant gains in the south.

The Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began just over a week ago.

A Russian airstrike destroyed a power plant in Okhtyrka, leaving the northeastern city without heat or electricity, the head of the region said on Telegram.

‘We are trying to figure out how to get people out of the city urgently because in a day the apartment buildings will turn into a cold stone trap without water, light or electricity,’ Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said.

Another strategic port, Mariupol on the Azov Sea, was ‘partially under siege,’ and Ukrainian forces are pushing back efforts to surround the city, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.

‘The humanitarian situation is tense,’ he told reporters, adding that Ukrainian authorities are in talks with Russian representatives and international organisations to set up humanitarian corridor to evacuate residents and supply food.

Battles in the area have knocked out the city’s electricity, heat and water systems, as well as most phone service, officials said. Food deliveries to the city were also cut.

Video from the port city showed the assault lighting up the darkening sky above deserted streets and medical teams treating civilians, including a 16-year-old boy who could not be saved.

The child was playing football when he was wounded in the shelling, according to his father, who cradled the boy’s head on the trolley and cried.War in Ukraine: ‘Russian plane’ shot down near Mykolaiv region

Ukraine’s defence minister said Friday that the flagship of its navy has been scuttled at the shipyard where it was undergoing repairs in order to keep it from being seized by Russian forces.

Oleksii Reznikov said on Facebook that the commander of the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny decided to flood the ship.

Ukraine’s state emergency agency issued mass text messages on Friday with advice on what to do in case of an explosion: Lie on the ground and cover your head with your hands; use available shelter; do not rush to leave the shelter; help the wounded; do not enter damaged buildings.

Overall, the outnumbered, outgunned Ukrainians have put up stiff resistance, staving off the swift victory that Russia appeared to have expected.

But Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 gives it a logistical advantage now in the country’s south, with shorter supply lines that smoothed the offensive there, said a senior US defence official.

Ukrainian leaders called on the people to defend their homeland by cutting down trees, erecting barricades in the cities and attacking enemy columns from the rear.

In recent days, authorities have issued weapons to civilians and taught them how to make Molotov cocktails.

As the Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Belarus on Thursday, Putin warned in a call with Macron that Ukraine must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its ‘demilitarisation’ and declare itself neutral, renouncing its bid to join NATO.

The two sides said they tentatively agreed to allow cease-fires in areas designated safe corridors, and that they would seek to work out the necessary details quickly.

A Zelensky adviser also said a third round of talks will be held early next week.

The Pentagon set up a direct communication link to Russia’s ministry of defence earlier this week to avoid the possibility of a miscalculation sparking conflict between Moscow and Washington.