Ukraine pounded as Russia seizes key city ahead of talks

Ukrainian military authorities said residential and other areas in the eastern city of Kharkiv had been “pounded all night” by indiscriminate shelling, which UN prosecutors are investigating as a possible war crime.

Oleg Rubak’s wife Katia, 29, was crushed in the rubble of their family home in Zhytomyr, 150km west of Kyiv, by a Russian missile strike.

“One minute I saw her going into the bedroom, a minute later there was nothing,” Rubak, 32, told AFP, standing stunned and angry amid the ruins in the bitter winter chill.

“I hope she’s in heaven and all is perfect for her.”

He sobbed, apologised, and continued: “I want the whole world to hear my story.”

JUNK STATUS

The UN says the war has displaced more than one million people. “Protect civilians, for God’s sake, in Ukraine; let us do our job”, emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths told AFP in Geneva.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency urged Russia to “cease all actions” at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, including the site of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Putin now finds himself an international outcast, his country the subject of swingeing sanctions that sent the ruble into further freefall on currency markets Thursday.

Russia’s central bank – whose foreign reserves have been frozen in the West – imposed a 30 per cent tax on all sales of hard currency, following a run on lenders by ordinary Russians.

The unfolding financial costs were underlined as ratings agencies Fitch and Moody’s slashed Russia’s sovereign debt to “junk” status.

Turmoil deepened on markets more broadly. European stocks slid, oil prices approached US$120 per barrel, and the euro sank to the lowest level against the pound since mid-2016.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea became the latest to halt operations in Russia, as well as Belarus, saying nearly 15,000 employees would be affected.

Russia’s sporting isolation worsened as it lost the right to host Formula One races and the International Paralympic Committee, in a U-turn, banned Russians and Belarusians from the Beijing Winter Games.

The UN General Assembly voted 141-5 to demand that Russia “immediately” withdraw from Ukraine. Only four countries supported Russia – Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria. China abstained.

Europe stepped up practical support as well as diplomatic. The German government is planning to deliver another 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a source said.

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