Russia has given the most somber assessment so far of its invasion of Ukraine, describing the “tragedy” of mounting troop losses and the economic blow from sanctions, as Ukrainians were evacuated from eastern cities before an anticipated major offensive.
The comments came as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy foreshadowed the emergence of more atrocities, saying the situation in the town of Borodyanka was “much more disastrous” than in Bucha.
Moscow’s six-week long incursion has seen more than 4 million people flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, turned cities into rubble and led to sweeping sanctions on Russian leaders and companies.
In a symbolic move, the United Nations General Assembly suspended Russia from the UN human rights council, expressing “grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis”. Russia then quit the council.
Moscow has previously acknowledged its attack has not progressed as quickly as it wanted, but on Thursday Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov lamented the rising death toll. “We have significant losses of troops,” he told Sky News. “It’s a huge tragedy for us.”
Russia is facing its most difficult economic situation for three decades due to unprecedented western sanctions, its prime minister Mikhail Mishustin said. The US Congress removed its “most favored nation” trade status from Russia in a further blow.
Kyiv has called for more heavy weaponry from its western allies and “ruinous” sanctions against Moscow, saying the scale of any impending Russian assault on eastern Ukraine would remind NATO members of the second world war.
“Either you help us now – and I’m talking about days, not weeks – or your help will come too late, and many people will die,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told a meeting of his counterparts in the alliance in Brussels on Thursday.
Kuleba said he expected NATO members to send Kyiv the weapons it needed, including air defense systems, artillery, armored vehicles and jets, but insisted they must act fast while Moscow refocuses its offensive on the Donbas region.
“I think the deal that Ukraine is offering is fair. You give us weapons; we sacrifice our lives, and the war is contained in Ukraine. This is it. ”
NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said the alliance had agreed to strengthen support for Ukraine, was providing “a wide range” of weapon systems, and would also provide cybersecurity assistance and equipment to protect against chemical and biological threats.
With peace talks between Russia and Ukraine continuing by video, Turkey, which has hosted two meetings between the sides, said images of what appeared to be deliberate civilian killings in Bucha and towns in the Kyiv area had “overshadowed” negotiations and ruined an emerging positive atmosphere ”.
Pictures and video of dead civilians, some with their hands bound, in the streets of Bucha after it was recaptured from Russian invaders have sparked international revulsion and renewed calls from Ukraine for more weapons and tougher sanctions.
On Thursday, Zelenskiy said the situation in the town of Borodyanka was “much worse” than Bucha. “The work to clear the rubble in Borodyanka has begun… it’s significantly more dreadful there. Even more victims from the Russian occupiers, ”he said in a video posted on the Telegram messaging service. The town is about 15 miles (24km) from Bucha.
Video from Borodyanka showed search and rescue teams using heavy equipment to dig through the rubble of a building that collapsed. Hundreds of people were feared buried.
Zelenskiy also warned that Russia was preparing “propaganda scenarios”, in which Russian troops would make it look like Ukrainian soldiers were responsible for the deaths of civilians in Mariupol.
Pro-Russian authorities in Mariupol said on Thursday that 5,000 people had been killed in the besieged southern city. “Around 60-70% of the housing stock has been destroyed or partially destroyed,” said Konstantin Ivashchenko, who separatists in the breakaway Donetsk region have claimed is now the mayor of Mariupol.
Ukrainian authorities had put forward a “conservative” estimate of 5,000 dead in the city, which they say is 90% destroyed, while indicating that there could be “tens of thousands of civilian casualties”.
In other developments:
Boris Johnson is set to host the German Chancellor on Friday as they look to discuss how to help Europe wean itself off Russian gas. The prime minister will hold talks with Olaf Scholz at Downing Street, with a press conference planned for the afternoon, PA Media reported.
Radio transmissions in which Russian soldiers appear to talk among themselves about carrying out premeditated civilian killings in Ukraine have been intercepted by Germany’s foreign intelligence service, a source close to the findings has said.
The World Health Organization on Thursday said it had confirmed more than 100 attacks on health services in Ukraine, as it called for humanitarian access to the besieged city of Mariupol.
Australia is sending its first convoy of 20 refitted Bushmaster armored vehicles to Ukraine on C-17 Globemaster aircraft. They leave Brisbane on Friday.
Lithuania’s ambassador to Ukraine on Thursday returned to Kyiv after Russian forces withdrew from the Ukrainian capital, becoming one of the few diplomats to return to the city. Valdemaras Sarapinas said: “Political and moral support is very important for the Ukrainians.”
Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall, who was injured in an attack in Kyiv, has posted on Twitter about his injuries, saying he has lost half of one leg and a foot. He paid tribute to his colleagues killed in the attack, producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova and cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski.
Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation” on 24 February to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its western allies reject that as a false pretext.
The EU ambassadors agreed a fifth sanctions package on Russia with a coal embargo containing a 120-day wind-down period to give member states time to find alternative suppliers, following pressure from Germany to delay the measure.
Ukraine accused Hungary of undermining EU unity after Budapest said it was prepared to pay rubles for Russian gas, a Kremlin demand that most in the west had resisted.
On the battlefield, Ukraine says after withdrawing from Kyiv’s outskirts, Russia is regrouping to try to gain full control over the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been partly held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
The besieged southern port of Mariupol, where more than 100,000 people are believed to be still trapped, was also a target.
Both sides have continued to trade accusations, with Moscow opening a criminal investigation into a Russian soldier’s allegations that he was beaten and threatened with death while being held in Ukraine as a prisoner of war.
Separately, a social media video verified by Reuters and geolocated to an area west of Kyiv appears to show Ukrainian forces shooting and killing a captured and badly wounded Russian soldier.