Russia has for the first time acknowledged taking heavy casualties in Ukraine as its forces bombarded frontline cities, laying waste to urban areas in one of the most destructive days of the week-old invasion.
After several days refusing to admit significant battlefield losses in the “special military operation”, Russia said that 498 of its troops had died in Ukraine, with a further 1,597 injured.
The admission came as the human and economic toll of the war became clearer, with civilian casualties rising fast in Ukraine and 874,000 people fleeing the country at a rate the UN said would make it Europe’s biggest refugee crisis this century.
Sanctions are hurting Russia’s economy, and its vast commodities market is being shunned by refineries, banks and shipowners. Alarm over the conflict and its economic fallout pushed oil prices even further above $100, with Brent crude, the international benchmark, hitting an eight-year high of $113.
An exodus of western companies from Russia accelerated, with Boeing halting major operations, including parts and maintenance for the country’s airlines. It joined a fast-growing list of suspensions that includes Apple, ExxonMobil, BMW, Ford, Siemens and Nike.
Shocking images from Ukraine have prompted international condemnation of Russia, with an overwhelming majority of the UN general assembly calling on Russia to immediately withdraw all troops. The vote in the emergency session was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.
The deaths acknowledged by Russia are almost five times its total losses in Syria and underline the scale of resistance its forces have faced. Ukraine claims that Russia’s losses are far higher but has not disclosed its own casualty numbers.
Vladimir Putin’s forces stepped up a fierce aerial assault on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and continued faltering attempts to envelop the capital Kyiv from the north and north-west.
The Pentagon said the Russian military had ratcheted up missile and artillery strikes on Kyiv over the past 24 hours but added that Russian troops had not made any “appreciable advances” on the capital.
A US defence official said the Russian convoy that had been moving south towards Kyiv had effectively stalled, partly because of Ukrainian resistance and partly due to insufficient supplies of fuel and also food to sustain soldiers.
“They continue to be to be bedevilled by these logistical and sustainment issues,” said the official, who added that the Pentagon had detected signs of morale issues among the Russian forces.
Footage of devastated buildings highlighted how Russian forces had increased the use of heavy artillery, rockets and air strikes on key urban targets, particularly in Mariupol and Kherson in the south and the town of Borodyanka on the outskirts of Kyiv.
“Many of our cities and villages are now suffering from Russian terror,” said Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defence minister.
Nationwide, the troop movements, reinforcements and the shift to using more heavy weapons on urban areas have prepared the ground for what analysts expect to be a critical phase of the conflict, with Russia set to accelerate its ground offensives over coming days.
As Russian forces have advanced deeper into the country, troops have begun patrolling in some towns, including parts of Kherson and Melitopol in the south, often to a hostile welcome from locals.
Videos shot by residents of Melitopol on Wednesday showed large crowds directly confronting Russian troops, holding Ukrainian flags, marching and shouting “Go home”, “Melitopol is Ukrainian” and other slogans.
Residents of Kyiv heard loud explosions overnight, and sirens warning of incoming fire sounded in cities across the country.
In Kharkiv, the regional police headquarters was one of the targets that had been hit, said Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs. It shared pictures of firefighters trying to douse flames in the blown-out building as burning rubble fell to the ground.
The update came after a day in which Russia hit Kyiv’s television tower in a missile attack and sent people in Kharkiv into shelters amid heavy bombardment.
Joe Biden, US president, said it was “clear” that Russia was deliberately targeting civilians.
His administration imposed new export controls on sales of oil and gas extraction equipment to Russia and advanced technology for military use to Belarus on Wednesday. The new measures come as US and European officials debate whether to ban imports of oil and gas from Russia.
The Russian defence ministry said on Wednesday morning it had seized the southern city of Kherson in what would be a significant sign of Moscow making progress in urban areas. But the city’s mayor disputed that Russian forces were in full control of the area.
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington