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KYIV – Russian forces continued to shell Ukrainian cities, with Kharkiv appearing to be the primary target. But Ukraine’s armed forces said in parts of the country the tide has turned and its army has gone on the offensive for the first time as the war enters its seventh day.

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No major Ukrainian city fell as of March 2, but experts have warned that Moscow appears to be turning to devastating bombings of built-up areas before entering them.

As Russian troops are massed near the capital and cities across the country are heavily shelled, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff announced in a March 2 statement that in some areas Ukrainian troops are “beginning to take the initiative of the Russian army”. occupants. »

“The enemy is trying to maintain the combat capability of its units, realizing that the ‘easy march’ has not worked,” the statement said. “He tries to avoid direct encounters not only with the Ukrainian army, but also with the civilians who block the movement of his columns. Russian propaganda ceases to operate in Ukraine and the ‘liberators’ realize that nobody was ready to welcome them here.”

The heaviest Russian bombardment appears to be targeting the northeastern city of Kharkiv, where dozens of residents have been killed and the city center hit by missile fire in recent days. Regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said on the morning of March 2 that at least 21 people had been killed and 112 injured due to shelling over the past 24 hours.

On March 2, regional officials reported that Kharkiv City Council had been hit by a missile, a day after the city’s administrative building was hit in an attack Ukrainian President Volodymyr called a “crime of war”.

According to updated figures released by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on March 2, Russia suffered losses of around 5,800 soldiers, although these figures could not be independently verified and it is not clear whether the figures only include soldiers killed. Russia also lost 30 planes, 31 helicopters and 211 tanks, according to the new statistics. Updated figures for Ukrainian troop losses have not been released, although Ukraine recently placed the number in the hundreds.

Russia did not provide clear data on troop losses.

WATCH: Rescue operations were underway on March 2 in Irpin, near the Ukrainian capital, after an attack blamed on Russian forces hit a residential area:

The UN human rights office said it recorded 136 civilian deaths. More than 870,000 people are estimated to have fled Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said more than 2,000 civilians died in the first week of the war. This figure has not been independently confirmed.

Reports from Kharkiv said Russian airborne troops landed in the city on March 2 and Russian forces attacked a military medical center. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said apartment buildings had been damaged by shelling and the regional headquarters of the National Police and Karazin National University were targeted.

Synyehubov said nighttime airstrikes caused several fires but Ukrainian forces continued to hold the town.

“All attacks were repelled. The Russian enemy suffered heavy losses,” Synyehubov was quoted as saying by dpa.

Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency reported that six modern Russian tanks were captured.

The status of Kherson, a strategically important Black Sea port city of around 280,000 people, has been disputed.

In televised remarks on March 2, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that “Russian divisions of the armed forces have taken full control of the Kherson regional center”.

However, an adviser to Zelenskiy disputed that claim, saying street fighting continued at noon on March 2. “The city did not fall. Our side continues to defend itself,” said Oleksiy Arestovych. noted in a presidential briefing broadcast live.

Early on March 2, the mayor of Mariupol said the Sea of ​​Azov port city had come under heavy shelling and authorities were unable to evacuate the wounded. The town is a key target of joint Russian and separatist forces from the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces also continue to masse outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where Russian missiles struck the city’s television tower near a Holocaust massacre site on March 2:

At least five people were killed in this attack and further explosions were reported later that evening in and around Kyiv. A massive convoy of artillery and armored vehicles that had stretched more than 65 kilometers continues to position itself within striking distance of the capital in what Ukrainian officials see as an attempt to encircle and take control of the largest city in the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed outrage on Twitter that the Russian missile strike on the TV tower struck so close to the Babyn Yar memorial center, which was dedicated last year to mark the 80th anniversary of the infamous massacre Jews, Roma, Soviets. prisoners of war, and others by the Nazis during World War II.

“To the world: what’s the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if the world is silent when a bomb falls on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 dead. History repeats itself”, wrote Zelenskiy on March 1. .

Shortly after the reports of the attacks, Zelenskiy spoke by telephone with US President Joe Biden.

“US leadership on anti-Russian sanctions and defense assistance to Ukraine has been discussed. We must stop the aggressor as soon as possible. Thank you for your support!” Zelenskiy said on Twitter.

A White House official said the two leaders spoke for about 30 minutes.

During his first State of the Union address, delivered in Washington on March 1, Biden spoke at length about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Six days ago, Russian Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world, thinking he might bend it to his menacing ways,” Biden said. “But he miscalculated. He thought he could roll in Ukraine and the world would turn upside down. Instead, he encountered a wall of force he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people. “

Biden announced he was immediately closing US airspace to Russian flights and stressed the unity of Western countries against Russian military action.

“He thought he could divide us at home, in this chamber, in this nation,” Biden said during his address to the nation from the House of Representatives at the US Capitol. “He thought he could divide us in Europe too. But Putin was wrong. We are ready. We are united.”

In an interview with Reuters and CNN on March 1, Zelenskiy said Russia had to “first stop bombing people” before peace talks could move forward. A second round of talks with Russia on a possible ceasefire was expected between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in Belarus on March 2, but there have been differing reports on whether and when they will take place.

The Kremlin said on March 2 that there were “conflicting information” regarding the planned talks and that it was ready to meet, but it was unclear whether the Ukrainian negotiating team would show up.

“Our delegation will be there at the end of the afternoon. [It will] wait for the Ukrainian negotiators,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on March 2. “Our delegation will be ready to continue the conversation tonight.”

During a briefing broadcast live on Facebook on March 2, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine was ready to talk but it was unclear when.

“We are ready for talks. We are ready for diplomacy. But we are by no means ready to accept Russian ultimatums,” Kuleba said.

Russian media later quoted Ukrainian presidential adviser Arestovitch as saying on Ukraine-24 television that the talks had resumed on March 2.

After the first round of talks on Feb. 28 failed to yield a breakthrough, Zelenskiy said Russia must stop bombing Ukrainian cities before further talks could take place. A Ukrainian presidential adviser told Reuters that a “substantial agenda” needed to be established before negotiations could begin.

Zelenskiy urged NATO members to impose a no-fly zone to stop the Russian air force. Ukraine’s president also condemned the bombing of Kharkiv as a war crime and an act of terror, saying in a video statement following a deadly attack that hit the city’s administration building on March 1 that “after such an attack, Russia is a terrorist country”.

WATCH: There were emotional farewells at Kyiv’s main train station as more and more people fled the Ukrainian capital.

Emergency services reported that at least 10 people were killed in the attack, which came after dozens were killed by Russian shelling a day earlier. Moscow has repeatedly asserted that it was not targeting civilian areas in what it calls its “military operation” in Ukraine.

On February 28, the prosecutor’s office of the ICC, the world criminal court, announced that it was opening an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine both before last week’s invasion by Russia, which in 2014 illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and since the current invasion began on February 24.

The court has already conducted a preliminary investigation into crimes related to the violent crackdown on pro-EU protests in Kyiv in 2013-2014, as well as alleged crimes in Crimea following its annexation by Russia.

On March 1, Canada asked the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

“We are working with other ICC member states to take this important step following numerous allegations of serious international crimes committed in Ukraine by Russian forces,” Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement. a statement. “The ICC has our full support and confidence. We call on Russia to cooperate with the Court.”

With reports from Reuters, AP, AFP and dpa

James R. Rhodes