Belarusian troops are said to have crossed the Ukrainian border to join a Russian invasion that reached brutal new levels of intensity overnight.
Ukraine’s parliament said on Tuesday morning that Belarusian troops had been spotted in the Chernihiv region, which stretches from the Belarusian border to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. That would make Belarus the third direct participant in the war after its Putin-backed president, Alexander Lukashenko, issued a dire warning of World War III.
The reported arrival of Belarusian troops coincided with a sharp escalation in Russian aggression across Ukraine on Tuesday morning.
The main square – known as Freedom Square – in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was rocked by a huge explosion that caused extensive damage to the seat of regional government. City emergency service officials reportedly said the blast killed civilians, but exact numbers have not been confirmed. President Volodymyr Zelensky told the European Union that dozens of people had died.
Zelensky said the damage was caused by two cruise missiles, although this could not be immediately verified. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of hitting Kiev with a vacuum bomb (or thermobaric weapon) on Monday. The high explosive is one of the deadliest bombs available outside of a tactical nuke.
Shocking videos posted on social media showed the moment of the explosion in Kharkiv on Tuesday.
Addressing the European Parliament via video link hours after the explosion, Ukraine’s President Zelensky said that Russia’s strike on central Kharkiv amounted to a war crime. “The evil, armed with rockets, bombs and artillery, must be stopped immediately,” he said. “No one will forgive. Nobody will forget… This is state terrorism of the Russian Federation.
In the eastern town of Okhtyrka, more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were would have been killed by a Russian missile strike on a military base. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest attack since the invasion began. Mayor Pavlo Kuzmenko wrote: “Once again the enemy is waging a vile war. An air-fuel bomb was dropped on an oil depot, oil tanks exploded.
Russia’s newest assault on urban areas of Ukraine came as a military column gathering north of Kiev was about 40 miles long, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies. Residents are now preparing for a new assault on the Ukrainian capital.
Addressing the huge Russian convoy during his speech to the European Parliament, Zelensky said: “They want to smash our national identity, that’s why the capital is under constant threat.” He added that three missile strikes had hit Kiev in the past 24 hours and estimated that hundreds of undercover Russian saboteurs were in the city.