Fighting stopped about 200,000 people from evacuating the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol for a second day in a row yesterday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to press ahead with his invasion unless Kyiv surrendered.
Most people trapped in the port city are sleeping underground to escape more than six days of near-constant shelling by encircling Russian forces that has cut off food, water, power and heating supplies, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
Russia has launched about 600 missiles so far, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said the Russians were “beginning to accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv”.
Moscow has repeatedly denied attacking civilian areas.
In Irpin, a town some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of the capital Kyiv, men, women and children trying to escape heavy fighting in the area were forced to take cover when missiles struck nearby, according to Reuters witnesses.
Soldiers and fellow residents helped the elderly hurry to a bus filled with frightened people, some cowering as they waited to be driven to safety.
The invasion has drawn widespread condemnation around the world, sent more than 1.5 million Ukrainians fleeing from the country, and triggered sweeping Western sanctions against Russia aimed at crippling its economy.
“War is madness, please stop,” Pope Francis said in his weekly address to crowds in St Peter’s Square, adding “rivers of blood and tears” were flowing in Ukraine’s war.
Anti-war protests took place around the world, including in Russia itself, where police detained more than 4,600 people, an independent protest monitoring group said.
The interior ministry said 3,500 demonstrators had been held, included 1,700 people in Moscow and 750 in St Petersburg.
Thousands of protesters chanted “No to war!” and “Shame on you!”, according to videos posted on social media by opposition activists and bloggers. Reuters was unable to independently verify the footage and photographs.
Moscow says it has no plans to occupy Ukraine.
The U.S. defense official estimated Russia has deployed about 95% of the combat forces it had staged outside Ukraine.
In the capital, Ukrainian soldiers bolstered defences by digging trenches, blocking roads and liaising with civil defence units as Russian forces bombarded areas nearby.
The West, which calls Putin’s reasons for invading baseless, has expanded efforts to rearm Ukraine, sending in items from Stinger missiles to anti-tank weapons. But Washington and its NATO allies have resisted Ukraine’s plea for a no-fly zone, saying it would escalate the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.