By Matthew Chance, Nathan Hodge and Julia Hollingsworth, CNN
Russia’s brutal onslaught of Ukraine is raging on multiple fronts, but despite desperate pleas for more international assistance, the country faces Moscow’s offensive largely alone.
Key cities in Ukraine were attacked from several sides Tuesday, with Russia launching strikes on buildings in the center of the capital Kyiv.
Russian troops have taken full control of the southern city of Kherson, Russian state news agency TASS reported defense ministry officials as saying, although the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense denies the city has fallen and says some parts remain under Ukrainian control.
CNN was unable to immediately verify Russia’s claims, although video and social media posts verified by CNN provided new evidence that the Russians are moving throughout the city apparently unimpeded.
In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, a Wednesday morning strike on the regional police department and Kharkiv National University left the buildings engulfed by fire, according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service and videos geolocated by CNN.
At least 136 people, including 13 children, have been killed since Russia invaded Thursday — and another 400 civilians have been injured, according to the United Nations, though it cautioned the real toll was likely to be much higher.
As the attacks continue, Russia is facing increased criticism over its invasion of Ukraine, with US President Joe Biden slamming Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in his State of the Union speech Tuesday for a “premeditated and unprovoked war.”
“Putin is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been,” Biden said, as he announced a ban on Russian aircraft and airlines from entering US airspace.
But while the US and NATO allies have aided Ukraine by sharing arms, military equipment and intelligence while imposing dramatic sanctions on Russia, the alliance has thus far made clear it has no plans to send soldiers into Ukraine — a position Biden reiterated in his speech Tuesday.
Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, has mounted a fierce reistance, but in a rare interview from a Kyiv bunker Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that his country — which has a much smaller military than Russia — needs more help to prevent the crisis from spreading across Europe.
“I’ve spoken to Biden many times,” Zelensky told CNN’s Matthew Chance. “And I’ve told them many times that Ukraine will resist and fight stronger than anyone else but on our own against Russia we won’t manage it.”
Onslaught in Ukraine
As Russia launched strikes on key cities Tuesday, Zelensky warned Russia was indiscriminately attacking Ukrainian citizens and historical landmarks.
“As you can see, no one is being very careful about the targets. We see the children are being killed,” he said. “We are defending our right for life.”
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence update Tuesday that Russia had increased its air and artillery strikes against densely populated urban areas across Ukraine over the past 48 hours. Russian forces had encircled the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol, it added.
A 40-mile Russian convoy of tanks, armored vehicles and towed artillery continues to edge toward the Ukrainian capital, according to satellite images from Maxar Technologies. A US official said the convoy has been stalled due to fuel supply issues, while the UK said in its latest intelligence update that the column continues to make slow progress toward Kyiv.
In Kyiv, sick children are being treated in a hospital’s underground bomb shelters. A missile hit a private maternity clinic near the capital Kyiv on Tuesday, leaving the clinic damaged but still standing, according to the Adonis maternity clinic chief Vitaliy Gyrin’s Facebook post. Separately, a military strike tore through two apartment blocks in a town west of Kyiv.
Russian forces also struck a Holocaust memorial site in Kyiv and they fired rockets that landed near a TV tower. In a statement Wednesday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged carrying out long-range strikes with precision weapons on communications infrastructure in Ukraine.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was rocked by at least two large explosions on Tuesday evening in the city’s north, a resident said.
New videos posted to social media early Wednesday and verified by CNN showed badly damaged buildings in western Kharkiv in an area with markets, stores and residential buildings. The damage is unrelated to a major explosion that took part in the northern part of the city.
And fighting took place overnight in the city between Russian and Ukranian militaries near a Kharkiv military hospital, the head of the local police told Ukraine’s public broadcaster, Suspilne News. It’s unclear whether the explosion and reported fighting are related.
As the civilian death toll rises, the international community is stepping up pressure on Putin, leaving Russia increasingly isolated.
Biden said the US stood with Ukraine, adding “let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people.”
US oil and gas company ExxonMobil pledged Tuesday to leave its last remaining oil-and-gas project in Russia, while a spokesperson for US multinational Boeing confirmed in a statement to CNN that the company has suspended major operations in Moscow and temporarily closed its office in Kyiv.
But Zelensky has urged the international community to do more, calling on the US and NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine or put boots on the ground.
“If somebody wants to help us, everybody has to act swiftly,” Zelensky added. “This is the moment.”
Zelensky also predicted troubles in NATO member states if Russia seizes control of his country. “If Ukraine fails, then all these troops will be at your borders, Poland, Lithuania … and you’ll be facing greater issues. There’ll be other provocations there,” he said.
In his speech Tuesday, Biden reiterated Tuesday that US would not deploy troops to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
Instead, American troops were in Europe to “defend our NATO allies in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west.”
“As I’ve made crystal clear, the United States and our Allies will defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our collective power,” he said in his speech Tuesday.
“When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.”
The UN launched emergency appeals to support Ukrainian refugees after saying that some 677,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in “less than a week.”
“We are looking at what could become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
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CNN’s Paul P. Murphy, Jake Tapper, Sharon Braithwaite, DJ Judd, Tim Lister, Kyle Almond, Hadas Gold, Olya Voitovych, Vasco Cotovio, Betsy Klein and Adam Pourahmadi contributed to this report.