Casualties climb on both sides; Russian troops seize government building in port city Kherson: Live updates – USA TODAY

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Casualties were climbing on both sides as Russia’s ferocious assault on its neighbor entered a second week Thursday. 

Russia acknowledged that nearly 500 of its troops have been killed in the fighting and around 1,600 wounded. Ukraine, which has not released casualty figures for its own armed forces, has estimated Russian troop losses at up to 9,000.

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service has said more than 2,000 civilians have died, though it was impossible to verify the claim. The U.N. human rights office said it had recorded 227 deaths, including 15 under the age of 18, and 525 injured, since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24. 

Meanwhile, most of Ukraine’s major cities are under siege. Gov. Hennadiy Lahutasays that the government building in the Black Sea port city of Kherson was seized by Russian troops while Russia said its troops had captured the city of 300,000 people.  Troops were also bearing down on Mykolaiev, 40 miles to the northwest and home to almost half a million Ukrainians, The New York Times reported.

The Ukraine military said Thursday that four large landing ships and three missile boats were moving through the Black Sea in the direction of the Ukrainian port city of Odesa. According to the military, Russian sailors were firing on civilian ships and taking prisoners.

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ON THE BORDER: Ukrainian refugees describe harrowing journey to Poland


More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine. The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, where residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and pressed onto trains, not always knowing where they were headed. The Ukrainian government said at least 34 people were killed and 285 injured, including 10 children, during the shelling of Kharkiv.

In one week, more than 2% of Ukraine’s population has been forced out of the country, according to a tally from the United Nations, which called the mass flight one of the “swiftest refugee exodus this century.”

And on Thursday, delegations from both countries are expected to hold talks in Belarus, a second round of face-to-face discussions. Ukrainian delegation member David Arakhamia said that Ukraine’s minimum goal is to agree on humanitarian corridors, the Kyiv Independent reported.

Latest developments:

►In a stunning reversal, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games for their countries’ roles in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing.

►A South Korean pharmaceutical company manufacturing Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine says it’s bracing for business complications as the U.S.-led West escalates sanctions against Russia.

►About 3,800 troops based at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia have been ordered to deploy quickly to bolster U.S. forces in Europe.

►Two of the world’s big three credit agencies downgraded Russia’s rating to “junk” status Wednesday, arguing that sanctions imposed by other countries in response to the Ukrainian invasion have jeopardized Russian financial stability.

►The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor opened an investigation Wednesday into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Ukraine dating back to 2013, but also covering the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion.

Zelenskyy: Russian soldiers are ‘confused children’

In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Ukrainians to keep up their resistance but didn’t comment on whether the Russians have seized any cities. 

“They will have no peace here,” Zelenskyy said, calling on the Russian soldiers to “go home” and describing them as “confused children who have been used.”

Black and brown refugees are being turned away at European borders

As growing number of reports suggest people of color fleeing Ukraine are facing discrimination at the border, the crisis has once again clarified the double standard in the way nations treat refugees based on country of origin, race, religion and more, academics and refugees say.

Many of the same European nations that turned away refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia in the past are now largely welcoming refugees from Ukraine.

“It’s great that Europe is being welcoming toward Ukrainian refugees. That should be the response. But it would be even better if that response was applied across the board toward all refugees who are fleeing persecution and war,” said Nell Gabiam, an associate professor at Iowa State University who studies forced migration.

There have been “unfortunate reports” of Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains heading toward the Ukraine-Poland border, the office of the president of Nigeria said in a statement Sunday. Dozens of citizens of African nations have offered similar accounts to news outlets worldwide. Polish officials, however, have dismissed claims of unfair treatment.

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, commended governments and citizens for their “extraordinary acts of humanity and kindness” but acknowledged some refugees have faced “a different treatment” at the border. Read more here. 

— Grace Hauck

US colleges denounce Russia, pull out of country 

Some American colleges are joining the growing Western coalition of governments and businesses taking action against Russia – an unusual position for the academy, which generally tries to stay out of international politics. 

The response from U.S. universities has ranged from denouncements of Russia’s actions to shutting down academic partnerships and programs in Russia. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has taken the most drastic steps in the academy, severing ties with a Russian university it helped to found. And on Monday, the Department of State urged all Americans to leave Russia, which could affect collegians studying abroad. 

The developments are especially striking given that universities celebrate their openness to cultural exchange, even with controversial governments such as China or Saudi Arabia. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is testing how far the commitment to intellectual diversity can go in the face of war. Read more here. 

— Chris Quintana

WHO: ‘Much more likely’ COVID will spread in Ukraine due to invasion

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday the ongoing invasion of Russian forces in Ukraine will allow COVID-19 to spread easily across the country, concerning health officials that the situation will result in many cases going undetected as attacks are made on healthcare facilities. 

“You disrupt society like this and literally millions of people on the move, then infectious diseases will exploit that,” Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said during a news briefing. “(People are) highly susceptible to the impacts of, first of all, of being infected themselves, and it’s much more likely that disease will spread.”

Ukraine is coming off one of its worst waves of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to WHO data.

On Feb. 4, there were a record 43,778 positive cases reported, and although cases have continuously declined since then, the crisis could result in the virus easily spreading without tests available. Only 34% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, according to WHO data. 

— Jordan Mendoza

Biden banned Russia from US airspace. Here’s what the area covers.

President Joe Biden announced the U.S. is closing off airspace to all Russian flights during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, a decision with a sprawling geographic impact due to the numerous territories in the Pacific Ocean.

The move is a part of a global effort aimed at isolating Russia from the rest of the world. Cutting off Russian flights to the U.S. will impact airspace over the lower 48 states, Hawaii, Alaska, and the American-controlled territories that expand across much of the Pacific Ocean.

Those territories include Palau and the Marshall Islands. And under the Compacts of Free Association, a series of treaties between the United States and those territories, the U.S. has access to and controls much of the airspace surrounding the islands.

— Celina Tebor

Report: China asked Russia to delay Ukraine invasion after Olympics

Senior Chinese officials told Russian officials back in February not to invade Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The Times, citing a Western intelligence report and quoting senior Biden administration officials and a European official, said that the Chinese officials had “some level of direct knowledge about Russia’s war plans or intentions” before the invasion started last month.

Chinese President  Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on Feb. 4 before the Winter Games kicked off in Beijing. According to the Times, it’s not clear if conversations about the invasion took place in the meeting between Xi and Putin.

After their meeting last month, both leaders issued a joint statement highlighting what they called “interference in the internal affairs” of other states, as Xi and Putin faced criticism from the United States over their foreign and domestic policies.

The relationship between China and Russia has grown over the past few decades, and the two nations opposed a further expansion of NATO. When Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, China called for peace between the two countries and said the U.S. and its allies were worsening the conflict.

— Charles Ventura, Asha C. Gilbert

Contributing: Associated Press