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Ukrainians flee brutal attacks on besieged cities as satellite images show Russia poised for possible assault on Kyiv

Humanitarian concerns for trapped Ukrainians
Fears for residents of Mariupol grow as access to food and supplies dwindles 03:25

Kyiv — Ukrainian authorities announced yet another effort Friday to evacuate civilians from the cities hardest hit by Russian artillery. The government hoped to at least get some humanitarian aid into the worst affected areas, as Russia looked poised to make a new push to take major cities, including Kyiv.

CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports residents are running for their lives from Ukraine's capital. Just a month ago, Kyiv was a thriving European metropolis home to almost 3 million people. Now, hunkering down, hiding out and hoping the worst won't happen is no longer an option.

"The snipers have taken over my house," said Valentina, a school teacher. "They're shooting in the direction of my son's house, my only son."

Not everyone gets away. Terrifying scenes have been unfolding in the neighborhoods of Irpin and Bucha, just a few miles from central Kyiv. Ukrainian officials say about 2,500 civilians have been killed since Russia launched its invasion 16 days ago.

Russian forces hit hard by Ukrainian military 02:34

New satellite images of the huge Russian military convoy north of the capital suggest it might finally be on the move again after being stalled for days by logistical issues and fierce Ukrainian resistance. The troops appear to be repositioning in preparation for a possible assault on, or siege of the capital.

As D'Agata reports, that's exactly what the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest, has been subjected to for days. But Russia has paid a heavy price. The bodies of Russian soldiers litter the ground around Kharkiv, and after two weeks of ferocious battle and relentless artillery fire, Russia still hasn't taken control.

A regional official said Friday that Russian forces had shelled residential areas of Kharkiv 89 times in just 24 hours, with some of the strikes hitting an institute containing a nuclear laboratory that Russia claimed several days ago was being prepared by Ukrainian forces for a staged "provocation."

Map of Ukraine with International Borders and Major Cities
Map of Ukraine showing important cities, regional countries and capitals. iStock/Getty

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synegubov said there were "no threats to the civilian population yet" from the strikes that hit the nuclear facility specifically, but as D'Agata reports, Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been no match for Russia's artillery and aerial bombardment.

Civilians in Kharkiv and other battered cities report seemingly indiscriminate killing, with targets, including hospitals and residential neighborhoods. After a strike on a maternity and children's hospital Wednesday in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol drew international condemnation of Russia — and a denial from Moscow — Governor Synegubov said Friday that a health facility in his region had been struck.

He said a psychiatric hospital near the town of Izyum, about 50 miles southeast of the city of Kharkiv, was hit by Russian fire in a "brutal attack on civilians." The Reuters news agency quoted him as saying that about 70 people had been evacuated from the facility, which housed 330. He said emergency services were working to assess casualties.

Russia ramps up attack in key southern cities in Ukraine 02:24

The onslaught of artillery fire and airstrikes is President Vladimir Putin taking advantage of the West's refusal to risk a direct confrontation with Russia by imposing a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine. He's used the tactic before, most recently in Syria, where his forces surrounded and then destroyed entire cities to beat rebel fighters into submission.

But D'Agata says when it comes to Russia's ground assault in Ukraine, the Ukrainian forces have two advantages: They're fighting on their own turf, and they're determined to defend every inch of it.

One Ukrainian soldier holding a line on the edge of Kharkiv said the Russian forces he was up against — who were only about half a mile from his position — were using outdated tactics.

"They're fighting like the soldiers of 1941," he said. "They attack in, just like, in front, they don't do any modern maneuvers. Yeah, they have a lot of people, a lot of vehicles and tanks, but we fight in our land and we protect our families. So, it doesn't matter how they fight, we fight like lions and they won't win!"

Russia Ukraine War
A woman walks past an apartment building hit by shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 8, 2022. Andrew Marienko/AP

With multiple cities now under siege, D'Agata says the top priority for Ukrainian authorities is again to attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in catastrophic conditions without food, water or electricity, and in brutal sub-freezing temperatures.

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