Russian airstrikes hit western Ukraine as invading troops push toward Kyiv

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Russian airstrikes hit western Ukraine as invading troops push toward Kyiv

A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press)

 Russian airstrikes hit western Ukraine as invading troops push toward Kyiv

Russian strikes hit near airports in western Ukraine on Friday as the military offensive widened, and invading troops kept up pressure on the capital Kyiv and the besieged port city of Mariupol.

The airstrikes on the Lutsk military airfield left two Ukrainian servicemen dead and six people wounded, according to the head of the surrounding Volyn region, Yuriy Pohulyayko.

The strikes also targeted an airport near Ivano-Frankiivsk, where residents were ordered to shelters after an air raid alert, Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv said.

New satellite photos, meanwhile, appeared to show a massive convoy outside the Ukrainian capital had fanned out into towns and forests near Kyiv with artillery pieces raised for firing in another potentially ominous movement.

The photos emerged amid more international efforts to isolate and sanction Russia, particularly after a deadly airstrike on a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol that Western and Ukrainian officials decried as a war crime.

Ukrainian's help an elderly woman cross the rail tracks to board a train from Lviv to Poland at the Lviv central rail station on Thursday. (Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Ukrainian authorities announced plans for several evacuation and humanitarian aid delivery routes with the support of the Red Cross. Their top priority is to free people struggling to flee Mariupol.

The U.S. and other nations were poised later Friday to announce the revocation of Russia's "most favoured nation" trade status, which would allow higher tariffs to be imposed on some Russian imports.

Unbowed by the sanctions, Russia kept up its bombardment of the besieged southern seaport of Mariupol while Kyiv braced for an onslaught, its mayor boasting that the capital had become practically a fortress protected by armed civilians.

Ukraine's deputy economy minister said Friday that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has caused $119 billion in damages to Ukraine's economy. He said 75 per cent of enterprises in war-hit areas had stopped operating and most metallurgical enterprises in eastern Ukraine were not working.

A women covers herself with a blanket near a damaged fire truck after shelling in Mariupol on Thursday. (Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated)

Three Russian airstrikes also hit the eastern industrial city of Dnipro on early Friday, killing at least one person, according to Interior Ministry adviser Anton Heraschenko. Meanwhile, Russian forces were pushing toward Kyiv from the northwest and east but were repulsed from Chernihiv as Ukrainian fighters regained control of Baklanova Muraviika, the general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said in a statement.

The convoy seen in satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies showed the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks and artillery had been redeployed, the company said. Armored units were seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city. Some vehicles moved into forests, Maxar reported, with towed howitzers nearby in position to open fire.

Russian forces advancing on Kyiv

The Russian column massed outside the city early last week, but its advance appeared to stall as reports of food and fuel shortages circulated. U.S. officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.

Still, the immediacy of the threat to Kyiv was unclear. A U.S. defence official speaking on condition of anonymity said Russian forces moving toward Kyiv had advanced about five kilometres in the past 24 hours, with some elements as close as 15 kilometres from the city.

The official did not indicate if the convoy had dispersed or otherwise repositioned in a significant way, saying some vehicles were seen moving off the road into the tree line in recent days.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk in a video message announced efforts to create new humanitarian corridors to bring aid to people in areas occupied or under Russian attack around the cities of Kherson in the south, Chernihiv in the north and Kharkiv in the east.

Authorities also planned to send aid into Mariupol, a city of 430,000, where the situation was increasingly dire as civilians trapped inside the city scrounged for food and fuel, Vereshchuk said. Repeated previous attempts to do so have failed as aid and rescue convoys were targeted by Russian shelling.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that not a single civilian had been able to leave Mariupol on Thursday although Ukrainian authorities had managed to evacuate almost 40,000 people from five other cities.

He blamed Russian shelling for the failure of the evacuation attempt from Mariupol.

More than 1,300 people have died in the 10-day siege of the frigid city, Vereshchuk said.

Residents have no heat or phone service, and many have no electricity. Nighttime temperatures are regularly below freezing, and daytime ones normally hover just above it. Bodies are being buried in mass graves. The streets are littered with burned-out cars, broken glass and splintered trees.

"They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it," Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the Russians began a tank attack right where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.

with files from Reuters