The strategic Black Sea port of Kherson became the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces since they invaded a week ago. This came as Mariupol in the southeast, another key port city, was left blockaded and without water, heating or power on day eight of the Russian military operation, Reuters said, with civil authorities reporting mass casualties. Also, four Russian landing ships and three rocket boats were advancing towards Odesa, another strategic Black Sea port city about 200km southwest of Kherson, Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Thursday. Military analysts believe Russia’s control of the key cities might aid logistical support and forward assault towards the north and the capital, Kyiv. Attempts to capture cities along key motorways showed Russian forces were capturing the periphery of major cities before entering urban centres, Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military commentator, said. In the south, captured port cities would ensure supplies from areas controlled by Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists could be moved more quickly to the front lines via the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. “They would want to save on fuel; moving supplies on land has a higher cost,” Ni said, adding that travelling on roads would be slow and expose vehicles to being attacked. On Thursday, Russia’s defence ministry declared that the southern city of Kherson was under its complete control. That was confirmed by the Kherson city mayor, as well as regional administration head Hennadiy Lahuta – whose post on the Telegram messaging service said: “[Russian forces were] in all parts of the city and were very dangerous.” Russian forces had entered the city council, mayor Igor Kolykhayev said on Facebook. “I am only interested in the normal functioning of our city! I just asked them not to shoot people. “We have no Armed Forces of Ukraine in the city, only civilians and people who want to live here!” In an earlier post the previous day, Kolykhayev had said Kherson’s power, gas, water and heating supply facilities had been damaged, and the city hall building had been shelled. Kherson is located very close to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 but remains recognised internationally as part of Ukraine. The besieged city of Mariupol stands on the Sea of Azov – which opens out into the Black Sea – between Crimea to the west and the Russian-speaking separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk to the east. Days before he ordered troops into Ukraine in a “special operation”, Russian President Vladimir Putin had recognised the independence of the two breakaway regions. Russia faces tough Ukraine resistance and logistical issues, experts say Control of major cities in the south would open a corridor from Crimea to Donbas, which would push resources from Russia into combat zones close by, said David Kilcullen, a professor of international and political studies at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. “Logistics is one of the weakest aspects of [Russia’s] campaign so far,” said Kilcullen, a former soldier and diplomat. Russia’s early assault, starting on February 24, was badly managed, with troops underestimating the resistance put up by the Ukrainian military and public. Military analysts have cited the lack of fuel, and logistical bottlenecks that held back a tank column headed for the capital. Ni in Shanghai said the latest moves showed a coordinated strategy from Moscow, with troops coming in from the northern border outside Kyiv and Kharkiv, and also from the south. “Forces in the south could advance to the north,” he said. “If they are successful, one group could coordinate with the northern forces attacking Kharkiv, while another could advance to Kyiv.” Cities in the north, such as Poltava – located on a major motorway between Kyiv and Kharkiv – have also experienced missile strikes. However, capturing cities could risk spreading Russian troops too thin, Kilcullen said, which was apparent from two separate battlefronts in north and south Ukraine. He said the southern front, stretching from Luhansk to Mariupol, Crimea and Kherson, was separated from the northern front of Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv and Kyiv along the Russian border – by a gap in troop distribution in central Ukraine. “It’s almost like a set of jaws closing from the east,” he said. “Unless they manage to encircle and dominate Kyiv, they will really struggle to close those jaws.” The northern and southern fronts could close at Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city on the Dnieper river that runs through the country, Kilcullen said. “That would actually cut off a lot of the Ukrainian forces that had been in the east of the country and that might force them to withdraw.” Despite Moscow’s claims that its military did not target civilian buildings, residential areas, television towers, government offices, schools and university campuses have been shelled across Ukraine. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, on Thursday said more than 1 million people had fled the country and countless others were internally displaced. Russian forces aimed to encircle Kyiv from the west, with support from troops in Chernihiv and Sumy, hard-hit cities to the northeast of the capital, Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said. Artillery and missile attacks against Ukraine’s No 2 city Kharkiv, as well as Mariupol and Kherson, were aimed at supporting the potential siege on Kyiv, according to its latest assessment. However, breaking the Ukrainians’ resolve may prove difficult. “The Russian air, artillery, and missile barrage may be intended to generate panic and reduce the morale of Ukrainian defenders in Kharkiv and elsewhere. It is not likely to achieve that effect,” the institute said, while pointing to similar efforts under way to force Mariupol to surrender. ‘We’re bleeding but we won’t give up’, Ukraine ambassador to Malaysia says Moscow has agreed to a second round of talks with Ukraine, after the first meeting on Monday produced no tangible results. A Facebook post from Ukrainian negotiator Davyd Arakhamia said talks would take place on Thursday evening (Ukraine time) at an undisclosed location. Establishing humanitarian corridors must be discussed, he said, while other matters depended on the circumstances.