Russia pressures Ukrainian capital as two sides hold peace talks

Russia’s invasion of its former Soviet neighbor has shaken the post-Cold War security order, with unpredictable and dangerous consequences.

LVIV, Ukraine — Russia and Ukraine kept a fragile diplomatic channel open with a new round of talks on Monday, even as Moscow forces pounded kyiv and other cities across the country in a punitive bombardment that, according to the Red Cross, has created “nothing short of a nightmare” for civilians.

Meanwhile, a convoy of 160 civilian cars left the beleaguered port city of Mariupol along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported, in a rare glimmer of hope a week and a half after the deadly siege that left pulverized houses and other buildings and left people in desperate need of food, water, warmth and medicine.

The latest negotiations, held by videoconference, were the fourth round involving high-level officials from both countries and the first in a week. The talks ended without a breakthrough after several hours, with an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying negotiators had taken a “technical break” and planned to meet again on Tuesday.

Both sides had expressed some optimism in recent days. Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelenskyy’s aide, tweeted that negotiators would discuss “peace, ceasefire, immediate troop withdrawal and security guarantees”.

Previous talks, held face-to-face in Belarus, did not result in any lasting humanitarian itinerary or agreement to end the fighting.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Monday press briefing that while the Biden administration supports Ukraine’s participation in talks with Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin should show signs of de-escalation in order to demonstrate good faith.

“And what we’re really looking for is evidence of that, and we don’t see any evidence at this point that President Putin is doing anything to stop the assault or the de-escalation,” she said. .

Overall, almost all Russian military offensives have stalled after making little progress over the weekend, according to a senior US defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon assessment. Russian troops were still about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from central kyiv, the official said.

The official said Russian forces had launched more than 900 missiles but Ukraine’s airspace was still contested with Russia failing to achieve full air superiority.

Overnight, air raid alerts sounded in cities and towns across the country, from the Russian border in the east to the Carpathian Mountains in the west, and fighting continued on the outskirts of kyiv. Ukrainian officials said Russian forces shelled several suburbs of the capital.

Ukrainian authorities said two people were killed when the Russians struck an aircraft factory in kyiv, starting a large fire. The Antonov plant is the largest aircraft factory in Ukraine and produces many of the largest cargo planes in the world.

Russian artillery fire also hit a nine-story apartment building in the city’s northern Obolonskyi district, killing two other people, authorities said.

And a Russian airstrike near a Ukrainian checkpoint caused extensive damage to a district in downtown kyiv, killing one person, Ukraine’s emergency agency said.

Kateryna Lot said she was in her flat as her child did homework when they heard a loud explosion and ran for cover.

“The child became hysterical. Our windows and the balcony were smashed. Part of the ground collapsed,” she said. “It was very, very scary.”

In an area outside kyiv, Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall was injured while reporting and was hospitalized, the channel said.

A city councilor from Brovary, east of Kyiv, was killed in fighting there, officials said. Shells also fell on the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, which saw some of the worst fighting in Russia’s stalled attempt to take the capital, local authorities said.

Airstrikes were reported across the country, including in the southern city of Mykolaiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, where heat knocked out most of the city. Explosions also rippled overnight around the Russian-occupied port of Kherson on the Black Sea.

Nine people were killed in a rocket attack on a TV tower in the western village of Antopol, according to the region’s governor.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, firefighters doused the smoldering remains of a four-storey residential building. It was unclear if there were any casualties.

In the southern city of Mariupol, where the war has produced some of the greatest suffering, the city council did not specify the number of people in the convoy of cars heading west for the city of Zaporizhzhia. But he said a ceasefire along the route appeared to be holding.

Previous attempts to evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid to the city of 430,000 people have been thwarted by continued fighting.

Robert Mardini, director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the war had become “nothing short of a nightmare” for those living in besieged cities, and he pleaded for safe corridors for civilians can leave and that humanitarian aid can be delivered. in.

“The situation cannot, cannot go on like this,” he said. “History looks at what is happening in Mariupol and other cities.”

A pregnant woman who became a symbol of Ukraine’s suffering when she was photographed being carried from a bombed-out maternity hospital in Mariupol last week has died with her baby, the Associated Press has learned.

Residents of Mariupol, including Natalia Koldash, rushed to shelter inside a building on Sunday as an unidentified plane passed overhead.

“We don’t have any information,” Koldash said. “We don’t know anything. It looks like we live in a deep forest.”

An Associated Press video showed debris from a damaged apartment building and another building that a young man named Dima described as an elementary school.

“There were no soldiers in this school,” he said. “We don’t know why he was hit.”

The Russian military said 20 civilians in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine were killed by a ballistic missile launched by Ukrainian forces. The claim could not be independently verified.

The UN has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, although it estimates the true toll to be much higher. Millions more have fled their homes, with more than 2.8 million crossing into Poland and other neighboring countries in what the UN has called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

“All day crying from the pain of having to part with loved ones, my husband, my parents,” said Alexandra Beluygova, a 33-year-old refugee in the Polish border town of Przemysl after fleeing the industrial city. Ukrainian from Dnipro.

“I understand that we may not see them. I want this war to end,” she said.

Russia’s military is larger and better equipped than Ukraine’s, but its troops have faced stronger resistance than expected, bolstered by weapons supplied by the West.

During a meeting in Rome with a senior Chinese diplomat, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned China against helping Russia.

Two administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said China had signaled to Moscow that it would be willing to provide both military support to Ukraine and a financial support to help stave off the effects of Western sanctions, which include a fourth round of EU sanctions announced on Monday evening.

The Kremlin has denied asking China for military equipment for use in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Russia has its own potential to continue the operation” and that it “is going according to plan and will be completed on time and in full.”

The war escalated on Sunday when Russian missiles pounded a military training base in western Ukraine, near the Polish border, which previously served as a crucial hub for cooperation between Ukraine and the NATO.

The attack killed 35 people, Ukrainian officials said, and raised fears that NATO could be drawn into a direct conflict with Russia.

The senior US defense official said the base was not being used at the time as a site for shipping US military supplies to Ukraine.

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

Christi C. Elwood