Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held a new round of talks Monday as Russia’s military forces bombarded Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine with a punishing assault that the Red Cross said has created “nothing short of a nightmare” for the country’s civilians.
After an airstrike on a military base near the Polish border brought the war dangerously close to NATO’s doorstep, the talks raised hopes for progress in evacuating civilians from besieged Ukrainian cities and getting emergency supplies to areas without enough food, water and medicine.
“Everyone is waiting for news,” Ukrainian President President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a new video address on the 19th day of the war.
The negotiations, which took place by video conference, were the fourth round involving higher-level officials from the two countries and the first held in a week. Previous discussions, held in person in Belarus, did not produce lasting humanitarian routes or agreements to end the fighting in Ukraine.
The two sides expressed some optimism in the past few days. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said over the weekend that Russia was “listening carefully to our proposals.” He tweeted Monday that the negotiators would discuss “peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops & security guarantees.”
The talks ended without a breakthrough after several hours. Podolyak said the negotiators took “a technical pause” and planned to meet again Tuesday.
Air raid alerts sounded in cities and towns all around the country overnight, from near the Russian border in the east to the Carpathian Mountains in the west, as fighting continued on the outskirts of Kyiv. Ukrainian officials said Russian forces shelled several suburbs of the capital, a major political and strategic target for their invasion.
Ukrainian authorities said two people died and seven were injured after Russian forces struck an airplane factory in Kyiv, sparking a large fire. The Antonov factory is Ukraine’s largest aircraft manufacturing plant and is best known for producing many of the world’s biggest cargo planes.
Russian artillery fire also hit a nine-story apartment building in the northern Obolonskyi district of the city, killing two more people, authorities said. Firefighters worked to rescue survivors, painstakingly carrying an injured woman on a stretcher away from the blackened and still smoking building.
A town councilor for Brovary, east of Kyiv, was killed in fighting there, officials said. Shells also fell on the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, which have seen some of the worst fighting in Russia’s stalled attempt to take the capital, local officials said.
Airstrikes were reported across the country, including the southern city of Mykolaiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv, where heat was knocked out to most of the town. Explosions also rang out overnight around the Russian-occupied Black Sea port of Kherson.
In the eastern city of Kharkiv, firefighters doused the remains of a four-story residential building on a street of apartments and shops. Ukrainian emergency services said a strike hit the building, leaving smoldering piles of wood and metal. It was unclear whether there were casualties.
The surrounded southern city of Mariupol, where the war has produced some of the greatest human suffering, efforts resumed to create aid and evacuation corridors. Ongoing shelling caused similar efforts to fail in the last week, including on Sunday, but the Mariupol city council said 160 private cars left the city on Monday and the route seemed to be quiet.
Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the situation for besieged civilians in the city was “nothing short of a nightmare.”
“History is watching what is happening in Mariupol,” he said.
A pregnant woman who became a symbol of Ukraine’s suffering when she was photographed being carried from a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol has died along with her baby, the Associated Press has learned. Images of the woman being rushed to an ambulance on a stretcher had circled the world, epitomizing the horror of an attack on humanity’s most innocent.
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. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said a further 28 people were injured by the Soviet-made Tochka-U missile, which carried shrapnel warhead. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.
The U.N. has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, though it believes the true toll is much higher. Millions more people have fled their homes, with more than 2.8 million crossing into Poland and other neighboring countries in what the U.N. refugee agency has called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
Since launching its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has waged a multi-pronged attack. Russia’s military is bigger and better equipped than Ukraine’s, but its troops have faced stiffer than expected resistance, bolstered by Western weapons support that the U.S. suggested has frustrated Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia’s invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor has shaken the post-Cold War security order, with unpredictable and dangerous consequences.
The U.S. says Russia asked China for military equipment to use in Ukraine after the West imposed severe economic sanctions to hobble the Russian economy and the invasion met stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance.
The request heightened tensions ahead of a Monday meeting in Rome between U,S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi. Sullivan will be looking for limits in what Beijing will do for Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday denied Russia had asked China for military help. He said “Russia has its own potential to continue the operation.” He said it was “unfolding in accordance with the plan and will be completed on time and in full.”
Peskov rejected Western allegations that the war was not going to plan. Russia has called the invasion a special military operation that only targeted military facilities, though hospitals, schools and residential buildings have been hit. Russia has denied intending to occupy Ukraine, but Peskov said it “does not rule out the possibility of taking full control of large settlements that are now practically surrounded.”
The war expanded Sunday when Russian cruise missiles pounded a military training base in western Ukraine that previously served as a crucial hub for cooperation between Ukraine and NATO.
The attack killed 35 people, Ukrainian officials said, and the base’s proximity to the borders of Poland and other NATO members raised concerns that the Western military alliance could be drawn into the the largest land conflict in Europe since World War II.
Speaking Sunday night, Zelenskyy called it a “black day” and again urged NATO leaders to establish a no-fly zone over his country, a move the West has rejected for fear of starting a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.
“If you do not close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory. NATO territory. On the homes of citizens of NATO countries,” Zelenskyy said.
The International Center for Peacekeeping and Security near Yavoriv is less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the Polish border and has hosted NATO training drills, making it a potent symbol of Russia’s longstanding fears that the expansion of the 30-member Western military alliance to include former Soviet states threatens its security — something NATO denies.
NATO said Sunday that it currently does not have any personnel in Ukraine, though the United States has increased the number of U.S. troops deployed to NATO member Poland, Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said the West would respond if Russia’s strikes travel outside Ukraine and hit any NATO members, even accidentally.
The attack dashed the sense of safety in western Ukraine and spread alarm into neighboring Poland, a NATO member.
Residents of the Polish village of Wielkie Oczy, just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the border, were jolted awake in the middle of the night by the sounds of the blasts.
“The dogs in the whole village started to bark,” said Franciek Sawicki, 77.
Ina Padi, a 40-year-old Ukrainian who fled to Poland with her family, was taking shelter at a fire station in the vWelkie Oczy when she blasts from across the border shook the windows and awakened her Sunday morning..
“I understood in that moment, even if we are free of it, (the war) is still coming after us,” she said.
—Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press