Russian forces shell Ukraine’s No. 2 city and threaten Kyiv


KYIV, Ukraine – Russian forces shelled Ukraine’s second-largest city on Monday, rocking a residential area, and closed in on the capital, Kyiv, in a 17-mile convoy of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles, as talks aimed to stop the fighting only resulted in an agreement to keep talking.

Amid growing international condemnation, Russia has found itself increasingly isolated five days into its invasion, while facing surprisingly fierce resistance on the ground in Ukraine and economic havoc in its country.

For the second day in a row, the Kremlin raised the specter of nuclear war, announcing that its nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and long-range bombers had all been placed on high alert, in accordance at the behest of President Vladimir Putin this weekend.

Intensifying his rhetoric, Putin denounced the United States and its allies as an “empire of lies”.

Meanwhile, a beleaguered Ukraine has decided to solidify its ties with the West by applying to join the European Union – a largely symbolic move for now, but one that is unlikely to sit well with Putin, who has long accused states States trying to pull Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit.

A senior Putin adviser and head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said the first talks between the two sides since the invasion lasted nearly five hours and that the envoys “found some points on which common positions could be planned”. He said they agreed to continue discussions in the coming days.

As talks along the Belarusian border wound down, several explosions could be heard in Kyiv and Russian troops advanced on the city of nearly 3 million people. The large convoy of armored vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles was 25 kilometers from the center of the city, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.

Kyiv residents lined up to do their shopping after the end of the weekend curfew, standing under a building with a gaping hole blown in the side.

Messages for advancing Russian soldiers appeared on billboards, bus stops and electronic signs across the capital. Some used profanity to encourage the Russians to leave. Others appealed to their humanity.

“Russian soldier – Stop! Remember your family. Go home with a clear conscience,” it read.

Video from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of around 1.5 million, showed bombed-out residential areas, with apartment buildings rocked by repeated and powerful blasts. Flashes of fire and plumes of gray smoke were visible.

Footage released by the Kharkiv government showed what appeared to be a house with water gushing from a leaky ceiling. What looked like an unexploded projectile was on the ground.

Authorities in Kharkiv said at least seven people were killed and dozens injured. They warned that the losses could be much higher.

“They wanted to do a blitzkrieg, but it failed, so they acted that way,” said Valentin Petrovich, 83, who watched the bombing from his downtown apartment and gave only his first name and his Russian middle name. fear for his safety.

The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas despite ample evidence of shelling homes, schools and hospitals.

Fighting raged in other cities across the country. The strategic port city of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov is “hanging on”, said Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovich. An oil depot was reportedly bombed in the eastern city of Sumy.

In the resort town of Berdyansk, dozens of protesters chanted angrily in the main square at the Russian occupiers, shouting at them to go home and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They described the soldiers as exhausted young conscripts.

“Scared children, scared looks. They want to eat,” said Konstantin Maloletka, who runs a small shop, by telephone. He said the soldiers entered a supermarket and took canned meat, vodka and cigarettes.

“They ate straight from the store,” he said. “Looks like they haven’t been fed for the past few days.”

Across Ukraine, terrified families huddled overnight in shelters, basements or hallways.

“I sit down and pray that these negotiations end successfully, so that they reach an agreement to end the massacre,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, crying as she hugged her cat in a shelter in Mariupol. Around her, the parents were trying to console the children and keep them warm.

For many, Russia’s announcement of a high nuclear alert raised fears that the West could be drawn into a direct conflict with Russia. But a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US had yet to see any appreciable change in Russia’s nuclear stance.

As far-reaching Western sanctions against Russian banks and other institutions took hold, the ruble fell, and Russia’s Central Bank moved quickly to shore it up, as did Putin, signing a decree restricting foreign currencies.

But that did little to calm Russian fears. In Moscow, people lined up to withdraw cash as sanctions threatened to drive up prices and lower living standards for millions of ordinary Russians.

In another blow to Russia’s economy, oil giant Shell said it was pulling out of the country because of the invasion. It announced that it would withdraw from its joint ventures with the state gas company Gazprom and other entities and end its participation in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Europe.

Economic sanctions, ordered by the United States and other allies, have been just one of the factors contributing to Russia’s growing status as a pariah country.

Russian airliners are banned from European airspace, Russian media are restricted in some countries, and some high-tech products can no longer be exported to the country. On Monday, in a blow to a football-mad nation, Russian teams were suspended from all international football.

In other developments:

— The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said that he would soon open an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

— Cyberattacks hit Ukrainian embassies around the world and Russian media.

— The United States announced that it was expelling 12 members of the Russian UN mission, accusing them of espionage.

– The 193-nation United Nations General Assembly opened its first emergency session in decades, with Assembly Speaker Abdulla Shahid calling for an immediate ceasefire and “a return comprehensive in diplomacy and dialogue”.

The UN human rights chief said at least 102 civilians had been killed and hundreds injured – warning that figure is likely a vast undercount – and Ukraine’s president said that at least 16 children were among the dead.

More than half a million people have fled the country since the invasion, another UN official said, many of whom have traveled to Poland, Romania and Hungary.

Among the refugees in Hungary was Maria Pavlushko, 24, an IT project manager from a town west of kyiv. She said her father stayed to fight the Russians.

“I’m proud of him,” she said, adding that many of her friends were also planning to fight.

Negotiators for Monday’s talks gathered around a long table with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag on one side and the Russian tricolor on the other.

But as Ukraine sent its defense minister and other top officials, the Russian delegation was led by Putin’s culture adviser – an unlikely envoy to end a war and perhaps a sign of seriousness with which Moscow was negotiating.

It was not immediately clear what Putin was looking for in the talks or in the war itself, although Western officials believe he wants to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, rekindling Moscow’s influence in the war. Cold War era.

At this point, Ukraine is many years away from meeting EU membership standards. Any addition to the 27-nation bloc must be unanimously approved by its members, and Ukraine’s deep corruption could make it difficult for the country to be accepted.

Yet in an interview with Euronews on Sunday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said: “We want them in the European Union.”

___

Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Robert Burns in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and other AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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