Russia and Ukraine have launched a new round of talks on Monday in a bid to end the devastating war in Moscow, despite deadly airstrikes in the capital, Kiev, and a separatist region east of Moscow.
As the fourth round of talks to end more than two weeks of fighting began, Russian separatists said parts of a Ukrainian Tochka missile fired from the ground had landed in central Donetsk, killing 17 civilians, including children.
Ukraine said in talks it would demand “peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.”
“Only then will we be able to talk about regional relations and political inequality,” Mikhail Podolyak, a chief negotiator in Kiev, said in a video on Twitter.
A Russian airstrike has killed at least one person and injured a dozen people in a residential building in the Ukrainian capital, according to the country’s emergency services.
Another person was killed when an Antonov aircraft factory in Kyiv and a nearby residential building were targeted by Russian bombs, city officials said.
Russian troops invading Ukraine on February 24 approached the city and maintained the siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, where officials said nearly 2,200 people had been killed.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 2.7 million people have fled Ukraine from the invasion, most of them to Poland, while the surrounding countries are struggling to supply arrivals.
“It’s safe now,” said Yilena, 38, who has been relocated to the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, a safe haven for people fleeing heavy fighting in cities such as Kharkiv.
In the Dnipro, the roar of airstrikes for five hours – the longest since the start of the war – left many in the city terrified of what might have happened before.
‘III. World War ‘
Representatives of Ukraine and Russia met via video conference on Monday, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency and a Kremlin spokesman said before the latest strike.
“Our goal in this struggle, in this difficult negotiation work, is for Ukraine to achieve the necessary result … for peace and security,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Talks between Kyiv and Moscow have yet to ceasefire and Russian forces have shown no signs of easing the attack.
The goal was to “do everything possible to ensure a meeting of the presidents. I’m sure people are waiting for the meeting,” Zelensky said.
“We see significant progress,” Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team, told RT television on public television.
In an attack very close to NATO Poland, Russian airstrikes killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 130 in a Ukrainian military training camp near the border on Sunday.
Zelensky has called on NATO to establish a no-fly zone, but the United States has ruled out direct intervention, and President Joe Biden has warned that NATO’s fight against Russia is “World War III.”
“If you don’t close our skies, it’s time for Russian missiles to fall on your territory, on NATO territory, on the homes of NATO citizens,” Zelensky repeated on Monday.
Washington and its EU allies have sent funds and military aid to Ukraine and imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia.
When Moscow felt the sting of international sanctions, the Russian finance ministry accused foreign countries of trying to force Russia into an “artificial priority” and said it would meet its debt obligations.
As a sign of Moscow’s underestimation of the challenge, US officials told the media that Russia had asked China for military and economic aid for the war.
US diplomat Richard Haass, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Council, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request for military aid could be a “decisive moment” for China’s Xi Jinping.
Beijing later accused Washington of spreading lies about China’s role in the Ukrainian war without directly addressing the US media.
That White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday.
Beijing has not directly condemned Moscow’s invasion, and has repeatedly accused NATO of “expanding eastward” to escalate tensions, echoing the Kremlin’s main security complaint.
Recent clashes in Kiev’s suburbs have left a U.S. journalist dead – the first foreign journalist to die in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
In a Sunday intelligence update, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia had imposed a naval blockade on the Black Sea coast, “effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade.”
Russian naval forces are also launching missile attacks against targets across Ukraine, he said.
Meanwhile, efforts have continued to get help in the devastated southern city of Mariupol, which aid agencies say is facing a humanitarian disaster.
‘No honor, no mercy’
A humanitarian column targeting him had to turn around again on Sunday, a city official told AFP when the Russians “did not stop firing.” He is expected to try again on Monday.
A total of 2,187 people were killed in the days of relentless Russian bombing, the city council said on Sunday.
Zelensky has accused Moscow of blocking and attacking humanitarian convoys, though he said on Sunday another 125,000 people had been evacuated along the route across Ukraine.
Russian forces have previously focused on areas in eastern and southern Ukraine – where more ethnic Russians live – but have moved to the center of the country in recent days.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told ABC that Russia was “clearly, at least from the point of view of an air strike … expanding its target sets.”
In Kiev, only the southern roads are open, according to the Ukrainian presidency. City officials have set up checkpoints, and people are piling up food and medicine.
The northwestern district of Bucha is in full control of Russian forces, along with parts of Irpin, Ukrainian soldiers told AFP. At one time some of the blocks in the neighborhood were turned into rubble.
The Russians are facing resistance from the Ukrainian army in both the east and west of the capital, according to AFP reporters.
Zelensky says the Russians have suffered “significant losses” of about 12,000 troops – despite Moscow’s 498 – a single toll released on March 2.
About 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed, according to Kiev.
And in Russia, Instagram was no longer available on Monday after Moscow accused its platform of allowing violent calls against Russian meta-targets.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a union feed.)