Kyiv (AFP), Mar 14 – An air strike on a residential building in Ukraine’s capital killed at least one person Monday, the country’s emergency service said, as Moscow maintained its devastating assault ahead of a fresh round of talks.
The strike, which injured at least a dozen people, came as Russian troops edged closer to the city and kept up their siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, where officials said nearly 2,200 people have been killed.
“As of 7:40 am (0540 GMT) the body of one person was found dead in a nine-storey apartment building” in the capital’s Obolon district, the emergency service said in a statement, revising an earlier toll.
Ukrainian and Russian representatives were set to meet via videoconference Monday, a Ukrainian presidential adviser and a Kremlin spokesman both said before the latest strike.
According to Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia, the talks would begin at 0820 GMT.
“And our goal is that in this struggle, in this difficult negotiating work, Ukraine will get the necessary result… for peace and for security,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday, adding that both sides speak every day.
He said the aim was “to do everything to ensure a meeting of presidents. A meeting that I am sure people are waiting for.”
“We see significant progress,” Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team, told state-run television network RT Sunday.
Talks between Kyiv and Moscow have yet to yield a ceasefire and Russian forces have shown no sign of easing their onslaught.
In an attack dangerously close to NATO member Poland, Russian air strikes Sunday on a Ukrainian military training ground near the border killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 130.
Zelensky on Monday renewed his call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone following the attack near the western city of Lviv.
“If you do not close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory, on NATO territory, on the homes of NATO citizens,” Zelensky said in a video address.
Washington and its EU allies have sent funds and military aid to Ukraine and imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia.
But the United States has ruled out any direct intervention, with President Joe Biden warning that NATO fighting Russia “is World War III”.
Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron Sunday and the two leaders “underscored their commitment to hold Russia accountable for its actions and support the government and people of Ukraine,” the White House said.
– Black Sea blockade –
In its intelligence update Sunday, Britain’s defence ministry said Russia had established a naval blockade on the Black Sea coast, “effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade”.
“Russian naval forces are also continuing to conduct missile strikes against targets throughout Ukraine,” it said.
But in a sign Moscow may have underestimated the challenge it would face, US officials told media Russia had asked China for military and economic aid for the war.
Moscow also asked Beijing for economic assistance against the crippling sanctions imposed against it, the New York Times said, citing anonymous officials.
Russia’s finance ministry in a statement Monday accused foreign countries of wanting to force Moscow into an “artificial default” through sanctions.
Beijing later accused Washington of spreading lies over China’s role in the Ukraine war, without directly addressing the US media reports.
“The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
That came hours after the White House said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan would meet top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday.
US diplomat Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly asking for military help could be a “defining moment” for China’s Xi Jinping.
Beijing has declined to directly condemn Moscow’s invasion, and has repeatedly blamed NATO’s “eastward expansion” for worsening tensions, echoing the Kremlin’s prime security grievance.
The latest fighting in Kyiv’s suburbs left a US journalist dead — the first foreign reporter killed since Russia’s invasion on February 24.
– ‘No honour, no mercy’ –
Meanwhile, efforts continued to get help to the devastated southern city of Mariupol, which aid agencies say is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.
A humanitarian column headed there had to turn back again on Sunday, a city official told AFP, after the Russians “did not stop firing.” It is expected to try again on Monday.
A total of 2,187 residents have now died in days of relentless Russian bombardment, the city council said Sunday.
“The enemy is holding the city hostage by performing real acts of genocide,” said Ukraine Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.
Zelensky has accused Moscow of both blocking and attacking humanitarian convoys, although he said Sunday that another 125,000 people had been evacuated that way across Ukraine.
Russia’s forces had earlier focused on eastern and southern areas of Ukraine — home to more ethnic Russians — but in recent days have moved to the country’s centre.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told ABC that Russia was “clearly, at least from an air strike perspective… broadening their target sets”.
Meanwhile in Kyiv, only the roads to the south remain open, according to the Ukrainian presidency. City authorities have set up checkpoints, and people are stockpiling food and medicine.
The northwestern suburb of Bucha is entirely held by Russian forces, along with parts of Irpin, Ukrainian soldiers told AFP. Some blocks in the once well-to-do suburb have been reduced to rubble.
– ‘Stop this massacre!’ –
Britain’s defence ministry said Saturday that Russian forces were about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Kyiv.
However, the Russians are encountering resistance from the Ukrainian army to both the east and west of the capital, according to AFP journalists on the scene.
“Russia is paying a high price for each advance as the Ukrainian Armed Forces continues to offer staunch resistance across the country,” Britain’s defence ministry said in its intelligence update.
The UN estimates almost 2.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion, most of them to Poland, which is struggling to provide for the arrivals.
Pope Francis on Sunday issued an impassioned plea to the Russians, saying, “In the name of God, I ask you, stop this massacre!”
Zelensky says the Russians have suffered “heavy losses” of about 12,000 troops — although Moscow put the number at 498, in its only toll released March 2.
About 1,300 Ukrainian troops have been killed, according to Kyiv.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Russian troops fired warning shots after thousands of locals gathered to protest against the invasion, local media said.
And in Russia, Instagram was no longer accessible Monday after Moscow accused its parent company Meta of allowing calls for violence against Russians on its platforms.
The Ukrainian president — who has maintained an extraordinarily high profile through the conflict — visited wounded soldiers at a hospital outside Kyiv, which was shown in a video released Sunday.
“Feel better, stay strong,” a visibly moved Zelensky told them. “You are doing a great job.”