Russian forces launched a heavy assault on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, an attack that overshadowed the first direct talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials since President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion 5 days ago.
City residents said they came under intense fire from Russian positions on Monday. Video shared on social media showed high-rise apartment buildings in Kharkiv being hit by a massive shelling that covered the sky with black smoke.
Other images from the city showed two corpses lying in a pool of blood by the side of the road. “There are a lot of dead bodies, civilians,” said Andriy, a local resident who contacted by phone from inside Kharkiv. He said the shelling targeted all the northern suburbs of the city.
“The Russians have effectively surrounded Kharkiv and are bombing it to destroy it,” said Sasha Grinshpun, a resident who has fled the city but is still in contact with friends and relatives caught in the bombardment.
As Russia faces growing international isolation over its invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron phoned Putin to ask him to end the attack, Macron’s office said. Macron’s office said he called on him to stop all strikes against civilians, preserve civilian infrastructure and provide safe access to important roads, particularly south of Kyiv . The Elysee Palace said Putin “confirmed his readiness to commit to these three points”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Ukraine-Russia talks began Monday near the border with Belarus aimed at securing an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
However, hopes of a breakthrough in the negotiations are slim considering Russia’s stated war goals. Putin asked the Ukrainian army to surrender and remove the country’s government.
The Belarusian border talks are the first since the Russian leader launched the biggest assault on a European country since World War II, pouring thousands of troops into the country. neighboring Ukraine to the west and shelling its cities. After the West imposed strong sanctions on Russia, Putin brought Nuclear deterrence on high alert.
A series of international sanctions targeting Russian banks, companies and individuals has left the ruble stuck and prompted the Russian central bank to impose capital controls.
While Russia has made some military gains in southern Ukraine, the pace of its advance has slowed and it has yet to capture any major Ukrainian population centers, with the capital Kyiv still under government control.
Zelensky said on Monday that Ukraine was mentally preparing for a critical 24 hours as Russian troops stepped up efforts to encircle the capital.
Most of Putin’s ground forces are still more than 30 kilometers north of Kyiv, according to the British Ministry of Defense, whose advance has been thwarted by logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance.
Reinforcements are expected on Monday to reinforce what appears to be Russia’s goal in forcing Kyiv to surrender.
In southern Ukraine, Russia’s efforts to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea appear to have been more successful. Their forces have captured the towns of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov and Enerhodar, according to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry.
Reports suggest that the port of Mariupol, the last major stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance that has prevented Russia from connecting the eastern Donbas border region with Crimea, has been besieged.
The Russian military has seized territory around a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhiya, and Russia now controls all of Ukraine’s airspace, the Russian Defense Ministry added.
Ukraine’s military says the Russian military continues to attack airports, air defenses, critical infrastructure and residential areas across the country, and launch missile attacks on buildings. houses in the cities of Zhytomyr and Chernihiv.
The military claims of Russia and Ukraine cannot be independently verified.
But the bombardment of Kharkiv seemed particularly intense. Olga, a resident, said she caught fire while shopping for groceries in the Oleksiyivka neighborhood in the northwest of the city.
The shelling increased “and then shrapnel started flying. We think they shot down a plane,” she said. “It’s jarring.”
“The situation is very difficult but Kharkiv is trying to move on,” said Ihor Terekhov, mayor of the city. He said residential areas were under shelling, with 16 local civilians injured and one woman killed in the attack.
A doctor working at a hospital in Kharkiv said they received at least 17 people injured by shelling, including a 17-year-old girl who died after being shot in the chest. “She was bleeding profusely,” the doctor declined to be named. “We tried to save her but we failed.”
He added: “This is the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine. “This whole situation is like an illusion. It feels like we’re dreaming.”
In contrast, Kyiv had a relatively calm day. The curfew imposed on Saturday was lifted on Monday, and locals leaving their homes to stock up on supplies quickly lined up outside supermarkets.
Russia’s armed forces denied claims they had surrounded the capital and said civilians could safely leave on the highway to the town of Vasylkiv, where fierce fighting broke out over the weekend.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said the alliance is increasing its support for Ukraine, with anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank weapons and humanitarian and financial aid.
Nato agreed at a crisis meeting on Friday to increase troop deployments in member states near Ukraine and Russia to defend against any potential spillover effects from war.
The Ukrainian delegation attending the talks with Russia on Monday included Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak and David Arakhamia, leader of Zelensky’s party in parliament.
The Russian delegation is led by Vladimir Medinsky, Putin’s aide, and includes representatives of the Russian foreign and defense ministries.