Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the Russian president to meet with him as at least 22 civilians have been killed in a Russian airstrike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.
Ukraine’s state emergencies agency said the strike was on a residential area in the city of 280,000 people in Ukraine’s north.
It said the casualties could be higher as rescuers continue to look through debris.
It comes as Ukraine President Zelenskyy’s office says the second round of talks with the Russians has begun over the war in his country.
A video released by Zelenskyy’s office Thursday showed the informally dressed Ukrainian delegation walking into the meeting room where they shook hands with Russian delegates in suits and ties.
The talks are aimed at stopping the fighting that has sent more than 1 million people fleeing over Ukraine’s borders, but the two sides appeared to have little common ground.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its “demilitarization” and declare itself neutral, formally renouncing its bid to join NATO. Putin has long contended that Ukraine’s turn toward the West is a threat to Moscow, an argument he used to justify last week’s invasion.
Mr Zelenskyy has called for Russian leader Vladimir Putin to meet him, salting the proposal with sarcasm.
“Sit down with me to negotiate, just not at 30 metres,” he said, apparently referring to recent photos of Mr Putin sitting at one end of an extremely long table when he met French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?” Mr Zelenskyy said at a news conference.
He said it would be sensible to have talks, adding: “Any words are more important than shots.”
Mr Zelenskyy earlier said that defensive lines are so far holding as Russian forces escalated attacks across urban areas throughout his country.
“We have nothing to lose but our own freedom,” Zelenskyy said in a video address posted to his Facebook page this morning.
Mr Zelenskyy said Russia’s changing tactics and shelling of civilians in cities proved Ukraine was successfully resisting Moscow’s push for a quick victory in the conflict.
As he spoke, Russian troops moved around the centre of the Ukrainian port of Kherson after a day of conflicting claims over whether they had captured a major urban centre for the first time since the invasion began eight days ago.
Russia’s defence ministry said it controlled Kherson on Wednesday but an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded that Ukrainian forces continued to defend the Black Sea port of about 250,000 people.
Pro-Russian forces are also understood to be preparing to launch targeted strikes on the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol unless Ukrainian forces there surrender. Russia and separatists say they have surrounded the city of 430,000 located on the Azov Sea.
French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken for 90 minutes by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told Mr Macron the war in Ukraine is “going according to plan”, a French official said.
The official at the French Elysee presidential palace said Mr Putin told Mr Macron the invasion will continue “until the end” unless negotiations meet his terms.
Mr Putin said negotiations must centre on the “neutralisation and disarmament of Ukraine,” according to the French official. Mr Putin reportedly said he would attain that goal by military means, if not by political and diplomatic means.
Meanwhile, an enormous 65km Russian military convoy is continuing to move toward Ukraine’s capital, though British intelligence has suggested the convoy’s progress had slowed significantly.
Here are the latest developments:
- The UN refugee agency says 1 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began. – READ MORE
- The Ukrainian Government has said that up to 2,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict so far. – READ MORE
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced more than a million people to flee the war in just a week. – READ MORE
- The Russian Defence Ministry announced that some 498 of its troops have been killed in Ukraine, with 1,597 injured. It rejected reports about “incalculable losses.” – READ MORE
- The International Criminal Court (IOC’s) prosecutor has launched an investigation that could target senior Russian officials believed to be responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Ukraine. – READ MORE
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that oxygen supply levels in Ukraine’s hospitals are running dangerously low due to the conflict. – READ MORE
- By a vote of 141 to 35, the UN General Assembly yesterday evening demanded that Russia stop its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all troops, with nations from world powers to tiny island states condemning Moscow’s actions. – READ MORE
- Russia has declined to attend as an observer a Nato drill in Norway with about 30,00 troops from 27 nations later this month.
Second round of talks to begin as death toll mounts
A Ukrainian delegation had left for a second round of talks with Russian officials on a ceasefire, according to Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.
Russian forces have yet to overthrow the government in Kyiv but thousands are reported to have died or been injured and more than a million people have fled Ukraine amid the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2% (over 1m people) of Ukraine’s population on the move in under a week. The World Bank counted Ukraine’s population at 44 million at the end of 2020.
At Borodyanka, a town 58km northwest of Kyiv, a resident gave a breathless account of their encounter with the enemy, as Reuters Television footage showed shell damaged buildings, fires burning in the streets and destroyed military vehicles.
“They (Russian military) started shooting from their BMP (military vehicle), towards the park in front of the post office in the centre of Borodyanka,” said a Ukrainian man, who did not give his name.
“Then those bastards started the tank and started shooting into the Fora (supermarket) which was already burned. It caught fire again.”
The capture of Kherson, a strategic southern provincial capital where the Dnipro River flows into the Black Sea, would be the first significant urban centre to fall since Moscow launched its invasion on February 24.
Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said late on Wednesday that Russian troops were in the streets and had entered the council building.
He called on civilians to walk through the streets only in daylight and in ones and twos.
“There were armed visitors in the city executive committee today,” he said in a statement.
I didn’t make any promises to them … I just asked them not to shoot people.
Russia’s attack has led to a barrage of international sanctions that threaten the global economic recovery from the Covid pandemic, and stoked fears of wider conflict as Western countries send arms to help the Ukrainian military.
The US State Department called on Putin and the Russian government to “immediately cease this bloodshed” and withdraw forces from Ukraine.
‘A full war on media freedom and the truth’
It also accused Moscow of launching a “full war on media freedom and the truth” by blocking independent news outlets and social media to prevent Russians from hearing news of the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
It denies targeting civilians although there have been widespread reports of civilian casualties and the shelling of residential areas.
Bombing in Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people, has left its centre a wasteland of ruined buildings and debris.
Russians have shelled the city of Izyum, about 120km southeast of Kharkiv, killing six adults and two children, Ukraine’s parliament said. The exact number of casualties has yet to be verified.
The UN Human Rights Office has confirmed the deaths of 227 civilians and 525 injuries during the conflict as of midnight on March 1, cautioning that the real toll would be much higher due to reporting delays.
An explosion also rocked the Kyiv railway station where thousands of women and children were being evacuated.
The blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser said, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.