Russia is carrying out a fierce rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkov

Russia is carrying out a fierce rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkov

Russian forces have launched a heavy bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, an attack that has overshadowed the first direct talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials since President Vladimir Putin began his invasion five days ago.

Residents of the city said that they were under intense artillery and rocket fire from Russian positions. A video posted on social media shows that apartment blocks in Kharkov were hit by heavy shelling that covered the sky with clouds of dark smoke.

“Dozens of civilians are dying,” said regional governor Oleh Sinegubov. “It happens during the day when people go to pharmacies, for food, drinking water. This is a crime. “

Russia’s military operation, launched five days ago, has failed to overthrow the Ukrainian government or occupy any major cities, but has eradicated hundreds of thousands of civilians who have fled to neighboring countries in search of security.

The war has raised tensions between East and West to new heights, and Putin has raised tensions in the country high deterrence nuclear deterrence and the west imposed harsh sanctions on Moscow that stalled the ruble and prompted Russia’s central bank to impose capital controls. The defiant Putin condemned the West as an “empire of lies”.

Western officials have warned that the number of civilian deaths in the Russian invasion is likely to increase as a result of Moscow’s decision to carry out heavy artillery attacks on the cities of Kharkov and Kiev.

“I am very worried about what we see today in the increased use of artillery, both rocket and barrel artillery in Kiev, in Kharkov. . . that increase in artillery risks being far more indiscriminate, “the Western official said. “As a result, we will see an increase in civilian casualties.”

As Russia faced growing international isolation due to its invasion, French President Emmanuel Macron telephoned Putin and demanded that he end the offensive, Macron’s office said.

He called on the Russian leader to stop all attacks on civilians, preserve civilian infrastructure and provide safe access to key roads, especially south of Kiev, Macron’s office added. Elysée said Putin “confirmed his readiness to continue with these three points”.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Macron that a solution is possible “only if Russia’s legitimate security interests are unconditionally taken into account.” This included the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, a peninsula that was annexed to Ukraine in 2014, and the “demilitarization” and “denationalization” of the Ukrainian state.

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators held talks Monday near the Belarusian border, but failed to reach a breakthrough.

Mihajlo Podoljak, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who took part in the negotiations, said the delegations would return to their capitals for consultations. “The talks are difficult. . . “Unfortunately, the Russians still have an extremely biased view of the destructive processes they have initiated,” he said.

Vladimir Medinski, the head of the Russian delegation, said: “The most important thing is that we have agreed to continue negotiations.

While Russia has made some military gains in southern Ukraine, the pace of its progress has slowed and has yet to occupy a large Ukrainian population center, and the capital Kiev is still under government control.

Russia is carrying out a fierce rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkov

Destroyed Russian military vehicles in Kharkov © Sergey Bobok / AFP / Getty

A senior US defense official said that 75 percent of the Russian combat forces that gathered at the border moved to Ukraine. Russian troops have advanced approximately 5km towards Kiev since Sunday and are now 25km from the capital’s center, the official added.

“We expect that they will want to continue going forward and try to tour the city in the coming days, but they are not there yet,” the official said.

John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said that while Russia had apparently suffered failures it did not anticipate, it was “too early for us to draw some kind of comprehensive conclusions” about the strength of Russian forces.

“Putin still has significant fighting power at his disposal,” Kirby added. “They will try to break through the resistance and cope with the challenges they had on the logistics and sustainability front.”

In southern Ukraine, Russian attempts to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea appear to have had more success. Its forces have captured the cities of Berdyansk on the Sea of ​​Azov and Enerhodar, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Reports suggest that the port of Mariupol, the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance that prevented Russia from connecting the eastern border region of Donbass with Crimea, was surrounded.

Russian and Ukrainian military claims cannot be independently verified.

The Ukrainian army said that Russian troops continued to attack airports, air defense systems, critical infrastructure and residential areas throughout the country, and that they launched rocket attacks on buildings in the cities of Zhytomyr and Chernihiv.

But the bombing of Kharkov seemed to be particularly intense. Sinegubov, the regional governor, said that Russia used “weapons prohibited by all international conventions – especially cluster bombs” and targeted residential areas. “There was no military infrastructure here,” he said. “There is no excuse for this crime.”

A doctor working at a hospital in Kharkov said he received at least 17 people wounded by shelling, and that a 17-year-old girl was killed after being hit in the chest.

“This is a Russian-speaking area of ​​Ukraine,” the doctor said. “This whole situation seems like an illusion. I feel like we’re dreaming. “

A curfew imposed on Saturday was lifted in Kiev on Monday, allowing locals to leave their homes to stock up.

The Russian armed forces denied claims that they surrounded the capital and said that civilians could safely leave the highway to the city of Vasilkiv, the scene of heavy fighting over the weekend.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that the alliance was stepping up its support for Ukraine, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank weapons and humanitarian and financial aid.

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