Russian forces pummeled cities across Ukraine even as the country’s leaders said they were attempting a fourth round of negotiations with Moscow.
Bombardments continued across Ukraine on Monday — including a direct hit on a Kyiv apartment building — as the embattled nation’s leaders opened another round of talks with Russia despite little progress after previous negotiations.
Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said his country would have a “hard discussion” with Russians on “peace, cease-fire, immediate withdrawal of troops and security guarantees.” The deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, also announced that 10 civilian evacuation routes — including six in the Kyiv region and three in the eastern Luhansk region — would open Monday.
Podolyak expressed optimism over the new round of talks, which, unlike three previous sessions, are being conducted via video rather than in person. But he also blasted Moscow over a conflict that has killed hundreds of civilians, caused ongoing destruction and sparked Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
“Although Russia realizes the nonsense of its aggressive actions, it still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against peaceful cities is the right strategy,” Podolyak said on Twitter.
The news came as Kyiv residents woke up to signs that the battle was edging ever closer to the heart of the city of nearly 3 million.
A shell slammed early Monday into the ninth floor of a residential building in the Obolon neighborhood, less than seven miles from Kyiv’s center.
Authorities said two people were killed and nine others wounded. Dozens were evacuated. The deaths brought the United Nations’ count of civilian deaths to 596 since the invasion began Feb. 24, though officials believe the actual number is higher.
By late morning in Kyiv, rescue crews had extinguished the fires, and residents sifted through the wreckage of their apartments, chucking mangled belongings out of broken windows onto a growing pile of debris below. Dressed in fatigues, Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko spoke at the site, saying that the air attack on a residential building was proof of the Russian army’s inability to penetrate the capital.
“That’s why they’ve started this terror against civilians. They can’t do anything against our army, so they’re killing our women, children and elderly people,” he told reporters.
He echoed other Ukrainian politicians in calling for additional assistance from Western powers.
“We will definitely win. Our morale is high. But we ask the West to protect our skies and to give us weapons,” Goncharenko said. “We’ll do it ourselves. We don’t need your boots on the ground or your pilots in the sky. Just give us arms.”
Citing a desire to avoid escalation with nuclear-armed Russia, the U.S. and NATO have refused Ukrainian requests to establish a no-fly zone over the country, and President Joe Biden said he will not send troops there. The U.S. scrapped a proposal this week for Poland to transfer MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany.
Thousands of American troops have been deployed to Poland, which is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state, unlike Ukraine. The United Nations says more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland so far, with many heading farther west in Europe. More than 2.7 million Ukrainians have fled their country in the last two and a half weeks.
Instead of more direct involvement, the U.S. and its allies have imposed a bevy of economic sanctions and bans on Russian imports, such as oil, in an attempt to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and hit the nation’s economy.
So far, the strategy has not stopped the military attack on Ukraine.
Besides the strike on the apartment building in central Kyiv, reports said overnight shelling hit some of the capital’s suburbs, including Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel. Several hours west, airstrikes were also reported near the city of Rivne.
In the south, Russian forces continued their assault on the vital Black Sea port city of Mariupol, where a long siege has left more than 1,200 people dead, local officials say, and forced residents to struggle to survive without electricity, running water or incoming supplies of food.
Vereshchuk, the deputy prime minister, said the government was still trying to open up an evacuation route from Mariupol and deliver badly needed aid.
“Once again we will try to finally unblock the movement of the humanitarian convoy with food and medicine,” Vereshchuk said.
She added that two municipal officials kidnapped by the Russians — Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, and Yevhen Matvieyev, the mayor of Dniprorudne — remained in captivity, as well as Oleksiy Danchenko, a Ukrainian official who accompanied evacuation buses on an agreed evacuation route.
“We hope we will be able to get him out of forced detention” through one of Monday’s humanitarian corridors, Vereshchuk said of Danchenko.
Russian troops also swooped down on the port city of Berdyansk, about 40 miles to the southwest of Mariupol, and commandeered several Ukrainian ships berthed in the area. RT, a state-backed Russian news outlet, posted video on social media depicting Russian Rosgvardia (National Guard) troops overrunning the port and inspecting a number of vessels, but the report could not be independently confirmed.
In the western city of Lviv, the scene was quieter a day after Russian forces attacked a Ukrainian military training base Sunday more than an hour to the west, by the Polish border, killing dozens of people and injuring more than 100.
Lviv, which has largely avoided Russian assault during the now 19 days of war and become a stopping point for those fleeing from the east, has been under overnight curfews, with residents wondering if violence will hit them next. So far, it has avoided the worst.
Shops are open, traffic clogs the city center at rush hour and the biggest signs of war are military checkpoints and early-morning air sirens, which sounded across the city Monday.
But as Russian’s advances continue, those in the city of 800,000 have grown more and more worried.
“We believe in our history as Ukrainian people,” said Natalia Gunko, 50, who spoke as she carried her 1-year-old granddaughter, bundled in a winter suit. “Yes, Lviv does not feel completely safe. But we believe in our ultimate victory.”
Artem Velichko, an 18-year-old student and street musician, noted the increasing sense of insecurity.
“People feel like they are being targeted,” Velichko said, with his guitar in a pack on his back. “It’s really scary.”
Bulos reported from Kyiv, McDonnell from Lviv and Kaleem from London. Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.