- Russia has Ukrainian cities in sight but moves slowly
- President Zelenskiy, spearhead of the resistance from Kiev
- Putin bristles at sanctions, calls West ’empire of lies’
KIEV/MOSCOW, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Russian artillery shelled residential areas of Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv on Monday, killing possibly dozens, Ukrainian officials said, as Moscow’s invading forces were meeting stiff resistance from the Ukrainians on the fifth day of the conflict.
The attacks came as Russian and Ukrainian officials met at the Belarusian border to discuss a ceasefire. The talks ended without a breakthrough.
Russia also faced growing isolation and economic turmoil as Western nations, united in condemnation of its assault, hit it with a series of sanctions that had ripple effects around the world. . Global stocks slid and oil prices surged.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no sign of reconsidering the invasion he unleashed on Russia’s western neighbor last Thursday. He called the West an “empire of lies” and responded to new sanctions with moves to shore up the crumbling Russian rouble.
The Russian invasion – the biggest assault on a European state since World War II – failed to deliver the decisive early gains that Putin would have hoped for. But Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, has become a major battleground.
Regional administration head Oleg Synegubov said Russian artillery pounded residential areas even though there was no Ukrainian army position or strategic infrastructure. At least 11 people were killed, he said.
“It happens during the day, when people are out at the pharmacy, to do their shopping or to drink water. It’s a crime,” he said.
A former Interior Ministry adviser, Anton Herashchenko, said Russian rocket fire into Kharkiv on Monday killed dozens of people. It was not possible to independently verify the casualty figures.
Video released by the military showed thick columns of smoke rising from buildings and flashes of flame.
Moscow’s UN ambassador, speaking in New York, said the Russian military posed no threat to civilians.
Fighting also took place throughout the night around the port city of Mariupol, said the head of the Donetsk regional administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko. He did not specify whether Russian forces had gained or lost ground.
Russian forces seized two small towns in southeastern Ukraine and the area around a nuclear power plant, according to the Interfax news agency.
The capital Kyiv remained under the control of the Ukrainian government, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, dressed in military gear, encouraging his people with a series of defiant messages.
Explosions were heard in the city before dawn and the Ukrainians set up checkpoints and blocked the streets with piles of sandbags and tires as they waited to confront the Russian soldiers.
On the streets of Kiev, signs normally used for traffic alerts displayed the message: “Putin has lost the war. The whole world is with Ukraine”.
Talks between the two sides have taken place on the border with powerful Russian ally Belarus – a launching pad for invading Russian troops. Read more
Ukraine had said it wanted an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces. The Kremlin declined to comment on Moscow’s goals. Read more
The meeting ended with the officials returning to their respective capitals for further consultations ahead of a second round of talks, RIA news agency quoted Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak as saying.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” which it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy the military capabilities of its southern neighbor and capture what it sees as dangerous nationalists.
The Western-led response has been adamant, with sanctions that effectively cut off Moscow’s major financial institutions from Western markets. The ruble plunged 32% against the dollar on Monday before recovering about half of its losses. L1N2V31EW Countries have also stepped up arms deliveries to Ukraine.
In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said EU sanctions would have a cost for Europe “but we have to be prepared to pay the price, otherwise we will have to pay a much higher price in the future”.
The EU will provide intelligence to Ukraine on Russian troop movements and EU countries are determined to increase their military support to Kyiv, Borrell said.
France said President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin on Monday and called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to attacks on civilians and infrastructure.
BATTLE FOR THE CITIES
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were also concentrating on Chernihiv, northeast of Kiev, and parts of the Donetsk region to the east. On Sunday, separatists hoisted a Russian flag over a local government building in a destroyed village, Reuters footage showed.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 102 civilians in Ukraine had been killed since Thursday, but the true figure is believed to be “significantly higher”. Read more
Ukraine’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that 352 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the start of the invasion.
More than half a million people have fled to neighboring countries, according to the UN refugee agency.
Partners in the US-led NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) defense alliance were supplying Ukraine with air defense missiles and anti-tank weapons, the head of the NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.
The Kremlin accused the EU of hostile behavior, saying arms supplies to Ukraine were destabilizing and proved Russia right in its efforts to demilitarize its neighbor. Read more
The Kremlin declined to comment on whether there was a risk of a confrontation between Russia and NATO. Russia demanded that NATO never admit Ukraine as a member.
Over the weekend, Western countries announced sanctions, including banning some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system.
As an emergency measure, Russia’s central bank raised its key rate from 9.5% to 20% as the ruble plunged. Authorities have told export-oriented companies to be prepared to sell foreign currency. Read more
The bank also ordered brokers to block attempts by foreigners to sell Russian securities. Read more
Corporate giants have taken action in response to the sanctions, with British oil giant BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, saying it will ditch its stake in state oil company Rosneft (ROSN.MM) at a cost of up to $25 billion. Read more
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv; Natalia Zinets, Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk in Lviv; Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland; Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania; Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva; and other Reuters offices, including Moscow; Written by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Angus MacSwan, editing by Philippa Fletcher
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.