KYIV, Ukraine (AFP)— Russian forces pressed in on Kyiv Tuesday with a series of strikes on residential buildings that killed four people in the Ukrainian capital, despite a fresh round of talks aimed at halting the war.
In the highest-level EU delegation to go to Kyiv since the war began, the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia travelled to the besieged capital in a sign of support for Ukraine.
But tensions were mounting, with Kyiv’s mayor announcing a 35-hour curfew to deal with what he called a “dangerous moment”, while Russia broadened its assault across Ukraine with a huge strike on an airport.
Nearly three weeks into Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour, more than three million forced to flee to neighbouring countries and 97 Ukrainian children have died, the country’s president told Canadian lawmakers in a virtual address.
In a response to crushing Western sanctions on Russia, Moscow announced that US President Joe Biden and a dozen other top officials had been banned from entering the country, criticising “the extremely Russophobic policy pursued by the current US administration”.
According to the United Nations, nearly 1.4 million children have fled Ukraine since the conflict began on February 24 — nearly one child per second. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported 1,834 civilian casualties.
Addressing a key Russian concern used to justify the invasion, Zelensky said Ukraine should accept that it would not become a member of NATO’s military alliance.
“We have heard for years that the doors were open, but we also heard that we could not join. It’s a truth and it must be recognised,” he told a video conference with military officials.
Ukraine’s capital has been transformed into a war zone, with apartment blocks badly damaged from Russian bombardments and half of the city’s 3.5 million people now gone.
The 35-hour curfew will come into effect from 8:00 pm, the city’s mayor Vitali Klitschko announced, saying that four died in the capital on Tuesday.
“This is why I ask all Kyivites to get prepared to stay at home for two days, or if the sirens go off, in the shelters,” he added.
Four large blasts were heard from the centre of the capital early Tuesday, sending columns of smoke high into the sky.
A fire raged in a 16-storey housing block and smoke billowed from the charred husk of the building, as emergency services and stunned residents navigated an obstacle course of glass, metal and other debris littering the road.
Another residential building in the Podilsk area also came under attack.
Russian troops surround the city to the north and east, and authorities have set up checkpoints, while residents are stockpiling food and medicine.
Overnight Russian shelling also caused massive damage at the airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, regional authorities said.
“Two strikes. The runway was destroyed. The terminal is damaged. Massive destruction,” said regional governor Valentin Reznichenko.
Outwardly, at least, the two sides are still far apart in negotiations, with Moscow demanding Ukraine turn away from the West and recognise Moscow-backed breakaway regions.
Ukraine is pushing for a ceasefire and Russian troop withdrawal. On Tuesday, Zelensky sounded a note of cautious optimism about ongoing peace talks and claimed Russia was realising victory would not come on the battlefield.
“They have already begun to understand that they will not achieve anything by war,” Zelensky said.
He said Monday’s talks were “pretty good… but let’s see.”