Ukraine rejects Belarus as venue for talks as Russian troops enter Kharkiv

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Ukraine Rejects Belarus As Venue For Talks As Russian Troops Enter Kharkiv Ukraine Rejects Belarus As Venue For Talks As Russian Troops Enter Kharkiv
Ukraine Invasion, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Yuras Karmanau, Jim Heintz, Vladimir Isachenkov and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city on Sunday and Russian troops put increasing pressure on strategic ports in the country’s south following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere which appeared to mark a new phase of Russia’s invasion.

Following its gains on the ground, Russia sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine, according to the Kremlin.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested other locations, saying his country is unwilling to meet in Belarus because it served as a staging ground for the invasion.


A Ukrainian soldier smokes a cigarette next to his armoured vehicle outside Kharkiv (Andrew Marienko/AP)

He also said Russia should be thrown out of the United Nations Security Council.

In a video message on Sunday he said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amounts to an act of genocide, adding that “Russia has taken the path of evil and the world should come to depriving it of its UN Security Council seat”.

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Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, giving it veto power over resolutions.

Mr Zelensky said Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities should be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal and denounced the Russian invasion as “state terrorism”.

He dismissed as lies Russia’s claims that it is not targeting civilian areas.

Until Sunday, Russia’s troops had remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city with a population of 1.4 million about 12.4 miles (20km) south of the border with Russia, while other forces rolled past to press the offensive deeper into Ukraine.

Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the city in small groups.

One video showed Ukrainian soldiers inspecting Russian light utility vehicles damaged by shelling and abandoned by Russian troops on a street.

Oleh Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, told civilians not to leave their homes.


Ukrainian troops walk past a deactivated Russian military multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

As Russia pushes ahead with its offensive, the West is working to equip the outnumbered Ukrainian forces with weapons and ammunition while punishing Russia with far-reaching sanctions intended to further isolate Moscow.

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Huge explosions lit up the sky early on Sunday near the capital, Kyiv, where people hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale assault by Russian forces.

Flames billowed into the sky before dawn from an oil depot near an air base in Vasylkiv, where there has been intense fighting, according to the town’s mayor.

President Zelensky’s office said another explosion hit the civilian Zhuliany airport.

It also said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, prompting the government to warn people to protect themselves from the smoke by covering their windows with damp cloth or gauze.

“We will fight for as long as needed to liberate our country,” the president said.

Terrified men, women and children sought safety inside and underground, and the government maintained a 39-hour curfew to keep people off the streets.

More than 150,000 Ukrainians fled for Poland, Moldova and other neighbouring countries, and the United Nations warned the number could grow to four million if fighting escalates.


Children who fled Ukraine play on the floor of an event hall in a hotel offering shelter in Siret, Romania (Andreea Alexandru/AP)

Russia’s military also put increasing pressure on strategic ports in the south of Ukraine, blocking the strategic cities of Kherson on the Black Sea and the port of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General. Igor Konashenkov said.

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He said Russian forces have also taken control of an air base near Kherson and the city of Henichesk on the Azov Sea. Ukrainian authorities have previously reported fighting in various areas along the coast.

As Russia has closed in on the Ukrainian capital, it has also focused on pressing its offensive in the country’s south in an apparent bid to take control of its coast stretching from the border with Romania in the west to the border with Russia in the east.

The Ukrainian authorities have reported fighting going on near Odesa, Mykolaiv and other areas.

Russia’s advances along Ukraine’s coast mark an attempt to cut the country’s access to its sea ports that would deal a major blow to its economy.

The offensive in the south could also allow Moscow to build a land corridor to Crimea, which until now was connected to Russia by a 12-mile (19km) bridge, the longest bridge in Europe, which opened in 2018.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country his ready for peace talks with Russia, but not in Belarus (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

President Vladimir Putin has not disclosed his ultimate plans, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a Russian delegation of military officials and diplomats arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel, also known as Gomel, for talks with Ukraine.

On Friday, Mr Zelensky offered to negotiate a key Russian demand: abandoning ambitions of joining Nato.

Mr Peskov said: “The Russian delegation is ready for talks and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians.”

President Zelensky said his country is ready for peace talks with Russia but not in Belarus, given the Russian ally’s role in the invasion.

Speaking in a video message on Sunday, he named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues.

Speaking in Russian, he said Ukraine wants peace talks and will “accept any other city in a country that hasn’t been used for launching missiles. Only then, the talks could be honest and put an end to the war.”

To aid Ukraine’s ability to hold out, the US pledged an additional 350 million dollars (£261 million) in military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armour and small arms.

Germany said it will send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the besieged country and that it will close its airspace to Russian planes.


An armed civil defence man patrols an empty street in Kyiv during the curfew (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

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The US, European Union and United Kingdom agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the Swift global financial messaging system, which moves money around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions worldwide, part of a new round of sanctions aiming to impose a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion. They also agreed to impose ”restrictive measures” on Russia’s central bank.

Responding to a request from Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tech billionaire Elon Musk said on Twitter that his satellite-based internet system Starlink is now active in Ukraine and that there are “more terminals en route”.

It is unclear how much territory Russian forces have seized or to what extent their advance has been stalled.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said “the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed, likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance”.

A senior US defence official said on Saturday that more than half of the Russian combat power amassed along Ukraine’s borders has entered the country and Moscow has had to commit more fuel supplies and other support units inside Ukraine than originally anticipated.

The curfew forcing everyone in Kyiv inside was set to last until Monday morning. The relative quiet of the capital was sporadically broken by gunfire.


The view from an apartment in a high-rise building which was struck by a missile in Kyiv on Saturday (@nabihbulos/Nabih Bulos/Los Angeles Times/AP)

Fighting on the city’s outskirts suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported inside Kyiv, but Britain and the US said the bulk of the forces were 19 miles (30km) from the city centre as of Saturday afternoon.

Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighbourhoods have been hit.

Ukraine’s health minister reported on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, have been killed and more than 1,000 others injured during Europe’s largest land war since the Second World War. It is unclear whether those figures include both military and civilian casualties.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, said troops in Kyiv are fighting Russian “sabotage groups”. Ukraine says some 200 Russian soldiers have been captured and thousands killed. Moscow has not provided casualty figures.

Ms Markarova said Ukraine is gathering evidence of shelling of residential areas, nursery schools and hospitals to submit to The Hague as possible crimes against humanity.

Mr Putin sent troops into Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, all the while building up a force of almost 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders.

He claims the West has failed to take seriously Russia’s security concerns about Nato, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join. But he has also expressed scorn about Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.

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