The developments came as Russia finds itself increasingly isolated due to international condemnation and potentially crippling economic sanctions. Five days into the invasion, the movements of the Russian army were blocked by fierce resistance on the ground and a surprising inability to dominate the airspace.
The Kremlin raised the specter of nuclear war twice in as many days and put an arsenal including intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers on high alert. Stepping up his rhetoric, President Vladimir Putin denounced the United States and its allies as an “empire of lies”.
Meanwhile, a beleaguered Ukraine has decided to solidify its ties with the West by applying to join the European Union – a largely symbolic move for now, but one that is unlikely to sit well with Putin, who has long accused states States trying to pull Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit.
A senior Putin adviser and head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said the first talks between the two sides since the invasion lasted nearly five hours and that the envoys “found some points on which common positions could be planned”. He said they agreed to continue discussions in the coming days.
As talks along the Belarusian border wound down, several explosions could be heard in Kyiv and Russian troops advanced on the city of nearly 3 million people. The large convoy of armored vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles was 25 kilometers from the center of the city and stretched about 40 miles, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.
Kyiv residents lined up to do their shopping after the end of the weekend curfew, standing under a building with a gaping hole blown in the side. Kiev remains “a key objective” for the Russians, Zelenskyy said, noting it was hit by three missile strikes on Monday and hundreds of saboteurs roamed the city.
“They want to smash our national identity, which is why the capital is under constant threat,” Zelenskyy said.
Messages for advancing Russian soldiers appeared on billboards, bus stops and electronic signs across the capital. Some used profanity to encourage the Russians to leave. Others appealed to their humanity.
“Russian soldier – Stop! Remember your family. Go home with a clear conscience,” it read.
Video from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of around 1.5 million, showed bombed-out residential areas, with apartment buildings rocked by repeated and powerful blasts.
Authorities in Kharkiv said at least seven people were killed and dozens injured. They warned that the losses could be much higher.
“They wanted to do a blitzkrieg, but it failed, so they did it that way,” said 83-year-old Valentin Petrovich, who watched the shelling from his downtown apartment. He gave only his first name and surname, a middle name derived from his father’s name, out of fear for his safety.
The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas despite ample evidence of shelling homes, schools and hospitals.
Fighting raged in other cities across the country. The strategic port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov is “hanging on”, said Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovich. An oil depot was reportedly bombed in the eastern city of Sumy.
Russian artillery hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a town between Kharkiv and Kiev, and more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, the region’s chief wrote on Telegram. Dmytro Zhyvytskyy posted photos of the charred shell of a four-story building and rescuers digging through the rubble.
In a later Facebook post, he said many Russian soldiers and some local residents were also killed in Sunday’s fighting. The report could not immediately be confirmed.
Despite its vast military force, Russia still lacked control of Ukrainian airspace, a surprise that may help explain how Ukraine has so far prevented a rout.
In the resort town of Berdyansk, dozens of protesters chanted angrily in the main square at the Russian occupiers, shouting at them to go home and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. They described the soldiers as exhausted young conscripts.
“Scared children, scared looks. They want to eat,” Konstantin Maloletka, who runs a small shop, said by phone. He said the soldiers entered a supermarket and took canned meat, vodka and cigarettes.
“They ate straight from the store,” he said. “It looked like they hadn’t been fed for the past few days.”
Across Ukraine, terrified families huddled overnight in shelters, basements or hallways.
“I sit down and pray that these negotiations end successfully, that they reach an agreement to end the massacre,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, crying as she hugged her cat at a shelter in Mariupol. Around her, the parents were trying to console the children and keep them warm.