Ukraine on Wednesday accused Russia of bombing a town where it promised de-escalation, undermining hopes of resolving a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions.
Ukraine and Western powers had previously cast doubt on Russia’s promise to reduce military activity around Chernigiv and the capital kyiv, made during face-to-face talks in Istanbul on Tuesday.
“Chernigiv was shelled all night,” regional governor Vyacheslav Chaus wrote on social media.
On Wednesday, AFP reporters could also hear frequent explosions coming from the suburban town of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv.
Ukrainian forces said they had control of the town, but emergency services said it was still too dangerous for civilians to enter.
“The area could be within mortar range, so it’s still dangerous,” said Petro Kyseliov, acting head of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service in Kyiv.
Russian officials had pledged to “drastically” reduce attacks because of progress in negotiations on Ukraine’s “neutrality and non-nuclear status” – two central concerns for Moscow.
Both sides called the Istanbul meeting “meaningful” and “positive”, but the Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough.
“We cannot say that there has been anything too promising or breakthrough,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Peskov said.
Stock markets, which had been buoyed by Tuesday’s more upbeat comments, fell again and oil prices rose again due to supply issues.
The Pentagon said Russia had simply repositioned a “small number” of forces near kyiv and could prepare a “major offensive” elsewhere.
The “vast majority” of Russian forces around kyiv remained in place, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
The Ukrainian army also warned that the withdrawal of Russian troops around kyiv and Chernigiv “is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead”.
Still, the Istanbul talks marked the first sign of progress in talks to end the conflict, with Kyiv negotiator David Arakhamia saying there were “sufficient” conditions for Zelensky to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But Ukraine’s western allies have said they have no plans to ease measures to punish Russia for the invasion.
“We’ll see if they follow through on what they’re suggesting,” US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday after meeting with leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, who vowed not to ease sanctions.
On Wednesday, Poland urged the European Union to impose a tax on Russian hydrocarbon imports while Germany raised the alarm level under its emergency gas plan, fearing that Russia does not cut off supplies to countries that refuse to be paid in roubles.
Meanwhile, Russia was scrambling to build support from its allies.
During a visit to China on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “We, together with you and with our supporters, will move towards a multipolar, just and democratic world order.”
Lavrov will visit India this week, which has failed to abide by UN resolutions censoring Russia and continues to buy Russian oil and other goods, despite pressure from Washington.
Ukraine says Russia, which launched its invasion on February 24, is in retreat.
In recent days, Ukrainian fighters have taken over territory, including Irpin.
“The Russians slowly retreated from Irpin… So now the priority task is to go there and bring back the bodies of those killed,” Kyselyov said.
“Bodies are still lying around in the streets, they are starting to decompose and smell and dogs and other animals are starting to eat them,” he said.
Some 20,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict so far, according to Zelensky, although the number of casualties could not be independently verified.
On Tuesday, a Russian missile strike on the southern city of Mykolaiv left at least 14 people dead, Ukrainian officials said.
Nor has there been any progress for the estimated 160,000 people still trapped with little food, water or medicine in the devastated port city of Mariupol.
Russian forces surrounded the city and their regular, indiscriminate shelling killed at least 5,000 people, but possibly as many as 10,000, according to a senior Ukrainian official.
France, Greece and Turkey tried to organize a mass evacuation of civilians from the city, but talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin ended on Tuesday without an agreement.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian mediator Lyudmyla Denisova said a Red Cross facility was targeted by Russian aircraft and artillery.
Aid groups have regularly called for access to Mariupol, denouncing hellish conditions, and Ukrainian officials have accused Russian troops of forcibly deporting residents to Russia.
Civilians who managed to escape from Mariupol describe a place where “death is everywhere”.
“We buried our neighbours, we saw death everywhere and even my children saw it,” said Mariia Tsymmerman, who fled to Zaporizhzhia two weeks ago but is now making the perilous journey back to deliver supplies. supplies and helping others leave.
“I know a woman who killed her own dog to feed her children,” she said.