Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city 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 that 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. Ukraine’s president suggested other locations, saying his country was unwilling to meet in Belarus because it served as a staging ground for the invasion.
Until Sunday, Russia’s troops had remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) 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 a light vehicle burning on the street. Ukrainian forces engaged them, according to Oleh Sinehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration. He gave no further details, but told civilians not to leave their homes. He gave no further details.
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.
Huge explosions lit up the sky early 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 Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said another explosion was at the civilian Zhuliany airport.
Zelenskyy’s office 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,” Zelenskyy vowed.
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 neighboring countries, and the United Nations warned the number could grow to 4 million if fighting escalates.
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, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said.
He said the Russian forces also have taken control of an air base near Kherson and the city of Henichesk on the Azov Sea. Ukrainian authorities previously have 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 also could allow Moscow to build a land corridor to Crimea, which until now was connected to Russia by a 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge, the longest bridge in Europe which opened in 2018.
President Vladimir Putin hasn’t 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.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a Russian delegation of military officials and diplomats had arrived Sunday in the Belarusian city of Hormel for talks with Ukraine.
“The Russian delegation is ready for talks and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” he said. The Ukrainians have said they are ready for peace talks but will not accept ultimatums.
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