Russian artillery shelled residential neighborhoods in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Monday, killing possibly dozens, Ukrainian officials said, as forces invading Moscow met stiff resistance from the Ukrainians on the fifth day of the conflict.
The attacks took place as Russian and Ukrainian officials met at the Belarusian border, but their talks failed to make any headway.
Russia has also faced growing isolation and economic turmoil as Western nations, united in condemnation of its assault, hit it with a series of sanctions that have spread around the world. Global stocks slid and oil prices surged.
The United States has imposed new sanctions — on the Russian central bank and other sources of wealth.
And President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a letter formally requesting Ukraine’s immediate membership of the European Union – a request unlikely to shorten the admission process, but an emphatic statement of commitment to Western values.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no sign of reconsidering the invasion he unleashed on neighboring Russia last Thursday in a bid to bring it firmly under Moscow’s influence and redraw the map of the European security.
He called the West an “empire of lies” and responded to the new sanctions with measures to shore up Russia’s crumbling rouble.
The Russian invasion – the biggest assault on a European state since World War II – failed to make the decisive early gains that Putin would have hoped for. But Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, has become a major battleground.
Regional administration head Oleg Synegubov said Russian artillery pounded residential areas even though there was no Ukrainian army position or strategic infrastructure. At least 11 people were killed, he said.
“It happens during the day, when people have gone out to the pharmacy, to do their shopping or to drink water. It is a crime,” he said.
A former Interior Ministry adviser, Anton Herashchenko, said Russian rocket fire into Kharkiv had killed dozens of people. It was not possible to independently verify the casualty figures.
Video released by the military showed thick columns of smoke rising from buildings and flashes of flame.
Moscow’s UN ambassador, speaking in New York, said the Russian military posed no threat to civilians.
Footage from US satellite company Maxar showed a Russian military convoy stretching more than 17 miles on the way to kyiv.
Fighting also erupted throughout Sunday night around the port city of Mariupol, Donetsk regional administration head Pavlo Kyrylenko said. He did not specify whether Russian forces had gained or lost ground.
Russian forces seized two small towns in southeastern Ukraine and the area around a nuclear power plant, according to the Interfax news agency, but the capital kyiv remained under government control.
Explosions were heard in the city before dawn and soldiers set up checkpoints and blocked streets with piles of sandbags and tires as they waited to confront Russian soldiers.
On the streets of kyiv, signs normally used for traffic alerts displayed the message: “Putin has lost the war. The whole world is with Ukraine.
Talks between the two sides have taken place on the border with powerful Russian ally Belarus – a launching pad for invading Russian troops.
Ukraine had said it wanted an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces. The Kremlin declined to comment on its goals.
The meeting ended with officials returning to capitals for further consultations ahead of a second round of talks, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told reporters.
“The Russian side, unfortunately, still has a very skewed view of the destructive processes it started,” Podolyak tweeted.
The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, told reporters: “The most important thing is that we have agreed to continue negotiations.”
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” which it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy the military capabilities of its southern neighbor and capture what it sees as dangerous nationalists.
The Western-led response has been adamant, with sanctions that effectively cut off Moscow’s financial institutions from Western markets. The ruble plunged 32% against the dollar on Monday before recovering about half of its losses.
Over the weekend, Western countries announced sanctions, including banning some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system.
The Russian central bank on Monday raised its key rate from 9.5% to 20% as the ruble plunged. Authorities have told export-oriented companies to be prepared to sell foreign currency.
The bank also ordered brokers to block any attempts by foreigners to sell Russian securities.
But global bank HSBC and the world’s largest aircraft leasing company AerCap joined the companies seeking an exit after British oil giant BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, said on Sunday that he would give up his stake in state oil company Rosneft, writing off up to $25 billion.
In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said EU sanctions would have a cost for Europe “but we have to be prepared to pay the price, otherwise we will have to pay a much higher price in the future”.
The EU will provide intelligence to Ukraine on Russian troop movements and EU countries will increase their military support, he said.
BATTLE FOR THE CITIES
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were also concentrating on Chernihiv, northeast of kyiv, and parts of the Donetsk region to the east. On Sunday, separatists hoisted a Russian flag over a local government building in a destroyed village.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 102 civilians in Ukraine had been killed since Thursday, but the true figure could be “significantly higher”.
Ukraine’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that 352 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the start of the invasion.
More than half a million people have fled to neighboring countries, according to the UN refugee agency.
Partners in the US-led NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) defense alliance were supplying Ukraine with air defense missiles and anti-tank weapons, the head of the NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.
The Kremlin accused the EU of hostile behavior, saying arms supplies to Ukraine were destabilizing and proved Russia right in its efforts to demilitarize its neighbor.
But Ukraine received unexpected support.
US technology company Microsoft said it provided threat intelligence and defensive suggestions to Ukrainian officials regarding attacks on a range of targets, and also advised the government on attempted cyber theft of data.
And European soccer governing body UEFA dropped sponsorship of Russian gas giant Gazprom, which was worth 40 million euros ($45 million) a season, and UEFA and world federation FIFA suspended all Russian teams until further notice.