Zelensky says Russian demands ‘more realistic’ but bombing of Kyiv continues

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Shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-storey apartment building in central Kyiv on Wednesday, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency. The neighbouring building was also damaged. The agency reported two victims, without saying if they were injured or killed.

A firefighter comforts a woman outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.Credit:AP

Also, a powerful explosion thundered overnight in Kharkiv that was heard across the eastern city. There hospital workers are fighting on two fronts, battling COVID-19 in intensive care units as war rages outside. The Kharkiv Regional Clinical Infectious Diseases Hospital, the city’s leading facility for treating virus patients during the pandemic, has barricaded its windows.

Hospital director Dr Pavel Nartov said air raid sirens go off multiple times daily, forcing fragile patients into a makeshift bomb shelter. Handling ICU patients on ventilators was the most difficult and dangerous part of the process, but also the most crucial, given the dangers of exposing oxygen tanks to bombings and shrapnel, he said.

“Bombing takes place from morning into night. Thank God a bomb has not yet hit our hospital. But it could hit at any time,” he said.

Kharkiv has been under sustained fire from Russian forces since the outbreak of the war, with shelling hitting residential buildings and sending masses of people fleeing.

Ukraine’s official daily COVID-19 cases reached record highs in February. COVID-19 concerns have fallen by the wayside as people focus on fleeing the fighting.

In addition to air strikes and shelling by ground forces, Russian naval ships fired overnight on a town south of Mariupol on the Azov Sea and another near Odesa on the Black Sea, according to local officials.

Russian forces have intensified fighting in the Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the north-west and the highway leading west towards Zhytomyr, the head of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba said. He said Russian troops were trying to cut off the capital from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities even as they planned a wide-ranging attack to seize Kyiv.

Twelve towns around Kyiv are without water and six without heat.

Russia has occupied the city of Ivankiv, 80 kilometres north of Kyiv, and controls the surrounding region on the border with Belarus, Kuleba said.

Across the Kyiv region, he said, “Kindergartens, museums, churches, residential blocks and engineering infrastructure are suffering from the endless firing.”

A senior US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said the Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but that their ground forces were making little to no progress around the country. The official said Russian troops were still about 15 km from the centre of the capital.

Before the latest talks with Ukrainian officials, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would press its demands that Ukraine drop its bid to join NATO, adopt a neutral status and “demilitarise.”

In a statement that seemed to signal potential grounds for agreement with Moscow, Zelensky told European leaders gathered in London that he realised NATO had no intention of accepting Ukraine.

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“We have heard for many years about the open doors, but we also heard that we can’t enter those doors,” he said. “This is the truth, and we have simply to accept it as it is.”

NATO does not admit nations with unsettled territorial conflicts. Zelensky has repeatedly said he realises NATO isn’t going to offer membership to Ukraine and that he could consider a neutral status for his country but needs strong security guarantees from both the West and Russia.

The UN said close to 700 civilians in Ukraine have been confirmed killed, with the true figure probably much higher.

On a day when thousands managed to leave Mariupol, Russian troops seized the city’s largest hospital, regional leader Pavlo Kyrylenko said. He said the troops forced about 400 people from nearby homes into the Regional Intensive Care Hospital and were using them and roughly 100 patients and staff as human shields by not allowing them to leave.

Kyrylenko said shelling had already heavily damaged the hospital’s main building, but medical staff have been treating patients in makeshift wards in the basement.

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Doctors from other Mariupol hospitals made a video to tell the world about the horrors they’ve been seeing. “We don’t want to be heroes and martyrs posthumously,” one woman said. She also said it was insufficient to simply refer to people as the wounded: “It’s torn off arms and legs, gouged out eyes, bodies torn into fragments, insides falling out.”

Two journalists working for Fox News were killed in a vehicle hit by fire Monday on the outskirts of Kyiv. Fox identified them as video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was helping Fox crews navigate the area.

The leaders of three European Union countries — Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia — visited Kyiv in a bold show of support amid the danger.

The New York Times reported they arrived by train after dawn, catching other European leaders off guard. “It is our duty to be where history is forged. Because it’s not about us, but about the future of our children who deserve to live in a world free from tyranny,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, according to Reuters. Czech and Polish officials said the mission was coordinated with the EU and agreed by its leaders at a summit last week. However, one official in Brussels said the trip posed serious security risks and could jeopardise negotiations.

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Fighting has intensified on Kyiv’s outskirts, and the mayor imposed a curfew through to Thursday morning, Kyiv time. Tuesday’s artillery strikes hit the Svyatoshynskyi district of western Kyiv.

“Yesterday we extinguished one fire, today another. It is very difficult,” a firefighter who gave only his first name, Andriy, said outside a 15-storey apartment building that was hit, tears falling from his eyes. “People are dying, and the worst thing is that children are dying. They haven’t lived their lives and they have already seen this.”

AP



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