KYIV/MOSCOW: Russian artillery bombarded residential districts of Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv on Monday, killing possibly dozens of people, Ukrainian officials said, as Moscow’s invading forces met stiff resistance from Ukrainians on a fifth day of conflict. The attacks took place while Russian and Ukrainian officials met on the Belarusian border, but their talks made no breakthrough.
Russia also faced deepening isolation and economic turmoil as Western nations, united in condemnation of its assault, hit it with an array of sanctions that rippled around the world. Global shares slid and oil prices jumped.
The United States imposed new sanctions - on Russia’s central bank and other sources of wealth.
And President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a letter formally requesting immediate membership of the European Union for Ukraine - a request unlikely to shorten the admission process, but an emphatic statement of commitment to Western values.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin showed no sign of reconsidering the invasion he unleashed on Russia’s neighbour last Thursday in an attempt to pull it firmly back under Moscow’s influence and redraw Europe’s security map.
He dismissed the West as an “empire of lies” and replied to the new sanctions with moves to shore up Russia’s crumbling rouble currency. The Russian invasion - the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two - has failed to make the decisive early gains that Putin would have hoped for. But Kharkiv in Ukraine’s northeast has become a major battleground.
Regional administration chief Oleg Synegubov said Russian artillery had pounded residential districts even though no Ukrainian army positions or strategic infrastructure were there. At least 11 people were killed, he said.
“This is happening in the daytime, when people have gone out to the pharmacy, for groceries, or for drinking water. It’s a crime,” he said.
Earlier Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said Russian rocket strikes on Kharkiv had killed dozens. It was not possible to verify the casualty figures independently. Video posted by the military showed thick columns of smoke rising from apartment blocks and flashes of flames. Moscow’s United Nations ambassador, speaking in New York, said the Russian army did not pose a threat to civilians.
Images from the U.S. satellite company Maxar showed a Russian military convoy stretching over 17 miles on the way to Kyiv. Fighting also occurred throughout Sunday night around the port city of Mariupol, the head of the Donetsk regional administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said. He did not say whether Russian forces had gained or lost ground.
Russian forces seized two small cities 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 tyres as they waited to take on Russian soldiers. On Kyiv’s streets, signboards normally used for traffic alerts showed the message: “Putin lost the war. The whole world is with Ukraine.”
TALKS ON BORDER
Talks between the two sides took place on the border with strong Russian ally Belarus - a launch pad for invading Russian troops.
Ukraine had said it wanted to secure an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces. The Kremlin declined to comment on its goals.
The meeting ended with officials heading back to capitals for further consultations before a second round of negotiations, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told reporters.
“The Russian side, unfortunately, still has a very biased view of the destructive processes it has launched,” Podolyak tweeted.
Russian delegation head Vladimir Medinsky told reporters: “The most important thing is that we agreed to continue negotiating.”
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
The Western-led response has been emphatic, with sanctions that effectively cut off Moscow’s financial institutions from Western markets. The rouble plunged 32% against the dollar on Monday before recouping about half of its losses.
Over the weekend, Western nations announced sanctions including barring some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system.
Russia’s central bank on Monday cranked up its key interest rate to 20% from 9.5% as the rouble dived. Authorities told export-focused companies to be ready to sell foreign currency.
The bank also ordered brokers to block any attempts by foreigners to sell Russian securities.
But the global bank HSBC and the world’s biggest aircraft leasing firm AerCap joined companies looking for the exit after British oil major BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, said on Sunday it would abandon its 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 ready to pay the price, or we will have to pay a much higher price in the future”.
The EU will provide intelligence to Ukraine about Russian troop movements and EU countries will increase their military support, he said.
BATTLE FOR CITIES
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were also focusing on Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, and parts of the Donetsk region in the east. Separatists there raised a Russian flag on a local administration building in one shattered village on Sunday.