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Russia shells Ukraine despite de-escalating vow

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russian forces pounded areas around Ukraine’s capital and another city overnight, regional leaders said yesterday, just hours after Moscow pledged to scale back military operations in those places. The shelling further tempered optimism about any progress in talks aimed at ending the punishing war.

Russia did not spell out what exactly it planned to do differently, and while the promise initially raised hopes that a path toward peace was coming into view, Ukraine’s president and others cautioned that the remarks could merely be bluster and the Kremlin’s spokesman said he saw no breakthrough in the talks.

Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling hit homes, shops, libraries and other “civilian infrastructure” in the northern city of Chernihiv and on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.

The barrages came as Britain’s Defence Ministry warned that while heavy losses have forced some Russian units to return to Belarus and Russia, Moscow would likely compensate for any reduction in ground manoeuvers by using mass artillery and missile strikes.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, said Russian troops were intensifying their attacks around the eastern city of Izyum and the eastern Donetsk region, after redeploying some units from other areas.

As the war unleashed five weeks ago by Moscow ground on, so, too, did the fallout beyond Ukraine’s borders. The United Nations (UN) said the number of refugees fleeing the country has now surpassed a staggering four million, while European industrial powerhouse Germany issued a warning over its natural gas supplies amid concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless it is paid in rubles. Poland announced steps to end all Russian oil imports by the end of 2022.

Apartment buildings damaged after shelling from fighting on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine. PHOTO: AP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted with skepticism to Russia’s announcement amid talks in Istanbul on Tuesday that it would reduce military activity near the capital and Chernihiv.

“We can call those signals that we hear at the negotiations positive,” he said in his nightly video address to the Ukrainian people. “But those signals don’t silence the explosions of Russian shells.”

That skepticism only gained ground yesterday morning.

“The so-called reduction of activity in the Chernihiv region, was demonstrated by the enemy strikes including air strikes on Nizhyn, and all night long they were shelling Chernihiv,” said the regional governor Viacheslav Chaus. “Civilian infrastructure facilities, libraries, shopping centres, many houses were destroyed in Chernihiv.”

Head of the Kyiv region military administration Oleksandr Pavliuk said yesterday that Russian shells targetted residential areas and civilian infrastructure in the Bucha, Brovary and Vyshhorod regions around the capital.

They weren’t the only attacks by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said yesterday that the military targetted fuel depots in two towns in central Ukraine with air-launched long-range cruise missiles. Russian forces also hit a Ukrainian special forces headquarters in the southern Mykolaiv region, he said, and two ammunition depots in the eastern Donetsk region.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces noted intensified shelling and attacks in the Donetsk area, where it say Russian forces were focused on trying to win control over the besieged city of Mariupol and other cities.

Donetsk is in the eastern industrial heartland of Donbas, where the Russian military says it has shifted its attention. Top Russian military officials have said twice in recent days that their main goal now is the “liberation” of Donbas, where Moscow-backed rebels have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.