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Russian forces try to crush Ukraine defences amid diplomacy

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russia’s military forces blasted Ukraine’s capital region and other major cities yesterday as they tried to crush a Ukrainian defence that has frustrated their progress nearly three weeks after invading.

With Russia’s ground advance on Kyiv stalled despite the sustained bombardment, a glimmer of optimism emerged that talks between the two sides could make progress. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said negotiations would continue and Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic”.

Russia rained shells on areas around Kyiv and within the city, where a 12-storey apartment building erupted in flames after being hit by shrapnel.

Zelenskyy said Russian forces had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory but had continued their heavy shelling of cities. British and United States (US) intelligence assessments supported the Ukrainian leader’s view of the fighting.

“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he said in his video address to the nation. “Any war ends with an agreement.”

An elderly woman is helped by policemen after she was rescued by firefighters from inside her apartment after bombardments in Kyiv. PHOTO: AP

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 kilometres from the centre of the capital.

Zelenskyy was preparing to make a direct appeal for more help in a rare speech by a foreign leader to the US Congress.

Meanwhile, defence ministers from NATO member nations met in Brussels yesterday.

Developments on the diplomatic front and on the ground occurred as the number of people fleeing Ukraine amid Europe’s heaviest fighting since World War II passed three million.

Shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-storey apartment building in central Kyiv yesterday, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire that sent plumes of smoke over the area, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency.