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Ukraine’s capital under fire; NATO nation leaders to visit

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russia’s offensive in Ukraine edged closer to central Kyiv yesterday, with a series of strikes hitting a residential neighbourhood as the leaders of three NATO member countries planned a visit to Ukraine’s embattled capital.

Shortly before dawn, large explosions thundered across Kyiv from what Ukrainian authorities said was artillery strikes. The shelling ignited a huge fire and a frantic rescue effort in a 15-storey apartment building. At least one person was killed and others remain trapped inside.

Shockwaves from an explosion also damaged the entry to a downtown subway station that has been used as a bomb shelter. City authorities tweeted an image of the blown-out facade, saying trains would no longer stop at the station.

As Russia stepped up its assault of Kyiv, the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia planned to travel to Ukraine’s capital on a European Union (EU) mission to show support for the country.

“The aim of the visit is to express the European Union’s unequivocal support for Ukraine and its freedom and independence,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said in a tweet.

Police inspect the site of a Russian bombing attack in Kyiv, Ukraine. PHOTO: AP

He will be joined by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister for security and the leader of the conservative ruling party.

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators also planned to hold a second day of talks as Russia’s offensive in Ukraine entered its 21st day.

When Russia launched the war nearly three weeks ago, fear of an imminent invasion gripped the Ukrainian capital, and residents slept in subway stations or crammed onto trains to flee. But as the Russian offensive bogged down, Kyiv saw a relative lull.

Fighting has intensified on the city’s outskirts in recent days, and sporadic air raid sirens ring out around the capital.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking to extend martial law until April 24 and to require men ages 18 to 60 to stay in the country to fight. Zelenskyy submitted the extension in a bill to Parliament, which is expected to vote on it this week.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that while the Biden administration supports Ukraine’s participation in the talks with Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin would have to show signs of de-escalating in order to demonstrate good faith.

United States national security advisor Jake Sullivan warned China against helping Russia during a meeting in Rome with a senior Chinese diplomat.