HomePoliticsUkraine’s defenders hold Kyiv, battle for Kharkiv as talks with Russia agreed

Ukraine’s defenders hold Kyiv, battle for Kharkiv as talks with Russia agreed

In a sign of growing tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the country’s nuclear-deterrence forces to be put on alert.

Russia sent a delegation to the southern Belarusian city of Gomel on Sunday, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he refused to meet in a country that has become a launchpad for Russia’s attacks. He did, however, speak by phone to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko later in the day, and agreed to have his envoys meet with the Russian delegation on the Ukrainian-Russian border, according to a statement by the Ukrainian presidency. Mr. Lukashenko committed that no Russian military activity will be carried out from Belarus during the talks, Kyiv said.

It is not clear to what extent the planned negotiations could end the Russian invasion, which has encountered much stiffer resistance from Ukrainian forces than many, in Russia and in the West, had expected. Mr. Putin has urged Ukrainian troops to stage a coup against the country’s democratically elected president. Russian officials said shortly after the war began that they would talk to Kyiv only once Ukrainian troops surrendered arms.

Early on Sunday, Russian troops pushed deep into Kharkiv, which lies close to the Russian frontier. Many of these light-infantry troops were ambushed and killed or captured by Ukrainian forces hours later, however.

Footage shared by Ukrainian forces on Sunday morning showed five Tigr-M armored vehicles with Russian “Z” markings destroyed on a Kharkiv street, with Ukrainian soldiers helping themselves to Russian ammunition and equipment, including several antitank rockets. A Tigr-M was also seen burning at another Kharkiv intersection. Kharkiv residents said the city appeared to be under firm Ukrainian control by the afternoon. “We are finishing up cleansing the city from the enemy,” Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Synehubov posted on social media.

Ukrainian authorities have ordered Kyiv residents to stay indoors until Monday morning while they hunt for Russian infiltrators, who engaged in several shootouts with Ukrainian troops and civilian volunteers overnight. No shooting was heard during the day. “Kyiv continues to hold out. There are no Russian troops in Kyiv,” the city’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a video address.

The thud of explosions from Russian airstrikes and artillery continued in Kyiv through Sunday. A black plume rose on the city’s horizon from the major fuel depot in the town of Vasylkiv, south of the capital, that caught fire after it was hit overnight. Residents of areas northwest of Kyiv, near the Chernobyl nuclear-disaster exclusion zone, said that Russian armor continued to pour in from Belarus for an expected major assault on Kyiv.

Oleksandr Markushin, the mayor of the town of Irpen, northwest of Kyiv, said that battles on Sunday resulted in the defeat of a Russian tank unit there. Video posted by Ukrainian officials from Irpen showed smoldering Russian armored vehicles and corpses in Russian uniform. Local residents said a different, much larger column of Russian armor was moving toward Kyiv from the west.

Ukraine’s government projected confidence, saying that heavy resistance throughout the country had thwarted Mr. Putin’s plan to overthrow the country’s leadership and destroy its command-and-control capabilities in a lightning strike.

“These three days have forever changed our country and the world,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Sunday morning. “These will be trying times ahead. But now we are no longer the only ones to believe in our victory. And that is why we are receiving the aid that was unthinkable three days ago.”

Several countries that had previously declined to supply Ukraine with sophisticated weapons to help offset Russia’s military advantage have changed their mind in recent days. Antitank and antiaircraft missiles already supplied to Ukraine by the U.S., the U.K., Poland and the Baltic states before the war’s breakout have already helped to redress the balance, Ukrainian officials have said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that a Russian delegation had already arrived in Gomel, Belarus, on Sunday morning and was ready to start negotiations with Ukraine. The Russian delegation includes presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky; Russia’s deputy ministers of defense and foreign affairs; Leonid Slutsky, the head of the International Committee of Russia’s State Duma; and Russia’s ambassador to Belarus, Boris Gryzlov, Mr. Peskov said.

Mr. Medinsky told RIA that Russia’s representatives were ready for negotiations at any time.

“Every hour for us is a saved life,” the agency cited him as saying.

In Kyiv, residents spent the night in bomb shelters and basements, as explosions rocked the city. Ukraine’s military said it had intercepted a ballistic missile fired at Kyiv from Belarus.

“We are afraid, trembling all night,” said a shopkeeper, Lena, who slept along with her colleague in the back of a grocery store in central Kyiv. “Please tell me it will be all right.” She kept the store open so that neighborhood residents could buy food.

Ukrainian officials and witnesses said that one of the Russian airstrikes hit a children’s hospital in central Kyiv, Okhmatdyt, during the night, killing one child and injuring others.

“The night was hard. What they are doing to us is revenge. It is terrorism,” Mr. Zelensky said in a speech Sunday. “They have consciously chosen to hit civilians and everything that renders life normal. Power stations, hospitals, kindergartens, housing blocks—they are all targeted daily.”

Mr. Zelensky on Sunday announced the creation of a new International Legion of the Ukrainian army, along the lines of the International Brigades that helped defend the Spanish republic in the 1930s civil war there. Existing legislation allows foreign citizens to join the Ukrainian military, and Mr. Zelensky urged potential volunteers to contact military attachés of Ukraine’s embassies abroad. “It’s not just a Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s the beginning of a war against Europe. Against the unity of Europe. Against basic human rights in Europe,” he said.

In the town of Vasylkiv 20 miles south of Kyiv, part of a large fuel depot burned through the night after being hit by a Russian airstrike, painting the sky orange, residents said. Ukrainian officials said that fighting with Russian troops attempting to take over Vasylkiv’s strategically important military airfield had hampered firefighters’ efforts. “We are facing an ecological disaster,” the governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksii Kuleba, said in a social-media post.

The U.S. and European governments escalated their economic sanctions against Moscow in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Western governments said they would cut off a number of Russian banks from the Swift network, an international payment system that facilitates cross-border transactions. The U.S., the European Union, the U.K. and Canada also said they would take measures to prevent Russia’s central bank from deploying its foreign reserves to support Russia’s currency and economy.

Meanwhile, international aid for Ukraine’s defense is multiplying, ranging from private financial donations to government pledges to send arms. Germany said it would deliver antitank and Stinger missiles to Ukraine, reversing Berlin’s previous opposition to sending arms.

Germany on Sunday also announced a major shake-up of its defense and security policies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ranging from heavy investments in its military to the creation of strategic energy reserves, showing how Mr. Putin’s war on Ukraine is sending shock waves throughout Europe.

Fierce Ukrainian resistance has so far largely frustrated the massive Russian invasion unleashed by Mr. Putin with the aim of overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government and ending its alignment with the West. Military analysts warn, however, that Russia could resort to more destructive tactics targeting Ukrainian cities with indiscriminate shelling if its troops’ advances continue to be beaten back.

A rapid Russian victory in the biggest war in Europe for decades would drastically change the geopolitical balance on the continent, giving Mr. Putin control of strategically vital swaths of the former Soviet Union’s territory and placing Russia’s armies on the doorstep of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

European and U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that Mr. Putin’s broader goal of revising the ending of the Cold War, restoring Moscow’s former sphere of influence in Europe’s east, won’t stop at Ukraine, a fear that could force a rethink of NATO’s military stance and Europe’s energy supplies, which depend in large part on Russia.

Mr. Zelensky has constantly reinforced that message, saying that Ukrainians are fighting and dying not just for their own country but for all of Europe.

If Ukrainian resistance leads to a long and bloody war—or forces Mr. Putin to seek to end the fighting without achieving his goals—the setback could threaten both his hold on power in Moscow and his drive to restore Russia as a global power.

Mr. Zelensky, in an address on Saturday, said Russia has failed in its quest to quickly replace him with a puppet regime and that Ukrainian soldiers were holding the line throughout the country. He called on Ukrainians abroad and foreign volunteers to join the fight. “Everyone who can, come back to defend Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said. “All the friends of Ukraine who want to come join us, come here too—we will give you weapons.”

Ukrainian civilians fleeing westward have been stuck in long lines of cars near the border with Poland. Many people have abandoned their vehicles and walked to the border for many hours in chilly weather, carrying children and a few belongings.

On Saturday, before the curfew kicked in, the biggest lines in the Ukrainian capital were at the recruitment centers for the Territorial Defense force that was accepting all volunteers. At one sports facility converted for this purpose, several hundred volunteers, commanded by career military officers, loaded crates of ammunition into civilian vehicles and sped off to their positions.

Outside, hundreds more aspiring recruits, including women, patiently waited their turn in a line that snaked around the building. “I never expected so many would turn up. The whole city has risen up now,” one of the officers at the site said. “A bit too late, but better late than never.”

Concerned about Russian infiltrators and spies, members of the Territorial Defense didn’t allow photography and didn’t provide their names. The volunteers said they had no choice but to fight now that Russian forces were on Kyiv’s doorstep.

“A Russian rocket hit a building near my home this morning. This was the last straw for me, and now it’s time to take up arms. Everyone in this city who wanted to escape has already fled,” said one of the new recruits, a 35-year-old IT specialist.

“There is nowhere to run and no point in hiding. We just have to repel the invaders and send them back where they came from,” said another, a human-resources specialist.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that Washington would provide up to $350 million in additional military aid to Ukraine, including “lethal defensive assistance” to help Kyiv resist Russian armored and airborne forces.

The weapons Washington intends to provide to Ukraine include Javelin antitank weapons, Stinger antiaircraft missiles, small arms and ammunition, U.S. officials said. The U.S. has previously sent Javelins among other battlefield systems. In January, the U.S. also gave approval for Latvia and Lithuania to deliver American-made Stinger antiaircraft missiles to Kyiv.

Mr. Biden authorized the fresh delivery of military aid Friday night and approved up to $250 million for overall assistance to Ukraine. A person familiar with the matter said the administration has asked Congress for $6.4 billion in additional funding for Ukraine aid and defense needs.

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