Moscow’s advance on Ukraine’s capital has apparently stalled over the past few days, with a huge armoured column north of Kyiv at a standstill, but the military has made significant gains in the south as part of an effort to sever the country’s connection to the Black and Azov seas.
The Russian military said it had control of Kherson, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.
Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea, plunging it into darkness, isolation and fear. Electricity and phone service were largely down, and homes and shops faced food and water shortages.
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Without phone connections, medics did not know where to take the wounded.
A second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations began in neighbouring Belarus, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office.
But the two sides appeared to have little common ground going into the meeting, and Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its “demilitarisation” and declare itself neutral, formally renouncing its bid to join Nato.
Mr Putin has long contended that Ukraine’s turn toward the West is a threat to Moscow, an argument he used to justify the invasion.
Despite a profusion of evidence of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure by the Russian military, some of it documented by The Associated Press, Mr Putin also called accusations that his military had attacked residential areas part of “an anti-Russian disinformation campaign” and insisted that Russia uses “only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure”.
Ukrainians still in the country faced another grim day. In Kyiv, snow gave way to a cold, grey drizzle, as long lines formed outside the few pharmacies and bakeries that remain open. New shelling was reported in the northern city of Chernihiv, where the mayor said he was struggling to organise safe passage for civilians.
Families with children fled via muddy and snowy roads in the eastern region of Donetsk, while military strikes on the village of Yakovlivka near the eastern city of Kharkiv destroyed 30 homes, leaving three dead and seven injured, and rescuers pulled 10 people from the ruins, according to emergency authorities.
Ukrainian authorities called on the people to wage guerrilla warfare against Mr Putin’s forces by cutting down trees, erecting barricades in the cities and attacking enemy columns from the rear.
“Total resistance. … This is our Ukrainian trump card and this is what we can do best in the world,” Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovich said in a video message, recalling guerrilla actions in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War.