Russia shells Kyiv as eastern European leaders plan visit

Russia fired on residential neighborhoods of Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday as the leaders of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia prepared to visit the war-torn Ukrainian capital in what they called a show of European solidarity.

The trip by the three Nato heads of government is the most high-profile visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia unleashed its war on February 24. Czech prime minister Petr Fiala said the group was traveling as representatives of the European Council and planned to hold talks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

News of the visit came after authorities in Rivne, a western Ukrainian city, said 19 people were killed in a Russian air strike on a TV tower. Russian forces also shelled an apartment block in the Svyatoshinsky neighborhood of Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday, killing at least two people, according to Ukrainian emergency services.

A Russian cruise missile landed in front of a 10-story residential building in Kyiv’s Podil district after being intercepted by a Ukrainian air defense system, a member of Ukraine’s civilian territorial defense forces told a Financial Times reporter at the scene. The explosion shattered windows and damaged balconies, but police said no one was killed or seriously injured.

An update by the Ukrainian general staff said Russia “continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on critical infrastructure” in several cities across Ukraine and in particular was still trying to capture Mariupol, which is completely encircled by Russian forces. Ukrainian military claims could not be independently verified.

The attacks came on the 20th day of a war that has laid waste to Ukrainian cities and triggered a wave of international sanctions that has left Russia’s economy more isolated than at any time since the end of the cold war.

Aid groups have repeatedly warned of the dire conditions in Mariupol, which has been subjected to relentless Russian shelling for more than two weeks. Thousands of people in the besieged city have been forced to live in bomb shelters, deprived of heating, electricity and running water.

Ukrainian authorities said they would undertake a fresh attempt to deliver humanitarian supplies to civilians trapped in Mariupol. A convoy would try to break through on Tuesday and, on the way back, try to take women and children out, said Iryna Vereshchuk, minister for reintegration.

On Monday, 160 cars left the city in one of the first successful attempts to evacuate civilians from the port since hostilities began.

Zelensky said peace talks with Russia, which ended on Monday without a breakthrough, would continue on Tuesday.

In an address published on Facebook, Zelensky expressed gratitude to Russian civilians who had taken a stance against the war, which has forced 2.8m people to flee Ukraine and left thousands dead.

The Ukrainian president offered his personal thanks to an employee of a state-owned news channel in Moscow who interrupted a live broadcast on Monday night to declare her opposition to the Kremlin’s invasion.

Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, shouted “Stop the war. No to war ”and held a sign that read:“ Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here. ”

Marina Ovsyannikova stages a protest behind the newsreader on Russia's main state television evening broadcast

Marina Ovsyannikova stages a protest behind the newsreader on Russia’s main state television evening broadcast © AFP / Getty

News media in Russia are prohibited from depicting the war in neighboring Ukraine as anything other than a “special military operation” – the term used by the Kremlin to describe the invasion.

Lawyers for Ovsyannikova told Russian media they could not find her. Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights group Agora, said she would likely be charged with a misdemeanour and face a fine of up to Rbs60,000 ($ 538).

A former senior Kremlin official, Arkady Dvorkovich, also joined the condemnations. Dvorkovich, the head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and who served as Russian deputy prime minister from 2012-18, told the US magazine Mother Jones: “My thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians.”

He added: “Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections. ”

The Russian protests came amid heightened tensions between the US and China over Beijing’s stance on the conflict, which has upended the postwar order in Europe and sparked the biggest crisis between Russia and the west since the cold war.

Washington told allies that China had signalled its willingness to provide military assistance to Moscow, including surface-to-air missiles, according to officials familiar with American diplomatic cables on the exchange. Beijing and Moscow have denied the claim that Russia had requested military assistance from China.

A series of strict sanctions rolled out by the US and its allies have hit equity markets around the world and sent the cost of some commodities, such as oil and wheat, soaring.

Chinese equities have been hit particularly hard. Hong Kong-listed Chinese stocks on Monday fell by most since 2008 on the threat of increased tensions between Beijing and the west, as well as the expected negative impact of a Covid-19 outbreak on China’s economy.

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