By Steve Herman
Ukrainian officials say Russian troops fired artillery on suburbs of the capital, Kyiv, Monday, as Russian and Ukrainian delegations held a fourth round of talks without signs of a breakthrough.
The talks, which are taking place by video link rather than in neighboring Belarus as in the past, paused for the day, but are set to resume on Tuesday.
Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted after the talks, “Communication is being held yet it’s hard.” He had raised hope of progress on Sunday by saying that Russia had been “listening carefully to our proposals” and was beginning to talk “constructively.”
Officials in Kyiv say at least one person was killed when a shell hit a nine-story residential building in a northern district of the city early Monday. They say Russian forces also struck an airplane factory in the capital, sparking a large fire.
The violence comes a day after Russia launched a lethal cruise missile attack on a western Ukraine military base just 25 kilometers from NATO-member Poland. At least 35 people were killed and 134 wounded in the attack on the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security.
A senior U.S. defense official said Monday that “almost all of Russia’s advances remain stalled” inside Ukraine. That includes Russian advance forces outside of Kyiv, which are about 15km from the city center, and a convoy of Russian troops around the city, according to the latest U.S. assessment.
In a rare positive development Monday, Ukrainian officials in the southern city of Mariupol said a convoy of civilian cars was able to leave the besieged city through a humanitarian corridor after many previous attempts to evacuate civilians collapsed. Officials said 160 cars left in the first two hours the corridor was open.
Ukrainian officials say as many as 2,500 civilians have died in the Mariupol since Russia began its attacks on the southern port city. The figure could not be independently confirmed.
Fox News reported one its journalists, Benjamin Hall, was seriously injured Monday while reporting outside of Kyiv. The development comes one day after an American journalist was killed while reporting on the war. Brent Renaud, an award-winning filmmaker and reporter, died in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv, according to officials.
Washington has dismissed Kyiv’s appeals for a no-fly zone over the country and rejected a Polish proposal to send their Russian-made jets to a U.S. airbase in Germany to be sent to Ukraine. On Saturday, President Joe Biden authorized up to $200 million worth of American assistance in the form of military education and training for the Ukrainian army.
Four U.S. senators visited Poland over the weekend to speak to Ukrainian refugees. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said Congress is looking at more ways to boost Ukraine’s defenses.
“We’re not going to give (Russian President) Vladimir Putin a road map of how that can be done,” she told VOA in Warsaw. “There are many ways — whether it is more drones, whether it is other weapons — that we can help, and clearly we are all committed to doing that. We must do more.”
Members of the delegation also told VOA they were concerned about the humanitarian crisis the invasion has unleashed.
“It’s heartbreaking, to see what’s happening,” said Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who is retiring this year. “We had a chance to visit with refugees coming over the border and heard their stories of bombings and their homes being destroyed, families split up. Mostly it was kids and moms, sometimes grandmothers with grandchildren. And what they said to us was just, ‘help us to be able to defend our skies.’ And so one of the things that we are pushing hard on — and I’ve had a chance to talk to the administration while I’m over here — is to say we need to do everything that’s feasible and practical as quickly as possible to give the Ukrainian people the ability to defend themselves.”
Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi told VOA he was “angry” over Russia’s demands to hold on to its gains.
“I really reject any of this talk about a settlement whereby Ukraine would retain part of their territory and Russia would get to keep some of the conquered area,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the decision by NATO countries not to initiate a no-fly zone over Ukraine is based on an “analysis that I think we need to be prudent, even if I understand the dramatic appeal of the Ukrainian government.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a nighttime address that Sunday was a “black day” for the country because of the deadly attack on the military base. He said he had given a “clear warning” to Western leaders about the likelihood of an attack at the base where NATO units train with Ukrainian troops.
“This does not come as a surprise to the American intelligence and national security community,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a Sunday appearance on CNN. “What it shows is that Vladimir Putin is frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought that they would make.”
Monday in Rome with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi.
The talks included a “substantial discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” according to the White House, and “also underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.”
Media reports emerged Sunday that Moscow has requested military and economic assistance from China for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Earlier, the White House warned China of severe “consequences” if it helps Russia avoid sanctions.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday that the United States is watching very closely the extent to which China or any other country provides any form of support to Russia, saying it would be of great concern.
Sullivan on Sunday also responded to growing concern that Russia would use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
“We can’t predict a time and place,” he said on CBS, noting an escalation of rhetoric from Moscow falsely accusing the United States and Ukraine of developing chemical or biological weapons to use against Russian troops.
Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman said the Russians used a phosphorus munition in an overnight attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Popasna in the Luhansk region. VOA was not immediately able to verify the claim. While phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon, its use against human beings is banned under international law.
In recent days, satellite imagery and media reporters have indicated Russian armored units are poised to relaunch a major offensive to attempt to take Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, after a lull.
Eastern European chief Myroslava Gongadze, White House correspondent Anita Powell, Senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine, National security correspondent Jeff Seldin, U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer and State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching contributed to this report.