Talks between Kyiv and Moscow ended without a breakthrough as Russian troops moved closer to the Ukrainian capital and other major cities in the face of deepening international isolation following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by the Kremlin last week.
Reports that Russian artillery on February 28 had residential neighborhoods bombed of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, dampened much of the optimism over an agreement between the two sides to hold a second round of talks in the coming days.
Five days after Russia invaded its neighbor, the Ukrainian side came to the meeting demanding an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.
But after nearly five hours of talks, Vladimir Medinsky, the head of the Russian delegation, said the two sides “agreed to continue negotiations”, adding that the new meeting will take place on the Polish-Belarusian border.
WATCH: Witnesses say a rocket blast set fire to a building in the early morning hours of February 28 in the northern Ukrainian town of Chernihiv, near the border with Belarus.
The meeting came as European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russia’s military campaign is “getting more and more ruthless”.
Satellite images from the Maxar company appeared to show a 25-kilometer convoy of hundreds of Russian armored vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles just 25 kilometers from central Kiev.
Borrell told reporters that Ukraine’s armed forces were fighting back bravely, but said there were many civilian casualties and “the flow of people seeking shelter, fleeing war, is increasing.”
In this situation, our support for the Ukrainian armed forces is crucial,” Borrell told a press conference in Brussels after a meeting of EU defense ministers, who discussed providing hundreds of millions of dollars. military aid to Ukraine.
In a new address on February 28, Zelenskiy appealed to invading Russian soldiers to lay down their arms.
“Drop your equipment. Get out of here. Don’t believe your commanders. Don’t believe your propagandists. Just save your lives,” Zelenskiy said in his speech, adding that more than 4,500 Russian soldiers had already lost their lives of the war. The Kremlin assault.
There have been no confirmed independent casualty figures. The Russian army admitted on February 27 for the first time that some of its soldiers had been “killed and wounded”, but gave no figures or further details.
Zelensky too asked the European Union to immediately accept Ukraine into the bloc, a proposal which has found a mixed following – with countries including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia calling that Ukraine is an immediate candidate for EU status.
However, several EU officials have played down the likelihood of a quick entry into the 27-nation bloc for a number of reasons, including the fact that no fast-track procedure exists.
As Moscow faced the impact of harsher Western economic sanctions following its unprovoked invasion, there were reports of heavy Russian bombardment of the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.
Anton Herashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said dozens of people were killed in rocket attacks by Russian forces on Kharkiv on February 28.
“Kharkiv has just been massively fired upon by graduates (rockets). Dozens dead and hundreds wounded,” he added. said in a post on Facebook which showed a series of explosions in the city.
Elsewhere, witnesses said a rocket blast set fire to a building in the early morning hours of February 28 in the northern Ukrainian town of Chernihiv, near the border with Belarus. Residents blamed the Russian military for the attack.
As fighting on the ground intensifies, Western allies have stepped up efforts to punish Russia by closing airspace to Russian aircraft, barring some banks from the SWIFT financial network and limiting Moscow’s ability to deploy its 630 trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves, all expected measures. to hammer the economy.
February 28, Washington adopted new measuressaying he would start blocking Americans from executing any trades with Russia’s central bank, which has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20% as it scrambles to access currency with the ruble falling free.
The new sanctions also ban dealings with Russia’s finance ministry and national wealth fund, a US official says, while the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a key Russian sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund. , its management company and its managing director, Kirill Dmitriev, considered a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
To maintain diplomatic pressure, US President Joe Biden hosted a call with allies and partners on February 28 to further coordinate a united response, the White House said.
In Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was using its legal right to enforce the Montreux Convention, preventing warships from crossing key Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and entering the Black Sea . He said he hoped the move would prevent the situation from getting any worse.
Ukrainians volunteered in large numbers to defend their country, taking weapons distributed by the authorities and preparing firebombs.
Pentagon officials said Russian troops were being held back by Ukrainian resistance, fuel shortages and other logistical problems, and that Ukraine’s air defense systems, though weakened, were still functioning.
After another night of air attacks by Russian artillery and missiles, a strict 39-hour curfew that had kept people out of the streets of Kiev was lifted on February 28, giving residents the chance to going to stores to buy food.
Residents of the Ukrainian capital hid in houses, underground garages and metro stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault.
Zelenskiy’s office said that during the peace talks, which were due to begin at noon local time, Kyiv would press for “an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from Ukraine.”
The number of Ukrainians fleeing Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War II has risen to 422,000, mostly women and children, the head of the UN refugee agency said on February 28.