The invasion has entered its fifth day, when Ukraine and Russia begin peace talks in Belarus. It is unclear what these negotiations will give.
KIU, Ukraine – Overwhelming but determined Ukrainian troops have slowed Russia’s advance and retained the capital and other key cities – at least for now. Amid fierce resistance and devastating sanctions, President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be on high alert, threatening to raise the war to a new monstrous level.
The bombings and shootings that have disrupted life since the invasion began last week seemed to have subsided in Kyiv overnight as Ukrainian and Russian delegations prepared to meet Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus. It is unclear what, if anything, will give these talks.
Frightened Ukrainian families huddled in shelters, basements or corridors, waiting to find out. The exact death toll is unclear, but the Ukrainian president says at least 16 children have been killed and another 45 injured, among hundreds, possibly thousands, of other victims. Millions fled home and the country together.
On Monday, Russia’s central bank tried to support the ruble, and the United States and European countries increased arms supplies to Ukraine. While they hope to curb Putin’s aggression after he unleashed Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II, the measures also run the risk of pushing Putin, who is increasingly cornered closer to the edge.
“I sit and pray that these talks end successfully, that they reach an agreement to end the massacre, and that there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, crying, squeezing her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeast. Ukrainian city of Mariupol Around her parents sought to comfort children and warm them.
The relative military lull on Monday morning in Ukraine is unlikely to continue.
Neighboring Belarus can send troops to help Russia as early as Monday, according to a senior US intelligence official who is directly acquainted with current US intelligence estimates. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, as he had no right to speak in public.
U.S. officials say they believe the invasion was more complex and slower than the Kremlin had suggested, though that could change as Moscow adapts. The UK Ministry of Defense said on Monday that the bulk of Putin’s forces are about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kiev, their advance has been slowed by Ukrainian forces.
Western countries have stepped up pressure by freezing Russia’s foreign exchange reserves, threatening to bring the Russian economy to its knees. The Russians were withdrawing their savings and trying to dump rubles into dollars and euros, while Russian companies were trying to protect their finances.
In addition to sanctions, the United States and Germany have announced that they will send Stinger missiles to Ukraine among other military supplies. The European Union – founded to bring peace to the continent since World War II – is delivering deadly aid, including fighter jets, for the first time.
EU defense ministers were due to meet on Monday to discuss how to deliver collateral to Ukraine. Germany’s defense minister said without specifying that her country had “channels and opportunities” for this, and a train of Czech equipment arrived on Sunday. Blocking these supplies will obviously be one of Russia’s key priorities.
It remains to be seen to what extent these weapons will help Ukraine fight off Russia’s much larger arsenal.
Putin, who is increasingly adamant, has shown a clear link between the ever-increasing sanctions and his decision on Sunday to boost Russia’s nuclear position. He also pointed to NATO’s “aggressive statements” as the reason for his move, citing his long-held position that the US-led alliance is an existential threat to Russia.
U.S. and British officials downplayed Putin’s nuclear threat, and its practical significance was not immediately clear. Russia and the United States usually have ground and submarine nuclear forces that are always ready to fight, but bombers and other aircraft capable of nuclear weapons do not.
A point of hope emerged when the Ukrainian delegation arrived at the border with Belarus on Monday to hold talks with Russian officials. The office of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said they would demand an immediate ceasefire.
While Ukraine has sent its defense minister and other senior officials, the Russian delegation is headed by Putin’s cultural adviser, an unlikely envoy to end the war and a sign of Moscow’s view of the talks. It was not immediately clear what Putin was seeking in the talks or from the war itself.
Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, reviving Moscow’s Cold War influence. His comments on Sunday raised fears that an invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war – knowingly or unknowingly.
In New York, the 193-member UN General Assembly has scheduled an emergency session on Monday to mark Russia’s invasion.
When the Ukrainian capital was under siege, the Russian military offered to allow residents to leave Kyiv through a safe corridor, raising fears that a further offensive awaited us. Earlier, the mayor of the 3 million city expressed doubts that the civilian population could be evacuated. Authorities are distributing weapons to anyone who wants to defend the city. Ukraine also releases prisoners of war with military experience who want to fight, and trains people to make bombs.
Fighting also began in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and strategic ports in the south were attacked by Russian troops. Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, is “hanging”, said Zelensky’s adviser Alexei Orastovich.
The Russian military said Monday that it had taken full control of Ukraine’s airspace after showering its air bases and air defense batteries with air and missile strikes. But a similar statement on the first day of the invasion proved untrue, and U.S. officials said Sunday that Moscow had failed to fully control Ukraine’s skies.
In Mariupol, where Ukrainians were trying to fend off an attack, a team of medics at a city hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old girl in pajamas with a unicorn who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling.
While trying to save the doctor in blue medical scrubs, pumping the girl with oxygen, looked directly at the Associated Press video camera, which recorded the scene.
“Show it to Putin,” he said angrily. “This child’s eyes and the doctors’ cries.”
Their resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful, and the girl lay dead on a wheelchair, covered in a blood-spattered jacket.
Nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) Faina Bystritskaya was threatened in Chernihiv.
“I wish I had never lived to see that,” said Bystritskaya, an 87-year-old Jew who survived World War II. She said that in the city, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Kiev, sirens sound almost constantly.
Among the Western sanctions is the freezing of Russia’s hard currency reserves, which Putin has accumulated in recent years to increase the country’s economic independence. An unprecedented move could have devastating consequences for the country’s financial system.
The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have also agreed to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which makes it easier for thousands of banks and other financial institutions around the world to move money.
Isachenkov and Litvinov reported from Moscow. Ellen Nickmeyer, Eric Tucker, Robert Burns and Hope Ian in Washington; James Laporta in Miami; Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Mstislav Chernov and Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.