Russian forces bombarded areas around Kyiv and another city just hours after pledging to scale back operations in those zones to promote trust between the two sides, Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday.
The shelling — and intensified Russian attacks on other parts of the country — tempered optimism about any progress in the talks aimed at ending the punishing war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he stressed in a conversation with U.S. President Joe Biden that the war is at a “turning point” and renewed his longstanding request for more help to resist the Russian invasion.
“If we really are fighting for freedom and in defense of democracy together, then we have a right to demand help in this difficult turning point. Tanks, aircraft, artillery systems. Freedom should be armed no worse than tyranny,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation, which he delivered standing in the dark outside the dimly lit presidential offices in Kyiv. He thanked the U.S. for an additional $500 million in aid that was announced Wednesday.
Meanwhile, talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume Friday by video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia. But there seemed to be little faith that a resolution would emerge anytime soon. The Russian military reneged on its pledge Tuesday to de-escalate near the capital and the northern city of Chernihiv in order to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”
The announcement was met with deep suspicion from Zelenskyy and the West. And soon after, Ukrainian officials reported that Russian shelling hit homes, stores, libraries and other civilian sites in and around Chernihiv and on the outskirts of Kyiv. Russian troops also stepped up their attacks on the Donbas region in the east and around the city of Izyum, which lies on a key route to the Donbas, after redeploying units from other areas, the Ukrainian side said.
Olexander Lomako, secretary of the Chernihiv city council, said the Russian announcement turned out to be “a complete lie.”
“At night they didn’t decrease, but vice versa increased the intensity of military action,” Lomako said.
Five weeks into the invasion that has left thousands dead on both sides, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country topped a staggering 4 million, half of them children, according to the United Nations.
“I do not know if we can still believe the Russians,” Nikolay Nazarov, a refugee from Ukraine, said as he pushed his father’s wheelchair at a border crossing into Poland. “I think more escalation will occur in eastern Ukraine. That is why we cannot go back to Kharkiv.”
Zelenskyy said the continuing negotiations with Russia were only “words without specifics.”
“We know that this is not a withdrawal but the consequences of being driven out,” Zelenskyy said of Russia’s pledge. “But we also are seeing that Russia is now concentrating its forces for new strikes on Donbas, and we are preparing for this.”
Zelenskyy also said he had recalled Ukraine’s ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco, suggesting they had not done enough to persuade those countries to support Ukraine and punish Russia for the invasion.
“With all due respect, if there won’t be weapons, won’t be sanctions, won’t be restrictions for Russian business, then please look for other work,” he said.