The first talks aimed at stopping the fighting between Ukraine and Russia ended Monday with no agreement except to keep talking, while an increasingly isolated Moscow ran into unexpectedly fierce resistance on the ground and economic havoc at home.
Five days into Russia’s invasion, the Kremlin again raised the specter of nuclear war, while an embattled Ukraine moved to solidify its ties to the West by applying to join the European Union — a largely symbolic move unlikely to sit well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long accused the U.S. of trying to pull Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit.
A top Putin aide and head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said that the talks lasted nearly five hours and that the envoys “found certain points on which common positions could be foreseen.” He said they agreed to continue the discussions in the coming days.
As the talks wrapped up, several blasts could be heard in Kyiv, though few details were immediately known. Russian troops, while attacking on multiple fronts, continued to advance slowly on the capital city of nearly 3 million people.
A 17-mile (25-kilometer) convoy consisting of hundreds of armored vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles was 17 miles (25 kilometers) from the center of Kyiv, according to satellite imagery from the Maxar company.
People in Kyiv lined up for groceries after the end of a weekend curfew, standing beneath a building with a gaping hole blown in its side.
Messages aimed at the advancing Russian soldiers popped up on billboards, bus stops and electronic traffic signs across the capital. Some used profanity to encourage Russians to leave. Others appealed to their humanity.
“Russian soldier — Stop! Remember your family. Go home with a clean conscience,” one read.
Fighting raged in other towns and cities scattered across the country. The strategic port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, is “hanging on,” said Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovich. An oil depot was reported bombed in the eastern city of Sumy.
Video from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, showed residential areas being shelled, with apartment buildings shaken by repeated, powerful blasts. Flashes of fire could be seen along with gray plumes of smoke.
Footage released by the government from Kharkiv depicted what appeared to be a home with water gushing from a pierced ceiling. On the floor lay what looked like an undetonated projectile.
Authorities in Kharkiv said at least seven people had been killed and dozens injured. They warned that casualties could be far higher.
“They wanted to have a blitzkrieg, but it failed, so they act this way,” said 83-year-old Valentin Petrovich, who watched the shelling from his downtown apartment and gave just his first name and his Russian-style middle name out of fear for his safety.
The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas despite abundant evidence of shelling of homes, schools and hospitals
In the resort town of Berdyansk, on the Azov Sea, dozens of protesters chanted angrily in the main square against their Russian occupiers, who captured the town Sunday. They described the soldiers as exhausted young conscripts.
“Frightened kids, frightened looks. They want to eat,” Konstantin Maloletka, who runs a small shop, said by telephone. He said the soldiers went into a supermarket and grabbed canned meat, vodka and cigarettes.
“They ate right in the store,” he said. “It looked like they haven’t been fed in recent days.”
As the invasion dragged on slower than many in the West expected, with the outgunned Ukrainians mounting stiff resistance, the Kremlin reported that its land, air and sea nuclear forces had been put on high alert following Putin’s weekend order. Stepping up his rhetoric, Putin denounced the U.S. and its allies as an “empire of lies.”
For many, the nuclear high alert stirred up memories of the Cold War, and fears that the West could be drawn into direct conflict with Russia. But a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States had yet to see any appreciable change in Russia’s nuclear posture.
As far-reaching Western sanctions on Russian banks and other institutions took hold, the ruble plummeted, and Russia’s Central Bank scrambled to shore it up, as did Putin, signing a decree restricting foreign currency.
But that did little to calm Russian fears. In Moscow, people lined up to withdraw cash as sanctions drove up prices and threatened to reduce the standard of living for millions of ordinary Russians.
In yet another blow to Russia’s economy, the oil giant Shell said it is pulling out of the country because of the invasion, announcing it will withdraw from its joint ventures with state-owned gas company Gazprom and other entities and end its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project between Russia and Europe.
The economic sanctions, ordered by the U.S. and other allies, were just one contributor to Russia’s growing status as a pariah country. Russian airliners are now banned from European airspace, Russian media is restricted in some countries, and some high-tech products can no longer be exported to the country. On Monday, in a major blow to a soccer-mad nation, Russian teams were suspended from all international soccer.
Across Ukraine, meanwhile, terrified families huddled overnight in shelters, basements or corridors.
“I sit and pray for these negotiations to end successfully, so that they reach an agreement to end the slaughter,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, weeping as she clutched her cat in a makeshift shelter in Mariupol. Around her, parents tried to console children and keep them warm.
The U.N. human rights chief said at least 102 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded in more than four days of fighting — warning that figure is probably a vast undercount — and Ukraine’s president said at least 16 children were among the dead.
More than a half-million people have fled the country since the invasion, another U.N. official said, many of them going to Poland, Romania and Hungary.
Among the refugees in Hungary was Maria Pavlushko, 24, an information technology project manager from a city west of Kyiv. She said her father stayed behind to fight the Russians.
“I am proud about him,” she said, adding that many of her friends were planning to fight too.
In Poland, Natalia Pivniuk, a young Ukrainian refugee from the western city of Lviv, described people crowding and pushing to get on the train out of Ukraine, which she said was “very scary and dangerous physically.”
“People are under stress … and when people are scared they become egoist and forget about everything,” she said.
The negotiators at Monday’s talks met at a long table with the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag on one side and the Russian tricolor on the other.
But while Ukraine sent its defense minister and other top officials, the Russian delegation was led by Putin’s adviser on culture — an unlikely envoy for ending a war and perhaps a sign of how seriously Moscow took the talks.
It wasn’t immediately clear what Putin is seeking in the talks, or from the war itself, though Western officials believe he wants to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
Also, the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly opened its first emergency session in decades, with Assembly President Abdulla Shahid calling for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and “a full return to diplomacy and dialogue.”
In a war being waged both on the ground and online, cyberattacks hit Ukrainian embassies around the world, and Russian media.
At this stage, Ukraine is many years away from reaching the standards for achieving EU membership. Any addition to the 27-nation bloc must be approved unanimously by its members, and Ukraine’s deep-seated corruption could make it hard for the country to win acceptance.
Still, in an interview with Euronews on Sunday, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said: “We want them in the European Union.”