Russia's military forces blasted Ukraine's capital region and other major cities Wednesday as they tried to crush a Ukrainian defence that has frustrated their progress nearly three weeks after invading.
With Russia's ground advance on Kyiv stalled despite the sustained bombardment, a glimmer of optimism emerged that talks between the two sides could make progress. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said negotiations would continue and Russia's demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic.”
Russia rained shells on areas around Kyiv and within the city, where a 12-story apartment building erupted in flames after being hit by shrapnel.
Zelenskyy said Russian forces had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory but had continued their heavy shelling of cities. British and U.S. intelligence assessments supported the Ukrainian leader's view of the fighting.
“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “Any war ends with an agreement.” A senior US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon's assessment, said the Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but that their ground forces were making little to no progress around the country. The official said Russian troops were still about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the center of the capital.
Zelenskyy was preparing to make a direct appeal for more help Wednesday in a rare speech by a foreign leader to the US Congress. Meanwhile, defence ministers from NATO member nations planned to meet in Brussels on Wednesday.
Developments on the diplomatic front and on the ground occurred as the number of people fleeing Ukraine amid Europe's heaviest fighting since World War II passed 3 million.
The artillery shrapnel that hit the 12-story apartment building in central Kyiv on Wednesday obliterated the top floor and ignited a fire that sent plumes of smoke over the area, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency.
The neighboring building was also damaged. The agency reported two victims, without saying if they were injured or killed.
Russian forces have intensified fighting in the Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the northwest and the highway leading west toward Zhytomyr, regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said.
Twelve towns around Kyiv were reported to be without water and six without heat. Across the capital region, “kindergartens, museums, churches, residential blocks and engineering infrastructure are suffering from the endless firing,” Kuleba said.
He said Russian troops were trying to cut off transportation links to the capital and to destroy logistical capabilities while planning a wide-ranging attack to seize the capital.
Russian forces succeeded in occupying the city of Ivankiv, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Kyiv, and control the surrounding region on the border with Belarus, Kuleba said.
In addition to airstrikes and shelling by ground forces, Russian naval ships fired overnight on a town south of Mariupol on the Azov Sea and another near Odesa on the Black Sea, according to local officials.
Ukraine also appeared to have successes, with satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showing helicopters and vehicles ablaze at the Russian-held Kherson International Airport and Air Base after a suspected Ukrainian strike on Tuesday.
Zelenskyy's office said Ukrainian forces thwarted Russian efforts to enter Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which was pounded by almost non-stop strikes over the last 24 hours. A powerful explosion thundered across the city overnight.
Hospital workers found themselves on two frontlines, battling COVID-19 in intensive care units as war rages outside. Air raid sirens go off multiple times daily, forcing fragile patients into the the Kharkiv Regional Clinical Infectious Diseases Hospital's makeshift bomb shelter, the hospital's director, Dr Pavel Nartov, said.
Handling ICU patients on ventilators is difficult and dangerous given the dangers of exposing oxygen tanks to bombings and shrapnel, he said.
“Bombing takes place from morning into night. Thank god a bomb has not yet hit our hospital. But it could hit at any time,” Nartov told The Associated Press.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed Russian forces have destroyed 111 Ukrainian aircraft, 160 drones and more than 1,000 tanks or other military vehicles since the start of what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The Russian military's daily public statements on the war focus almost exclusively on fighting in the separatist-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and on Ukrainian military targets, without acknowledging attacks on civilians.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk expressed dismay Wednesday at reports that Russian forces took 400 medics and civilian residents hostage Tuesday at a hospital in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, which the war already had produced some of the greatest suffering.
The Russians are using the hospital as a firing position, Vereshchuk said. She said Russian forces have fired on humanitarian convoys and gathering points for evacuees, complicating work to open aid and evacuation convoys Wednesday after thousands managed to leave Mariupol on Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials gave varying figures on how many people were successfully evacuated from Mariupol so far and how many made it to Zaporizhzhia, a city 227 kilometers (141 miles) west designated as the end of the evacuation route.
Regional leader Pavlo Kyrylenko said Tuesday tht Russian troops forced about 400 people from nearby homes into the Regional Intensive Care Hospital and were using them and roughly 100 patients and staff as human shields by not allowing them to leave.
Kyrylenko said shelling had already heavily damaged the hospital's main building, but medical staff have treated patients in makeshift wards in the basement.
Doctors from other Mariupol hospitals made a video to tell the world about the horrors they've been seeing. “We don't want to be heroes and martyrs posthumously,” one woman said. She also said it was insufficient to refer to the patients being treated as wounded: “It's torn off arms and legs, gouged out eyes, bodies torn into fragments, insides falling out.”
A Russian state television employee who was arrested after interrupting a live news program by protesting the war in Ukraine was fined about about $270, but still could face a prison sentence.
“These were very difficult days of my life because I literally went two full days without sleep, the interrogation lasted for more than 14 hours and they didn't allow me to contact my family and close friends, didn't provide any legal support,” Marina Ovsyannikova said after she was released.
Ovsyannikova, an employee of Channel 1, walked into the studio during Monday's evening news show with a poster saying “stop the war, don't believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” In English, it said “no war” at the top of the poster and “Russians against the war” at the bottom.
Two journalists working for Fox News were killed in a vehicle hit by fire Monday on the outskirts of Kyiv. Fox identified them as video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was helping Fox crews navigate the area. Another journalist was killed Sunday in Ukraine.