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Deadly strikes rock Ukraine despite talks with Russia

Dave Clark, Dmitry Zaks - Agence France-Presse
Deadly strikes rock Ukraine despite talks with Russia
This video grab from a handout footage taken and released by the the National Police of Ukraine on March 9, 2022, shows damaged buildings of a children's hospital, destroyed cars and debris on ground following a Russian air strike in the southeastern city of Mariupol. International leaders and Ukraine accused Russia of a "barbaric" attack on the hospital, as civilians continued to bear the brunt of the conflict two weeks into Moscow's invasion.
Handout / National Police of Ukraine / AFP

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia unleashed a barrage of air strikes Monday on cities across Ukraine as the warring sides traded blame for a deadly attack in a pro-Moscow separatist region — but made little headway in ceasefire talks.

With Russian forces threatening to take "full control" of several major cities, the fourth round of talks failed to deliver a breakthrough on the 19th day of the invasion, with negotiations to resume on Tuesday.

On the international front, high-ranking US and Chinese officials met for a marathon seven hours of talks, as the United States raised the alarm about a possible Chinese "alignment" with Russia — which the West wants to isolate over the invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbour.

The talks, which follow reports Moscow asked Beijing for military and economic assistance as its troops struggle to make ground in Ukraine, were described by a senior US official as "very candid" — diplomatic code for a feisty exchange.

The United Nations estimates almost 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine since President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale land and air assault on February 24. It has recorded more than 600 civilian deaths, including dozens of children, though the true toll could be far higher.

Putin's effort to control the narrative over the deadly conflict suffered a blow Monday when a dissenting employee entered the studio during Russia's most-watched evening news broadcast, holding up a poster saying "Stop the war. Don't believe the propaganda."

An opposition protest monitor says the woman, an editor at the tightly-controlled state broadcaster Channel One, was detained following the highly unusual breach of security.

And on the opposing side of the information war, congressional leaders in Washington announced that Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky would deliver a high-profile virtual address to both chambers on Wednesday — as US lawmakers seek to ratchet up pressure on the White House to take a tougher line over Russia's invasion.

Shelling in Kyiv

In the Ukrainian capital — now hemmed in on two sides and drained of more than half its three million residents — the latest Russian air strikes killed at least two people.

"They say that he is too severely burned, that I won't recognise him," sobbed Lidiya Tikhovska, 83, staring at the spot where a paramedic said the remains of her son Vitaliy lay. 

"I wish Russia the same grief I feel now," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks as she clung to her grandson's elbow for support.

A correspondent for Fox News — Britain's Benjamin Hall — was injured and hospitalized while reporting on the city outskirts, the network said, a day after a US journalist was shot dead in Irpin, a frontline Kyiv suburb.

As Russian forces shelled Kyiv, Moscow-backed separatists said fragments from a shot-down Ukrainian Tochka-U missile ripped through the centre of the eastern city of Donetsk, killing 23 people. Moscow called it a "war crime" and rebels published images of bloody corpses strewn in the street. 

But Ukraine's army denied firing a missile at the city, with Ukrainian army spokesman Leonid Matyukhin saying in a statement: "It is unmistakably a Russian rocket or another munition."

In neighbouring Lugansk region, meanwhile, Ukrainian commander Sergiy Gaiday said the whole Ukrainian-held zone was being bombarded, including "homes, hospitals, schools, water, gas and electricity networks" as well as trains evacuating civilians.

At the other end of the country, in a village outside the western city of Rivne, local authorities said nine people died and another nine were injured when Russian forces hit a television tower.

Under siege

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm once again on the dangers of a possible showdown between atomic powers — a prospect "once unthinkable" but "now back within the realm of possibility."

And he warned the war already risked triggering a "meltdown of the global food system" — with both Ukraine and Russia vital suppliers of wheat to dozens of the world's least developed countries.

During its videoconference talks with Russian representatives, Ukraine said it was demanding "peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Putin had ordered his forces "to hold back on any immediate assault on large cities because the civilian losses would be large". 

However he said Russia's defence ministry "does not rule out the possibility of putting large cities, which are already almost fully encircled, under its full control".

Russia's forces had earlier focused on eastern and southern areas of Ukraine — home to more ethnic Russians — but in recent days have moved to the country's centre.

But Russian troops have kept up their siege of southern Mariupol, where officials said nearly 2,200 people have been killed.

In a glimmer of hope for residents of the besieged port city, more than 160 civilian cars were able to leave along a humanitarian evacuation route Monday after several failed attempts.

In Kyiv only roads to the south remain open, according to the Ukrainian presidency. City authorities have set up checkpoints, and residents are stockpiling food and medicine.

The northwestern suburb of Bucha is held by Russian forces, along with parts of Irpin, Ukrainian soldiers told AFP, although the Russians are encountering resistance east and west of the capital according to AFP journalists on the scene.

'World War III'

Ukraine's leader Zelensky on Monday renewed his call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over his country — a day after at least 35 people were killed in Russian air strikes near the border with NATO member Poland.

"If you do not close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory, on NATO territory, on the homes of NATO citizens," Zelensky warned in a video address.

President Joe Biden and America's NATO allies so far have consistently refused, arguing that any attempt to establish a no-fly zone would place them in direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

Instead, Washington and its EU allies have poured funds and military aid into Ukraine and imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia.

In Biden's words: NATO fighting Russia "is World War III".

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 30, 2022 - 3:01pm

President Vladimir Putin says he hopes that Moscow and the West could find a solution to the raging security crisis over Ukraine, but also accused Washington of using Kyiv as a "tool" against Russia.

"I hope that in the end we will find a solution, although it will not be simple," Putin says, indicating he was ready for more talks with the West, which has accused Moscow of massing more than 100,000 troops on the border and plotting to invade Ukraine.

"It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine... but its main task is to contain Russia's development," Putin says. — AFP

June 30, 2022 - 3:01pm

A ship carrying 7,000 tonnes of grain has sailed from Ukraine's port of Berdyansk, currently controlled by Russian forces, the region's Moscow-appointed official said on Thursday.

"After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tonnes of grain are heading toward friendly countries," Evgeny Balitski, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram. — AFP

June 30, 2022 - 8:46am

Britain pledges another $1.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia's invasion, including air-defense systems and drones.

The fresh funds will bring Britain's total military support to Kyiv since the start of the war in late February to £2.3 billion, Downing Street says in a statement. — AFP

June 28, 2022 - 8:16am

A Russian missile strike on a crowded mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk killed at least 16 people, the head of emergency services says early Tuesday, sparking international outrage.

"The Russian strike today on the shopping centre in Kremenchuk is one of the most brazen terrorist acts in European history," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening broadcast posted on Telegram.

"As of now, we know of 16 dead and 59 wounded, 25 of them hospitalised. The information is being updated," emergency services chief Sergiy Kruk says. — AFP

June 27, 2022 - 1:20pm

A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a "crime" not to use his skills to help.

Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March.

To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from travelling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations patrol there, was met at the airport by 15 police officers on his return.

But the celebrity ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.

"You're walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying 'no swimming' — but you see someone drowning. It's a crime not to help. That's how I see it," he told AFP.

Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father — a "patriot", he says — convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.

He served for seven years, undergoing both US and Korean SEAL training and doing multiple stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defence consultancy.

"I have the skillset. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help," he said, adding that he viewed breaking South Korea's passport law to leave as equivalent to a "traffic violation". — AFP

June 26, 2022 - 2:40pm

Indonesian President and G20 chairman Joko Widodo set off on Sunday to Europe where he said he plans to visit Russia and Ukraine and meet with the countries' leaders to urge peace talks. 

Widodo departed for Germany to attend as a guest for the G7 summit from June 26 to 27, and he will then go to the Ukraine capital Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

"The mission is to ask... President Zelensky to open a dialogue forum for peace, to build peace because the war has to be stopped," he told a press conference in Jakarta. 

The two leaders will also discuss the food supply chain "that needs to be reactivated" soon, Widodo said. From Kyiv, Widodo is scheduled to visit Moscow and meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin. 

The visit to Moscow is planned for June 30, Indonesian authorities said earlier. — AFP

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