Russia steps up assaults as Ukraine appeals for more help
KYIV, Ukraine — Russia escalated its bombardment of the Ukrainian capital and launched new assaults on the port city of Mariupol, making bloody advances on the ground as Ukraine's president prepared Wednesday to make a direct appeal for more help in a rare speech by a foreign leader to the U.S. Congress.
As the invasion entered its third week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested there was still some reason to be optimistic negotiations might yet yield an agreement with the Russian government.
After their delegations met Tuesday via video, Zelenskyy said Russia's demands were becoming "more realistic." The sides were expected to speak again later Wednesday.
"Efforts are still needed, patience is needed," he said in his video address to the nation. "Any war ends with an agreement."
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 eclipsed 3 million.
Zelenskyy, previewing his speech to the U.S. Congress, thanked President Joe Biden and "all the friends of Ukraine" for $13.6 billion in new support.
He appealed for more weapons and more sanctions to punish Russia and repeated his call to "close the skies over Ukraine to Russian missiles and planes."
He said Russian forces had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory Tuesday but had continued their heavy shelling of cities.
Over the past day, 28,893 civilians were able to flee the fighting through nine humanitarian corridors, although the Russians refused to allow aid into Mariupol, he said.
Russian warships around midnight fired missiles and artillery at the Ukrainian sea coast near Tuzla, to the south of Odesa, Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said.
"They fired a huge amount of ammunition from a great distance," he said Wednesday on Facebook.
Gerashchenko said Russia wanted to test Ukraine's coastal defense system. He said there was no attempt to land troops. He didn't say whether any of the shelling hit anything.
On Tuesday, the leaders of three European Union countries — Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia — visited Kyiv in a bold show of support amid the danger.
Russia's bombardment of the capital appeared to become more systematic and edged closer to the city center, smashing apartments, a subway station and other civilian sites. Zelenskyy said the barrages hit four multi-story buildings and killed dozens.
A senior U.S. defense 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.
The official said the U.S. has seen indications that Russia believes it may need more troops or supplies than it has on hand in Ukraine, and it is considering ways to get more resources into the country. The official did not elaborate.
The employee of Russian state television who was arrested after interrupting a live news program by protesting the war in Ukraine said she was not allowed to sleep in police custody and was interrogated for 14 hours.
She was fined 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.
Before Tuesday's talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would press its demands that Ukraine drop its bid to join NATO, adopt a neutral status and "demilitarize."
In a statement that seemed to signal potential grounds for agreement with Moscow, Zelenskyy told European leaders gathered in London that he realizes NATO has no intention of accepting Ukraine.
"We have heard for many years about the open doors, but we also heard that we can't enter those doors," he said. "This is the truth, and we have simply to accept it as it is."
NATO does not admit nations with unsettled territorial conflicts. Zelenskyy has repeatedly said he realizes NATO isn't going to offer membership to Ukraine and that he could consider a neutral status for his country but needs strong security guarantees from both the West and Russia.
The U.N. said close to 700 civilians in Ukraine have been confirmed killed, with the true figure probably much higher.
On a day when thousands managed to leave Mariupol, Russian troops seized the city's largest hospital, regional leader Pavlo Kyrylenko said. He said the 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 been treating 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's insufficient to simply refer to people as the wounded: "It's torn off arms and legs, gouged out eyes, bodies torn into fragments, insides falling out."
Two journalists working for Fox News were killed when the vehicle they were traveling in was hit by fire Monday on the outskirts of Kyiv, the network said. Fox identified the two 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.
Meanwhile, fighting has intensified on Kyiv's outskirts, and air raid sirens wailed inside the capital. The mayor imposed a curfew through Thursday morning. Tuesday's artillery strikes hit the Svyatoshynskyi district of western Kyiv.
"Yesterday we extinguished one fire, today another. It is very difficult," a firefighter who gave only his first name, Andriy, said outside a 15-story apartment building that was hit, tears falling from his eyes. "People are dying, and the worst thing is that children are dying. They haven't lived their lives and they have already seen this." Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.