Kyiv, Ukraine — The Russian offensive in Ukraine edged closer to central Kyiv on Tuesday even as the two countries kept open a narrow diplomatic channel with more talks planned. Shortly before dawn, large explosions thundered across the city as a series of Russian strikes hit a residential neighborhood, sparking a huge fire and a frantic rescue effort in a 15-story apartment building.
At least two people were killed and others were trapped, French news agency AFP reported, quoting emergency services as saying 27 people had been rescued.
Shockwaves from an explosion also damaged the entry to a downtown subway station that has been used as a bomb shelter. City authorities tweeted an image of the blown-out facade, saying trains would no longer stop at the station.
Mayor Vitali Klitschiko announced a curfew for Kyiv, saying everyone would need to remain indoors for 35 hours, between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning, according to the Reuters news agency.
There was a rare glimmer of hope in the encircled port city of Mariupol after a convoy of 160 civilian cars left along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported. Over the past 10 days or so, the lethal siege has pulverized homes and other buildings and left people desperate for food, water, heat and medicine.
Ukraine hopes to open nine “humanitarian corridors” Tuesday to evacuate civilians from numerous cities and intends to attempt to bring humanitarian supplies to Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.
The latest negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, held by video Monday, were the fourth round involving higher-level officials from the two countries and the first in a week. The talks ended without a breakthrough after several hours, with an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying the negotiators took “a technical pause” and planned to meet again Tuesday.
The two sides had expressed some optimism in the past few days. Mykhailo Podolyak, the aide to Zelensky, tweeted that the negotiators would discuss “peace, cease-fire, immediate withdrawal of troops & security guarantees.”
Previous discussions, held in person in Belarus, produced no lasting humanitarian routes or agreements to end the fighting.
Zelensky is seeking to extend martial law until April 24 and to require men ages 18 to 60 to stay in the country to fight. Zelensky submitted the extension in a bill to parliament, which is expected to vote on it this week.
Zelensky is slated to address the U.S. Congress Wednesday.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that while the Biden administration supports Ukraine’s participation in the talks with Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin would have to show signs of de-escalating in order to demonstrate good faith.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned China against helping Russia during a long meeting in Rome with a senior Chinese diplomat Monday. Two U.S. officials told CBS News the Kremlin has asked China for support in its war against Ukraine. The request included military aid and equipment, and a U.S. official told CBS News Monday that the request mainly concerns financial assistance, but Russia also inquired about drones.
The Russians don’t seem to have anticipated that they or Ukraine would deploy drones in this conflict, which is one reason they’re asking China about them, according to the U.S. official.
The Ukrainians have been using drones, especially Turkish-made TB2 drones, quite effectively, a senior defense official noted in a background briefing Monday. The drones are used for reconnaissance as well as strikes and have been especially effective against Russian ground movements.
The Kremlin has denied asking China for military equipment to use in Ukraine and China dismissed it as “misinformation.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was able to continue the operation itself and insisted that it was “unfolding in accordance with the plan and will be completed on time and in full.”
In Kyiv, the early morning explosions were artillery strikes, the Ukrainian military said. They hit the Svyatoshynskyi district of western Kyiv, adjacent to the suburb of Irpin that has seen some of the worst battles of the war.
Flames shot out of the apartment building as firefighters climbed ladders to rescue people. Smoke choked the air. Damage from unspecified ammunition prompted a fire in a 10-story apartment block in the Podilsky district of Kyiv, north of the government quarter. One person was hospitalized, the state emergency agency reported.
Russian forces also stepped up strikes overnight on the northwest suburbs of Irpin, Hostomel and Bucha, said the head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba.
“Many streets (in those areas) have been turned into a mush of steel and concrete. People have been hiding for weeks in basements, and are afraid to go out even for evacuations,” Kuleba said on Ukrainian television.
The slow advance may have prompted the Russian request for China’s help.
A senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Russian troops were still about 9 miles from the center of Kyiv. The official said Russian forces have launched more than 900 missiles but that Ukraine’s airspace is still contested, with Russia not having achieved total air superiority.
The Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office on Tuesday released details of two deadly Russian attacks the day before. The office said an artillery strike had hit a university and open-air market, killing 10, and that a 65-year-old woman had been shot in a bus that was evacuating civilians from a Kyiv suburb.
Russian artillery fire also hit a nine-story apartment building in the northern Obolonskyi district of the city, killing two more people, authorities said. A town councilor for Brovary, east of Kyiv, was killed in fighting there, officials said. And a Russian airstrike near a Ukrainian checkpoint caused extensive damage to a downtown Kyiv neighborhood, killing one person, Ukraine’s emergency agency said.
In an area outside Kyiv, Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall was injured while reporting and was hospitalized, the network said.
In Russia, the live main evening news program on state television was briefly interrupted by a woman who walked into the studio holding a poster against the war. The OVD-Info website that monitors political arrests said she was a Channel 1 employee who was taken into police custody.
Airstrikes were reported across the country, including the southern city of Mykolaiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, where heat was knocked out to most of the town. Explosions also reverberated overnight around the Russian-occupied Black Sea port of Kherson.
Russian news agencies reported Tuesday that the Kremlin was claiming Russian troops had taken full control of the entire Kherson region, according to Reuters.
Nineteen people were killed in a rocket attack on a TV tower in the western village of Antopol, according to local officials speaking with Agence France-Presse.
In Mariupol, where the war has produced some of the greatest suffering, the city council didn’t say how many people were in the convoy of cars headed westward for the city of Zaporizhzhia. But it said a cease-fire along the route appeared to be holding. Previous attempts to evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid to the southern city of 430,000 were thwarted by fighting.
Ukraine’s military said it repelled an attempt Monday to take control of Mariupol by Russian forces, who were forced to retreat. Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed fires burning across the city, with many high-rise apartment buildings heavily damaged or destroyed.
The Kremlin-backed leader of the Russian region of Chechnya said on a messaging app that Chechen fighters were spearheading the offensive on Mariupol.
The Russian military said Monday that 20 civilians in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine were killed by a ballistic missile launched by Ukrainian forces. The claim could not be independently verified.
The U.N. has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, though it believes the true toll is much higher. Millions more have fled their homes, with more than 2.8 million crossing into Poland and other neighboring countries in what the U.N. has called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
Russia’s military is bigger and better equipped than Ukraine’s, but its troops have faced stiffer-than-expected resistance, bolstered by arms supplied by the West.