JURAS KARMANOV, JIM HEINZ, VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian and Ukrainian officials met for talks Monday amid high hopes but low expectations for any diplomatic breakthrough, after Moscow encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance as it unleashed Europe’s biggest land war since World War II.

Predominant Ukrainian forces managed to slow Russia’s advance, and Western sanctions began to squeeze Russia’s economy, but the Kremlin has resurrected the specter of nuclear war, saying its land, air and naval forces are on standby after President Vladimir Putin’s weekend.

Reinforcing his rhetoric, Putin denounced the United States and its allies as an “empire of lies.”

In Kiev, there was a tense lull, where people lined up to buy food, water and pet food after two nights were trapped by a strict curfew, but on video on social networks from Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, it is seen that residential neighborhoods are shelled with apartments. buildings are rocked by repeated powerful explosions. Kharkiv authorities said at least seven people were killed and dozens injured. They warned that the casualties could be much greater.

“They wanted to hold a blitzkrieg, but it didn’t work out, so they did it,” said 83-year-old Valiantsin Petrovich, who described watching the shelling from his apartment in the city center. He said on the condition that his full name would not be used for fear of his own safety.

The Russian military denies shelling residential areas, despite ample evidence of shelling of homes, schools and hospitals.

All over the country, frightened families huddled overnight in shelters, basements or corridors.

“I sit and pray that these talks end successfully, that they agree to stop the massacre, and that there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, crying, squeezing her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeast. port city of Mariupol. Around her parents tried to comfort the children and warm them.

The UN human rights chief said at least 102 civilians had been killed and hundreds wounded in more than four days of fighting – warning that the figure was likely well underestimated – and the Ukrainian president said at least 16 children had been killed.

More than half a million people fled the country after the invasion, another UN spokesman said, many leaving for Poland, Romania and Hungary. And millions have left their homes.

However, as a result of the first personal talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials since the start of the war on Monday, there was some hope. The delegations met at a long table with the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine on the one hand and the Russian tricolor on the other.

The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it would demand an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

But while Ukraine sent its defense minister and other senior officials, the Russian delegation was led by Putin’s cultural adviser, an unlikely envoy to end the war and perhaps a sign of how serious Moscow is about the talks.

In addition, the UN General Assembly, consisting of 193 countries, opened its first emergency session in decades to combat the invasion of Ukraine. The President of the Assembly Abdullah Shahid called for an immediate ceasefire, maximum restraint on all sides and a “full return to diplomacy and dialogue.”

Putin is not entirely isolated and has spoken to a number of heads of state in recent days, including a 90-minute call with French President Emmanuel Macron calling for a truce. He also spoke with the leaders of Israel, Armenia and other countries.

Meanwhile, Russia’s central bank has sought to support the ruble, and the United States and European countries have increased arms supplies to Ukraine. While they hope to curb Putin’s aggression, the measures also run the risk of pushing Putin, who is increasingly cornered closer to the edge – and hurting ordinary Russians.

In Moscow, people lined up to withdraw cash as sanctions threatened their livelihoods and savings.

It was not immediately clear what Putin was seeking in the talks or from the war itself, although Western officials believe he wants to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, reviving Moscow’s Cold War influence.

The Russian leader has revealed a clear link between ever-increasing sanctions and his Sunday decision to boost Russia’s nuclear position. He also referred to “aggressive statements” by NATO.

Moscow’s Defense Ministry has said that additional personnel have been deployed in Russia’s nuclear forces, and that increased preparedness extends to intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear capabilities, submarines and long-range bombers.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on Monday on condition of anonymity, said the United States had not yet seen any noticeable change in Russia’s nuclear position.

It was not immediately clear whether there were nuclear-armed planes in the air around Ukraine.

US and British officials downplay Putin’s nuclear threat as a position. But many have recalled the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and fears that the West could be embroiled in a direct conflict with Russia.

According to a senior US intelligence official directly involved in US intelligence estimates, neighboring Belarus could send troops to help Russia as early as Monday. The official had no right to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Western officials say they believe the invasion has been slower, at least so far than the Kremlin had suggested. The British authorities said that the main part of Putin’s forces is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kiev.

Reports aimed at these soldiers appeared on Monday on billboards, bus stops and electronic traffic signs across Kyiv. Some used obscene language to encourage Russians to leave. Others appealed to their humanity.

“Russian soldier – Stop! Remember your family. Go home with a clear conscience, ”one read.

During other battles, strategic ports in the south were attacked by Russian troops. Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov “holds”, said Zelensky’s adviser Alexei Orastovich. The bombing of an oil depot in the eastern city of Sumy is reported. Ukrainian demonstrators protested against the assassination attempt by Russian troops in the port of Berdyansk.

During the siege of the nearly 3 million-strong Ukrainian capital, the Russian military offered to allow residents to leave Kyiv through a safe corridor.

In the war, which is being fought both on the ground and on the Internet, cyberattacks have affected Ukrainian embassies around the world and Russian media.

Western countries have stepped up pressure by freezing Russia’s foreign exchange reserves, threatening to bring the Russian economy to its knees. The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have also agreed to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which makes it easier for thousands of banks and other financial institutions around the world to move money.

In addition to sanctions, the United States and Germany have announced that they will send Stinger missiles and other military supplies to Ukraine. The European Union, founded to bring peace to the continent since World War II, is delivering lethal aid, including anti-tank weapons, for the first time.

EU defense ministers were due to meet on Monday to discuss how to deliver weapons to Ukraine. A train of Czech equipment arrived on Sunday, and another was on the route on Monday, although blocking such supplies will obviously be a key Russian priority.

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Isachenkov and Litvinov reported from Moscow. Ellen Nickmeyer, Eric Tucker, Robert Burns and Hope Ian in Washington; James Laporta in Miami; Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Mstislav Chernov and Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow the coverage of the crisis in Ukraine in the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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