JURAS KARMANOV, JIM HEINZ, VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV and ZEK MILER

KIU, Ukraine (AP) – Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city, with Russian troops pinning strategic ports in the south on Sunday, marking a new phase in Russia’s invasion following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities in elsewhere in the country.

Following the achievements on the ground, Russia has sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine, the Kremlin reports. The President of Ukraine suggested other places, saying that his country does not want to meet in Belarus because it served as a springboard for the invasion.

Until Sunday, Russian troops remained on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia, while other forces passed by to push the offensive deeper into Ukraine.

The video published in the Ukrainian media and social networks shows Russian vehicles moving around Kharkiv and Russian troops wandering around the city in small groups. One shows how the Ukrainian military fired on the Russians and damaged the Russian cars left nearby.

The images underscore the strong resistance faced by Russian troops in trying to enter Ukraine’s major cities. Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to help defend the capital, Kyiv and other cities by seizing weapons distributed by the authorities and preparing incendiary bombs to fight Russian forces.

The Ukrainian government is also releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight for the country, prosecutor’s office officer Andrei Sinyuk told Hromadske TV channel on Sunday. He did not specify whether the move applies to prisoners convicted of crimes of all degrees.

“We are fighting, we are fighting for our country, we are fighting for our freedom, because we have the right to do so,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Last night was difficult – more shelling, more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure. There is not a single object in the country that the occupiers would not consider permissible. “

Huge explosions lit up the sky on Sunday early Sunday near Kiev, where frightened residents staggered into homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian attack.

The 39-hour curfew, in order to prevent people from entering the streets of the capital until Monday morning, complicated the task of estimating the intensity of the fighting. Zelensky’s office reported that explosions erupted at Kyiv International Airport.

According to the mayor, the flames exploded from an oil depot near the air base in Vasilkov, a city 37 kilometers (23 miles) south of Kiev, where intense fighting is taking place. Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in the east of Kharkiv, forcing the government to warn people to cover windows with damp cloth or gauze to protect against smoke, the president’s office said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not revealed his final plans, but Western officials say he is determined to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War influence.

Pressure on strategic ports in southern Ukraine has emerged in order to seize control of the country’s coastline, which stretches from the border with Romania in the west to the border with Russia in the east. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Kanashenko, said that Russian forces had blocked the cities of Kherson on the Black Sea and the port of Berdyansk on the Sea of ​​Azov.

He said that Russian forces also took control of the air base near Kherson and the Azov city of Genichesk. Ukrainian authorities also report fighting near Odessa, Mykolaiv and other areas.

Reducing Ukraine’s access to seaports will deal a serious blow to the country’s economy. It could also allow Moscow to build a land corridor to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014 and has so far been connected to Russia by a 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge, the longest bridge in Europe, which opened in 2018.

The death toll from Europe’s largest land conflict since World War II remains unclear in the fog of hostilities.

Ukraine’s health minister said on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 injured. It was unclear whether these figures included both military and civilian casualties. Russia did not release information about the victims.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN Sergei Kislitsa wrote on Twitter on Saturday that Ukraine had appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross to “facilitate the repatriation of thousands of bodies of Russian soldiers.” The accompanying table stated that 3,500 Russian servicemen had been killed.

Leticia Courtois, the ICRC’s permanent observer at the United Nations, told the Associated Press that the situation in Ukraine was “a limitation for our field teams” and “so we cannot confirm the figures or other details.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 200,000 Ukrainians had arrived in neighboring countries on Saturday night since the invasion began on Thursday. The UN estimates the conflict could lead to 4 million refugees, depending on how long it lasts.

Zelensky condemned Russia’s offensive as “state terrorism.” He said attacks on Ukrainian cities should be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal and cost Russia a seat as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“Russia is on the path to evil, and the world must come to deprive it of its seat on the UN Security Council,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a Russian delegation of military officials and diplomats arrived in the Belarusian city of Gomel on Sunday to hold talks with Ukraine. Zelensky on Friday offered to hold talks on a key demand of Russia: to abandon its ambitions to join NATO.

The President of Ukraine stated that his country is ready for peace talks, but not in Belarus.

“Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, Baku, we have all offered to the Russian side and will accept any other city in the country that was not used to launch missiles,” said Zelensky. “Only then can negotiations be honest and end the war.”

Peskov said that Ukraine had offered to hold talks in Gomel. He added that Russian hostilities continue until talks begin.

Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podalak rejected Moscow’s offer as “manipulation”, adding that Ukraine did not agree to talks in the Belarusian city.

As Russia moves forward in its offensive, the West is working to equip predominant Ukrainian forces with weapons and ammunition, punishing Russia with far-reaching sanctions aimed at further isolating Moscow.

The United States has pledged an additional $ 350 million in military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany has said it will send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the country under siege and close its airspace to Russian aircraft.

The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from SWIFT’s global financial messaging system, which moves money to more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world, as part of a new round of sanctions against Moscow. for the invasion. They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” against Russia’s central bank.

Responding to a request from the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, technology billionaire Elon Musk said on Twitter that his satellite Internet system Starlink now operates in Ukraine and that the route is “more terminals.”

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Sunday that his country is allocating 100 billion euros ($ 112.7 billion) to a special fund for its armed forces, increasing defense spending above 2% of gross domestic product. Scholz said at an extraordinary session of the Bundestag that investment is needed “to protect our freedom and our democracy.”

Putin sent troops to Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, while building up nearly 200,000 troops along the country’s borders. He claims that the West has failed to take seriously Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine seeks to join. But he also expressed contempt for Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.

Russia says its attack on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but has affected bridges, schools and neighborhoods.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, said Ukraine was gathering evidence of shelling of neighborhoods, kindergartens and hospitals to refer them to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague as possible crimes against humanity. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he was closely monitoring the conflict.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Trass warned on Sunday that Putin could use “the most unpleasant means”, including banned chemical or biological weapons, to defeat Ukraine.

“I urge the Russians not to escalate this conflict, but we must be prepared for the fact that Russia will seek to use even worse weapons,” Rabbit told Sky News.

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Isachenko reported from Moscow, and Miller from Washington. Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Mstislav Chernov and Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; 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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