NEBI KEN and JURAS KARMANOV

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces bombed areas around Kyiv and another city hours after promising to cut operations in those areas to boost trust between the two sides, Ukrainian authorities said on Wednesday.

The shelling – and the intensification of Russian attacks on other parts of the country – have softened optimism about any progress in talks aimed at ending the criminal war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that in a conversation with US President Joe Biden stressed that the war was at a “turning point” and renewed his long-standing request for additional assistance to counter the Russian invasion.

“If we really fight together for freedom and defend democracy, then we have the right to demand help at this difficult turning point. Tanks, planes, artillery systems. Freedom must be armed no worse than tyranny, ”Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the people, which he said while standing in the dark near the dimly lit presidential offices in Kyiv. He thanked the United States for the additional $ 500 million that was announced on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation David Arahami, talks between Ukraine and Russia were to resume on Friday by video. But it seemed little believed that a solution would come soon. On Tuesday, the Russian military withdrew its promise to de-escalate near the capital and northern city of Chernihiv to “boost mutual trust and create conditions for further talks.”

This statement was met with deep suspicion by Zelensky and the West. And soon Ukrainian officials reported that Russian shelling affected homes, shops, libraries and other civilian objects in Chernihiv and its environs and on the outskirts of Kiev. Russian troops have also stepped up attacks on the Donbass region in the east and around the city of Izyum, which lies on a key route to the Donbass, after redeploying units from other areas, the Ukrainian side said.

Secretary of the Chernihiv City Executive Committee Alexander Lamaka said that the Russian statement was “a complete lie.”

“At night, they did not decrease, but rather increased the intensity of hostilities,” Lamako said.

According to the United Nations, five weeks after the invasion that killed thousands on both sides, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country has exceeded a staggering 4 million, half of them children.

“I don’t know if the Russians can still be trusted,” said Mykola Nazarov, a refugee from Ukraine, pushing his father’s wheelchair at a border crossing with Poland. “I think a bigger escalation will take place in eastern Ukraine. That’s why we can’t return to Kharkiv. “

Zelensky said that the continuation of negotiations with Russia is just “words without specifics.”

“We know that this is not a departure, but the consequences of ousting,” Zelensky said of Russia’s promise. “But we also see that Russia is now concentrating its forces on new strikes on the Donbass, and we are preparing for that.”

Zelensky also said he had recalled the Ukrainian ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco, believing they had not done enough to persuade those countries to support Ukraine and punish Russia for the invasion.

“With all due respect, if there are no weapons, no sanctions, no restrictions for Russian business, then please look for another job,” he said.

In other events:

– U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers are misinforming him about the poor performance of his military in Ukraine because they are too afraid to tell him the truth.

– The German government has stated that it has received assurances from Russia that European companies will not have to pay for Russian gas in rubles. This prospect has raised fears that Russia could cut them off. Poland has also announced steps to stop all Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

– The UN is considering allegations that some residents of besieged and devastated southern Mariupol were forcibly deported to areas controlled by Russian forces or to Russia itself.

The round of talks in Istanbul on Tuesday seemed to show a faint outline of a possible peace deal, with the Ukrainian delegation proposing a framework in which the country would declare itself neutral – abandoning its application for NATO membership, as Moscow has long demanded – in exchange for security guarantees from a group of other countries.

Top Russian officials have responded positively, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Wednesday that Ukraine’s readiness to accept neutrality and seek security outside NATO is “significant progress”, Russian news agencies reported.

But skepticism towards statements by Zelensky and others from Russia seemed well-founded.

The head of the military administration of the Kiev region Alexander Pavlyuk said that Russian shells shelled residential areas and civilian infrastructure in Bucha, Brovary and Vyshgorod districts around the capital.

A spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Kanashenko, said the military had also fired long-range cruise missiles at fuel depots in two central Ukrainian cities. And Russian forces hit the headquarters of the Ukrainian special forces in the south of the Nikolaev region, he said, and two ammunition depots in the Donetsk region, which is part of the Donbass.

In southern Ukraine, a Russian missile destroyed a fuel depot in the Dnieper, the country’s fourth largest city, regional officials said.

The United States has said that in the last 24 hours, Russia has begun redesigning less than 20 percent of its troops stationed around Kiev.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that troops from there and some other areas began to move mainly to the north, and some entered Belarus. Kirby said it appears Russia intends to resume supplies and send them back to Ukraine, but it is unclear where.

The Ukrainian military said some Russian airborne units had been stationed in neighboring Belarus and believed to have been withdrawn from Ukraine.

In northern Ukraine on Wednesday, Russian troops did not conduct an offensive, focusing on intelligence and logistics, the General Staff said in a statement. But Russia is expected to step up attacks on Ukrainian forces soon to protect its own troops as they move, the report said.

The Russians are also expected to try to block Chernihiv.

Senior Russian military officials have said in recent days that their main goal now is to “liberate” the Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial center where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. Western officials say Moscow is stepping up its troops. in the Donbass.

Some analysts have suggested that the focus on Donbass and the promise of de-escalation may be simply an attempt to positively correct the reality: Moscow’s ground forces have been thwarted – and suffered heavy losses – in their attempts to seize the capital and other cities.

Meanwhile, a rocket destroyed part of an apartment building in the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Wednesday, killing two people. The separatists blamed the attack on Ukrainian forces.

“I was just sitting on the couch and – dad! – the glass shattered, the frames came off. I didn’t even understand what had happened, ”resident Hanna Horda said.

The UN Food Aid Agency said it was providing emergency assistance to 1 million Ukrainians. It says the food includes 330,000 freshly baked loaves of bread for families in the heavily bombed eastern city of Kharkiv.

“Children are suffering, and our city, and everything,” said 28-year-old Tatiana Parmynskaya from the Chernihiv region, which is located in a refugee center in Poland, when a man played a song on a broken piano decorated with the emblem of peace. “We no longer have the strength.”

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Karmanov reported from Lviv (Ukraine). Associated Press reporters around the world have contributed to this report.

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

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