European leaders head to Kyiv as Russian forces move deeper into Ukrainian capital

Heads of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia are travelling to show support for the country

Ukraine accuses Russia of hitting a maternity hospital in an air strike

Ukraine accuses Russia of hitting a maternity hospital in an air strike
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The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia were on their way to Ukraine’s capital on Tuesday on a mission to show support as Russia’s forces move deeper into Kyiv.

The visit by Slovenia's Janez Jansa, Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki and Czech leader Petr Fiala is the first by such a delegation since war broke out in Ukraine and was planned with the leaders of the European Union.

Their train trip to a city under bombardment was described by the Polish leader's chief of staff as "a historic event" and an "unequivocal expression of support for Ukraine" by the three EU member states.

The US said it welcomed the in-person trip but Julianne Smith, the American ambassador to Nato, would not be drawn on whether it threw up safety concerns for the three leaders.

No details about the itinerary were disclosed except that the three leaders were on their way via Lviv in western Ukraine and would meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Mr Jansa used the opportunity to argue Ukraine's case for membership of the EU, an idea supported by many of its eastern neighbours but which senior western officials have said will not be fast-tracked.

"At this moment... there is no country on the whole of the continent which is more European than Ukraine," he said. "Every path in Ukraine is a European path. Soon, it will be an EU path too."

Russia’s offensive in Ukraine edged closer to central Kyiv on Tuesday, with a series of strikes hitting a residential neighbourhood in the capital as the two countries planned a second day of talks.

Shortly before dawn, large explosions thundered across Kyiv from what Ukrainian authorities said was artillery strikes.

The shelling ignited a huge fire and a frantic rescue effort in a 15-storey apartment building. At least one person was killed and others remain trapped inside.

After a relative lull, fighting has intensified on the outskirts of Kyiv in recent days, and sporadic air raid sirens ring out around the capital.

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 pulverised homes and other buildings and left people desperate for food, water, heat and medicine.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses UK Parliament

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses UK Parliament

Virtual address

Meanwhile, Mr Zelenskyy will deliver a virtual address to US Congress on Wednesday.

“We look forward to the privilege of welcoming President Zelenskyy'sAaddress to the House and Senate and to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy,” Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint letter to politicians.

Anthony Rota, the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, said Mr Zelenskyy would also address MPs in Ottawa on Tuesday.

The fourth round of talks involving higher-level officials from Ukraine and Russia ended without a breakthrough after several hours on Monday, with an aide to Mr Zelenskyy 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.

Martial law

Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Mr Zelenskyy, tweeted that the negotiators would discuss “peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops and security guarantees”.

Mr Zelenskyy is seeking to extend martial law until April 24 and to require men aged 18 to 60 to stay in the country to fight.

He submitted the extension in a bill to parliament, which is expected to vote on it this week.

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 to demonstrate good faith.

Overnight strikes

Russian forces also stepped up strikes overnight on the north-west suburbs of Irpin, Hostomel and Bucha, said the head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba.

“Many streets 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,” Mr Kuleba said on Ukrainian television.

But overall, nearly all of the Russian military offensives remained stalled after making little progress at the weekend, according to a senior US defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Russian troops were still about 15 kilometres from the centre of Kyiv, the official said.

The official said that Russian forces have launched more than 900 missiles but that Ukraine’s airspace is still contested, with Russia not achieving total air superiority.

Aid to Mariupol

Ukraine will make a new attempt to deliver supplies to civilians trapped in the encircled city of Mariupol on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

She made her announcement as Vitaliy Koval, the governor of the northern region of Rivne, said the death toll from a Russian air strike on a television tower in his region on Monday had risen to at least 19.

Moscow on Monday allowed the first convoy of civilians to escape from Mariupol, but a senior presidential aide said Russia had again blocked a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city with supplies.

Obtaining safe passage for aid to reach Mariupol and for civilians to leave has been Kyiv's main demand at several rounds of talks. Previous attempts at a local ceasefire in the area have failed.

Ms Vereshchuk said a convoy with humanitarian supplies would head for Mariupol on Tuesday.

“On the way back it will pick up women and children,” she said.

High toll

The UN has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, although 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 neighbouring countries in what the UN has called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

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.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 4:20 PM