Ukraine’s Zelenskyy to make direct appeal to US Congress as Russian bombing escalates

Russian troops are trying to cut off Kyiv from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities

Ukraine’s president was preparing to ask the US Congress directly for more help on Wednesday, even as Russia continued its bombardment of the Ukrainian capital.

There were still some reasons to be optimistic negotiations with Russia might yield an accord, Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested.

“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” Mr Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation. “Any war ends with an agreement.”

Previewing his appeal to the US Congress, a rare speech by a foreign leader to the legislature, Mr Zelenskyy thanked President Joe Biden and “all the friends of Ukraine” for $13.6 billion in new support and appealed for more weapons and more sanctions to punish Russia.

He repeated his call to “close the skies over Ukraine to Russian missiles and planes”, AP reported.

Mr Zelenskyy said Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic” after their delegations met on Tuesday via video. The sides were expected to speak again on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is visiting the Gulf as he tries to wean the West off Russian energy, said there is "no way Ukraine is going to join Nato anytime soon".

Mr Johnson said he understood the "reality of the position" expressed by Mr Zelensky during an address to London, where Mr Zelenskyy expressed his frustration that Ukraine had not been allowed to join Nato, but said: "This is the truth and we have simply to accept it as it is."

Mr Johnson, speaking to broadcasters at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, said: "I talked to Volodymyr (Zelensky) again yesterday and of course I understand what he is saying about Nato and the reality of the position.

"And everybody has always said - and we've made it clear to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin - that there is no way Ukraine is going to join Nato any time soon."

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was sceptical about peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, adding that Mr Putin had to be stopped at all costs.

"I am sceptical about the peace talks whilst Putin is still waging war in Ukraine," Ms Truss told BBC TV. "He has to implement a ceasefire and withdraw his troops for those peace talks to be taken to be taken seriously."

At least three loud explosions were heard just after dawn in the western part of Kyiv, and thick clouds of smoke billowed into the sky, AFP reported.

Emergency services said two residential buildings were damaged and two people were wounded. The Ukrainian capital was placed under curfew late on Tuesday following what its mayor called a "difficult and dangerous moment".

Images released by the emergency services showed the top corner of one building had been partially destroyed, while another had damage and scorch marks to its roof and upper part.

Battles continue to rage in cities like Mariupol, Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, as well as in suburban towns just outside Kyiv.

Mr Zelenskyy said Russian forces had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory but had continued their heavy shelling of cities.

The number of people fleeing Europe’s heaviest fighting since the Second World War has eclipsed three million.

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Mr Zelenskyy said 28,893 civilians were able to flee through nine humanitarian corridors in the past day, although the Russians refused to allow aid into Mariupol.

In addition to air strikes and shelling by ground forces, Russian naval ships fired overnight on a town south of Mariupol on the Azov Sea and another near Odesa on the Black Sea, according to local officials.

Russian forces have intensified fighting in the Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the north-west and the highway leading west towards Zhytomyr, head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said.

He said Russian troops are trying to cut off the capital from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities, even as they plan a wide-ranging attack to seize Kyiv.

Twelve towns around Kyiv are without water and six without heat.

Russia has occupied the city of Ivankiv, 80 kilometres north of Kyiv, and controls the surrounding region on the border with Belarus, Mr Kuleba said.

The Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but their ground forces were making little or no progress around the country, a senior US defence official said.

The troops were still about 15 kilometres from the centre of the capital, the official told AP.

Before Tuesday’s talks with Ukrainian officials, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would enforce its demands that Ukraine drop its bid to join Nato, adopt a neutral status and “demilitarize”.

In a statement that seemed to signal potential grounds for agreement with Moscow, Mr Zelenskyy told European leaders he realises Nato has no intention of accepting Ukraine.

“We have heard for many years about the open doors, but we also heard that we can’t enter those doors,” he said. “This is the truth, and we have simply to accept it as it is.”

Nato does not admit nations with unsettled territorial conflicts.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 9:01 AM
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