Negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian officials are due to start on Monday as the war in Ukraine rages for a fifth day, with Moscow’s offensive on the capital Kyiv stalled by stiff resistance.
The Russian defence ministry said Russian forces had taken control of Ukrainian airspace and captured the two southern cities of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov, and Enerhodar. It also said troops had seized territory round a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhiya.
But the Russian offensive on the capital Kyiv appeared to have stalled. The Ukrainian military commander leading the city’s defence said his troops had successfully repelled a Russian attack overnight on Sunday.
Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a Facebook post on Monday that columns of Russian troops had repeatedly tried to storm the city.
“The occupier’s equipment columns were destroyed,” Syrskyi said in the post released by Ukraine’s military general staff. “The opponent suffered significant losses of personnel.”
Russian and Ukrainian military claims cannot be independently verified.
Authorities in Kyiv have been handing out weapons to anyone willing to defend the city, which had a population of 3mn before last week’s exodus triggered by Russia’s invasion.
Speaking to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he believed “the next 24 hours was a crucial period for Ukraine”, according to a Downing Street spokesman.
The Ukrainian-Russian talks are due to be held on Ukraine’s border with Belarus, near the Pripyat river. Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, said they would start at 12.00 Moscow time.
“We definitely want to reach some kind of agreement as quickly as possible, though it has to be in the interests of both sides,” he told Russian state agency RIA-Novosti.
A senior US defence official told journalists on Sunday that Russian troops were facing “some logistics challenges” in their advance from the north.
“Putin has not been able to achieve a single strategic goal,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Sunday. “No major city is captured by the Russians.”
While bracing itself for more Russian attacks, Kyiv had a relatively quiet night, with none of the big explosions and exchanges of gunfire heard on previous nights.
Ukrainian and US officials say that Russian reconnaissance troops are already operating inside the capital, using Ukrainian uniforms to disguise themselves.
Russia’s armed forces denied claims that they had encircled Kyiv and said that civilians could safely leave on the highway to Vasylkiv to the city’s south-west, where Ukrainian and Russian troops fought for control over the weekend.
Ukraine’s military also said on Monday that Russian troops continued to attack airports, air defence systems, critical infrastructure and residential areas around the country, and had launched missiles strikes on buildings in the cities of Zhytomyr and Chernihiv.