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PTI

Russia and Ukraine kept a fragile diplomatic path open with a new round of talks even as Moscow's forces pounded away at Kyiv and other cities across the country in a punishing bombardment the Red Cross said has created nothing short of a nightmare for civilians.

Meanwhile, a convoy of 160 civilian cars left the encircled port city of Mariupol along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported on Monday.

The latest negotiations, held via video conference on Monday, were the fourth round involving higher-level officials from the two countries and the first in a week. The talks ended without a breakthrough after several hours, with an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the negotiators took a technical pause and planned to meet again Tuesday.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing Monday 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 in order to demonstrate good faith.

According to a senior US defence official, Russian troops were still about 15 kilometres from the centre of Kyiv.

The official said Russian forces have launched more than 900 missiles but that Ukraine's airspace is still contested.

Overnight, air raid alerts sounded in cities and towns around the country, from near the Russian border in the east to the Carpathian Mountains in the west, and fighting continued on the outskirts of Kyiv. Ukrainian officials said Russian forces shelled several suburbs of the capital.

Ukrainian authorities said two people were killed when the Russians struck an airplane factory in Kyiv, sparking a large fire. The Antonov factory is Ukraine's largest aircraft plant and produces many of the world's biggest cargo planes.

Russian artillery fire also hit a nine-story apartment building in the northern Obolonskyi district of the city, killing two more people, they said.

And a Russian airstrike near a Ukrainian checkpoint caused extensive damage to a downtown Kyiv neighbourhood, killing one person, Ukraine's emergency agency said.

In an area outside Kyiv, Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall was injured while reporting and was hospitalised, the network said.

In Russia, the live main evening news program on state television was briefly interrupted by a woman who walked into the studio holding a poster against the war. The OVD-Info website that monitors political arrests said she was a Channel 1 employee who taken into police custody.

A town councilor for Brovary, east of Kyiv, was killed in fighting there, officials said. Shells also fell on the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, local authorities said.

Airstrikes were reported across the country, including the southern city of Mykolaiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv. Explosions also reverberated overnight around the Russian-occupied Black Sea port of Kherson.

Nine people were killed in a rocket attack on a TV tower in the western village of Antopol, according to the region's governor.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, firefighters doused the smoldering remains of a four-story residential building. It was unclear whether there were casualties.

In the southern city of Mariupol, the city council didn't say how many people were in the convoy headed westward for the city of Zaporizhzhia. But it said a cease-fire along the route appeared to be holding.

Ukraine's military said it repelled an attempt Monday to take control of Mariupol by Russian forces, who were forced to retreat. Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed fires burning across the city, with many high-rise apartment buildings heavily damaged or destroyed.

Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the war has become nothing short of a nightmare" for those living in besieged cities, and he pleaded for safe corridors for civilians to leave and humanitarian aid to be brought in.

A pregnant woman who became a symbol of Ukraine's suffering when she was photographed being carried from a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol last week has died along with her baby, The Associated Press has learned.

The Russian military said 20 civilians in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine were killed by a ballistic missile launched by Ukrainian forces. The claim could not be independently verified.

The UN has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine, though 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.

During a meeting in Rome with a senior Chinese diplomat, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned China against helping Russia.

Two administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China had signalled to Moscow that it would be willing to provide both military support in Ukraine and financial backing to help stave off effects of Western sanctions, which include a fourth set of EU sanctions announced late Monday.

The Kremlin has denied asking China for military equipment to use in Ukraine.

The war expanded Sunday when Russian missiles pounded a military training base in western Ukraine, close to the Polish border, that previously served as a crucial hub for cooperation between Ukraine and NATO.

The attack killed 35 people, Ukrainian officials said, and raised fears that NATO could be drawn into direct conflict with Russia. (AP)
 

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