Russian forces continued their advance toward Kyiv Thursday and appeared to take heavy losses, as the city’s mayor said roughly half the prewar population had now left the Ukrainian capital.
The reported Russian advance into Brovary, a satellite town on the northeastern edge of Kyiv, came shortly after talks between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers – the highest-level negotiations of the 15-day-old war – ended without progress toward a ceasefire.
The move into Brovary by a column of Russian armour appeared to fail. A video posted to social media by Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence Service shows more than a dozen tanks parked on the main road to Kyiv before they are suddenly hit by a series of explosions – likely Ukrainian artillery fire. Several tanks appeared to be damaged by the blasts, and the others pull back, heading away from Kyiv. The Defence Intelligence Service said a Russian tank regiment had suffered “significant losses in personnel and equipment” and had been “forced to retreat.”
Nonetheless, the appearance of Russian armour on the eastern edge of Kyiv highlights that the already ruthless battle for the capital is only beginning. Russian forces have for several days been fighting for control of suburbs and villages north and northwest of the city, which has also faced two weeks of air strikes and cruise-missile attacks.
On Thursday, Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said roughly “every second resident” had left the city, which had a prewar population of three million.
“The key goal of the Russians is to capture Kyiv … to surround Kyiv, to take it in a ring, then to attack and overthrow the government. Their plans are not realized, thanks to our guys,” Mr. Klitschko said in praising the Ukrainian military, which many analysts had predicted would quickly fold if Russia invaded. “Kyiv has now become a fortress.”
But many more bleak days appear to lie ahead for Kyiv and the country. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba met Thursday in the Turkish city of Antalya, and Mr. Kuleba told reporters afterward that he saw no sign Russia was ready to end its invasion, which has killed thousands of people and caused more than 2.3 million Ukrainians to flee the country.
“Russia is not in a position at this point to establish a ceasefire. They seek a surrender from Ukraine. This is not what they are going to get. Ukraine is strong, Ukraine is fighting,” Mr. Kuleba said after the meeting.
Security analyst Serhiy Solodky – who works for the Kyiv-based New Europe Centre but, like so many residents of the capital, has been forced to flee his home – told The Globe and Mail that the fruitless talks underlined that “Russia does not want to negotiate peace or even ceasefire. Russia wants to see the failure of Ukraine.”
Moscow, which says it was threatened by Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, has said it intends to demilitarize its smaller neighbour. The Kremlin also claims it is acting to remove “neo-Nazis” inside the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.
Mr. Kuleba said Mr. Lavrov had ignored Ukraine’s plea for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where at least 1,170 people have reportedly been killed since the start of the war. A Russian air strike badly damaged a maternity hospital in the city Wednesday.
“I made a simple proposal to Minister Lavrov: I can call my Ukrainian ministers, authorities, President now and give you 100-per-cent assurances on security guarantees for humanitarian corridors,” he said. “I asked him: ‘Can you do the same?’ And he did not respond.”