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A woman reacts as she stands outside destroyed apartment blocks following shelling in Kyiv on March 14.ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

Russia kept up its devastating assault on cities across Ukraine for a 19th day on Monday as air strikes and artillery fire pounded civilian neighbourhoods of Kyiv and other centres. Ceasefire talks have continued to founder, although another round of virtual negotiations was expected to happen on Tuesday.

In the capital, two people were killed early Monday when an artillery shell hit their apartment block in the northeastern Obolon neighbourhood. Two more people died when a trio of Russian rockets slammed into Ukraine’s famed Antonov aircraft factory, also in Kyiv. The factory produces the world’s biggest cargo planes.

Meanwhile, a pregnant woman and her unborn child were reported to have died five days after a Russian cruise missile destroyed the maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol. An Associated Press photograph of the woman being carried on a stretcher past the ruined maternity hospital was seen around the world, quickly becoming a symbol of the widespread suffering caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

On Monday, AP reported that the woman, whose name was not made public, died after being rushed to another front-line hospital for emergency treatment. Surgeon Timur Marin said the woman’s pelvis was crushed and her hip detached. An attempt was made to deliver the baby via caesarean section, but there were “no signs of life,” Dr. Marin was quoted as saying.

People in Russia know little about such tragedies, as Kremlin-controlled media have continued to portray the country’s army as striking at military targets only. But on Monday, editor Maria Ovsiannikova staged a one-woman protest, interrupting the news on the country’s state-run Channel One by walking behind the anchor and shouting: “Stop the war. No to war.” She also held up a handmade sign that read in part: “Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.”

Channel One is the main source of information for millions of people across Russia. Ms. Ovsiannikova was reportedly detained after the broadcast.

There was a shimmer of good news on Monday for Mariupol, which has been besieged since the first days of the war, as a convoy of 160 cars escaped the city after 10 days of efforts that failed because Russian forces continued shooting during agreed evacuation times. A local official said other convoys were queuing up to follow the same route.

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At least 2,500 people have died in Mariupol – which had a prewar population of 450,000 – with some estimates suggesting as many as 10,000 may have been killed. “There is no drinking water or any medication for more than one week, maybe 10 days. … People have to prepare fire to cook the food they had. Also, there is not any hygiene available,” Olexander, a Mariupol-based employee of Médecins sans frontières, said in an audio recording released by the aid group. To protect their staff, MSF did not give his last name. “We saw people who died from lack of medication, and there are a lot of such people inside Mariupol and many people who were killed and injured and who are lying on the ground, and neighbours are just digging the hole in the ground and [putting] dead bodies inside.”

In Donetsk, a city in southeastern Ukraine that has been under the control of a Russian-backed militia for the past eight years, at least 20 people were reported killed by a missile that fell on a busy street. Russia’s Defence Ministry accused Ukraine of attacking the city with illegal cluster munitions, while Ukraine said the attack was a false-flag operation carried out by Russian forces.

Such horrors have led to escalating calls for a countrywide ceasefire. Negotiations between the two sides were expected to resume on Tuesday, although Russia has so far stuck by its demands that Kyiv demilitarize and recognize the Kremlin’s claim to Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed from Ukraine eight years ago. Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said Kyiv was demanding “peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.”

Russia says it launched what it describes as a “special military operation” against its neighbour because of Ukraine’s desire to join the NATO military alliance. The vaunted Russian army has thus far seen the main thrusts of its offensive stalled by fierce Ukrainian resistance around Kyiv in the north, Kharkiv in the east and Mykolaiv in the south. All are cities that Moscow had been expected to capture swiftly.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had not intended its forces to enter major population centres, but that the country’s military leadership now “does not rule out the possibility of putting large cities, which are already almost fully encircled, under its full control.” He blamed the U.S. and the European Union for “forcing Russia towards an assault of large Ukrainian cities to hold our country responsible for civilian deaths.”

The United States and the EU, along with Canada, have punished Moscow with widespread sanctions that have sent the Russian economy into a tailspin. Russia appears set to miss a debt repayment of US$117.2-million scheduled for this week because sanctions have frozen its central bank’s foreign currency reserves.

Despite the ceasefire talks, Russian forces also continued their attack on Mykolaiv, which had a prewar population of almost 500,000 – half of whom are estimated to have fled. The city has held firm through a two-week-long Russian assault. On Sunday, three people were killed when an airstrike destroyed a school.

“I feel awful. I can’t understand how this happened,” said Lyudmylla Pleshytseva, a 46-year-old high-school English teacher in the city. “I can’t understand how the Russian leaders, how they did that. I want to ask them how they would feel if these were your children.” She said most of her students were still in Mykolaiv, keeping in contact with each other on social media and exchanging tips about “how to keep calm in this situation.”

The fierce fighting in Mykolaiv stands in the way of a Russian advance on the strategic Black Sea port of Odesa, 130 kilometres to the west. Residents and soldiers here say they are deeply grateful for Mykolaiv’s resistance, which has given Odesa additional time to prepare for an assault that everyone believes is inevitable.

The famously boisterous trading hub is now overwhelmed by an eerie silence, with the restaurant and nightclub district scarred by checkpoints and tank traps.

“I don’t have any concern that they will easily capture Mykolaiv. I know the city will resist. Mykolaiv will stand and it will resist,” said Artyem, the commander of a unit of Ukraine’s National Guard stationed in Odesa, who spoke to The Globe and Mail with an assault rifle slung across his chest. For security reasons, he was not allowed to give his last name. He said part of his family has remained in Mykolaiv throughout the fighting.

“It’s not just about Mykolaiv. The main difference between us and the Russians is the Russians are standing for themselves. We are standing for each other. I lived in Kharkiv. I love Kharkiv very much, it’s a beautiful city. I lived in Kyiv for a long time, and I served in the east as well. My heart is with all the cities which are under fire right now.”

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