Firefighters battling a blaze in a Kyiv apartment building
Firefighters battle a blaze in a Kyiv apartment building on Tuesday © Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty

The leaders of three EU countries met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Tuesday evening in a show of European solidarity even as Russian shelling continued on residential neighbourhoods in the Ukrainian capital.

The trip by the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia is the most high-profile visit to Kyiv since Russia invaded the country on February 24. In a video posted by Ukrainian officials online, Zelensky was shown giving the visiting leaders a briefing on the military and humanitarian situation in the country.

“Your visit to Kyiv at this difficult time for Ukraine is a powerful testimony of support,” Zelensky wrote in a note accompanying the video. “We really appreciate this.”

A screenshot from a video of Tuesday’s meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv
A screenshot from a video of Tuesday’s meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv

The trip came as Nato said it would hold an emergency summit next week in Brussels of the alliance’s 30 leaders, including US president Joe Biden.

“We will address the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening Nato’s deterrence and defence in response to a new reality for our security,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general.

Despite the symbolism of the wartime visit to Kyiv, officials in Brussels expressed reservations about the trip, insisting it was not an official mission on behalf of the EU. The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission were informed about the travel plans last week and pointed to the security risks involved, their spokespeople said.

Michal Dworczyk, a senior aide to Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, said that while Stoltenberg had been informed about the trip, it had “nothing to do with the activities of Nato”.

After the meeting, Morawiecki issued a statement reiterating Warsaw’s desire to see Ukraine join the EU, a move that has been resisted by most member states despite Zelensky’s lobbying.

“We will never leave you on your own, because we know that you are fighting not only for your own freedom and security, but also for us,” Morawiecki said.

The arrival of the three prime ministers came as the withering Russian assault on Ukrainian population centres continued unabated — including in Kyiv and cities in the country’s west, which thus far have been comparatively untouched by the war.

Map showing the latest position of Russian forces around Kyiv. Russian artillery hit a 16-storey apartment building in Svyatoshinsky district

Authorities in Rivne, a western Ukrainian city, said 19 people were killed in a Russian air strike on a television tower. Russian forces also shelled an apartment block in the Svyatoshinsky neighbourhood of Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday, killing at least two people, according to Ukrainian emergency services.

A Russian cruise missile landed in front of a 10-storey residential building in Kyiv’s Podil district after being intercepted by a Ukrainian air defence system, a member of Ukraine’s civilian territorial defence forces told a Financial Times reporter at the scene. The explosion shattered windows and damaged balconies, but police said no one was killed or seriously injured.

An update by the Ukrainian general staff said Russia “continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on critical infrastructure” in several cities across Ukraine and in particular was still trying to capture Mariupol, which is completely encircled by Russian forces. Ukrainian military claims could not be independently verified.

A senior US defence official said that Russian ground forces had made “limited to no progress” in achieving their objectives, adding that they remained about 15km-20km to the north-west and about 20km-30km to the east of Kyiv.

The attacks came on the 20th day of a war that has laid waste to several Ukrainian cities and triggered a wave of international sanctions that has left Russia’s economy more isolated than at any time since the end of the cold war.

Aid groups have repeatedly warned of the dire conditions in Mariupol, which has been subjected to relentless Russian shelling for more than two weeks. Thousands of people in the besieged city have been forced to live in bomb shelters, deprived of heating, electricity and running water.

Ukrainian authorities said they would undertake a fresh attempt to deliver humanitarian supplies to civilians trapped in Mariupol. A convoy would attempt to break through on Tuesday, and on the way back try to take women and children out, said Iryna Vereshchuk, minister for reintegration.

On Monday, 160 cars left the city in one of the first successful attempts to evacuate civilians from the port since hostilities began.

​But Russian shelling of critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railroads is making it “difficult” for humanitarian workers to reach those in need of aid, a senior US state department official said.

“The situation on the ground in Ukraine is rapidly getting worse,” the state department official said. “In the absence of a ceasefire, humanitarian safe passage must be assured in order to allow aid workers to reach those in need of humanitarian aid.”

The US said 4.7mn people had been displaced as a result of the invasion. Around 3mn Ukrainians are now refugees, the US official said, including 1mn children.

Zelensky said peace talks with Russia, which ended on Monday without a breakthrough, would continue on Tuesday.

In an address published on Facebook, Zelensky offered his personal thanks to an employee of a state-owned news channel in Moscow who interrupted a live broadcast on Monday night to declare her opposition to the Kremlin’s invasion.

Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, shouted “Stop the war. No to war” and held a sign that read: “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”

Marina Ovsyannikova stages a protest behind the newsreader on Russia’s main state television evening broadcast
Marina Ovsyannikova stages a protest behind the newsreader on Russia’s main state television evening broadcast © AFP/Getty

News media in Russia are prohibited from depicting the war in neighbouring Ukraine as anything other than a “special military operation” — the term used by the Kremlin to describe the invasion.

A former senior Kremlin official, Arkady Dvorkovich, also joined the condemnations. Dvorkovich, the head of the World Chess Federation and Russian deputy prime minister from 2012-18, told the US magazine Mother Jones: “My thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians.”

He added: “Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections.”

Additional reporting by Valentina Pop in Brussels and Aime Williams in Washington

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