Russian Forces Advance in Southern Ukraine Amid Cease-Fire Talks | #socialmedia


KYIV, Ukraine—Russia deepened its military offensive in southern Ukraine, penetrating the city of Kherson and pushing toward Zaporizhya, as the two sides resumed cease-fire talks after Moscow’s week-old incursion stalled in the north of the country.

Russian forces Thursday continued pounding residential districts in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and Chernihiv in the north. Moscow also conducted airstrikes on the capital, Kyiv, and several Russian warships appeared near the southern port city of Odessa in what Ukrainian officials said could be the opening stages of an amphibious assault.

Seizing Odessa and other coastal cities that remain under Kyiv’s control would deprive Ukraine of its Black Sea coast and the ports through which most of the country’s exports are shipped.

Russian President

Vladimir Putin,

in a 90-minute phone call Thursday with French leader

Emmanuel Macron,

left little room for optimism about the talks and the course of the conflict.

Mr. Putin said that he wanted Ukraine to disarm before Moscow agreed to a cease-fire, according to a French official. If Ukraine refuses, Russia will obtain its goals by force, Mr. Putin threatened, according to the official. The Russian leader then began to reiterate his rationale for the invasion, including the false allegation that Ukraine’s government is in the hands of Nazis, the French official said.

“Either you’re telling yourself stories or you’re looking for a pretext,” Mr. Macron replied, according to the French official. Mr. Macron told Mr. Putin that Moscow would “pay a high price, because Russia will end up weakened and isolated.”

A Kremlin account of the call reported that Mr. Putin said the invasion was proceeding according to plan, and that Russia’s goals for the war remained unchanged. Moscow still demands “demilitarization and neutral status of Ukraine,” believes that “the tasks of the special military operation will be fulfilled in any case,” and warns that “attempts to gain time by dragging out negotiations will only lead to additional demands on Kyiv,” according to the Kremlin readout.

Mr. Putin, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, also denied that Russian units were bombing civilian neighborhoods in Ukraine, calling such reports an “anti-Russian disinformation campaign.”

The city of Kherson, located at the mouth of the Dnipro River near the Black Sea, is the first regional capital to come under Russian occupation after more than a week of heavy fighting and shelling. Local authorities said they were working to restore electricity and heat, deliver food and other vital supplies to the city and collect dead bodies from its streets.

Russian troops occupied the regional government headquarters on Thursday, Kherson Gov. Hennadiy Lahuta said on social media, as Ukrainian authorities in the city continued their work. One of their key priorities in negotiations with Russian forces, he said, is the resumption of operations of a giant chicken farm in the nearby town of Chornobayivka, where some three million birds were on the verge of dying, something that could pollute the water supply, causing an environmental disaster.

Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

called on residents of Russian-occupied areas to resist, saying sooner or later the Russians would be forced to leave.

“We will chase them away, with shame,” he said. “Every occupier must know they will not obtain anything here. They will not have anyone submit to them. Anywhere they enter they will be exterminated. They will have no rest. They will have no food. They will not have a single quiet minute.”

Ukrainian flag-waving protests have broken out in several smaller towns seized by Russian forces in recent days. Ahead of the war, Kyiv prepared stay-behind insurgent units that would focus on disrupting the Russian forces’ rear.

Residents in Odessa, southern Ukraine, prepared to defend the city from the Russian offensive.



Photo:

Gilles Bader/Zuma Press

A woman and her child arrived in the city of Lviv after fleeing Odessa.



Photo:

daniel leal/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Russian and Ukrainian delegates shook each other’s hands as they sat down for a meeting in Belarus on Thursday afternoon.

Russian Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

said before the meeting that any deal with Kyiv must include a clause on destroying weapons that threaten Russia, according to the RIA news agency. Western nations have poured in large supplies of antitank and antiaircraft missiles to shore up Ukraine’s defenses this year, while Turkey has provided Bayraktar TB-2 armed drones that Kyiv has used to destroy Russian columns.

Ukrainian forces have managed to stymie Russia’s advance on Kyiv and Kharkiv, and have even retaken some areas in a counteroffensive northwest of the capital, according to government statements and video footage. Strong resistance from Ukraine, however, has pushed the Kremlin to shift to a strategy of indiscriminate attacks, shelling civilian areas in an attempt to demoralize Ukraine’s population.

Media coverage of Russian troops invading Ukraine is unfolding differently in Russia than in the U.S. Using maps and disinformation, many television programs are shaping public opinion by justifying Moscow’s decision to attack its neighbor. Photo composite: Sharon Shi

Western officials fear Moscow is laying the groundwork for the Russian military to use siege tactics, trapping civilians and resistance fighters inside urban areas and cutting them off from food and supplies. French Foreign Minister

Jean-Yves Le Drian

compared the circumstances facing Ukraine’s urban centers to Aleppo, in northern Syria, which was decimated by the Russian-backed forces of Syrian President

Bashar al-Assad.

“The worst is still ahead of us,” Mr. Le Drian said, adding that Kharkiv, a predominantly Russian-speaking city in eastern Ukraine, and Mariupol on the coast of the Azov Sea were at risk of being surrounded.

The sound of gunfire was gone and the streets were quiet in Kherson, said a student living in the city, adding that Russian forces appeared to be in control. Civilians were back in the streets, going to buy food before a Ukrainian counterattack they expect in a few days, she said, adding that she was scared.

Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaev wrote in a

Facebook

post that “armed visitors” had entered his city council building, adding that he didn’t negotiate with them. The mayor said he was adopting a curfew and advised residents to “walk one by one, maximum two” when going outside.

Destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street in Borodyanka, near Kyiv.



Photo:

MAKSIM LEVIN/REUTERS

An Ukrainian soldier guarded the front line northeast of Kyiv on Thursday.



Photo:

aris messinis/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“The military will not be provoked. Stop at the first demand,” he added.

Russian forces in southern Ukraine also occupied several towns of the Zaporizhya region northeast of Kherson, moving closer to the regional capital. On Wednesday, they reached the town of Enerhodar, home of Europe’s largest operating nuclear power station. The area around the nuclear plants was spared fighting for now, according to local officials.

Russian forces were also moving toward Mr. Zelensky’s hometown, the large industrial city of Kryvyi Rih, northeast of Kherson. Territorial defense forces and the regular Ukrainian military in Kryvyi Rih, a largely Russian-speaking city, have begun preparing the area’s defenses, residents said.

Andriy Malets, an entrepreneur who lives in Kryvyi Rih, said the city on Thursday was quiet but there had been instances of looting ahead of a possible Russian advance. Armed local residents had begun patrolling busy areas to preserve order. Mr. Malets had lived in Russia for six years, and described himself as formerly pro-Russian. “Now,” he said. “I’ll take up arms and kill the Russian enemy with tears in my eyes.”

As Russian troops surrounded the major port city of Kherson, people hid inside their homes and the governor called for help with supplies. The United Nations said one million people fled Ukraine in the first week of war. Photo: Roman Pilipey/Shutterstock

Mr. Putin launched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the aim of quickly seizing Kyiv and toppling the Ukrainian leadership. The military campaign has stalled outside of Kyiv amid fierce resistance, low morale and logistical difficulties, Western and Ukrainian military officials said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry acknowledged extensive losses for the first time on Wednesday, saying that 498 Russian troops have been killed and 1,597 injured in the first seven days of the conflict. Moscow said its forces killed 2,870 Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine hasn’t released its military casualty figures, but says its forces have killed 5,840 Russian troops. Ukrainian officials have put the invasion’s civilian death toll at about 2,000.

Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov claimed on Thursday, without offering any evidence, that a large proportion of losses inflicted on Russian forces in Ukraine was the work of Western mercenaries and private military contractors. “Foreign mercenaries in Ukraine ambush Russian columns. All the attacks of the foreign mercenaries are carried out using weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime by the West,” Gen. Konashenkov claimed, listing the Javelin, Stinger and NLAW missiles that the U.S. and allies have shipped to Ukraine.

Ukraine created a new International Legion for foreign volunteers after the Russian invasion, and Mr. Zelensky has said the first 1,000 recruits out of the planned 16,000 have already signed up. There is no evidence of more than a handful of foreign citizens on the front lines at this time.

Over the past week, one million people in Ukraine have fled to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations.

People boarded an evacuation train from Kyiv to Lviv on Thursday.



Photo:

GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS

Family members bid farewell to each other as children were evacuated from Kyiv to Lviv.



Photo:

GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com and Stacy Meichtry at stacy.meichtry@wsj.com

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