Ukrainian forces have seized control of a key town on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, according to a local mayor.
- Ukraine has made gains against Russian forces in some parts of the country
- Officials have played down the possible outcomes of in-person peace talks in Turkey
- Joe Biden says “moral outrage” was behind his comments about Vladimir Putin not remaining in power
Oleksandr Markushyn said Russian troops had been forced out of Irpin, which has been the scene of fierce fighting as Moscow’s troops have sought to advance towards Kyiv.
“We have good news today — Irpin has been liberated,” Mr Markushyn said in a video post on Telegram.
“We understand that there will be more attacks on our town and we will defend it courageously.”
“Now we are carrying out a mopping-up operation.”
Mr Markushyn said people should not return to Irpin as it was “not safe yet” and he expected further attacks.
He added that Ukrainian forces would next move to liberate other cities near Kyiv, including Bucha, Hostomel and Vorzel.
Reuters could not immediately verify the information provided on Monday.
The United States assessed that Ukrainian forces had also retaken the town of Trostyanets, south of Sumy in Ukraine’s north-east, a senior Pentagon official said.
“The Ukrainians are continuing to try to take back ground,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Klitschko says Kyiv remains strong despite losses
The approaches to Kyiv have been the scene of heavy fighting, the capital’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
In an address to the city council of Florence, which is twinned with Kyiv, Mr Klitschko said more than 100 deaths had been confirmed in Kyiv itself. He said more than 20 corpses could not be identified and four of the victims were children, while another 16 injured children were in hospital.
“The cities around Kyiv have seen numerous battles … on the roads we see many corpses and pieces of human corpses,” Mr Klitschko said according an Italian interpreter.
The former world heavyweight boxing champion said 82 multi-storey buildings in Kyiv had been destroyed by Russian attacks and it was impossible to know the true death toll in the city.
Kyiv has so far been spared the kind of destruction wrought on southern cities such as Mariupol, where nearly 5,000 people have been killed, a spokesperson for that city’s Mayor Vadym Boichenko said.
The spokesperson said about 90 per cent of buildings in Mariupol had been damaged, with about 40 per cent destroyed.
Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne quoted Mr Boichenko as saying that around 160,000 people remained in the besieged port city.
Mr Klitschko said the capture of Kyiv had been among Russia’s “main plans” at the start of its invasion, but it had been blocked so far by Ukraine’s resistance.
“We are resisting against the aggression of one of the strongest armies in the world and have succeeded in making them change their goals.”
Cyber attack hits Ukraine network
In other developments, a “massive” cyber attack knocked Ukraine’s national telecommunications provider Ukrtelecom almost completely offline in what network monitors called the most severe outage since Russia’s February 24 invasion.
The chair of Ukraine’s state service for special communication, Yurii Shchyhol, blamed “the enemy” in a statement without specifically naming Russia.
Most customers were cut off so that the military could still have access, he said.
The outage began on Monday morning and persisted into the evening, when Mr Shchyhol said services were being restored.
Also on Monday, an oil depot in western Ukraine’s Rivne region was hit by a missile attack, the local governor said. It was the second attack on oil facilities in the region near the Polish border.
Russian mercenaries ‘being sent from Africa’
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said up to 1,000 mercenaries working for Russia’s notorious Wagner Group were expected to be deployed in eastern Ukraine to bolster Russian forces which have suffered heavy losses there.
Wagner Group is a private Russian military contracting company which has been accused of human rights abuses.
Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, London’s defence attaché in Washington, said Russia would likely re-deploy Wagner personnel from operations in Africa and Syria.
Energy ministers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations rejected Russia’s demand that payments for its gas exports be made in roubles, German economy and climate protection minister Robert Habeck said after talks with his counterparts.
“All G7 ministers have agreed that this is a unilateral and clear breach of existing contracts,” he said after a virtual conference with G7 energy ministers.
Russia would take decisions in due course should European countries refuse to pay in the Russian currency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Officials play down outcome from peace talks
Ukraine and Russia have been preparing for the first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks, which are set to take place on Tuesday. But a senior US official said Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to make compromises to end the war.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a ceasefire was the most his country could hope for from the talks, which are due to be held in Istanbul after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Mr Putin on Sunday.
“We are not trading people, land or sovereignty,” Mr Kuleba said.
The talks will be the first in-person meetings since an acrimonious meeting between foreign ministers on March 10, a sign of shifts behind the scenes as Russia’s invasion stalls and sanctions hit home.
“Everything I have seen is he [Putin] is not willing to compromise at this point,” the senior US State Department official told Reuters on condition of anonymity after Ukraine’s President sketched out a potential way to end the crisis over the weekend.
Neither side has budged over Russia’s territorial demands, including Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, and eastern territories known as the Donbas, which Moscow demands Kyiv cede to separatists.
“I don’t think there will be any breakthrough on the main issues,” Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said.
In an interview with Russian journalists at the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned some form of “compromise” involving Donbas, although he did not suggest this might involve ceding the territory.
He has since said territorial integrity remained Kyiv’s priority.
Biden says ‘moral outrage’ behind Putin comment
US President Joe Biden said his remark in Warsaw that Mr Putin should be removed from power reflected his own moral outrage, not an administration policy shift.
“I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt, and I make no apologies,” he told reporters at the White House, noting that prior to the remark, made in a speech on Saturday, he had visited with families displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At the end of his speech in the Polish capital, Mr Biden added an unscripted line, saying that Mr Putin “cannot remain in power”.
Administration officials rushed to clarify afterward that the White House was not advocating for regime change in Russia.
Mr Biden added on Monday that he was “not walking anything back” by clarifying the remark.
Asked whether the remark would spur a negative response from Mr Putin, Mr Biden said: “I don’t care what he thinks… He’s going to do what he’s going to do.”
But Mr Biden once again suggested Mr Putin should not be leading Russia.
If Mr Putin “continues on the course that he’s on, he’s going to become a pariah worldwide and who knows what he becomes at home in terms of support”, Mr Biden said.