The fast-moving developments on the diplomatic front and on the ground came as Russia’s invasion neared the three-week mark and the number of Ukrainians who have left the country amid Europe’s heaviest fighting since the second World War eclipsed three million.
After delegations from Ukraine and Russia met again on Tuesday via video, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said early on Wednesday that Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic”. The two sides were expected to speak again on Wednesday.
“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “Any war ends with an agreement.”
Mr Zelenskiy, who is expected to address the US Congress on Wednesday, thanked president Joe Biden and “all the friends of Ukraine” for $13.6 billion dollars (£11.8 billion) in new support.
He appealed for more weapons and more sanctions to punish Russia, and repeated his call to “close the skies over Ukraine to Russian missiles and planes”.
He said Russian forces on Tuesday had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory but had continued their heavy shelling of cities.
US network Fox News said one of its cameramen, Irishman Pierre Zakrzewski (55), was killed along with Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshinova (24) when their car was hit by shelling outside Kyiv. British reporter Benjamin Hall was badly injured in the incident.
Zakrzewski grew up in Dublin and attended St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge. Tributes were paid by President Michael D Higgins, among others. Stephen O’Dea, a former classmate and friend, described Zakrzewski as “astonishing” and “brave”.
Over the past day, 28,893 civilians were able to flee the fighting through nine humanitarian corridors, although the Russians refused to allow aid into Mariupol, he said.
In a show of support for Ukraine, Czech prime minister Petr Fiala, Slovenian premier Janez Jansa, their Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki and the leader of Poland’s ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, arrived in Kyiv by train on Tuesday evening.
“It is here, in war-torn Kyiv, that history is being made. It is here that freedom fights against the world of tyranny. It is here that the future of us all hangs in the balance,” Mr Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.
Nato announced that it would hold an “extraordinary” summit in Brussels on March 24th to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, large explosions thundered across Kyiv before dawn from what Ukrainian authorities said were artillery strikes, as Russia’s bombardment of the capital appeared to become more systematic and edged closer to the city centre, smashing apartments, a subway station and other civilian sites.
Mr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that barrages hit four multi-storey buildings in the city and killed dozens. The strikes disrupted the relative calm that returned after an initial advance by Moscow’s forces was stopped in the early days of the war.
A senior US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that the Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but that their ground forces were making little to no progress around the country. The official said Russian troops were still about nine miles from the centre of the capital.
The official said the US has seen indications that Russia believes it may need more troops or supplies than it has on hand in Ukraine, and it is considering ways to get more resources into the country. The official did not elaborate.
Before Tuesday’s talks, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would press its demands that Ukraine drop its bid to join Nato, adopt a neutral status and “demilitarise”.
In a statement that seemed to signal potential grounds for agreement with Moscow, Mr Zelenskiy told European leaders gathered in London that he realises Nato has no intention of accepting Ukraine.
“We have heard for many years about the open doors, but we also heard that we can’t enter those doors,” he said. “This is the truth, and we have simply to accept it as it is.”
Nato does not admit nations with unsettled territorial conflicts. Mr Zelenskiy has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he realises Nato is not going to offer membership to Ukraine and that he could consider a neutral status for his country but needs strong security guarantees from both the West and Russia.
The UN said close to 700 civilians in Ukraine have been confirmed killed, with the true figure probably much higher.
Two journalists working for Fox News were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by fire on Monday on the outskirts of Kyiv, the network said. Fox identified the two as video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was helping Fox crews navigate the area. Another journalist was killed on Sunday in Ukraine.
New efforts to bring civilians to safety and deliver aid were underway around the country. The Red Cross said it was working to evacuate people in about 70 buses from the north eastern town of Sumy, near the Russian border.
The exodus from Mariupol marked the biggest evacuation yet from the southern city of 430,000, where officials say a weeks-long siege has killed more than 2,300 people and left residents struggling for food, water, heat and medicine. Bodies have been buried in mass graves.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior aide to Mr Zelensky, said that about 20,000 people managed to leave Mariupol on Tuesday in 4,000 private vehicles via a designated safe corridor leading to the city of Zaporizhzhia.
Later, Ukraine said a fourth Russian general had been killed in the fighting.
Major general Oleg Mityaev died on Tuesday during the storming of Mariupol, said Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko, who published a photo on Telegram of what he said was the dead officer. – Additional reporting by AP