Russia has killed dozens of people in a missile strike on a base previously used by Nato trainers in western Ukraine, even as negotiators from Kyiv and Moscow gave a positive assessment of talks to end a war that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions.
Ukrainian officials said 35 people died and 134 were injured in the attack on the Yavoriv base, just 25km from the border with EU and Nato member Poland, making it the deadliest single incident in Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbour on February 24th.
Moscow said the strike early on Sunday morning killed “up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large cache of foreign weapons”, a day after Russia warned that it viewed western arms deliveries to Ukraine as legitimate targets for attack.
Western powers said their military instructors left Ukraine before Russia launched its invasion, but thousands of foreign volunteers have subsequently sought to enter the embattled state to help defend it.
Kyiv said no foreign citizens were killed in the missile strike, which Russia launched despite warnings from the US and other Nato states that the alliance would respond to any hostile action against any of its members.
“If Russia attacks, fires upon, takes a shot at Nato territory, the Nato alliance would respond to that,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, adding that US and its allies would “defend every inch of Nato territory, and that means every inch”.
Russian soldiers were also accused on Sunday of shooting dead US journalist Brent Renaud and injuring a colleague outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where Moscow’s forces appear to be preparing for a major assault on the city.
“This is obviously shocking and horrifying, and . . . we’ll be consulting with the Ukrainians to determine how this happened and then to measure and execute appropriate consequences,” Mr Sullivan told CBS News.
“This is part and parcel of what has been the brazen aggression on the part of the Russians where they have targeted civilians, they have targeted hospitals, they have targeted places of worship and they have targeted journalists.”
US officials have voiced concern that China may be preparing to help Russia’s campaign, the Financial Times reported on Sunday night, saying Vladimir Putin’s administration had asked Beijing for military equipment to support its invasion.
Ukraine says thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia invaded with the stated aim of “demilitarising” and “denazifying” the pro-western democracy.
The United Nations says 2.7 million people have fled Ukraine for neighbouring EU states, and many more displaced people remain on Ukrainian territory.
Apartment blocks, schools and hospitals have been hit by shelling in several cities in eastern and southern Ukraine, and officials in the Azov Sea port of Mariupol say more than 2,000 residents have died in a two-week Russian siege that has reduced much of the city to ruins and severed supplies of food, water and power.
Ukraine says Russia abducted the mayors of at least two occupied southern towns over the weekend, but large anti-Moscow protests still took place in Kherson, Melitopol and Berdyansk, where the Kremlin’s forces claim to have control.
“Russian war criminals abducted another democratically elected Ukrainian mayor, head of Dniprorudne Yevhen Matveyev,” tweeted Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“Getting zero local support, invaders turn to terror. I call on all states and international organisations to stop Russian terror against Ukraine and democracy.”
As intense fighting continued, Ukrainian and Russian delegates who have held three rounds of tentative peace talks said progress could be possible in the coming days.
“Russia is already beginning to talk constructively. I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.
Leonid Slutsky, a Russian delegate to the talks, said: “According to my personal expectations, this progress may grow in the coming days into a joint position of both delegations, into documents for signing.”