Amid Peace Talk, Russia Kill Many In Ukraine’s Second Largest City

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Russian rocket attacks killed dozens of people in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv as ceasefire talks between Kyiv and Moscow got underway.

After four days of fighting and a slower Russian advance than many expected, the Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, had been “massively fired on”, leaving “dozens of dead and hundreds of wounded”.

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, said the reports of deadly Russian strikes on densely populated civilian areas were disturbing.

“There are lots of pictures [circulating on social media] showing explosions and suggestions that Grad rocket fire has been used, others that bombs have been dropped by the air, and there are lots of [videos showing] flashes that indicate secondary explosions, and the use of cluster munitions in amongst all of that,” said Hull.

The news came hours after the Ukrainian presidency said it had begun negotiations with a Russian delegation on the border with Belarus, aimed at achieving “an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces”.

Pre-dawn blasts were again heard in the capital, Kyiv, in Kharkiv and in the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, officials said, but they added that the attempts of Russian ground forces to capture major urban centres were still being repelled.

The country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, who recently backed Putin’s military assault on Ukraine after earlier playing an intermediary role, could also send troops to help Russia in the next 24 hours, according to a senior American intelligence official.

Terrified Ukrainian families huddled in shelters, basements or corridors, with millions thought to have fled their homes and more than 500,000 having left Ukraine to escape the biggest invasion of a European country since the second world war.