Embattled Ukrainians remain hopeful that renewed diplomatic talks with Russia could pave the way for the evacuation of more civilians, a day after Moscow stepped up its offensive by bombarding areas dangerously close to the Polish border.
Russian missiles pounded a military base in western Ukraine on Sunday, killing 35 people in an attack on a facility that served as a crucial hub for cooperation between Ukraine and supporting NATO nations. his defence.
This raised the possibility that the alliance could be drawn into the fight. The attack was also fraught with symbolism in a conflict that has reignited old Cold War rivalries and threatened to rewrite the current global security order.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a “dark day” and again urged NATO leaders to establish a no-fly zone over the country, a plea the West says could escalate into a nuclear confrontation.
“If you don’t close our skies, it’s only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory. NATO territory. On the homes of citizens of NATO countries,” Mr Zelensky said, urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him directly – a request that went unanswered from the Kremlin.
Diplomats were due to resume talks on Monday, according to Russian news agency Tass.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is sending his national security adviser to Rome to meet with a Chinese official concerned that Beijing is amplifying Russian disinformation and could help Moscow evade Western economic sanctions.
The UN has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths, though it estimates the true toll to be much higher, and Ukraine’s attorney general’s office said at least 85 children were among them. Millions more people have fled their homes amid Europe’s biggest land dispute since World War II.
Since their invasion more than two weeks ago, Russian forces have struggled to advance through Ukraine, facing stronger-than-expected resistance, bolstered by support from Western weapons.
Instead, Russian forces besieged and pounded several towns, hitting two dozen medical facilities and creating a series of humanitarian crises.
That fight spilled over Sunday to the sprawling Yavoriv facility, which has long been used to train Ukrainian soldiers, often with instructors from the United States and other Western alliance countries.
More than 30 Russian cruise missiles targeted the site. In addition to the dead, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said 134 people were injured in the attack.
The base is less than 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the Polish border and appears to be the westernmost target hit during the 18-day Russian invasion.
It has hosted NATO training exercises, making it a potent symbol of Russia’s longstanding fears that the expansion of the 30-member Western military alliance to include former Soviet states threatens its security – which NATO denies.
Yet the perceived threat from NATO is central to Moscow’s justifications for the war, and it has demanded that Ukraine abandon its ambitions to join the alliance.
Russian fighters also fired at the airport in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk, located less than 94 miles (150 kilometers) north of Romania and 155 miles (250 kilometers) from Hungary, two other allies of NATO.
NATO said on Sunday it currently has no personnel in Ukraine, although the United States has increased the number of American troops deployed in Poland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the West would react if Russian strikes traveled outside Ukraine and hit NATO members, even accidentally.
Ukrainian and European leaders have lobbied with limited success for Russia to grant safe passage to civilians trapped in the fighting.
Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that more than 10 humanitarian corridors were to open, including from the beleaguered port city of Mariupol. But those promises repeatedly crumbled and no one said late Sunday whether people could use the escape routes.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the suffering in Mariupol was “simply immense” and that hundreds of thousands of people faced extreme shortages of food, water and medicine.
“Corpses, both civilians and combatants, remain trapped under the rubble or lie in the open where they fell,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “Life-changing injuries and chronic, debilitating conditions cannot be treated.”
The fight for Mariupol is crucial because its capture could help Russia establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Elsewhere, fighting continued on several fronts.
In the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, near the Black Sea, authorities said nine people were killed in bomb attacks. They said Russian airstrikes on a monastery and children’s resort in the eastern region of Donetsk hit places where monks and others were sheltering, injuring 32 people.
Around the capital, Kiev, a major political and strategic target of the invasion, fighting has also intensified, with nighttime shelling in the northwestern suburbs and a missile strike on Sunday that destroyed a warehouse to the east. An American filmmaker and journalist was killed in an attack by Russian troops.