Ukrainian forces retook areas around Kyiv on Friday as Moscow accused its neighbour of jeopardising peace talks by conducting a helicopter attack on a fuel depot across the Russian border.
An attempt to evacuate civilians from the devastated city of Mariupol was cut short as Russian troops maintained a surrounding chokehold, while the mayor of Chernihiv warned his city was also undergoing a “humanitarian catastrophe” without water or electricity and at risk of running out of food.
Russian firefighters battled a huge fire at the fuel depot in the border city of Belgorod, a key logistics hub for Moscow's invasion, as Ukraine denied responsibility for what a Russian governor described as a missile attack by two low-flying Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters.
"Certainly, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of the talks," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Ukraine's security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov dismissed the Russian account on national television, saying it "does not correspond to reality".
The Russian government has presented a pullback of troops in the Ukraine’s north as a sign of goodwill to facilitate peace talks, which continued by video link on Friday following negotiations in Istanbul.
The shift saw Ukrainian soldiers re-enter areas such as the hard-hit commuter suburb of Irpin, where rescue workers worked to collect the bodies of dead civilians amid the rubble and ruined streets.
But Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that Russia was amassing forces in the southeast of Ukraine in preparation for fresh assaults.
“There will be battles ahead. We still have a very difficult path to cover,” he said in a late-night address.
As the number of people who have fled Ukraine exceeded four million, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitaliy Klitschko, issued a warning that it was not yet safe for people to return to the city, saying that "huge" battles were raging to its north and east.
Five weeks since Russia began the invasion by sending more than 150,000 troops across the border into Ukraine, the United States announced fresh sanctions targeting Russian technology firms that support its defence sector, in a bid to further undermine Moscow's ability to wage war.
In a letter to The Irish Times, Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, blamed Ukraine for the conflict and said the Russian embassy in Dublin had received “numerous messages of support from the Irish citizens”.
The European Union, which in virtual talks on Friday pushed China not to offer Russia economic support, is also close to agreeing a fresh package of sanctions targeting new individuals for asset freezes and travel bans and seeking to close off loopholes.
But the new sanctions are expected to stop short of hitting Russian energy imports, road transport and port trade. Such measures have been pushed for by the member states that border Russia and are determined to halt its progress, but their calls have been resisted by member states concerned about economic blowback.
On a visit to Kyiv in which she addressed a sitting of Ukraine's parliament, the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, insisted more ambitious steps were needed.
“We need more and harder sanctions,” she said, vowing to support Ukraine’s ambitions for membership of the EU and ultimately the reconstruction of the country. “We should not, in consuming Kremlin energy, indirectly fund the bombs falling on your homes.”
A deadline set by Russian president Vladimir Putin for countries to pay for gas supplies in roubles or face cuts to supply – seen as a gambit to support the currency in the face of economic punishment – slipped on Friday, as a Kremlin spokesman said some weeks remained before payments were due.
Russian state-controlled energy company Gazprom announced it was selling its businesses in Germany, as Berlin pivots away from years of building dependence on its gas to cut out Moscow's involvement and source alternative supplies.