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Ukrainian president says defence is at a ‘turning point’

Ukraine’s president said his country’s defense against the Russian invasion was at a “turning point” and again pressed the United States for more help, hours after the Kremlin’s forces reneged on a pledge to scale back some of their operations.

Russian bombardment of areas around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv and intensified attacks elsewhere in the country further undermined hopes for progress toward ending the bloody conflict that has devolved into a war of attrition. Civilians trapped in besieged cities have shouldered some of the worst suffering, though both sides said Thursday they would attempt another evacuation from the port city of Mariupol.

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Talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume Friday by video, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia.

A delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers visited Washington on Wednesday to push for more US assistance, saying their nation needs more military equipment, more financial help and tougher sanctions against Russia.

“We need to kick Russian soldiers off our land, and for that we need all, all possible weapons,” Ukrainian parliament member Anastasia Radina said at a news conference at the Ukrainian Embassy.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the case directly to US President Joe Biden.

“If we really are fighting for freedom and in defense of democracy together, then we have a right to demand help in this difficult turning point. Tanks, aircraft, artillery systems. Freedom should be armed no worse than tyranny,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation, which he delivered standing in the dark outside the dimly lit presidential offices in Kyiv. He thanked the US for an additional $500 million in aid that was announced Wednesday.

There seemed little faith that Russia and Ukraine will resolve the conflict soon, particularly after the Russian military’s about-face and its most recent attacks.

Russia said Tuesday that it would de-escalate operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” Zelenskyy and the West were skeptical. Soon after, Ukrainian officials reported that Russian shelling was hitting homes, stores, libraries and other civilian sites in or near those areas.

Britain’s Defense Ministry also confirmed “significant Russian shelling and missile strikes” around Chernihiv.

It said Thursday that “Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units. Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days.”

Russian troops also stepped up their attacks on the Donbas region in the east and around the city of Izyum, which lies on a key route to the Donbas, after redeploying units from other areas, the Ukrainian side said.

Olexander Lomako, secretary of the Chernihiv city council, said the Russian announcement turned out to be “a complete lie.” “At night they didn’t decrease, but vice versa increased the intensity of military action,” Lomako said.

A top British intelligence official said Thursday that demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine were refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their own equipment and had accidentally shot down their own aircraft.

In a speech in the Australian capital Canberra, Jeremy Fleming, who heads the GCHQ electronic spy agency, said President Vladimir Putin had apparently “massively misjudged” the invasion, he said. Although Putin’s advisers appeared to be too afraid to tell the truth, the “extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” he said.

US intelligence officials have given similar assessments that Putin is being misinformed by advisers too scared to give honest evaluations.

Five weeks into the invasion that has left thousands dead, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country topped a staggering 4 million, half of them children, according to the United Nations.

“I do not know if we can still believe the Russians,” Nikolay Nazarov, a refugee from Ukraine, said as he pushed his father’s wheelchair at a border crossing into Poland. “I think more escalation will occur in eastern Ukraine. That is why we cannot go back to Kharkiv.” Zelenskyy said the continuing negotiations with Russia were only “words without specifics.” He said Ukraine was preparing for concentrated new strikes on the Donbas.

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