Ukraine Agrees to Meet for Negotiations With Russia at Belarus Border

After Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his invading army to attack “from all directions,” Ukraine’s defense forces and civilian volunteers reportedly repelled an assault on Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, but battles remain underway nationwide on Sunday as diplomatic efforts unfold.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Sunday that Kyiv intends to send a delegation to the Ukraine-Belarus border to hold discussions with Moscow “without preconditions.”

Zelenskyy rejected Putin’s earlier offer to meet his delegation in Minsk — saying that talks there could have been possible had Russia not attacked Ukraine from Belarus — but agreed after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko assured him during a phone call that “all planes, helicopters, and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, talks, and return” from the border.

Just before the planned negotiations were announced, Putin ordered the Russian military to put its nuclear forces on “special alert.”

The move, made in response to what Putin called “aggressive statements” by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), makes it easier to launch nuclear weapons more quickly, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that Russia intends to use them.

According to BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera, Putin is likely trying to “deter NATO support for Ukraine by creating fears over how far he is willing to go and creating ambiguity over what kind of support for Ukraine he will consider to be too much.”

Earlier Sunday, regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said that Ukrainian forces successfully expelled Russian troops following intense street fighting and are in full control of Kharkiv, a city roughly 300 miles east of the capital of Kiev, which is also still in Ukraine’s hands.

One video, verified by the BBC, shows a group of Ukrainian soldiers taking cover and launching missiles at Russian military vehicles in Kharkiv.

The BBC reported on overnight developments:

Residents described intense shelling, with one woman saying it was “something like Star Wars above your head.”

A nine-story residential tower was hit, emergency services said.

The building was severely damaged and an elderly woman was killed, according to emergency services. Rescuers said about 60 people were spared injury as they had taken refuge in the basement.

Ukrainian government ombudsman Lyudmyla Denysova said Sunday that more than 210 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and more than 1,100 wounded since the start of Russia’s invasion.

“With unseen cruelty, the enemy is destroying residential buildings, hospitals, kindergartens, and schools, taking away the right to live from the sons and daughters of Ukrainian land, including children,” she said in a social media post, according to the BBC.

Russia should be “punished severely for these crimes,” added Denysova. “Ukraine is noting down all these facts and will pass them on to the military tribunal in The Hague.”

Damage to homes and critical infrastructure has left hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine without access to water and electricity, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv hours after bombing an oil terminal in Vasylkiv, 18 miles south of Kyiv, resulting in a huge explosion and toxic air warnings.

The residents of Kyiv, where fighting continues, have been directed by mayor Vitali Klitschko to remain underground, and a curfew is currently in place through 8 a.m. on Monday.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Malyar estimated Sunday that 4,300 Russian soldiers have been killed and dozens of pieces of military equipment — including planes, helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, and cannons — destroyed since Putin ordered a full-scale invasion four days ago.

“Ukrainian civilians have also been attempting to block the advance of Russian forces peacefully,” the BBC reported. “One video, believed to be recorded in the Chernihiv region, shows local residents halting a convoy of Russian tanks by walking at them en masse.”

The number of people who have fled Ukraine to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and other nations has grown to 368,000, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. They are mostly women and children, as Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are ordered to stay and fight.