A Russian military convoy stretching back 65km (40 miles) has amassed on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital amid fears that invading forces were set to launch devastating assaults to take control of Kyiv.
Satellite images on Tuesday showed a long build-up of armoured vehicles and artillery starting 29km (18 miles) north of the city, as Moscow defied mounting global pressure and a wave of international sanctions that have smashed Russia’s economy.
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Initial ceasefire talks between Moscow and Kyiv on Monday failed to secure a breakthrough, with Russia shelling residential areas in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv and other areas of the country after the negotiations.
The Russian army has been regrouping and massing its forces over the past 24 hours “primarily to encircle and take control of Kyiv and other major cities,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces wrote on Facebook.
The column is more than 65km long and covers the entire road from near Antonov airport outside Kyiv to the town of Prybirsk, the United States satellite imaging company Maxar Technologies said.
“Some vehicles are spaced fairly far apart while in other sections military equipment and units are travelling two or three vehicles abreast on the road,” Maxar said.
The images also showed “additional ground forces deployments and ground attack helicopter units” in southern Belarus near the Ukraine border.
Al Jazeera’s Mutaz Hasan, reporting from Kyiv, said that they heard loud explosions through the night.
“It was a difficult and hard day for people here in Kyiv,” he said, adding that most of the people who chose to stay in the capital stayed in shelters.
Hasan said that people kept leaving the city as the recent talks between Russia and Ukraine did not produce any results.
“Shortly after the talks ended, bombings intensified. We heard probably the loudest explosions in the capital after the talks,” he added.
Andrew Simmons, reporting from the city of Lviv, in central Ukraine, said Ukraine’s parliament is claiming that Belarusian troops have crossed into the country’s north and joined the Russian offensive.
“This is a big development and it is also very likely to totally destroy any hope that the negotiations to try and get a ceasefire will happen because Ukraine had sought assurances that these talks would take place on the guarantee that Belarus would not make this move – effectively declaring war, by joining the Russians,” he said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, launched last week, has fallen behind schedule, according to a US senator, Chris Murphy. President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24 after recognising Ukraine’s breakaway regions as independent entities.
The Russian president has said Kyiv’s attempt to get NATO membership was a threat to Moscow’s security.
The United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on Russia’s top businesses, oligarchs and officials, including Putin himself.
In a major policy shift, many European countries and NATO have decided to supply arms to Ukraine in the wake of the biggest assault on a European state since World War II.