By Reuters, published by ABC News, plus BBC
RUSSIAN forces have bombarded the outskirts of Kyiv and the besieged city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, a day after promising to scale down operations there in what the West dismissed as a ploy to regroup by invaders taking heavy losses.
Nearly five weeks into an invasion in which it has failed to capture any major cities, Russia said it would curtail operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for peace talks on Tuesday.
But intensified bombardment could be heard in Kyiv on Wednesday morning from the direction of frontline suburbs where Ukrainian forces have regained territory in recent days.
The capital itself was not hit, but windows rattled from the relentless artillery on its outskirts.
Reuters journalists south-east of Irpin, a Kyiv suburb which has seen weeks of heavy clashes, heard the sound of frequent shelling and ordnance exploding on the ground and in the air.
Ukrainians evacuating the areas spoke of heavy shelling north of Irpin, shells landing in Irpin itself and dead bodies in the streets.
Chernihiv’s Mayor Vladyslav Astroshenko said Russian bombardment of that city had intensified over the past 24 hours, with more than 100,000 people trapped inside and just enough food and medical supplies to last about another week.
“This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies,” he told CNN.
“They actually have increased the intensity of strikes.”
The mayor added that “a colossal mortar attack in the centre of Chernihiv” on Wednesday had wounded 25 civilians.
Reuters could not verify the situation in Chernihiv and Russia’s Defence Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Irpin itself was recaptured by Ukrainian forces this week.
Reuters journalists who entered on Tuesday saw Ukrainian troops patrolling an abandoned ghost town of ruined buildings, with the body of an old man and a woman lying on the streets.
In an overnight address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made clear he took nothing Moscow said at face value.
“Ukrainians are not naive people,” he said.
“Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result.”
Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Moscow was shifting some forces from northern Ukraine to the east, trying to encircle the main Ukrainian force there.
Russian forces also hit industrial facilities in western Ukraine in three strikes overnight, a regional governor said.
Putin misled by advisers, says US
The British defence ministry said the announcement that Moscow was focusing on the Donbas was “likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance”.
It said heavy losses had forced Moscow to pull troops to Russia and Belarus to resupply and reorganise.
Those comments came as US officials said they believe Putin was misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging Western sanctions have been.
“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military,” a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Putin didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president.”
The official did not provide the intelligence report, but said the information had been declassified.
Military analysts say Russia has reframed its war goals in Ukraine in a way that may make it easier for Putin to claim a face-saving victory despite a woeful campaign in which his army has suffered humiliating setbacks.
“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” the official said.
Germany and Austria take step towards gas rationing
Germany and Austria have triggered emergency plans over possible gas supply disruption amid a payments stand-off with Russia.
Russia had demanded “unfriendly” countries pay for its gas in roubles from Mar. 31, but the EU, which mainly pays in euros, rejected the idea.
Moscow later appeared to soften its stance, saying on Wednesday rouble payments would be introduced gradually.
But Germany and Austria have taken the first steps towards gas rationing
Germany urged consumers and companies to reduce consumption in anticipation of possible shortages, while Austria said it was tightening its monitoring of the gas market.
Germany gets about half its gas and a third of its oil from Russia and has warned that it could face a recession if supplies suddenly stopped.
Neighbouring Austria relies on Russia much more for gas, with the country getting about 80% from the country and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s office said measures such as gas rationing would only come into play in an “immediate crisis”.
Under an existing gas emergency plan, the “early warning phase”, which both Germany and Austria have begun, is the first of three steps designed to prepare the country for a potential supply shortage. In its final stage, the governments would bring in gas rationing.
German economy minister Robert Habeck said the country’s gas supplies were safeguarded for the time being, but said it was increasing precautionary measures in case of escalation by Russia.
The head of German network regulator Bundesnetzagentur, Klaus Müller, said the aim of the early warning was to avoid a deterioration of supply. He urged consumers and industry to prepare for “all scenarios”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would not demand payments in roubles from Thursday.
“Payments and delivery is a time consuming process… from a technological point of view, this is a more prolonged process,” he said.
Top: Despite promises of decreased military attacks Chernihiv has once again been hit hard by Russian troops. Photo: AP and published by ABC News
First insert: Mayor of Chernihiv Vadyslav Atroshenko says Russia has lied about their intentions in the area as he surveys the latest destruction. Photo: AP / Vladislav Savenok and published by ABC News
Second insert: Residents continue to evacuate from the now ghost town of Irpin, located north-west of Kyiv, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces this week. Photo: Reuters / Zohra Bensemra and published by ABC News
Third insert: US officials say Vladimir Putin was misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military was performing. Photo: AP /Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik and published by ABC News
Fourth insert: Germany and Austria move to start rationing gas. Photo: Getty Images and published by BBC
Home Page: The UN estimates that thousands of civilians may have died in the besieged city of Mariupol. Photo: AP: Alexei Alexandrov and published by ABC News
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