A massive explosion hit the Regional State Administration building early Tuesday, according to videos shared on social media and Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said it was caused by a Russian airstrike on the city and later said at least seven people were killed and 24 wounded.
Video posted on the service’s Telegram channel showed the square in front of the building covered in piles of debris, with the windows of surrounding buildings blown out. Rescuers worked to reach people buried under rubble inside the building.
NBC News has verified the videos are authentic but has not confirmed the number of people killed. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of hitting residential districts, and Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.
“All the time we hear the bombing and shooting and we don’t know how to sleep and what will … how we will live tomorrow,” said Yasmina Vladimirovich, a 31-year-old teacher living near the center of the city. In a video sent to NBC News, she said she had spent the night in her basement with her 5-month-old baby.
The strikes came after Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of targeting civilian areas in the city Monday, even as the first talks between the countries were taking place. Zelenskyy said he believed Russia stepped up its shelling to force his hand in the talks, which ended with no immediate breakthrough.
Western officials have said they think Putin’s aim is to remove Zelenskyy’s government and replace it with a Kremlin-friendly regime as part of a bid to restore Russia’s influence over its neighbors.
But seeking to tighten his country’s bond with the West, which has backed Kyiv with weapons and equipment while hitting Moscow with fierce sanctions, Zelenskyy signed an application for his country to join the European Union.
In a speech Tuesday, he pleaded with E.U. lawmakers to “prove to us that you are with us.” The lawmakers gave Zelenskyy a standing ovation after his remarks on the video call.
‘The heart of our country’
In a sign of the battle to come, Zelenskyy said defending the capital was a priority.
“If we defend Kyiv, we defend the country,” he said in a video message released on Telegram. “Kyiv is the heart of our country, and it must beat. And it will fight for its life to win.”
Satellite images captured by an American firm, Maxar Technologies, showed what it said was a convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles 17 miles from the center of the city and stretching for about 40 miles.
Russia’s advance on Ukraine’s capital has made little progress in the past 24 hours due to logistical difficulties, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday. The convoy seemed to be advancing more slowly than expected partly because of fuel and food shortages, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday.
“It is not exactly moving with great speed,” the official told NBC News. “They continue to be bogged down coming down from the north to get to Kyiv.”
Moscow had also increased its use of artillery north of Kyiv and around Kharkiv and Chernihiv, according to the Defense Ministry update posted on Twitter.
The key southern port city of Mariupol came under a constant barrage of shelling Tuesday, the city’s mayor said, adding that the attacks had killed women and children as well as damaged infrastructure, including schools and homes.
To the west, shelling hit residential buildings in the strategic city of Kherson, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said in a post on social media. Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces have blocked off Kherson, a major port on the Black Sea.
NBC News has not verified those claims.
The American official said the U.S. could not declare whether Russia has taken over Kherson, explaining the city remained contested. Russian forces are close enough to Mariupol that they can attack with long-range fires, the U.S. official said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to accuse Russia of “monstrous rocket strikes” on Kharkiv and hitting civilian hospitals, residences and critical infrastructure, in prerecorded remarks to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Putin is growing increasingly frustrated as his purportedly superior military force struggles to advance. The Russian leader may see only one option: doubling down on violence, current and former U.S. officials briefed on the matter told NBC News.
The fighting across Ukraine has forced around 660,000 people to flee to neighboring countries, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.N. refugee agency. The U.N. human rights office said it has recorded the deaths of 136 civilians so far, adding that the real toll is believed to be far higher.
After the International Criminal Court said it will open an investigation into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity during the conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected accusations of war crimes by Russian forces.