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A woman carries a bottle of water as emergency specialists work at a residential building damaged by shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk on March 30, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Kyiv, Ukraine: Ukraine on Wednesday accused Russia of shelling a city where it had promised de-escalation, dampening hopes of any resolution to a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions.

Ukraine and Western powers had already cast doubt on Russia’s pledge to reduce military activity around Chernigiv and the capital Kyiv, made during face-to-face talks in Istanbul on Tuesday.

“Chernigiv was shelled all night,” regional governor Vyacheslav Chaus wrote on social media.

AFP reporters on Wednesday could also hear frequent explosions coming from the direction of the suburban town of Irpin to the northwest of Kyiv.

Ukrainian forces have said they are in control of the town but emergency services said it was still too dangerous for civilians to access.

“The area might be within mortar range so it is still dangerous,” said Petro Kyseliov, acting head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv.

Russian officials had pledged to “radically” reduce attacks because of progress in negotiations on “the neutrality and non-nuclear status” of Ukraine - two central concerns for Moscow.

Both sides called the Istanbul meeting “meaningful” and “positive” but the Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough.

“We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” Peskov said.

Stock markets, which had been buoyed up by Tuesday’s more hopeful comments, slid again and oil prices rose back up on supply concerns.

The Pentagon said Russia had merely repositioned a “small number” of forces near Kyiv, and could be preparing a “major offensive” elsewhere.

The “vast majority” of Russian forces around Kyiv remained in place, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Ukraine’s military also warned the withdrawal of Russian troops around Kyiv and Chernigiv “is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead”.

Still, the talks in Istanbul marked the first sign of progress in discussions to end the conflict, with Kyiv’s negotiator David Arakhamia saying there were “sufficient” conditions for Zelensky to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

‘We’ll see’

But Ukraine’s Western allies said they had no plans to ease measures taken to punish Russia for the attacks.

“We’ll see if they follow through on what they’re suggesting,” US President Joe Biden said Tuesday after speaking with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, who vowed no let-up in sanctions.

On Wednesday, Poland urged the European Union to impose a tax on Russian hydrocarbon imports while Germany raised the alarm level under its emergency gas plan over fears Russia could cut supplies to countries that refuse its demand to be paid in rubles.

Russia meanwhile worked on shoring up support from allies.

On a visit to China on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We, together with you, and with our sympathisers will move towawards a multipolar, just, democratic world order.”

Lavrov will go this week to India, which has abstained from UN resolutions censuring Russia and continues to buy Russian oil and other goods, despite pressure from Washington.

Ukraine says Russia, which launched its attacks on February 24, is on the back foot.

In recent days, Ukraine’s fighters have recaptured territory including Irpin.

“The Russians were slowly backed off from Irpin... So now the priority task is to go there and bring back the bodies of those killed,” Kyseliov said.

“The bodies are still lying around the streets, they are starting to decay and smell and dogs and other animals are starting to eat them,” he said.

‘Death everywhere’

Some 20,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict so far, according to Zelensky, though the number of casualties could not be independently verified.

On Tuesday a Russian missile strike on the southern town of Mykolaiv left at least 14 dead, Ukrainian officials said.

There was also no progress for the estimated 160,000 people still trapped with little food, water or medicine in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

Russian forces have encircled the city and their steady and indiscriminate bombardment has killed at least 5,000 people, but possibly as many as 10,000, according to one senior Ukrainian official.

France, Greece and Turkey have been trying to organise a mass evacuation of civilians from the city, but talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin ended Tuesday without a deal.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said a Red Cross facility was targeted by Russian aircraft and artillery.

Aid groups have called regularly for access to Mariupol, decrying hellish conditions, and Ukrainian officials have accused Russian troops of forcibly deporting residents to Russia.

Civilians who have managed to escape Mariupol describe a place with “death everywhere”.

“We buried our neighbours, we saw death everywhere and even my children saw it,” said Mariia Tsymmerman, who fled to Zaporizhzhia two weeks ago but is now making the perilous journey back to deliver supplies and help others leave.

“I know a woman who killed her own dog to feed her children,” she said.