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Ukraine says Russian troops ‘reduced pace of offensive’, China calls for de-escalationThe enemy is demoralised and bears heavy losses, claims the Ukrainian militaryKYIV • The Ukrainian military said yesterday that Russian troops had slowed down their offensive as Moscow’s assault against Ukraine went into its fifth day.“The Russian occupiers have reduced the pace of the offensive, but are still trying to develop success in some areas,” the general staff of the armed forces said.Russia invaded Ukraine last Thursday, sending shockwaves around the world. Ukraine forces, backed by Western arms, have managed to slow the advance of the Russian army.The Ukrainian military also accused Russia of launching a missile strike on residential buildings in the cities of Zhytomyr and Chernigiv, cities in the country’s northwest and north.“At the same time, all attempts by the Russian invaders to achieve the goal of the military operation failed,” the military said. “The enemy is demoralised and bears heavy losses,” the military it claimed.Meanwhile, Beijing yesterday called for de-escalation and “restraint” over the Ukraine crisis as Russia and Ukraine prepared to meet for their first talks since Moscow’s invasion of its western neighbour.A Ukrainian Territorial Defence fighter examines a destroyed Russian infantry mobility vehicle GAZ Tigr after the fight in Kharkiv. Ukrainian forces secured full control of Kharkiv on Sunday following street fighting with Russian troopsAFPRussia had announced it had neutralised key Ukrainian military facilities, with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordering his country’s nuclear forces onto high alert.Representatives from Moscow and Kyiv are set to meet on the border with Belarus next Monday, after Western allies hit Russia with a slew of sanctions and pledged arms for Ukraine.China has trod a cautious diplomatic tightrope on the crisis as it tries to balance its core foreign policy line — that a country’s sovereignty is sacrosanct and others should not interfere — with its support for close ally Moscow.Instead it has called for Russia’s “reasonable” security demands to be heard, repeatedly refusing to condemn Putin’s actions or use the term “invasion”.Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin yesterday urged both sides to “remain calm and exercise restraint to prevent further escalation of the situation”.“China pays close attention to changes in the Ukraine situation and supports all efforts to deescalate the situation and resolve it politically,” Wang said at a regular press briefing.Beijing voted to abstain from last Friday United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which was vetoed by Russia.China’s President Xi Jinping told Putin in a call last week that he hoped the crisis could be resolved with a “balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations”.But as Beijing tries to stick to a neutral position, Chinese nationals in Ukraine have claimed to face rising hostility as public perceptions of the Asian country sour given China’s position on the invasion.The Chinese embassy in Kyiv on Sunday warned citizens not to “provoke” locals and to refrain from revealing their nationality, just days after telling those leaving Kyiv to display a Chinese flag on their vehicles.The embassy had announced last Thursday that it would prepare charter flights to evacuate its citizens — but later said it was still too unsafe to do so. — AFP