“I sit and pray for these negotiations to end successfully, so that they reach an agreement to end the slaughter, and so there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, weeping as she clutched her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Around her, parents sought to console children and keep them warm.

Russian and Ukrainian delegations met for talks Monday amid high hopes but low expectations for any diplomatic breakthrough, after Moscow unleashed the biggest land war in Europe since World War II but met unexpectedly stiff resistance, AP reports.

As outgunned but determined Ukrainian forces slowed the Russian advance and sanctions crippled the Russian economy, the military confirmed that its nuclear forces were on high alert, following President Vladimir Putin’s order. While that raised the unimaginable specter of nuclear conflict, it was unclear what practical effect it had.

A tense calm reigned Monday in Kyiv, where people lined up to buy food and water after two nights trapped inside by curfew. Explosions and gunfire were heard in embattled cities in eastern Ukraine, and terrified families huddled overnight in shelters, basements or corridors.

“I sit and pray for these negotiations to end successfully, so that they reach an agreement to end the slaughter, and so there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, weeping as she clutched her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Around her, parents sought to console children and keep them warm.

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