President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called Russia’s assault on the beleaguered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol a ‘crime against humanity’ as Russian and Ukrainian delegations held face-to-face talks in Istanbul, the first such contact between the two parties in more than two weeks.
“What Russian troops are doing in Mariupol is a crime against humanity, unfolding before the eyes of the whole planet in real time,” Zelenskiy told the Danish parliament in a video address on March 29.
Mariupol has been bombarded relentlessly by Russian forces since the invasion began more than a month ago, and the situation in the pre-war city of some 400,000 people has been described as “apocalyptic”.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on March 29 that Russia had agreed to open three humanitarian corridors, including one from Mariupol, to allow civilians to escape the combat zones, but it was unclear how many of the tens of thousands of people trapped in the city could get out.
She added that in addition to Mariupol, a safe corridor would be opened leading to the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol to allow civilians to travel to Zaporizhzhya.
The third corridors will leave the city of Enerhodar and also connect to Zaporizhzhya.
The move comes a day after both sides failed to open any corridors after kyiv warned of possible Russian “provocations”.
The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey said on March 29 that the face-to-face talks in Istanbul lasted about four hours. It was not immediately clear whether talks would continue for a second day in Istanbul.
An adviser to Zelenskiy said the meeting focused on securing a ceasefire and guarantees for Ukraine’s security – issues that have been at the heart of previous unsuccessful negotiations.
Ahead of the talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told delegations he hoped progress in the negotiations would pave the way for a meeting between Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prior discussions between the parties, both in person and by videoconference, have not progressed.
Erdogan said the time had come for the talks to yield concrete results and called for an immediate ceasefire, saying “stopping this tragedy” was up to both sides.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s priorities during the talks will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Ukraine “will seek peace, really, without delay,” he said in his late night speech on March 27.
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He told reporters that the issue of neutrality – and agreeing to stay out of NATO – should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after the withdrawal of Russian troops. He said a vote could take place a few months after the troops leave.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a ceasefire was the most his country could hope for from the talks. “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty,” Kuleba said.
More than four weeks into its unprovoked invasion, Russia has failed to capture any major Ukrainian cities and signaled on March 25 that it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the region. Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian military for the past eight years.
Ukraine’s Army General Staff said in its latest March 29 update that Russian forces continue to launch missile strikes on residential neighborhoods across the country, focusing on targeting compartments. fuel storage in order to “complicate logistics” and “create the conditions for a humanitarian crisis. »
Fuel depots have reportedly been hit in recent days in cities including Kyiv, Lviv, Rivne, Zhytomyr and Lutsk.
Ukrainian emergency services said at least three people were killed and 22 injured on March 29 when a rocket hit the regional administration building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.
WATCH: Current Time’s Borys Sachalko chats with volunteers defending Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials also said on March 29 that Russian forces had launched a missile strike on the town of Lyubotyn in the northeastern region of Kharkiv the day before, razing several houses and injuring several people.
Russian troops continue to attempt to concentrate around kyiv, General Staff noted March 28. “Russian troops continue to attempt unsuccessfully to take positions from which they could attack or encircle kyiv,” the statement said.
Russian forces continue to pose a significant threat to kyiv with their strike capability, even as the Ukrainians continue to launch localized counterattacks northwest of the Ukrainian capital, British military intelligence said on March 29.
The mayor of Irpin, a northwest suburb of Kyiv that has seen some of the heaviest fighting near the capital, said the town had been “liberated” from Russian troops. Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy later made the same comment in televised remarks.
Russian forces maintained their offensive on Mariupol with continued heavy shelling of the beleaguered port city, the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement. declaration March 29. “However, the center of the city remains under Ukrainian control.”
Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, said the city on the shores of the Sea of Azov was on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and needed to be completely evacuated.
He said around 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power.
Boychenko also said nearly 5,000 people have died in the city, including 210 children, since Russia launched its invasion. The figure could not be independently verified.
In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu again affirmed on March 29 that the main tasks of the first phase of the Russian military operation in Ukraine had been completed.
Shoigu also claimed that the Russian military had killed some 600 foreign fighters in the past two weeks.
It was Shoigu’s second television appearance in two days after a two-week absence from public view which sparked questions about his whereabouts and medical condition.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, said on March 29 that Moscow and Washington should eventually have a dialogue on security, but that their relationship would inevitably be affected by the “personal insults” that US President Joe Biden has directed at Putin.