Ahead of the meeting in Istanbul, Ukraine’s president said his country was ready to declare its neutrality, as Moscow had demanded, and was open to compromise over the disputed eastern region of Donbas – comments that could give impetus to negotiations . But he warned that the “ruthless war” was continuing, and even as negotiators met, Russian forces struck an oil depot in western Ukraine and a government building in the south.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told both sides they had a “historic responsibility” to stop the fighting.
“We believe there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is in no one’s interest,” Erdogan said as he greeted the two delegations seated on either side of a long table. Also in the room was Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club.
A longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, sanctioned by Britain and the EU, the billionaire plays an unofficial mediating role. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Abramovich “ensures certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides” and that his role is approved by both countries.
Putin’s aim for a quick military victory was thwarted by strong Ukrainian resistance – but hopes for a breakthrough were still low. Reflecting the skepticism of Ukraine’s Western allies, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she believed the Russian president was “not serious about the talks”.
In fighting that turned into a stalemate, Ukrainian forces recaptured Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday. But he warned Russian troops were regrouping to retake the area.
“We still have to fight, we have to endure,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. “This is a ruthless war against our nation, against our people, against our children.”
He also lambasted Western countries, which he repeatedly accused of not going far enough either in sanctioning Moscow or supporting Ukraine with arms. As a result, Ukrainians were paying with their lives, he said.
“If someone is afraid of Russia, if he is afraid to take the necessary decisions that are important for us, in particular for us to have planes, tanks, the necessary artillery, shells, this makes these people responsible for the disaster created by Russian troops in our cities too,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
A missile hit an oil depot in western Ukraine on Monday night, the second attack on oil facilities in an area that has been spared the worst of the fighting. On Tuesday morning, an explosion tore a hole in a nine-story administrative building in Mykolaiv, a southern port city that Russia has tried unsuccessfully to capture.
A gaping hole was visible in the center of the building in a photo posted on the Telegram channel of regional governor Vitaliy Kim. He said most people escaped the building and rescuers were looking for a handful of missing people.
“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before hitting the building, he said. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”
Earlier talks between Russia and Ukraine, held in person in Belarus or via video, failed to bring an end to a more than month-long war that has killed thousands and driven more of 10 million Ukrainians at home, including almost 4 million from their country. .
Russia has long demanded that Ukraine give up hope of joining NATO, which Moscow sees as a threat. Zelenskyy signaled over the weekend that he was open to that, saying Ukraine was ready to declare its neutrality, but he stressed the country needed its own security guarantees as part of any deal. .
Besides Irpin, Ukrainian forces have also regained control of Trostyanets, south of Sumy in the northeast, after weeks of Russian occupation that left a war-torn landscape.
Arriving in the city soon after on Monday, The Associated Press saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers abandoned in the woods and Russian tanks burned and twisted. A red “Z” marked a Russian truck, its windshield fractured, near stacked ammunition crates. Ukrainian forces huddled atop a tank displayed signs of victory. Dazed residents lined up amid charred buildings to ask for help.
It is not known where the Russian troops went, under what circumstances they fled and whether the city will remain free from them.
Ukraine, meanwhile, said it would attempt to evacuate civilians from three southern towns on Tuesday. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said humanitarian corridors would start from heavily bombed Mariupol as well as from Enerhodar and Melitopol. The latter two cities are under Russian control, but Vereshchuk did not specify to what extent Moscow had agreed to the corridors, except to say that 880 people fled Mariupol a day earlier with no agreement in place.
In other developments:
– The head of the United Nations nuclear monitoring body has arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities. Russian forces took control of the disused Chernobyl power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, and the active Zaporizhzhia power plant, where a building was damaged in the fighting. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said the war “puts Ukrainian nuclear power plants and other facilities containing radioactive materials in unprecedented danger”.
– Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war, with most of the damage concentrated near kyiv and in the east, the Ukrainian military said in a message on Tuesday .
– Bloomberg News said it suspended operations in Russia and Belarus. Clients in both countries will not be able to access any Bloomberg financial products and Russian securities trading features have been disabled in accordance with international sanctions, he said. Bloomberg Philanthropies has pledged $40 million, meanwhile, to support Ukrainians and refugees.
Putin’s ground forces have bogged down due to stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, combined with what Western officials say are Russian tactical missteps, lack of morale, shortages of food, fuel and equipment for cold weather, and other problems.
In response, Russia appears to be focusing more on Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking region where Moscow-backed rebels have been waging a separatist war for eight years, the official said.
While it raised a possible exit strategy to save Putin’s face, it also raised fears among Ukrainians that the Kremlin is aiming to divide the country, forcing it to cede some of its territory. Still, Zelenskyy’s comments that he was open to compromise on the region pointed to a possible avenue for negotiations.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
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