Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch Prime Minister in February 2022, ahead of the Russian invasion marching into its second month of conflict. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
This article was originally published March 28, 2022, by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has insisted on the territorial integrity of his country ahead of talks with Russia in Turkey this week.
Ukraine’s priorities at the talks will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zelenskiy told the nation in his nightly address late on March 27.
“We are looking for peace, really, without delay,” he said. “There is an opportunity and a need for a face-to-face meeting in Turkey.”
In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 27, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to host the talks and called for a cease-fire and better humanitarian conditions, his office said.
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators confirmed that in-person talks would take place, although it was unclear whether discussions would begin on March 28 or 29.
More than four weeks into its unprovoked invasion, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and signaled on March 25 that it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian Army for the past eight years.
The disposition of Russian forces in Ukraine during the last 24 hours has seen no significant change, British military intelligence said on March 28.
However, Russia has gained more ground in the south, in the vicinity of Mariupol, as it fights to capture the port, it added.
Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, said the city on the shores of the Sea of Azov was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe and must be completely evacuated.
Boychenko said about 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power.
Twenty-six buses were waiting to evacuate civilians but Russian forces had not agreed to give them safe passage, he said on March 28.
“The Russian Federation is playing with us,” he said.
Data released by Boychenko’s office showed 90 percent of buildings had been damaged and 40 percent destroyed, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and factories. Boychenko also said almost 5,000 people had died in the city since Russia launched its invasion.
Another official, Tetyana Lomakina, a presidential adviser now in charge of humanitarian corridors, told AFP that about 5,000 people had been buried, but said burials stopped 10 days ago because of continued shelling.
She added that the number of people killed could only be estimated.
Elsewhere, Russia continues to bomb key Ukrainian infrastructure.
Late on March 27, a rocket attack hit an oil base in the far northwestern region of Volyn, AP reported.
? According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, fire that occurred after shelling on March 27 in Lutsk (Volyn region) is still being put out.
One of the industrial fuel storage depots in the city is on fire. Rescuers localized the fire at 8:12 a.m. pic.twitter.com/OCIDrgOl2o
— Ukraine: breaking news (@breakingnews_ua) March 28, 2022
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, accused Russia of seeking to split Ukraine in two, making the comparison to North and South Korea.
“The occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine,” Budanov said in a statement released by the Defense Ministry on March 27. He predicted that guerrilla warfare by Ukrainians would derail such plans.
A separatist leader in Luhansk said on March 27 that the region might soon organize a referendum on joining Russia, in a move that would be reminiscent of a referendum on the same topic after Russia occupied Crimea in March 2014.
“All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void and will have no legal validity,” a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleh Nikolenko said in a statement. “Instead, Russia will facе an even stronger response from the international community, further deepening its global isolation.”
In comments made to Russian journalists earlier on March 27, Zelenskiy said his government would consider declaring neutrality and offering security guarantees to Russia, repeating earlier statements. That would include keeping Ukraine nuclear-free, he said.
He told the reporters that the issue of neutrality — and agreeing to stay out of NATO — should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw. He said a vote could take place within a few months of the troops leaving.
Russia quickly banned the interview from being published. Roskomnadzor, which regulates communications for Moscow, issued the ban, saying there could be action taken against the Russian media outlets that took part, which included “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”
Zelenskiy responded by saying Moscow was afraid of a relatively short conversation with journalists. “It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic,” he said, according to the Ukrainian news agency RBK Ukraina.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stalled in many areas. Its aim to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force its surrender has faltered against staunch Ukrainian resistance — bolstered by weapons from the United States and other Western allies.
Ukraine says that, to defeat Russia, the West must provide fighter jets and not just missiles and other military equipment. A proposal to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was scrapped amid NATO concerns about being drawn into direct fighting.
Zelenskiy accused Western governments of being “afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision.”
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