Zelenskyj urges Putin to speak and warns that the war in Ukraine will set Russia back generations


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday issued an urgent request to Moscow to hold direct negotiations to “restore territorial integrity and justice” in Ukraine, while Russian forces continued their attacks on the besieged Kyiv suburbs and the southern city of Mariupol.

“It’s time to meet, time to talk,” Zelenskyy said in a video address, reiterating his desire to hold face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the war in Ukraine raged for a fourth week amid a refugee influx. a widening humanitarian crisis and fruitless ceasefire talks.

The “cruel and flawed tactics” used by Russian military commanders to attack civilians and destroy homes, hospitals and churches have failed and only led to harsh sanctions, Zelensky said. Without a peace settlement, Russia could “suffer such losses that several generations will not be enough to get up again”.

Fighting and shelling continued on Saturday on multiple fronts across Ukraine, although Ukrainian authorities said Moscow and Kyiv had agreed to set up 10 humanitarian corridors to evacuate residents from attacked cities, including the capital Kyiv and the south-eastern city Mariupol.

Fierce fighting over control of the Azovstal steel plant, one of the largest in Europe, has been reported in Mariupol, Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, said on Saturday. Russia’s real goal is not only the “demilitarization” of Ukraine, but also the deindustrialization of the country.

Zelensky has accused Russia of blockading major cities in central and south-eastern Ukraine and preventing the delivery of food and other supplies to force residents to surrender.

Putin has denied attacking civilians during the invasion, which he calls a “special operation,” and said it was necessary to ensure Russian security and protect Ukrainians with “blood ties” to Russia.

Video images show long columns of vehicles fleeing Mariupol, a strategic port city of about 400,000 people on the Azov Sea coast. Experts say Mariupol is a vital target for Russia: its capture could help facilitate coordination and joint operations between Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and Russian forces in Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Pictures from the city show a wide panorama of the destruction – entire blocks of flats and a shopping center were devastated by attacks. A strike at a maternity hospital on Monday killed at least three people, including a child, and injured more than a dozen, authorities said. Residents who remained in Mariupol are struggling to find food and water, and much of the city lacks electricity and heating despite freezing temperatures, Ukrainian officials say.

Street clashes in Mariupol city center on Saturday hampered attempts to save the fate of hundreds of people who were trapped in the basement of a theater hit by a bomb or rocket on Wednesday, according to Ukrainian authorities. Russia denied bombing the theater.

“There are tanks … and artillery shelling and all kinds of weapons being fired in the area,” said Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko BBC. “Our forces are doing everything they can to hold their position in the city,” he added, “but unfortunately the enemy’s forces are larger than ours.”

In a video address early Saturday, Zelensky said about 130 people escaped or were rescued from the theater, some seriously injured, and that people were still being rescued from the rubble.

More than 9,000 people have been able to leave Mariupol in the past 24 hours, Zelenskyy said. Across Ukraine, he said, more than 180,000 people have been able to flee through humanitarian corridors. According to Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk, a convoy of buses left on Saturday morning to transport residents of Mariupol from Berdyansk to Zaporizhia.

Vereshchuk told residents of the village of Bervytsya, some 40 miles northeast of Kyiv, to walk four miles to the bridge in the nearby village of Mokrets and cross the Trubizh River to meet buses that would take them to Brovary.

“Settlement residents, please pay attention,” Verershchuk said. “Because it is extremely difficult to open the corridors, the enemy insidiously breaks our agreements. Please, if there is an opportunity, seize it today.”

Nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced across Ukraine, the United Nations said on Friday, and about 3.2 million have fled the country. These estimates show that almost a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people have fled their homes, although thousands continue to flee the violence, fleeing both abroad and to areas within Ukraine considered safe.

In another development, Russia reported on Saturday that it used for the first time its latest so-called “hypersonic” missile system — high-velocity weapons capable of eluding missile defense systems — to destroy an underground depot storing weapons and ammunition in the western region were stored by Russia Ivano-Frankivsk.

It was the latest Russian attack on western Ukraine, a key corridor for displaced people fleeing the war-ravaged country and for humanitarian and other supplies entering Ukraine.

Zelenskyy’s request to meet with Putin is his latest attempt to hold direct talks with the Russian leader, who made a celebratory appearance at a Moscow stadium on Friday to mark Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

During the rally, Putin reiterated his claim that the war was necessary to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in Ukraine, a claim dismissed by Ukrainian officials.

Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have been going on every day this week, with no agreement on an end to the fighting. Earlier in the week, officials from both sides cited progress in the talks, but in a phone call with Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday, Putin accused the Ukrainians of trying to stall them. A reading of the conversation in TASS, the Russian state news agency, said the Russian leader accused the “Kiev regime” of trying to delay negotiations by “putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals.”

Putin has insisted that his demands – including the “demilitarization” of Ukraine and its renunciation of any intention to join NATO or the European Union – be fully met before ending armed hostilities.

The quest for NATO membership is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution, but Zelenskyy moved on to the issue this week, saying he accepts the country will not join the US-led alliance.

Zelenskyy tweeted on Friday that Ukraine remains committed to joining the European Union and said he had “substantive talks” with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch. Zelenskyj said that the “commission’s opinion [Ukrainian] Application for EU membership will be prepared within a few months.”

Air raid sirens rang out in Lviv on Saturday, a day after what authorities called a Russian attack on an aircraft maintenance facility next to the airport. No one was killed in Friday’s attack, officials said, but it was the first attack within the city limits of Lviv — a western city that’s a major hub for both displaced people from the war and supplies coming from Poland, a NATO Member, get to Ukraine only 40 miles west.

Despite the attack, life continued at its normal pace on Saturday in Lviv, isolated from the extreme violence in Kyiv, Mariupol and other cities. Many people in the city don’t bother to take shelter as instructed when air sirens sound.

On Friday, residents placed 100 strollers in a central square in the center of this ancient city to symbolize the reported deaths of more than 100 children since the Russian invasion began. Zelenskyj urges Putin to speak and warns that the war in Ukraine will set Russia back generations

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