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Meaningful talks are needed to stop Russia in Ukraine, says Zelenskyy

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv
A man walks near destroyed cars in a residential neighborhood damaged by shelling as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues March 18, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

March 19, 2022

Kyiv/LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday called for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow to halt the invasion of his homeland, warning that otherwise it would take Russia “several generations” to break away from those at war to recover from losses suffered.

Since the attack began on February 24, Russian troops, facing stiff resistance, have largely stalled their advance, even as they push into the capital, Kyiv. In order to regain momentum, they have besieged cities and reduced urban areas to rubble.

Air raid sirens sounded in the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr regions early Saturday, but there were no immediate reports of fresh attacks.

The governor of the eastern Luhansk region, which borders Russia, said there would be a ceasefire on Saturday morning and a humanitarian corridor would open for evacuations.

“A ‘regime of silence’ has been agreed for March 19, starting at 9 a.m.” (0700 GMT), Governor Serhiy Gaidai said in a message on Telegram. Luhansk is located in Ukraine’s coal-rich Donbass region, which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

Gaidai, the head of Ukraine’s Luhansk administration, said 59 civilians had been killed in the region since the war began.

Unprecedented Western sanctions aimed at isolating Russia’s economy have done little to stop what President Vladimir Putin is calling a “special operation” to reduce his neighbor’s military capabilities and “denazify” his government.

After Russia said it was tightening the noose around the key port of Mariupol, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Friday acknowledged it had “temporarily” lost access to the Sea of ​​Azov, which connects to the Black Sea and is a major loss for Ukraine would.

But Western officials say Russia has suffered heavy casualties with signs of declining morale among its troops, a trend Zelenskiy alluded to in a video message urging new negotiations to end the war.

“I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. The time has come for a meeting, it’s time to talk,” he said early Saturday. “The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice to Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be so great that it will take generations for her to recover.”

Russia acknowledged on March 2 that nearly 500 of its soldiers had been killed, but has not given an update since. According to Ukraine, the number now runs into many thousands. Reuters could not independently verify the number of deaths.

Kyiv and Moscow this week reported some progress in talks on a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine security protections outside the NATO alliance.

However, Ukraine said the need for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops remained, with each side accusing the other of protracting talks.

Putin has vowed to continue the invasion until it succeeds, promising tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags at a soccer stadium in Moscow on Friday that Russia “will absolutely carry out all our plans.”

The United States has repeatedly warned that Russia may turn to China, the largest power that has not condemned the attack, for help.

In a video call on Friday, President Joe Biden told Chinese President Xi Jinping there will be “consequences” if Beijing provides “material support” to Russia in Ukraine, the White House said. Sanctioning Beijing is an option.

China and Russia deny Beijing is considering providing military aid to Moscow. China says it wants to see an end to the conflict.

Running for cover

US oilfield services companies Halliburton Co and Schlumberger announced Friday that they have suspended or halted operations in response to US sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Russia.

Russia, one of the largest oil and gas producers in the world, exports 7 to 8 million barrels of crude oil and oil products every day. BP PLC, Shell, Equinor ASA and Exxon Mobil have all gone out of business or announced plans to cease operations in Russia.

In the fourth week of their land, sea and air offensive, Russian forces have failed to capture major cities and Ukraine’s elected government defiantly remains in the capital.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians had fled to Lviv in western Ukraine, far from the front lines in the east of the country, fleeing bombing raids that Ukraine says have hit apartment blocks, schools, hospitals and cultural facilities.

Three missiles landed at an airport near Lviv on Friday, raising fears the city could face a deeper attack.

Civilians seeking refuge in eastern Ukrainian cities have faced power, heating and water cuts, while food and other essential resources have become increasingly scarce. More than 3 million refugees have fled across Ukraine’s western border.

Some of the heaviest fighting has taken place in Mariupol, where around 400,000 people have been trapped for over two weeks. Officials there say fighting has reached the city center and almost constant shelling has prevented humanitarian aid from entering.

Rescue workers were still looking for survivors at a Mariupol theater that was leveled by Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. Russia denies having hit the theater.

In his video address, Zelenskyy said there was no information on how many people had died in the theater, where hundreds had taken refuge. More than 130 people were rescued, he said.

As people continue to try to flee through “humanitarian corridors” set up by Ukrainian and Russian officials, the World Food Program has warned that food supply chains in the country are collapsing.

Major infrastructure such as bridges and trains have been destroyed by bombs and many grocery stores and warehouses are empty, said Jacob Kern, WFP emergency coordinator for the Ukraine crisis.

“In Ukraine, our task is to replace the broken commercial food supply chains,” he said, calling it a “mammoth task.”

(Reporting by Reuters Bureaus; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by William Mallard)

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Bobby Allyn

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