Ukraine sets truce target for new talks with Russia, but breakthrough seems far away

A view shows the besieged city of Mariupol
A service member of pro-Russian troops walks near an apartment building destroyed in the wake of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 28, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

March 29, 2022

By Pavel Polityuk and Vitalii Hnidyi

LVIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine said its top priority in the first face-to-face talks with Russia in over two weeks, due to take place in Turkey on Tuesday, is to reach a ceasefire, although both it and The United States was skeptical of a major breakthrough.

The more than month-long invasion, the largest attack on a European nation since World War II, has fled more than 3.8 million people abroad, leaving thousands dead or injured, isolating Russia’s economy and sending markets into turmoil.

According to the mayor, almost 5,000 people have been killed in the port city of Mariupol, including around 210 children. Reuters could not immediately verify the figures.

Survivors have told harrowing stories of people dying from lack of medical treatment, bodies buried wherever there was space, and women giving birth in basements.

A Ukrainian delegation arrived in Istanbul for the negotiations, as TV footage showed.

“The minimum program will be humanitarian issues, and the maximum program is to reach an agreement on a ceasefire,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on national television.

“We do not trade in people, land or sovereignty.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears unwilling to compromise to end the war, a senior US State Department official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Monday.

And Ukraine’s Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said he doubted “there will be a breakthrough on the main issues.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks have not yielded any significant breakthroughs so far, but it is important that they continue in person. He declined to provide any further information as it could disrupt the process.


In a speech on Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeatedly called on the West to continue to punish Moscow for its invasion.

“We humans who are alive must wait. Doesn’t everything the Russian military has done justify an oil embargo?”

While western countries have imposed a series of tough sanctions on Moscow, Europe is heavily dependent on energy imports from Russia and has so far been reluctant to take action to block them.

US and German government officials will meet with energy industry leaders in Berlin this week to discuss ways to advance Germany’s alternative energy supply.

The Kremlin has demanded that what it considers “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian gas in rubles, not euros, but is trying to establish a mechanism by which this could work.

In besieged Ukrainian cities where conditions are desperate, the threat of Russian attacks has blocked escape routes for civilians, two Ukrainian officials said.

Zelenskyi said although Ukrainian forces regained control of some areas in the Kyiv region, fighting continued. “Russian troops continue to control the north of the Kyiv region,” he said.

About 160,000 people were trapped in Mariupol, the mayor said.

“There is no food for the children, especially the babies. They gave birth to babies in basements because women had nowhere to go to give birth, all maternity hospitals were destroyed,” said a Mariupol food worker, who only gave her name that way, Natalia told Reuters after reaching nearby Zaporizhia .

As humanitarian casualties continue to mount, the United Nations said it has been able to get food and medical supplies to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and one of the hardest-hit.

There, volunteers helped distribute relief supplies to residents.

“We are here to make sure not a single person goes hungry or dies of starvation,” Sergey, who did not give his last name, told Reuters.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.


Tuesday’s talks between Ukraine and Russia will be the first face-to-face talks since a bitter meeting between foreign ministers on March 10, a sign of changes behind the scenes as Russia’s invasion stalled and sanctions took hold.

“We destroyed the myth of the invincible Russian army. We are resisting the aggression of one of the strongest armies in the world and managed to make them change their goals,” said Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

He said 100 people had been killed in the capital, including four children, and 82 multi-story buildings had been destroyed. The numbers could not be verified.

Russia’s military last week signaled it would focus on expanding separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine, but Ukraine said it saw no sign Russia had abandoned a plan to surround the capital.

At the sides’ last face-to-face meeting, Ukraine accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of ignoring requests for a ceasefire, while Lavrov said a cessation of fighting was not even on the agenda.

Since then, they have held talks via video link and publicly discussed a formula by which Ukraine could accept some sort of formal neutral status.

But neither side budged from Russia’s territorial demands, including Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, and the eastern territories known as Donbass, which Moscow is demanding Kyiv separatists cede.

(Reporting by Reuters Bureaus; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien) Ukraine sets truce target for new talks with Russia, but breakthrough seems far away

Bobby Allyn

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