negotiators of Ukraine and Russia Talks began in Istanbul on Tuesday as civilian evacuations from areas occupied by Russian forces resumed and Ukrainian troops clung to the besieged city of Mariupol.
The talks began with the presence of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoganand under the shadow of allegations that delegates had been poisoned in a previous round of dialogue.
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Erdogan called on the two countries to “end this tragedy”, after acknowledging that “both parties have legitimate concerns” and that “it is possible to reach a solution that is acceptable to the international community”.
It has been more than a month since the tanks of the Russian president, Vladimir Putinentered in Ukraine seeking to weaken or depose the democratic government in kyiv.
The fighting has left some 20,000 dead.according to estimates of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyand has forced more than 10 million people to leave their homes.
The conversations in istanbul began after the Wall Street Journal reported that the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators were poisoned weeks ago after earlier talks.
Abramovicha Western-sanctioned billionaire, and the negotiators exhibited symptoms of intoxication such as red eyes and peeling skin, but later recovered.
Zelensky had indicated that his government had received an offer of support from Abramovichwho has longstanding ties to Putin.
Ukraine He downplayed this information and his Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, indicated that the talks in Istanbul will focus on improving the humanitarian situation, although he hinted at his skepticism about the result.
“If we see that the tone has changed and that they are ready for a serious, substantive conversation and a balanced agreement, then things will move forward”Kuleba declared.
“But if it is a repetition of their propaganda”the talks will fail, he said.
Abramovich was present at the appointment of istanbulaccording to a photo distributed by the Turkish presidency.
Putin justified the invasion of Ukraine to carry out the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country, and now calls for the imposition of a neutral status and the recognition that the regions of Donbas and Crimea are no longer part of this former Soviet republic.
But Kuleba indicated that there is little room for agreement on this: “we do not exchange people, land or sovereignty. Our position is firm.”
Ukraine also announced the restart of evacuations from several Russian-controlled areas in the south of the country, including from the besieged city of Mariupol, after a day of suspension for fear of Russian “provocations”.
Russian troops have surrounded this strategic port and are continuing to bombard it indiscriminately, trapping some 160,000 people with little food, water or medicine. But Ukrainian forces are struggling to retain control.
At least 5,000 people have been killed according to a senior Ukrainian official, who estimates the true death toll could be as high as 100,000.
“The burials were suspended 10 days ago due to the continuous bombardment”Tetyana Lomakina, a presidential adviser in charge of humanitarian corridors, told AFP.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry described the situation as Mariupol of “catastrophic”, and indicated that the Russian assault by land, air and sea turned “dust” into a city that once had 450,000 inhabitants.
On MikolaivIn another key city in the south, local Governor Vitaly Kim said a Russian attack hit the regional administration headquarters on Tuesday, with rescue teams searching for eight civilians and three military personnel under the rubble. AFP journalists at the scene were able to see how two lifeless bodies were extracted.
The Ukrainian authorities still believe that Russia wants to take kyiv and dismiss the idea that the Kremlin will focus on the eastern region of donbas.
Capturing “kyiv is equivalent to capturing Ukraine, and that is his goal”, said the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense, Ganna Malyarwho insisted that Russia “tries to breach the corridor around kyiv and block transport routes.”
On Monday, Russian attacks near kyiv left more than 80,000 homes without power.authorities said, reiterating the danger the city still faces.
On the outskirts of the suburban town of Irpin, a key access point to KyivAFP journalists said they heard the sound of sporadic shell fire on Tuesday, a day after Ukraine announced it had recaptured it.
“In my opinion, perhaps 70% or 80% (of the city) is free, while the outskirts are taken” by the Russians, said Roman Kovalevskyi, a 48-year-old Irpin resident who biked to Kyiv looking for supplies.
With fighting on the ground stalling and Russian casualties mounting, Moscow appears to be resorting to increasingly brutal tactics.
Western powers have said they have evidence of war crimes, which are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said there is evidence Russian forces have used cluster bombs — banned in 2010 by an international convention — in the southern areas of Odessa and Kherson.
Meanwhile, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) traveled to Ukraine “to hold talks with government officials” in order to provide “technical assistance” to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities, the UN agency said on Tuesday.
“The military conflict poses an unprecedented danger to nuclear power plants and other sites in the country,” Rafael Grossi warned in a statement.