Ukrainian PM says more time is needed for negotiations to bear fruit as he prepares to address US Congress
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he sees possible room for compromise in talks with Russia ahead of a fresh round of discussions, despite Moscow’s stepped up bombardment Kyiv and as fears for the port city of Mariupol deepened.
“The meetings continue, and, I am informed, the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic. But time is still needed for the decisions to be in the interests of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said in a video address early on Wednesday.
“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he said. “Any war ends with an agreement.”
Top Ukrainian negotiator, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, said there were “fundamental contradictions” between the two sides but added that “there is certainly room for compromise.” Another aide to Zelenskiy, Ihor Zhovkva, said the negotiations had become “more constructive” and that Russia had softened its stand by no longer airing its demands that Ukraine surrender. Talks were set to resume via video link on Wednesday.
As the war approached its third week and heavy shelling of Ukraine’s cities continued, US president Joe Biden signed off on $13.6bn in aid. Zelenskiy thanked president Joe Biden and “all the friends of Ukraine” for the new support.
An update from the Ukraine ministry of defence on Wednesday said the “worst situation remains in the area of Mariupol, where the opponent tries to block the city in the western and eastern outskirts of the city.” It came as the Associated Press reported Russian troops had seized a hospital in Mariupol and took about 500 people hostage during another assault on the southern port city late Tuesday, regional leader Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
On Wednesday morning there were reports that a residential tower block had been hit by shelling in Kyiv.
The Ukrainian president is due to address US Congress on Wednesday and Nato military commanders will also meet in Brussels to draw up plans for new ways to deter Russia, including more troops and missile defences in eastern Europe, officials and diplomats said.
Ministers will hear from their Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, who is expected to plead for more weapons from individual Nato countries, as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s cities continue.
Earlier, Zelenskiy acknowledged that Ukraine will not become a Nato member, in a significant concession on a day when the invading force tightened its grip on the capital.
Leaders of three European Union countries — Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia — met in Kyiv on Tuesday, arriving by train in a bold show of support amid the danger.
In a press conference after the meeting Czech prime minister Petr Fiala told Ukrainians “Europe stands with you”.
“The main goal of our visit and the main message of our mission is to say to our Ukrainian friends that they are not alone,” Fiala said.
In other developments:
The US senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning Russian president Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.
The leader of Poland’s ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski said an international peacekeeping mission should be sent to operate in Ukraine.
The fast-moving developments on the diplomatic front and on the ground came as Moscow’s forces stepped up their bombardment of Kyiv, and an estimated 20,000 civilians fled the desperately encircled port city of Mariupol by way of a humanitarian corridor.
At least five people were killed in the latest artillery barrage on Kyiv, prompting its city hall to impose a 35-hour curfew from Tuesday night amid further signs that the focus of the Russian campaign has shifted to the destruction of residential areas and civilian infrastructure.
After repeated bombardments and almost encircled by Russian forces, about half of Kyiv’s 3.5 million prewar residents have fled, officials have said, with many of those who remain spending their nights sheltering in underground stations.
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said the city faced “a difficult and dangerous moment” but promised it would not surrender.
“The capital is the heart of Ukraine, and it will be defended,” he said. “Kyiv, which is currently the symbol and the forward operating base of Europe’s freedom and security, will not be given up by us.”
The series of four heavy pre-dawn explosions rocked residential districts of Kyiv on Tuesday, hours before talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume.
“Streets have been turned into a mush of steel and concrete,” said the head of the capital region, Oleksiy Kuleba. “People have been hiding for weeks in basements.”
One strike on Kyiv hit a 16-storey housing block, where fire raged and smoke billowed from the shattered skeleton of the building, as emergency services and stunned locals navigated an obstacle course of glass, metal and other debris littering the road.
Residents in Kyiv’s northern Podil district, which is close to Russian positions, told the Guardian that they had heard an increase in shelling between the two sides over the past two days.
On Tuesday morning Daria Kloichko came home to her flat in north Kyiv city, which was all but destroyed by a rocket at 5am. Kloichko’s flat was strewn with glass and little was salvageable. There was hardly a flat in the block untouched by the attack.
A refugee from the 2014 war in eastern Ukraine against Russian proxy forces, she and her husband hugged and cried as they took pictures off the wall - the only objects which somehow survived the attack.
“Luckily, we weren’t here,” Kloichko said with a tear-stained face.
Another man, Andriy, who lived in the block but declined to give his surname, said the blast somehow jammed the door to his child’s bedroom and he had to break the door down.
In the east, the airport in Dnipro also sustained massive damage overnight, while Russian forces launched more than 60 strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, according to the regional administration chief, Oleh Sinehubov. The strikes hit the city’s historic centre, including the main marketplace.
The UN said that nearly 1.4 million children – almost one every second – had left Ukraine since the invasion began on 24 February. According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 3,000,381 people have now fled Russia’s onslaught in what NGOs have called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the second world war. The UNHCR expects the refugee total to reach 4 million.