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Ukraine resumes evacuation plans as foreign ministers meet

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Turkey holds the highest-level conference between Moscow and Kyiv since Russia’s invasion.

On Thursday, Ukraine redoubled its attempts to save citizens trapped in Russian-held towns as the two countries held their highest-level discussions since Vladimir Putin’s war began.

Amid another night of severe shelling and missile bombardment, Ukraine’s and Russia’s foreign ministers began conversations on the margins of a conference in Antalya, Turkey, while a negotiated way to peace remained far from evident.

With the key cities still in Ukrainian control and the skies still contested, Russia’s faltering assault has destroyed metropolitan areas but has fallen well short of its main objectives after more than two weeks of war. Over 2.1 million citizens have left the nation.

As Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “war crimes” following the destruction of a hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol by rockets, western officials warned that Moscow would resort to more lethal unconventional weapons as the war dragged on.

The Ukraine-Belarusian border has been the site of several rounds of mid-level talks between Russia and Ukraine, but there have been no signs of a breakthrough so far. Only limited progress has been made on humanitarian issues, though.

Turkey sponsored Thursday’s discussions between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, marking the first time the two nations’ senior ministers have met since the invasion began on February 24.

Before they started, the two sides appeared to be miles apart in their demands.

On Wednesday, Kuleba stated that Kyiv desired a ceasefire, the liberation of territory under Russian control, and humanitarian aid for its population. However, Kyiv has indicated that it may be willing to make a concession on Russia’s demand for Ukraine’s future neutrality in exchange for security guarantees from its neighbors or other international powers.

Moscow has also softened its tone in the past when it comes to regime change in Kyiv. However, fundamental disagreements on other matters, such as Russia’s territorial claims on areas of Ukraine, make a significant breakthrough unlikely.

Russian forces have taken control of a number of neighborhoods in Mariupol, the port city on the Sea of Azov that has been ringed by Russian troops for days, according to the Russian defense ministry.

Ukraine suggested six humanitarian corridors to transport people out of Mariupol, Volnovakha, Izyum, and other besieged cities into “safe cities of our free Ukraine” for the third day in a row, as it urged Russia to honor a promised ceasefire.

Ukraine had managed to organize evacuations from the eastern city of Sumy, from cities and villages under Russian siege in the Kyiv region, and from Enerhodar, the location of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, on Wednesday, according to Zelensky. He stated that roughly 35,000 people had been rescued in all.

Attempts to evacuate civilians from some of the worst-affected cities have largely failed, with Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of violating the ceasefire.

Mariupol, which had a population of over 400,000 before the war, has been living in deplorable conditions for more than a week after Russian bombardment knocked off essential amenities such as light, heating, water, and internet connections.

“For the tenth day the city is under a blockade and on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Vitaly Falkovsky, an assistant to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, told the Financial Times in a text message.

According to him, Russia bombed a children’s hospital with a maternity unit on Wednesday, killing three people, including a young girl, and injuring 17 others.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, condemned the bombing of a hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday as “horrific.” He remarked on Twitter, “End the bloodshed now.”

While battle continues on three fronts on the outskirts of Kyiv, western officials claim that a huge armoured column to the north-west of the capital has made little progress in the last week.

On Thursday, British defence officials stated the country was “continue to suffer losses” and that Russia had drastically reduced its air operations in recent days, owing to the “unexpected effectiveness” of Ukrainian defenses.

Russian officials have been accused of using indiscriminate and harsh weaponry in urban areas, including cluster munitions, according to Western sources. Russia has confirmed the deployment of a thermobaric weapon in Ukraine, according to the UK Ministry of Defence, which produces “incendiary and blast effects” with a “devastating impact.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, called the “barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians” “horrifying.” Later, Psaki called Russian claims that the US assisted Ukraine in developing a biological and chemical weapons program “preposterous,” and warned that Moscow could exploit the assertions to launch a “false flag” assault in Ukraine.

With no result, Zelensky has repeatedly called on the west to establish a no-fly zone or send fighter jets to Ukraine. The Pentagon has rejected a proposal to send Polish MiG-29 fighter planes to Kyiv, citing the risk of escalating the conflict.

According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, such a move would “almost certainly lead to direct conflict between the US, and between Nato, and Russia.” On Thursday, US Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Warsaw for meetings.

The Russian military ministry admitted that some of the country’s conscript soldiers were sent to fight in Ukraine, contradicting President Vladimir Putin’s claim that such personnel were not involved.

The invading Russian troops had decreased the intensity of their attacks, Ukraine’s armed forces stated, adding that soldiers were “demoralized” and that the number of cases of desertion and looting had increased dramatically.

Military allegations made by Russia and Ukraine cannot be independently verified.

Image Credit: Getty

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