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Ukraine’s Zelenskiy calls for urgent peace talks and warns of catastrophe in Mariupol

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has called for “meaningful and fair” talks without delay to Russia’s invasion, framing it as a chance for Moscow to limit the damage created by its own mistakes.

In a video address early on Saturday, Zelenskiy said: “It’s time to meet. Time to talk. It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise Russia’s losses will be so huge that several generations will not be enough to rebound.”

“The war must end,” he added. “Ukraine’s proposals are on the table.”

Earlier, Vladimir Putin claimed in a call with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, that Kyiv was “attempting to stall peace talks” but Moscow was still keen to continue negotiations.

In the south, at least 40 Ukrainian soldiers were reported killed following a Russian air strike on an army barracks in the city of Mykolaiv, according to local media reports.

The mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Senkevich, said on Facebook on Friday that several villages in the region had been occupied and the city had been under heavy fire, calling it a “difficult day”.

'The time has come to meet, to talk': Ukraine’s Zelenskiy calls for peace talks – video
‘The time has come to meet, to talk’: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy calls for peace talks – video

Fighting continues in the key port city of Mariupol, with Ukraine’s defence ministry saying late on Friday it had “temporarily” lost access to the Sea of Azov, which connects to the Black Sea and would be a major loss for Ukraine.

Zelenskiy accused Russian forces of creating a “humanitarian catastrophe” there by deliberately blocking supplies from reaching the city in a bid to force residents to comply with their attackers. Calling the move a war crime, the president said Russian soldiers would face a “one-way compulsory ticket to the Hague”, where the international criminal court sits.

More than 350,000 civilians have been stranded with little food or water in Mariupol, which was under constant bombardment on Friday. Russia said its forces were “tightening the noose” around the city, where an estimated 80% of the city’s homes had been damaged.

Some 9,000 people have managed to flee Mariupol, while work continues to reach the hundreds of civilians believed to be trapped in a shelter under the city’s theatre, which was destroyed by Russian bombing on Wednesday. About 130 people have been rescued from the rubble, some seriously injured. There is no word yet on a death toll.

Across the nation, Zelenskiy said the advance of Russian forces had ground to a halt, a view echoed by western intelligence agencies. The continued targeting of civilians in Mariupol was said by the British military to be a sign of Russia’s failures in the first three weeks of the war.

Lt Gen Jim Hockenhull, chief of defence intelligence, said: “The Kremlin has so far failed to achieve its original objectives. It has been surprised by the scale and ferocity of Ukrainian resistance, and has been bedevilled with problems of its own making.

“Russian operations have changed. Russia is now pursuing a strategy of attrition. This will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower. This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure, and intensify the humanitarian crisis.

“Putin has reinforced his control over Russian domestic media. The Kremlin is attempting to control the narrative, hide operational problems and obscure high Russian casualty numbers from the Russian people.”

In other developments:

  • Zelenskiy said he would continue to appeal to world leaders to call for peace in Ukraine, with plans to address Switzerland, Italy, Israel and Japan. He has spoken with Ukrainian ambassadors around the world “to intensify the supply of humanitarian goods” for displaced people in Ukraine.

  • Joe Biden in a two-hour call with China’s Xi Jinping “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians”, the White House said, without giving further details. The Chinese account of the conversation in the state news agency, Xinhua, said it was “candid and in-depth”.

  • The UN has reported 816 confirmed civilian deaths. Kyiv officials said 222 people had been killed in the capital, including 60 civilians and four children. It said more than 3.2 million people have fled, with 2 million displaced inside the country.

  • Putin has praised national “unity” during a rare public speech at a rally in a Moscow stadium to mark the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “The country hasn’t seen unity like this in a long time,” Putin said, addressing a large flag-waving crowd on Friday from a stage decked out with slogans such as “For a world without Nazism” and “For our president”. Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki Stadium. Zelenskiy referred to the rally in his own address, urging viewers to imagine the stadium filled with Russia’s 14,000 war dead and tens of thousands more injured.


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