Ukrainian authorities on Monday were concerned about a deteriorating situation in the besieged port of Mariupol, where at least 5,000 people have already died. New talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were to take place in Istanbul on Tuesday.
According to an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Tetyana Lomakina, “about 5,000 people have been buried, but people have not been buried for ten days because of the continuous shelling”. She estimated that “considering the number of people still under the rubble (…), there could be around 10,000 dead”.
More than a month after the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday condemned a total blockade of this strategic port on the Sea of Azov, which the Russian army has been trying to conquer since the end of February. About 160,000 people are still stuck, according to Mayor Vadim Boitchenko.
And with Moscow’s announcement on Friday of “concentrating its efforts on the liberation” of Donbass, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency indicated that it feared a “worsening” of the situation. The French president announced on Sunday that he would talk to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday or Tuesday to organize an evacuation operation from the city.
New fighting also took place in several localities around Kiev. In Stoyanka, on the western outskirts of Kiev, a village that had become a ghost after weeks of bombing, residents returned after hearing that Ukrainian forces had driven out Russian troops. But to a Ukrainian fighter jet warned them about Russian snipers.
Fierce fighting also took place in the eastern part of the country. On the northeastern outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city near the Russian border, Saltivka, a district of tall buildings hit by the Russian army, is nothing more than a swept away ghost town where no one survives, buried in the basements, only a handful of old people, according to AFP reporters.
In the southern part of the country, the Russian loop also seemed to loosen around certain cities, such as Mykolaiv, a lock town on the way to Odessa. Residents seemed to find little hope after weeks of unsuccessful attempts by the Russian army to occupy the city. The front has even retreated significantly with a Ukrainian counter-offensive on Kherson, about 80 km to the southeast.
Ukraine’s neutrality on the table
On the diplomatic front, Russian negotiators arrived in Istanbul on Monday for a new round of talks with the Ukrainians, which was to begin on Tuesday. An earlier negotiation meeting had already taken place on March 10 in Turkey in Antalya at the Foreign Minister level. It had not led to any concrete progress.
One of the key points in the negotiations concerns “security guarantees and neutrality, our state’s nuclear-weapon-free status,” President Zelensky told Russian media on Sunday. This point “is being investigated in depth”, but it will require a referendum and security guarantees, he warned.
4 million Ukrainians on the run
Discussions have continued since March 10 at video conference to try to stop this conflict, which has already forced nearly 3.9 million Ukrainians to flee their country, according to the UN, and caused more than 500 billion euros in economic losses for Ukraine, according to a estimates from the Ukrainian. Minister of Economic Affairs.
EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that refugees from Ukraine currently in Poland should be “encouraged” to go to EU countries that are less under pressure, at an extraordinary meeting of EU ministers: ‘The Interior Minister of the 27 in Brussels.
Refugee distribution quotas, as decided during the 2015-2016 crisis, are not on the agenda. Discussions between member states on relieving the borders with Ukraine are on a voluntary basis.
The UN, for its part, will seek to establish a “humanitarian ceasefire” between Russia and Ukraine, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced. It intends to send its Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to Moscow and Kiev.
The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, is the latest to announce on Monday that it will suspend its online and print publications until the end of the military operation in Ukraine.
Mr. Lavrov, for his part, indicated that a decree was being prepared to restrict access to Russian territory to nationals of countries that have committed “unfriendly” acts against Russia, which has been subject to a host of sanctions since its offensive.