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Ukraine talks to continue despite deadly strikes

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KYIV: Russia and Ukraine conducted fresh talks on Monday in an effort to end Moscow’s devastating war, despite deadly strikes on a Ukrainian television tower, the capital and a pro-Moscow separatist region.

On the 19th day of the invasion, the fourth round of talks made no breakthrough other than a planned resumption on Tuesday, as Russian-backed separatists said fragments from a shot-down Ukrainian Tochka-U missile ripped the centre of Donetsk, killing 23 people.

Moscow called it a “war crime” and rebels published photos of bloody corpses strewn in the street, even as the Ukrainian army denied having fired a missile at Donetsk.

The United Nations estimates almost 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale land and air assault on February 24, most of them to Poland, struggling to provide for the arrivals.

Nine people die as Russian forces hit television tower in Rivne

Outside the western Ukrainian city of Rivne, nine people died and another nine were injured on Monday when Russian forces hit a television tower, local authorities said.

Rescuers were working to free survivors trapped under the rubble in the village of Antopil, the head of the regional administration, Vitaliy Koval, said on messaging app Telegram.

As Moscow’s military advanced steadily towards several major urban hubs, Russian air strikes killed at least two in Kyiv, now hemmed in on two sides and drained of more than half of its 3m residents.

During its meeting with Russian representatives, Ukraine said it was demanding “peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops”. The video conference talks paused without a breakthrough ahead of a planned resumption on Tuesday.

“Only after this can we talk about regional relations and about political differences,” Kyiv’s lead negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said in a video statement posted to Twitter.

Russian troops not only edged closer to Kyiv but kept up their siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, where officials said nearly 2,200 people have been killed.

At Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, energy operator Ukrenergo said “occupying forces” had once again damaged its electricity supply.

Russia’s forces had earlier focused on eastern and southern areas of Ukraine — home to more ethnic Russians but in recent days have moved to the country’s centre.

In Kyiv, only the roads to the south remain open, according to the Ukrainian presidency. City authorities have set up checkpoints, and people are stockpiling food and medicine.

The north-western suburb of Bucha is held by Russian forces, along with parts of Irpin, Ukrainian soldiers said. Some blocks in the once well-to-do suburb have been reduced to rubble.

The Russians are encountering resistance from the Ukrainian army to both the east and west of the capital, according to journalists on the scene.

Talks between Kyiv and Moscow have yet to yield a ceasefire and Russian forces have shown no sign of easing their onslaught.

The aim was “to do everything to ensure a meeting of presidents. A meeting that I am sure people are waiting for”, said President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We see significant progress,” Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team, told state-run television network RT on Sunday.

In a sign Moscow may have underestimated the challenge it would face, US officials told media that Russia had asked China for military and economic aid for the war.

US diplomat Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Putin reportedly asking for military help could be a “defining moment” for China’s Xi Jinping.

In an intelligence update on Sunday, Britain’s defence ministry said Russia had established a naval blockade on the Black Sea coast, “effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade”.

Meanwhile, efforts continued to get help to the devastated southern city of Mariupol, which aid agencies say is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2022

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