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Ukrainian and Russian officials arrive in Turkey for peace talks

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kraine and Russia will hold fresh peace talks in Turkey on Tuesday as President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government pushes for a ceasefire.

Delegates from both countries arrived in Istanbul, on Monday night, as fighting on the ground edged closer to a stalemate.

It comes after Ukrainian soldiers reportedly retook the town of Irpin, which lies northwest of Kyiv, from Russian troops on Monday evening – cutting off a key strategic route to the capital for Vladimir Putin’s forces. The Russian army has failed to achieve its military objectives in the past month amid low morale, logistical issues and a fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Addressing the Ukrainian people on Monday night, Mr Zelensky asked his people to “fight”, adding: “We can’t express our emotions now. We can’t raise expectations, simply so that we don’t burn out.”

Mr Zelensky has signalled he is prepared to declare Ukraine’s neutrality to secure a ceasefire, as Moscow has previously demanded.

Over the weekend, he suggested that while Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity are beyond doubt”, there could be a compromise over the “complex issue of Donbas”. However, it remains unclear whether this would mean ceding territory to the Kremlin.

Russia on Friday claimed it would scale back its military objectives to focus on the industrial region in the east of the country, where Moscow-backed rebels have been waging a separatist war for the past eight years.

The concession could create momentum for the talks – though both sides continue to play down hopes of an imminent peace deal.

Earlier negotiations have failed to make progress on ending the month-old war which has killed thousands of civilians and prompted over 4 million Ukrainians to flee the country.

Tuesday’s talks will be the first in-person since a tense meeting between foreign ministers on March 10, as the Russian army continues to suffer heavy casualties on the battlefield.

During the previous round of negotiations, Ukraine accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of ignoring pleas to discuss a ceasefire, while Mr Lavrov said a halt to fighting was not on the agenda.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said of the talks in Turkey: “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty.

“The minimum programme will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum programme is reaching an agreement on a ceasefire.”

Firefighters work amid the debris of residential houses that were destroyed during shelling in a settlement outside Kharkiv

/ REUTERS

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “While we cannot and will not speak about progress at the talks, the fact that they continue to take place in person is important, of course.”

Mr Lavrov said on Monday that Mr Putin and Mr Zelensky could meet but only once both sides had “clarity regarding solutions on all key issues”.

Meanwhile, Russian forces maintained their offensive on the southern city of Mariupol with continuous heavy shelling of the city, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Tuesday morning.

The MoD added that Mr Putin’s forces still posed a significant threat to Kyiv even though Ukrainian forces continue localised counter attacks to the north west of the city.

The United Nations said at least 1,119 civilians had been killed and 1,790 wounded since Russia began its attack on February 24.

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