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Zelensky says peace talks ‘more realistic’ as Russia continues assault

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kraine has said it sees possible room for compromise in talks with Russia as air raid sirens sounded in cities across Ukraine on Wednesday morning.

The fast-moving developments on the diplomatic front came as Russia’s invasion neared the three-week mark and the number of Ukrainians who have left the country amid Europe’s heaviest fighting since the Second World War eclipsed three million.

After delegations from Ukraine and Russia met again on Tuesday via video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said early on Wednesday that Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic”. The two sides were expected to speak again on Wednesday.

“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “Any war ends with an agreement.”

Mr Zelensky, who is expected to address the US Congress on Wednesday, thanked President Joe Biden and “all the friends of Ukraine” for 13.6 billion dollars (£10.4 billion) in new support.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and attendees applaud after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed them by video link during a meeting of the leaders of the the Joint Expeditionary Force

/ Getty Images

He appealed for more weapons and more sanctions to punish Russia, and repeated his call to “close the skies over Ukraine to Russian missiles and planes”.

He said Russian forces on Tuesday had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory but had continued their heavy shelling of cities.

Over the past day, 28,893 civilians were able to flee the fighting through nine humanitarian corridors, although the Russians refused to allow aid into Mariupol, he said.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr Zelensky and member of the Ukrainian delegation, has described the negotiations as “very difficult and viscous”.

In a Twitter post after Tuesday’s talks, Mr Podolyak said there were “fundamental contradictions” between the two sides, but said “there is certainly room for compromise”.

In other developments on Wednesday, air raid sirens sounded at dawn in cities across Ukraine, including Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa.

A plume of smoke was seen rising up over western Kyiv after shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-story apartment building, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency.

The neighbouring building was also damaged. The agency reported two victims, without elaborating.

Russian forces have intensified fighting in Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the northwest and the highway leading west toward Zhytomyr, the head of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba said.

He said Russian troops are trying to cut off the capital from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities even as they plan a wide-ranging attack to seize Kyiv.

Twelve towns around Kyiv are without water and six without heat.

Russia has occupied the city of Ivankiv, 50 miles north of Kyiv, and controls the surrounding region on the border with Belarus, Mr Kuleba said.

It came after the capital entered a 35-hour curfew following heavy shelling which killed several people on Tuesday.

Russia’s bombardment of Kyiv appeared to be edging closer to the city centre, hitting civilian sites including apartments and a subway station.

The leaders of three European Union countries – Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia – visited the embattled capital on Tuesday, arriving by train in a bold show of support amid the danger.

In its latest military intelligence update on Tuesday night, the UK Ministry of Defence said Russia was seeking to bolster and replace troop loses in Ukraine.

“As a result of these loses, it is likely Russia is struggling to conduct offensive operations in the face of sustained Ukrainian resistance,” it said.

A senior US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that the Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but that their ground forces were making little to no progress around the country. The official said Russian troops were still about nine miles from the centre of the capital.

The official said the US has seen indications that Russia believes it may need more troops or supplies than it has on hand in Ukraine, and it is considering ways to get more resources into the country. The official did not elaborate.

Before Tuesday’s talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would press its demands that Ukraine drop its bid to join Nato, adopt a neutral status and “demilitarise”.

In a statement that seemed to signal potential grounds for agreement with Moscow, Mr Zelensky told European leaders gathered in London that he realises Nato has no intention of accepting Ukraine.

A firefighter walks outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv

/ AP

“We have heard for many years about the open doors, but we also heard that we can’t enter those doors,” he said. “This is the truth, and we have simply to accept it as it is.”

Nato does not admit nations with unsettled territorial conflicts. Mr Zelensky has repeatedly said in recent weeks that he realises Nato is not going to offer membership to Ukraine and that he could consider a neutral status for his country but needs strong security guarantees from both the West and Russia.

The UN said close to 700 civilians in Ukraine have been confirmed killed, with the true figure probably much higher.

Two journalists working for Fox News were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by fire on Monday on the outskirts of Kyiv, the network said. Fox identified the two as video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was helping Fox crews navigate the area. Another journalist was killed on Sunday in Ukraine.

New efforts to bring civilians to safety and deliver aid were underway around the country. The Red Cross said it was working to evacuate people in about 70 buses from the north eastern town of Sumy, near the Russian border.

In Mariupol, the mayor said Russian troops were holding hostage 400 doctors and patients.

Bodies of people killed by shelling lay covered outside a hospital in Mariupol

/ AP

The exodus from Mariupol marked the biggest evacuation yet from the southern city of 430,000, where officials say a weeks-long siege has killed more than 2,300 people and left residents struggling for food, water, heat and medicine. Bodies have been buried in mass graves.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior aide to Mr Zelensky, said that about 20,000 people managed to leave Mariupol on Tuesday in 4,000 private vehicles via a designated safe corridor leading to the city of Zaporizhzhia.

Later, Ukraine said a fourth Russian general had been killed in the fighting.

Major general Oleg Mityaev died on Tuesday during the storming of Mariupol, said Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko, who published a photo on Telegram of what he said was the dead officer.

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