© Reuters. Smoke rises amid damaged buildings and vehicles following an attack on the Yavoriv military base, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Yavoriv, Lviv Oblast, Ukraine, March 13, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. @ BackAndAlive / via REU
By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine said it had begun “hard” talks on a ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops and security guarantees with Russia on Monday, despite the fatal shelling of a residential building in Kyiv.
Both sides suggested at the weekend some results could be in sight after earlier rounds have primarily focused on ceasefires to get aid to towns and cities under siege by Russian forces and evacuate civilians; those truces have frequently failed.
Firefighters tackled the remains of a blaze at the damaged apartment block in the capital, where a stunned young resident described the chaos of the previous night in a city targeted by the Russian advance but so far largely spared bombardment.
Officials said at least one person died in the shelling and a second person was killed by falling debris after a missile strike on another part of the Ukrainian capital.
“The staircase was not there anymore, everything was on fire,” Maksim Korovii told Reuters, describing how he and his mother had first hid inside their dust and smoke-filled apartment, thinking Russian forces were breaking down the door.
“We did not know what to do. So we ran out to the balcony. We managed to put on whatever clothes we had at hand and made our way from balcony to balcony and in the end we climbed down by the next building’s entrance, “he said.
Russia denies targeting civilians, saying it is conducting a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.
Russia’s defense ministry said at least 20 people had been killed and 28 wounded when what it said was a Ukrainian missile with a cluster charge exploded in the capital of the eastern Donetsk region, without providing evidence.
Pro-Russian separatists who control the region said earlier a child was among those hit in what it called a war crime. Ukrainian officials denied the reports, which Reuters was unable to independently verify.
Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak, who on Sunday said Russia was beginning to talk “constructively”, wrote ahead of the talks: “Negotiations. 4th round. On peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops & security guarantees.”
He later said discussions had started but were hard, because the political systems of Russia and Ukraine were too different.
Podolyak said he believed Russia “still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against (Ukrainian) peaceful cities is the right strategy.”
Russia has accused Ukraine of using civilians as human shields, an allegation Kyiv has firmly denied.
SLOW OR ACCORDING TO PLAN?
The Kremlin said everything was going to plan after one of Putin’s closest allies, National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov, made the strongest public acknowledgment yet that the operation was slower than hoped.
“Not everything is going as fast as we would like,” Zolotov, once in charge of Putin’s personal security, said in comments posted on the National Guard’s website. “… But we are going towards our goal step by step and victory will be for us.”
Russia has sufficient military clout to accomplish its aims in Ukraine on time and in full, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, accusing the United States and European Union of tempting Russia into attacking major population centers in Ukraine, something he said Putin had asked the army not to do.
While Russian troops have yet to enter the capital, thousands of people have died in other occupied or encircled towns and villages since the invasion on Feb. 24.
The Kyiv city administration said the Antonov aircraft plant there had been shelled. Reuters was not immediately able to verify that report.
Regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba said frontline towns near Kyiv were being evacuated for a fifth day, although he could hear occasional explosions in the distance.
Moscow attacked a base near the border with NATO member Poland on Sunday in what Britain called a significant escalation. Ukraine said 35 people had been killed while Moscow said up to 180 “foreign mercenaries” died and many foreign weapons were destroyed.
Kyiv said the base had hosted military instructors but NATO said it now had no personnel in Ukraine. Reuters could not independently verify the casualty reports and it was not clear if any non-NATO foreign personnel had been there.
INVESTOR FEARS EASE
Global financial markets, which had been riven by fears the conflict could drag in NATO, rallied on hopes for peace talks. Stocks rose while oil prices gave up some of their massive recent gains. [MKTS/GLOB]
Soaring energy costs, the conflict’s impact on supply chains already frayed by the coronavirus pandemic, and sanctions have fueled inflationary pressures worldwide.
Russian coal and fertilizer king Andrei Melnichenko said the war in Ukraine, a top producer of grains, must be stopped or there would be a global food crisis as fertilizer prices were already too high for many farmers.
“The events in Ukraine are truly tragic. We urgently need peace,” Melnichenko told Reuters.
Melinchenko is among Russian businessmen sanctioned by the West, which has also frozen state assets and cut off much of the corporate sector from the global economy.
According to several US officials, Russia has also asked China for military equipment. The Kremlin denied that and Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, said, “I’ve never heard of that,” adding that China supported efforts to reach a peaceful settlement of the crisis.
A foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing accused Washington of “disinformation.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who is set to meet China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday, warned Beijing it would “absolutely” face consequences if it helped Moscow evade sanctions.
The invasion has sent more than 2.8 million people fleeing across Ukraine’s borders and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged cities.
More than 2,500 residents of the southern port of Mariupol have been killed so far, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said. A pregnant woman pictured being evacuated from a bombed maternity unit there last week had died, according to the foreign ministry. Reuters was not immediately able to verify those reports.