LVIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) – Ukrainian forces have claimed to have taken back a suburb of Kiev and an eastern Russian town in what is becoming a back-and-forth deadlock on the ground as negotiators begin met for another round of talks Tuesday aimed at stopping the fight.
Ahead of the talks, which will be held in Istanbul, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country was prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow had demanded, and was open to compromise on the fate of the Donbas, the disputed region in the country’s east.
The mayor of Irpin, a suburb in northwestern Kiev that was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting near the capital, said Monday the city was “liberated” from Russian troops.
Irpin received wide attention after photos circulated of a mother and her two children being killed by shelters while trying to flee, their bodies lying on the sidewalk with luggage and a pet carrier nearby.
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Late last week, with its forces trapped in parts of the country, Russia appeared to be scaling down its war goals, saying its main goal was to gain control of the Donbas.
While it has suggested a possible face-saving exit strategy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it has also sparked Ukrainian fears that the Kremlin intends to split the country in two and force it to reclaim a piece of its territory. to give.
Meanwhile, a cyber attack has hit Ukraine’s national telecommunications provider Ukrtelecom almost completely offline. The head of Ukraine’s civil service for special communications, Yurii Shchyhol, blamed “the enemy” without specifically mentioning Russia and said most customers were cut off from telephone, internet and mobile services so that coverage for Ukraine ‘s army can continue.
Also on Monday, an oil depot in the western part of Ukraine’s Rivne region was hit by a missile attack, the governor said. This was the second attack on oil facilities in the region near the Polish border.
Ukrainian troops have pushed the Russians back into other sectors in recent days.
In the city of Makariv, near a strategic highway west of the capital, Associated Press reporters saw the carcass of a Russian rocket launcher, a burning Russian truck, the body of a Russian soldier and a destroyed Ukrainian tank after they fought there a few days ago. In the nearby village of Yasnohorodka, the Associated Press saw positions abandoned by Ukrainian soldiers moving further west, but no sign of Russian troops.
And on Friday, the U.S. Defense Department said the Russians were no longer in full control of Kherson, the first major city to fall through Moscow’s forces. The Kremlin denied losing full control of the southern city.
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Russia has long demanded that Ukraine abandon any hope of joining NATO, which Moscow sees as a threat. Zelensky, in turn, stressed that Ukraine needs security guarantees of its own as part of any agreement.
Zelensky said at the weekend that he was ready to agree to neutrality. He also said that “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are beyond doubt,” while suggesting that compromise could be possible on “the complex issue of Donbas.”
The Ukrainian leader has suggested so much in the past, but has rarely commented so extensively. This could create momentum for the talks, for which the Russian delegates arrived in Istanbul on Monday, Turkish media reported.
Yet it was not clear how a compromise on the Donbas would be consistent with maintaining Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
In other developments:
- President Joe Biden made no apology for calling for Putin’s eviction, saying he was expressing his “moral outrage,” not a new US policy. Over the weekend, Biden said, “For God’s sake, this man can not stay in power.” On Monday, the president said, “I am not stepping back.”
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had launched an effort to bring about a humanitarian ceasefire that would allow aid to be brought in and allow people to move around safely.
- Russia’s invasion has at least somewhat worried most Americans that the U.S. will be directly involved in the conflict and could be targeted with nuclear weapons, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
- The Group of Seven major economies has rejected a Kremlin demand that some countries pay in rubles for Russia’s natural gas. That claim is apparently designed to support the Russian currency, which is under pressure from Western sanctions.
Earlier talks, both by video and in person, could not progress with the end of the more than months-old war that killed thousands and drove more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes. That includes nearly 4 million who have fled the country.
In the besieged southern port of Mariupol, the mayor said half of the pre-war population of more than 400,000 fled, often under fire, during weeks of shooting and bombing.
READ MORE: G7 rejects Russia’s demand to pay for natural gas exports in rubles
Alina Beskrovna, who escaped the city in a convoy of cars and came to Poland, said desperate people melt snow for water and cook on open fires despite the risk of bombing, “because if you do not do it, you will do nothing. have to eat. ”
“A lot of people are just, I think, starving to death in their apartments at the moment without help,” she said. “This is a massacre that is taking place in the hands of the Russians.”
Putin’s ground forces have stalled due to stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, combined with what Western officials say are Russian tactical missteps, poor morale, shortages of food, fuel and cold weather equipment and other problems. Moscow plundered Ukrainian cities with artillery and airstrikes.
In Stoyanka village near Kyiv, Ukrainian soldier Serhiy Udod said Russian troops had taken up defensive positions and suffered heavy losses.
The Russians probably “thought it would be like the Crimea,” which the Kremlin annexed in 2014. “But here it is not like in the Crimea. We are not happy to see them. Here they suffer and are killed. “
Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Nebi Qena in Kiev, Cara Anna in Lviv and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.