Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has insisted on the territorial integrity of his country ahead of talks with Russia in Turkey this week.
Ukraine’s priorities at the talks will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zelenskiy told the nation in his nightly address late on March 27.
“We are looking for peace, really, without delay,” he said. “There is an opportunity and a need for a face-to-face meeting in Turkey.”
In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 27, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to host the talks and called for a cease-fire and better humanitarian conditions, his office said.
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators confirmed that in-person talks would take place, although it was unclear whether discussions would begin on March 28 or March 29.
More than four weeks into its unprovoked invasion, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and signaled on March 25 that it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian Army for the past eight years.
The disposition of Russian forces in Ukraine during the last 24 hours has seen no significant change, British military intelligence said on March 28.
However, Russia has gained more ground in the south, in the vicinity of Mariupol, as it fights to capture the port, it added.
Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, said the city on the shores of the Sea of Azov was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe and must be completely evacuated.
Boychenko said about 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power.
Twenty-six buses were waiting to evacuate civilians but Russian forces had not agreed to give them safe passage, he said on March 28.
“The Russian Federation is playing with us,” he said.
Elsewhere, Russia continues to bomb key Ukrainian infrastructure.
Late on March 27, a rocket attack hit an oil base in the far northwestern region of Volyn, AP reported.
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, accused Russia of seeking to split Ukraine in two, making the comparison to North and South Korea.
“The occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine,” Budanov said in a statement released by the Defense Ministry on March 27. He predicted that guerrilla warfare by Ukrainians would derail such plans.
A separatist leader in Luhansk said on March 27 that the region might soon organize a referendum on joining Russia, in a move that would be reminiscent of a referendum on the same topic after Russia occupied Crimea in March 2014.
“All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void and will have no legal validity,” a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleh Nikolenko said in a statement. “Instead, Russia will facе an even stronger response from the international community, further deepening its global isolation.”
In comments made to Russian journalists earlier on March 27, Zelenskiy said his government would consider declaring neutrality and offering security guarantees to Russia, repeating earlier statements. That would include keeping Ukraine nuclear-free, he said.
He told the reporters that the issue of neutrality – and agreeing to stay out of NATO – should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw. He said a vote could take place within a few months of the troops leaving.
Russia quickly banned the interview from being published. Roskomnadzor, which regulates communications for Moscow, issued the ban, saying there could be action taken against the Russian media outlets that took part, which included “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”
Zelenskiy responded by saying Moscow was afraid of a relatively short conversation with journalists. “It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic,” he said, according to the Ukrainian news agency RBK Ukraina.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stalled in many areas. Its aim to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force its surrender has faltered against staunch Ukrainian resistance — bolstered by weapons from the U.S. and other Western allies.
Ukraine says that, to defeat Russia, the West must provide fighter jets and not just missiles and other military equipment. A proposal to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was scrapped amid NATO concerns about being drawn into direct fighting.
Zelenskiy accused Western governments of being “afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision.”