Kyiv/Lviv, Ukraine, March 19 (Reuters) – Russian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday called for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow to stop it from invading Ukraine, saying it would take “generations” for Russia otherwise recovered from the losses in the war.
Russian troops have suffered heavy losses since the February 24 attack by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and their advance has largely stalled.
However, they have laid siege to the city, blasting urban areas to rubble, and in recent days have intensified missile strikes on scattered targets in western Ukraine, away from the main battlefields in the north and east of the country.
On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said its hypersonic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse of missiles and aircraft ammunition in the western region of Ivano-Frankivs. The missile also destroyed the Ukrainian military radio and reconnaissance center near the port of Odessa, Interfax news agency quoted the ministry as saying.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
Air raid sirens were sounded in the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhitomyr regions early Saturday, and no new attacks were immediately reported, while efforts to evacuate civilians from the besieged city continued.
The governor of the eastern region of Luhansk said there would be a ceasefire on Saturday morning and a humanitarian evacuation route would be opened.read more
“It has been agreed to start the ‘silence regime’ at 9am on March 19” (0700GMT), Serhiy Gaidai said in a message on Telegram. Luhansk is located in Ukraine’s coal-rich Donbas region, which has been partly controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014.
The head of the Ukrainian government in Luhansk, Gede, said 59 civilians had been killed in the region since the war began.
Unprecedented Western sanctions aimed at weakening Russia’s economy have yet to halt what Putin calls “special operations” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbors.
After Russia said it would “tighten the noose” around the besieged port of Mariupol, Ukraine’s defense ministry acknowledged on Friday that it had “temporarily” lost access to the Sea of Azov, a strategic link with the Black Sea .
Zelensky alluded to Russia’s losses in a video address earlier Saturday.
“I want everyone to hear my voice now, especially in Moscow. It’s time for a meeting, it’s time to talk,” he said. “It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be so great that it will take generations to restore.”
Russia last acknowledged the killing of nearly 500 of its soldiers on March 2. Ukraine says the number now stands in the thousands. Reuters could not independently verify the death toll.
Kyiv and Moscow reported some progress this week in talks to develop a political package that would keep Ukraine safe while excluding it from NATO. But Ukraine renewed its call for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops, with both sides accusing the other of stalling talks.read more
Putin promised on Friday that Russia “will absolutely complete all our plans” as thousands waved Russian flags at a football stadium in Moscow.read more
The United States has repeatedly said that Russia may seek assistance from China, the largest power that has yet to condemn the attack.
In a video call on Friday, President Joe Biden told Chinese President Xi Jinping that there would be “consequences” if Beijing provided “material support” to Russia in Ukraine, and that sanctions against Beijing were an option, the White House said.read more
China and Russia deny that Beijing is considering military aid to Moscow. China has said it wants to see the conflict come to an end.
More than three million refugees have fled Ukraine’s western border, and Ukrainian authorities have been seeking to evacuate civilians from besieged cities through humanitarian corridors. Kyiv said it hopes to open 10 such corridors on Saturday.
Some of the fiercest fighting took place in Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people have been trapped since the first week of the war. Officials there said the fighting had spread to the city centre, with near-constant shelling hindering the entry of humanitarian aid.
Rescuers are still searching for survivors of the Mariupol theater, which local authorities said was flattened by Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. Russia denies attacking theaters.read more
Zelensky said in a video address that more than 130 people had been rescued from the rubble, but there was no information on how many died in the theater, where hundreds have been taking shelter.
Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Tomasz Janowski; Editing by William Mallard and Francis Kerry
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