Ukraine warns of 'last chance' to flee Russian attacks in east

Tentative hopes for Ukraine peace talks after fierce Russian attacks

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Lviv, Ukraine, March 14: Despite heavy Russian bombing, both sides reported rare progress over the weekend, with Ukraine saying it would seek to discuss a ceasefire, immediate troop withdrawal and security guarantees with Russia.

Previous rounds of talks had similar goals but ended up focusing mostly on humanitarian issues, and agreeing to ceasefires to supply towns besieged by Russian troops often failed.

“Negotiations. 4th round. On peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops & security guarantees. Hard discussion,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said online.

Writing at the expected start time of 10:30 a.m. Kyiv time (0830 GMT), he said he believed Russia “still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against (Ukrainian) peaceful cities is the right strategy.”

Russia denies targeting civilians, calling its operation a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies have called it a baseless pretext for choosing war.

Moscow earlier said it saw no reason to send UN peacekeepers to Ukraine, a prospect that has so far not been widely considered. According to RIA Novosti, the director of the ministry’s international organization department, Peter Ilyichev, said that since Russia is under control, there is no need for peacekeepers.

On Sunday, Moscow expanded its attack range, hitting a base bordering NATO member Poland.

Ukraine said 35 people were killed at the base, while Moscow said as many as 180 “foreign mercenaries” were killed and a large number of foreign weapons were destroyed. The base has hosted military instructors, but NATO says it has no personnel in Ukraine. Reuters was unable to independently verify the casualty report.

At least one person was killed and three wounded in a residential building in Kyiv on Monday, Ukrainian state television said, while the city government said the Antonov aircraft factory there had been shelled. Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.

Russian troops have yet to enter the capital, but thousands have been killed in other occupied or besieged towns and villages since the February 24 invasion.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmitro Kouleba, discussed diplomatic efforts to prevent a Russian aggression, the State Department said, after Russia and Ukraine gave an optimistic assessment of the weekend’s talks.

“Russia is already beginning to talk constructively,” Ukraine negotiator Podolyak said in a video online. “I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days.”

A Russian delegate to the talks, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying the negotiators had made significant progress and it was possible they could soon reach draft agreements.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the countries’ delegations had been speaking daily by video link and a clear aim of his negotiators was to “do everything” to arrange for him to meet Putin.

“We must hold on. We must fight. And we will win,” Zelenskiy said in a late night video speech.

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