Russia breaks off WWII peace talks over Japan’s stance on invading Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy renewed his call for negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as he and others accused Moscow of war crimes and deadly street battles raged in the key southern port city of Mariupol, where a major evacuation is scheduled for March 21.

“I am ready to negotiate with him,” Zelenskiy told CNN in a March 20 interview as the widely condemned and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its fourth week.

Live briefing: Russia invades Ukraine

RFE/RL Ukraine live briefing brings you all the latest news on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbour, kyiv’s response, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. The Live Briefing presents the latest developments and analysis, updates throughout the day.

“I think that without negotiations we cannot end this war,” Zelenskiy said through an interpreter.

“If there’s only a 1% chance for us to stop this war, I think we should take that chance…to have the chance to negotiate, the chance to talk to Putin,” he said. -he declares.

“If these attempts fail, it would mean that this is a third world war.”

Separately, Turkey’s foreign minister said in an interview that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were close to agreeing on ‘critical’ issues and that he hoped for a potential ceasefire soon in the conflict. .

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this month arranged talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in the Turkish city of Antalya, but those talks do not appear to have yielded concrete results.

As Zelenskiy spoke to CNN, fighting continued in Mariupol, a strategic city that had a population of 400,000 before the outbreak of war. For the past two weeks, residents have been trapped without basic supplies, such as water, food and fuel.

Russia is seeking to take control of the city, which would allow it to link Crimea – which it seized in 2014 – with territory controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian military said it had given Ukraine until the early hours of March 21 to surrender the city, according to Russian media.

But Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said early on March 21 that “there can be no talk of a surrender, a laying down of arms. We have already informed the Russian side of this.”

Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials accused Moscow of war crimes after the Russian military bombed an art school in Mariupol where some 400 people had sought refuge from intense fighting.

On March 20, local officials said on their Telegram channel that the school building had been destroyed and people could remain under the rubble. There was no word on the casualties.

“To do this in a peaceful city – what the occupiers did – is a terror that will be remembered for centuries,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to the nation early March 20.

The attack on the art school came after Russian airstrikes on March 16 destroyed a theater in Mariupol where civilians had taken refuge. City authorities said 130 people had been rescued but many more could remain under the rubble. Rescuers were still looking for survivors.

Earlier in the war, Russian forces bombed a maternity ward in the city.

Russia denies targeting civilians despite ample evidence of deadly attacks on non-military sites.

Late on March 20, Ukraine’s central government announced its intention to send dozens of buses to Mariupol to help evacuate refugees fleeing the fighting.

Deputy Prime Minister Vereshchuk said nearly 50 buses were expected to arrive in the city on March 21.

She said 3,985 people were evacuated on March 20 from Mariupol to the city of Zaporizhzhya about 225 kilometers away.

WATCH: Russian forces encounter fierce resistance and suffer casualties as they attempt to drive towards Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. On March 18, a Ukrainian special search group collected the corpses of Russian soldiers in the hope that they could be exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war.

While the Russian invasion is said to have bogged down much of the country and resulted in heavy losses of troops and military equipment, Russian forces continue to bomb Ukrainian cities amid international condemnation and calls for a immediate ceasefire.

Observers have speculated that Russian military momentum has been halted by Ukrainian forces in many parts of the country and that the sides could be heading for a long and protracted stalemate in the war, which began on February 24 with the invasion of its neighbor by Russia.

In the capital, Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said late on March 20 that shelling hit residential areas and a shopping area in the Podil district after a relatively quiet day.

“Several explosions in the Podil district of the capital,” Klitschko said on his Telegram channel.

Almost a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced by the invasion, according to UN figures released on March 20.

Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said on Twitter that at least 10 million of Ukraine’s population of 44 million have fled their homes.

About 3.4 million people have crossed Ukraine’s borders into neighboring countries, most of them arriving in Poland, a member of NATO and the European Union.

The UN human rights office estimated on March 20 that 902 civilians had been killed and 1,459 injured in Ukraine by the end of March 19. He said, however, the true toll would likely be much higher as he was unable to verify reports in several badly damaged towns.

The UN said most of the casualties were due to heavy artillery shelling and multiple rocket launcher systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

Asked by British television channel Sky News if Russia was committing genocide in her country, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna replied: “It’s not a question. It’s just the reality we are all faced with. confronted”.

WATCH: Two-year-old Stepan Shpak was killed in Novye Petrivtsy, near the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, on March 16 in a shelling by the Russian army. Her father spoke to Current Time on March 17.

Demonstrations against the Russian invasion have continued in several cities around the world, including in Russia itself, despite police crackdowns on protesters.

The protests took place in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Vladivostok, among other cities, according to OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors arrests during protests.

Since the start of the invasion, there have been more than 15,000 detentions in anti-war protests, OVD-Info reported.

Figures for military casualties on both sides remain difficult to confirm.

Zelenskiy said in a video message to the Russian public on March 20 that some 14,000 Russians died during the invasion.

“It’s 14,000 mothers, 14,000 fathers, wives, children, parents, friends – and you don’t notice?” he said.

Moscow acknowledged only 498 dead, a total announced at the start of the invasion with no subsequent update.

WATCH: Belarus has withdrawn all of its diplomats from Ukraine. As Ambassador Ihar Sokol left on March 18, a Ukrainian border officer tried to hand him “30 pieces of silver,” a reference to the biblical story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas. Russian troops deployed in Belarus for military exercises have joined the invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24.

Ukraine said a week ago that around 1,300 of its soldiers had been killed. This number cannot be independently confirmed.

Global condemnation of the Russian invasion continued, with Pope Francis calling it a “senseless massacre” and a “repugnant war”.

However, Russia’s ally China has not joined in Russia’s criticisms or participated in the financial sanctions imposed on Moscow.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged Beijing to take a stand against the invasion.

“As time goes on and the number of Russian atrocities increases, I think it becomes more and more difficult and politically embarrassing for people, actively or passively, to tolerate Putin’s invasion,” he said. he told The Times newspaper.

US President Joe Biden is due to travel to Europe next week for emergency talks with NATO over the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have invited Biden to come to the country to see the situation for himself, but the White House has said the president has no plans to visit the war-torn nation during the trip.

With reports from AP, AFP, dpa, BBC and Reuters

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