A torn Ukrainian flag from a building in Nikolaev, southern Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (AFP/Oleksandr GIMANOV)
Talks between Kiev and Moscow began earlier this week in Istanbul, with Ukraine saying it was ready to discuss its neutrality “at length” as the humanitarian situation in Mariupol in the country’s east is described as “catastrophic.”
In a city besieged and shelled for weeks, “the population is fighting for survival. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on its Twitter account on the night of Sunday to Monday.
“The Russian armed forces are turning the city to dust,” he added. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for his part, condemned the complete blockade of this city, which the Russian army has been trying to take for several weeks.
“All entrances and exits from the city are blocked (…) it is impossible to bring food and medicine into Mariupol,” he said on Sunday evening. “Russian forces are bombing aid convoys and killing drivers,” he added.
According to him, about 2,000 children were also taken to Russia. “And that means they were kidnapped. Because we don’t know exactly where they are. Some with parents, some not. This is a disaster,” he said.
More than 2,000 civilians were killed in Mariupol, according to a recent Mayor’s Office report. About 100,000 people are still stranded in this strategic port on the Sea of Azov, according to the President of Ukraine. Several attempts to establish safe routes for civilians failed, with both sides accusing the other of violating the ceasefire.
And we still don’t know, almost two weeks after the bombing of his theater, the fate of the hundreds of civilians who took refuge there: a near-impossible mission, according to an elected municipal official from Mariupol.
On Sunday, the French president said he would talk to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday or Tuesday to organize an evacuation operation from the city.
Emmanuel Macron, who has already spoken to Vladimir Putin eight times since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, remains convinced that the path of dialogue with Moscow is still possible “to stop the war that Russia has unleashed in Ukraine without going to war.”
– 3.8 million refugees –
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators will meet in Istanbul on Monday or Tuesday, according to sources, to try to end this conflict, which has already forced more than 3.8 million Ukrainians to flee their country, according to the UN count on Sunday. to the country’s infrastructure, according to a study by the Kiev School of Economics.
A man stands in front of a house destroyed by Russian troops in Bashtanka near Nikolaev, southern Ukraine, on March 27, 2022. (AFP/BULENT KILIC) #
One of the important points of the talks concerns “guarantees of security and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state,” President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky told independent Russian media on Sunday, according to the Telegram channel of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine.
“This point of the negotiations is clear to me and is under discussion, being deeply studied,” he said. But it will have to be submitted to a referendum and guarantees are needed, he warned, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage of “delaying.”
Russian police communications officer Roskomnadzor, in a statement to Russian media, said the interview should not be published and indicated that an investigation had been launched against those who participated in the interview.
Map of Ukraine showing humanitarian corridors allowing the evacuation of civilians, as of March 27 (AFP/)
The negotiating session has already taken place on March 10 in Turkey, in Antalya, at the level of foreign ministers, but has not led to any concrete progress. Since then, discussions have continued via videoconference, which both sides considered “challenging”.
These new face-to-face talks come after the Russian army announced at the end of the week that it was changing its “primary target” in Ukraine.
On Friday, the Russian command came as a surprise, saying that “the main efforts should be concentrated on the main task: the liberation” of the Donbass mining basin.
This shift in strategy makes the Ukrainian authorities wary of Russia’s desire to end up with “two Ukraines” along the lines of North and South Korea.
By failing to take Kyiv and overthrow the Ukrainian government, Moscow “may draw a dividing line between the occupied and non-occupied regions of our country, (in) an attempt” to establish a Korean-style division, Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kirill Budanov said on Sunday.
– Referendum in Lugansk –
The fear is reinforced by the announcement that a referendum on joining Russia will be held “in the near future” in the separatist territory of Lugansk (east), whose independence Moscow has recognized.
“All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are invalid and will not have legitimacy,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, responded.
On the ground, fighting continues, but in some besieged cities, such as Nikolayev, a locked-in city on the way to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, the noose seemed to have loosened, having been looted by Russian artillery for several days.
A man looks through a plastic window at a house damaged by Russian shelling in Bashtanka near Nikolaev, southern Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (AFP/BULENT KILIC) #
However, new fires have broken out in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, occupied by Russian troops, according to the Ukrainian authorities, who called for the “demilitarization” of the sector under the auspices of the UN.
“Mass fires have started in the exclusion zone, which can have very serious consequences,” Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on her Telegram account on Sunday evening.
According to Ukraine’s regional authorities, the Russian army took control of the town of Slavutych, home to Chernobyl personnel, briefly arresting the mayor and provoking pro-Ukrainian demonstrations.
And according to a statement by the Ukrainian General Staff on Monday, the Ukrainian Air Force destroyed four planes and a helicopter on Sunday. Ukrainian forces are repulsing “five enemy attacks a day” on the eastern front towards the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, where two Russian tanks were destroyed, according to the same source.
On the other hand, in Nikolaev, the inhabitants found little hope after the terrible weeks during which the Russian army tried in vain to take the city.
The front even retreated significantly, with the Ukrainians launching a counter-offensive against Kherson, about 80 kilometers to the southeast, the only major city that the Russian army had completely taken since the invasion of Ukraine. .
– “Butcher” –
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, March 26, 2022. (AFP/Brendan SMIALOWSKI) #
Visiting Warsaw on Saturday, US President Joe Biden vehemently attacked the Kremlin master, calling him a “butcher” and arguing that he “cannot remain in power” after his invasion of Ukraine.
“I will not use such a remark because I continue to debate with President Putin,” Mr. Macron responded.
The White House had to very quickly qualify Mr. Biden’s comments. “The president meant that Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or over the region,” she said. “He didn’t talk about Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”
At the diplomatic level, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a boycott of Auchan French supermarkets that chose to stay in Russia, as well as the Leroy-Merlin (DIY) and Décathlon (sports) brands detained by the same family group.
In Warsaw, music and sports stars took the stage on Sunday during a telethon in favor of Ukraine, which was broadcast by the Polish public channel TVP in more than 20 countries.
A message of support for Ukraine is shown on screen at the Oscars in Hollywood on March 27, 2022. (AFP/ROBYN BECK)
And in Los Angeles, during the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday night, a minute of silence was called for in memory of Ukraine.
In this brief moment of contemplation, the screens broadcast messages calling for help, listing the basic needs of Ukrainians, such as “food”, “medical care” or “blanket”.