European leaders visit Kyiv; Zelenskiy hints at NATO compromise

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  • Updates with comments from Zelenskiy, an EU official, details
  • Czech, Polish and Slovenian leaders visit Kyiv
  • Zelenskiy’s aide says war will be over in May
  • Apartment in the capital hit by shells
  • Russia calls TV news protest ‘hooliganism’

LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV, March 15 (Reuters) – Three European prime ministers traveled to kyiv by train on Tuesday for the first such visit since the start of the war, even as buildings were on fire and rescue workers were trying to remove survivors from the rubble of further Russian bombardment.

The fact that foreign leaders were able to attempt to visit the Ukrainian capital was a stark symbol of Ukraine’s success so far in repelling an assault that Western countries say was aimed at seizing kyiv a few years ago. weeks.

“It is our duty to be where history is made. Because it is not about us, but about the future of our children who deserve to live in a world without tyranny,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who crossed the border with the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Janez Jansa of Slovenia.

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Fiala said the aim was “to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence”.

The visit comes at a time when Ukrainian officials are hoping the war will end sooner than expected, saying Moscow may come to terms with its failure to impose a new government on kyiv by force.

In the latest hint of compromise, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that kyiv was ready to accept security guarantees that stop short of its long-term goal of NATO membership, which Moscow opposes.

Ukraine understands that it does not yet have an open door to join NATO, Zelenskiy said in a video message: “If we cannot enter through open doors, then we must cooperate with the associations with which we can, who will help us, protect us. .. and have separate warranties.”

Peace talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations via video link restarted on Tuesday after a break on Monday, the first time a series of talks took place over a second day.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was too early to predict progress: “The work is difficult, and in the current situation the very fact that (the talks) are continuing is probably positive.”

EXPLOSIONS, FLAMES

European leaders will arrive in a city still under bombardment, where around half of the 3.4 million inhabitants have fled and where residents are spending nights sheltered in metro stations.

Two powerful explosions shook kyiv before dawn on Tuesday and tracer gunfire lit up the night sky. A high-rise apartment building was in flames in the morning after being hit by artillery. Read more

Firefighters attempted to put out the blaze and rescuers helped evacuate residents trapped inside using mobile ladders. Officials said four people died in the early morning Russian shelling of the capital.

Sitting on the ground outside, resident Igor Krupa said he survived because he slept under a makeshift shelter made up of furniture and metal weights: “All the windows went out and all the debris got into the apartment”.

But despite reducing some cities to rubble, the largest European invasion force since World War II was stopped at the gates of kyiv, and Russia failed to capture any of Ukraine’s 10 largest cities.

In his most confident public statement to date, Zelenskiy called on Russian troops to surrender.

“You won’t take anything from Ukraine. You will take lives,” he said. “But why should you die? Why ? I know you want to survive.

Czech and Polish officials said the prime ministers’ mission had been coordinated with the EU and agreed by bloc leaders at a summit last week. However, some officials in Brussels were circumspect.

While any peace initiative is welcome, the trip “poses serious security risks”, an EU official noted. “Some leaders might also wonder: will this compromise or improve the terms of negotiations with the Russians. That remains to be seen, of course. It’s a fine line.”

AT THE CROSSROADS

One of Zelenskiy’s top aides said the war would be over by May, or even over in a few weeks, as Russia ran out of fresh troops.

“We are now at a crossroads,” Oleksiy Arestovich said in a video. He said he expected either a peace deal within a week or two or another Russian attempt with new reinforcements, which could prolong the conflict for another month.

“I think no later than May, early May, we should have a peace agreement, maybe much earlier: we’ll see,” Arestovich said.

In Rivne, western Ukraine, officials said 19 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a television tower. If confirmed, it would be the worst attack on a civilian target to date in the northwest where Russian ground troops have yet to march.

Peace talks have so far focused on local ceasefires to allow civilians to evacuate and bring aid to beleaguered towns.

Worst hit is the southeastern port of Mariupol, where hundreds have been killed since Russia laid siege in the first week of the war. Russian troops let a first column of cars leave Mariupol on Monday, but attempts to bring in aid convoys failed for 10 straight days. Ukrainian officials said they would try again.

While Russia failed to seize any cities in the north and east, it was more successful in the south, where Moscow said on Tuesday it now controls the entire Kherson region.

In an intelligence update on Tuesday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense reported protests against the Russian occupation in the southern cities of Kherson, Berdyansk and Melitopol.

The war resulted in Russia’s economic isolation and led to a near-total crackdown on free speech there, with all major independent media outlets shut down and Western social media apps disabled.

An employee of the main public television station stood behind a presenter during a news program on Monday evening and held up an anti-war placard. Read more

She was quickly arrested. Kremlin spokesman Peskov called his protest “hooliganism”.

According to the United Nations, almost 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war.

Tanya, who crossed the Danube into Romania, said she fled the southern frontline town of Mykolaiv to save her child. “Because the people who are there now are Russians, Russian soldiers, and they are killing children.”

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff; Editing by Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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