Ukraine warns talks with Russia could collapse as battles rage in east

  • Ukraine says anger at Russia makes talks hard to sustain
  • Russia blames Ukraine ‘inconsistency’ for stalling talks
  • Key U.S. lawmaker pledges to quickly pass Ukraine aid package
  • Russia prepares for new offensives in the East, says Ukraine

KYIV, April 29 (Reuters) – Ukraine warned on Friday that peace talks with Moscow were in danger of collapsing and said Russia was hammering areas in the east as U.S. lawmakers pledged swift approval a massive new arms package for kyiv.

Russian forces focused on eastern and southern Ukraine after failing to capture the capital in a nine-week assault that turned cities into rubble, killed thousands and forced 5 million ‘Ukrainians to flee abroad.

Moscow has captured the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine and its forces have mainly occupied the eastern port city of Mariupol, where United Nations efforts are underway to evacuate civilians and fighters holed up at a large steel plant.

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Ukraine and Russia have not had face-to-face peace talks since March 29, and the atmosphere has soured over Ukrainian allegations that Russian troops have committed atrocities by withdrawing from nearby areas from Kyiv. Moscow has denied these allegations. The two parties have since spoken via video link.

In comments to reporters in Poland, which has taken in nearly 3 million Ukrainian refugees, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed pessimism about the prospect of further talks with Russia, blaming public anger for what he called Russian atrocities.

“The risks of the talks ending are high because of what they (the Russians) left behind, the impression that they have a playbook about killing people,” Interfax said, quoting Zelenskiy , to Polish journalists.

Moscow says it launched its invasion in part because it feared Ukraine might join the US-led NATO military alliance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine would have received security guarantees from UN Security Council countries if it had been “honest” in the negotiations.

“We got stuck because of their inconsistency, because of their desire to play every time and – as far as I know – because of the instructions they receive from Washington, London and other capitals not to speed up the negotiation process,” Lavrov said. in an interview reported by Russian news agencies.

Both the United States and Britain expressed support for Ukraine in the talks, but said it was vital to continue to arm kyiv. President Joe Biden asked the US Congress for $33 billion in new aid on Thursday, including more than $20 billion in weapons.

The funding received bipartisan support in Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped to pass the package “as soon as possible.” Read more

Putin calls Moscow’s actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine, defend Russian speakers from persecution and prevent the United States from using the country to threaten Russia.

Ukraine rejects Putin’s persecution claims and says it is fighting an imperial-style land grab aimed at fully seizing two eastern Ukrainian provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, which are collectively known under the name of Donbass.

Russia was pounding the entire Donetsk frontline with rockets, artillery, mortar shells and aircraft, in part to prevent Ukrainian troops from regrouping, Ukrainian officials said.

The Ukrainian army said that Russia was preparing for offensives in the regions of Lyman in Donetsk and Severodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk. In the south, Russia “continues to regroup, increase the effectiveness of fire and improve its position”, he added.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces struck Ukrainian weapons storage sites, platoon strongholds, artillery positions and drones. Russia said earlier that a diesel submarine in the Black Sea struck military targets with Kalibr cruise missiles, with the first to report such strikes from a submarine.

Russia also said its high-precision long-range missiles destroyed production facilities at a rocket factory in kyiv. Ukraine says Thursday’s attack hit a residential building, injuring civilians and killing a producer for the US-backed TV station Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

The body of producer Vira Hyrych was found in the rubble of the building, RFE/RL said.

“She was going to bed when a Russian ballistic missile hit her apartment in central kyiv,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said.

A US official confirmed that the attack on kyiv targeted military production, without saying whether the target was destroyed.

Ukraine has acknowledged losing control of some towns and villages in the east, but says Moscow’s gains have cost a Russian force already depleted by its earlier defeat near the capital.

“We have serious losses but the Russians’ losses are much, much greater… They have colossal losses,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said, without giving further details.

Western officials said Russia had suffered fewer casualties after reducing the scale of its invasion, but the numbers were still “quite high”, while the British Ministry of Defense said Russian gains had been limited and had had a “significant cost”.

The bloodiest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe of the war took place in Mariupol, reduced to a desert state by two months of Russian bombardment and siege. Ukraine says 100,000 civilians remain in the city.

In parts of Mariupol now held by Russian troops, rescuers were picking up bodies from the streets. Residents among the devastated ruins told of the horror they had survived.

“We were hungry, the child was crying when the Grad (multiple rocket launcher) shells hit near the house. We thought, this is the end. It cannot be described,” Viktoria Nikolayeva, 54, who survived the battle with his family in a basement, told Reuters while crying. Read more

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday that intense talks were underway to evacuate Ukrainians from Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

A Ukrainian fighter locked up there expressed his belief that he and other fighters could rescue the wounded and other soldiers from the factory and that they would be safe. Previous efforts to evacuate the factory failed. Read more

“I really believe that all the defenders of Mariupol – the troops who remained here, the wounded and the living – that we can save the lives of these heroes,” captain Sviatoslav Palamar said.

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Additional reporting from Russia’s Mariupol Writing by Peter Graff, Philippa Fletcher and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Frank Jack Daniel

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