100 Civilians Leave Mariupol Plant As Evacuation Begins – Zelensky

This handout video grab taken from a footage released by Mariupol City Council on April 19, 2022 shows clouds of smoke billowing above Azovstal steel plant and the destroyed gates of Azov Shipyard, as Russia continues its push to capture the besieged port city of Mariupol.  AFP

 

The evacuation of the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol has stazelrted, with an initial group of 100 civilians en route to Ukrainian-held territory, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.

“Evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began. The 1st group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area. Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia,” he tweeted, referring to a city 220 kilometres (130 miles) to the northwest.

“Now they, together with #UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, the United Nations had confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal which was being coordinated by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross)and Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Separately, Russian media confirmed that 40 civilians had left the Azovstal steel plant and were being taken to Russian-held territories in the east.

The TASS agency said 18 men, 14 women and eight children were taken to Bezimenne, a village halfway between Mariupol and the Russian border.

In a posting on Telegram, Andriy Yermak, head of Zelensky’s office said it was “only the first stage”.

“The evacuation of civilians from the city of Mariupol, in particular from the Azovstal metallurgical plant, began today,” he wrote, saying the move involved “more than 100 women, children and the elderly”.

“It was a difficult operation and there is still a lot of work ahead, but nothing will stop us.”

The vast Azovstal iron and steelworks is the last hold-out of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol after a weeks-long onslaught by the Russian military.

Mariupol is an important strategic hub connecting the Russian-held southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.

Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are sheltering in the maze of Soviet-era underground tunnels underneath the steelworks, many of whom require medical attention.

Their fate has drawn worldwide condemnation.

Stretching over 11 square kilometres (4.2 square miles), the Azovstal complex is a sprawling warren of rail lines, warehouses, coal furnaces, factories, chimneys and tunnels seen as ideal for guerrilla warfare.

AFP

Pelosi Backs Zelensky In ‘Fight For Freedom’ On Kyiv Visit

A handout photo released by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service on May 1, 2022, shows President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky (R) presents the Order of Princess Olga to US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. (Photo by STRINGER / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP)

 

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi voiced support for Ukraine’s “fight for freedom” at a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky on a visit to Kyiv, US and Ukrainian officials said on Sunday.

“We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom… Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” Pelosi told Zelensky, according to a video from the Ukrainian presidency.

Zelensky tweeted: “Thank you to the United States for helping protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state”.

“The US is leading strong support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he said.

The trip by a Congressional delegation had not been previously announced.

“Our delegation proudly delivered the message that additional American support is on the way, as we work to transform President Biden’s strong funding request into a legislative package,” Pelosi’s office said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden last week proposed a huge $33-billion (31-billion euro) package for arming and supporting Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Nancy Pelosi Meets Zelensky On Unannounced Visit To Kyiv – Officials

Biden also outlined proposed new laws to allow using luxury assets stripped from Russian oligarchs to compensate Ukraine for the destruction wreaked by the invading Russians.

“When we return to the United States, we will do so further informed, deeply inspired and ready to do what is needed to help the Ukrainian people as they defend democracy for their nation and for the world,” Pelosi’s statement continued.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv last month.

AFP

Nancy Pelosi Meets Zelensky On Unannounced Visit To Kyiv – Officials

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on April 29, 2022, in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

 

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi voiced support for Ukraine’s “fight for freedom” at a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky on a visit to Kyiv, US and Ukrainian officials said on Sunday.

“We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom… Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” Pelosi told Zelensky, according to a video from the Ukrainian presidency.

Zelensky tweeted: “Thank you to the United States for helping protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state”.

“The US is leading strong support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he said.

Read Also: Nine Detained In Connection With China Building Collapse

The trip by a Congressional delegation had not been previously announced.

“Our delegation proudly delivered the message that additional American support is on the way, as we work to transform President Biden’s strong funding request into a legislative package,” Pelosi’s office said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden last week proposed a huge $33-billion (31-billion euro) package for arming and supporting Ukraine.

Biden also outlined proposed new laws to allow using luxury assets stripped from Russian oligarchs to compensate Ukraine for the destruction wreaked by the invading Russians.

“When we return to the United States, we will do so further informed, deeply inspired and ready to do what is needed to help the Ukrainian people as they defend democracy for their nation and for the world,” Pelosi’s statement continued.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv last month.

Zelensky Slams UN Chief’s Plan To Visit Moscow Before Kyiv

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday criticised a decision by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to visit Moscow on Tuesday, before heading to Kyiv.

“It is simply wrong to go first to Russia and then to Ukraine,” Zelensky told reporters in the Ukraine capital. “There is no justice and no logic in this order,” he added.

“The war is in Ukraine, there are no bodies in the streets of Moscow. It would be logical to go first to Ukraine, to see the people there, the consequences of the occupation,” he said.

READ ALSO: Russia Slaps Travel Ban On Kamala Harris, Zuckerberg

In the Kyiv region alone, more than a 1,000 civilians had been killed, he added.

Guterres is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, then Zelensky on Thursday.

The UN chief also plans to meet UN staff on staff to discuss stepping up aid for Ukrainians.

Since Guterres accused Russia of violating the UN charter by sending troops into Ukraine, the Russian leader has refused any contact with him.

The UN chief has had little contact with Zelensky either, apart from a telephone conversation on February 26 two days after the Russian attack began.

On Tuesday, Guterres once again denounced the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, calling on both sides to stop fighting and observe a four-day humanitarian truce over the Orthodox Easter, which is on Sunday.

 

AFP

Ukraine’s Membership In EU Is A ‘Priority’ – Zelensky

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a press conference following his talks with the President of the European Council in Kyiv on April 20, 2022.  AFP

 

European Union membership is a “priority” for Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday during a joint press conference with visiting EU chief Charles Michel.

“Regarding our future membership in the EU, it is a priority for our state, for the strength of our people, those who are ready to defend our land against Russian invaders even without arms,” Zelensky said.

AFP

Zelensky Calls Killings In Bucha ‘Genocide’

President Volodymyr Zelensky (2nd L) walks in the town of Bucha, just northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on April 4, 2022. PHOTO: RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday described as “genocide” the killings of civilians in the town of Bucha outside the capital Kyiv reclaimed from Russian forces.

“These are war crimes and it will be recognised by the world as genocide,” Zelensky said during a visit to Bucha, where bodies were discovered strewn throughout the town after it was reclaimed by Kyiv’s army.

“You stand here today and see what happened. We know that thousands of people have been killed and tortured with extremities cut off, women raped, children killed,” he told reporters wearing a bullet-proof vest and accompanied by military personnel.

“It’s genocide,” he added.

Ukraine and Western nations have accused Russian troops of war crimes after the discovery of mass graves and apparently executed civilians at Bucha, prompting vows of action at the International Criminal Court.

Russia’s defence ministry denied its troops had killed civilians in the town recently retaken by Ukrainian soldiers.

Britain, France, Germany, the United States and NATO all voiced horror at the images from Bucha, where some of the bodies lying in public appeared to have been bound by their hands and feet before being shot.

AFP

NATO Invites Zelensky To Address Summit Via Videolink

This handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian presidential press-service on March 21, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. STR / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
This handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian presidential press-service on March 21, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. STR / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to address a special NATO summit Thursday discussing the Russian invasion of his country, an official said.

“President Zelensky is invited to address the NATO summit via video link,” the NATO official said Tuesday.

“This will be an opportunity for allied leaders to hear directly from President Zelensky about the dire situation facing the people of Ukraine because of Russia’s aggression,” the official added.

READ ALSO: We Would Only Use Nuclear Weapons If Faced With ‘Existential Threat’ – Russia

Zelensky’s spokesman Serhiy Nykyforov confirmed that the Ukraine leader would be taking part in the summit and addressing it.

Zelensky will seek help in ending the Russian invasion, Interfax-Ukraine quoted the spokesman as saying.

“This could be in several forms. Close airspace, provide Ukraine with powerful air defence systems and aviation,” he said.

The NATO official said members would examine with Kyiv how the “allies can reinforce their support for Ukraine”.

The summit coincides with a G7 summit and a European Union summit which will also be held in Brussels.

Zelensky Blasts Swiss Banks, Nestle Over ‘Business As Usual’ With Russia

In this handout video grab taken from a footage released by the Ukrainian Presidency early on March 19, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video address in Ukraine. Handout / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
In this handout video grab taken from a footage released by the Ukrainian Presidency early on March 19, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video address in Ukraine. Handout / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday blasted firms including Nestle for carrying on business as usual with Russia “even though our children are dying”, in a live address to a Swiss rally.

Zelensky urged Swiss companies to stop doing business in Russia and told the country’s banks to freeze funds belonging to the Kremlin elite.

Speaking to a rally outside the Swiss parliament in Bern, Zelensky condemned firms that maintained business as usual despite the siege of Mariupol.

The thousands of demonstrators gathered in the square in front of the Federal Palace heard Zelensky’s nine-minute speech translated in German, though technical problems interrupted the video from Kyiv.

READ ALSO: Russia Uses Advanced Hypersonic Missiles In Ukraine

Zelensky criticised Swiss companies for continuing to do business in Russia, singling out food giant Nestle.

The company’s slogan is “good food, good life”, he said.

“Business works in Russia even though our children are dying and our cities are being destroyed,” and while people in Mariupol were “without food, without water, without electricity, under bombardment”.

Zelensky said it was “painful” that those behind the conflict had funds stashed in Switzerland.

“The money of the people who unleashed this war is in your banks. Help fight this. So that their funds are frozen,” he said, urging them to join the “fight against evil”.

Zelensky called for them to be stripped of their properties and privileges, to cheers from the crowd.

The number of rich Russians resident in Switzerland has grown in recent years.

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis joined Ukrainian and other diplomats on a stage above a banner reading “Solidarity with Ukraine. Stop the war now.”

“I’m deeply impressed, dear Volodymyr, from your willingness to resist, from your willingness to go ahead, and from your willingness and the willingness of your population to overcome this terrific crisis,” he told Zelensky.

Cassis said he hoped the guns would soon fall silent and said Switzerland was prepared to mediate or host negotiations.

The Swiss president said he would visit the Polish border with Ukraine on Monday.

Earlier, in a newspaper article, Cassis said Russia’s war in Ukraine was driven by “devastating madness” and said Switzerland was prepared to pay the price for defending freedom and democracy, matching EU sanctions on Russia.

Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Geneva, told the crowd in Bern: “What is happening in Ukraine is an attack not only on Ukraine, on Ukrainian people, it’s an attack on all of us.

“We have to work together to ensure that these atrocities stop and will never happen again.

“Thank-you, Switzerland for you help to Ukraine and Ukrainians. Together we will win.”

AFP

‘Around 1,300’ Ukrainian Troops Killed Since Russia Invasion: Zelensky

This handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on March 12, 202,2 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in capital Kyiv. Handout / UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP
This handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on March 12, 202,2 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in capital Kyiv. Handout / UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP

 

“Around 1,300” Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbour, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday as Moscow’s forces closed in on the capital Kyiv.

Zelensky made the disclosure at a media briefing, the first time Kyiv had given such a toll since the beginning of fighting. On March 2 Russia said it had lost nearly 500 soldiers, but has not updated the figure since.

The Ukrainian president claimed that Russia had lost “around 12,000 men”.

It’s “a ratio of one to ten, but that doesn’t make me happy”, he said.

The Russian army has committed around 150,000 soldiers to the invasion of Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Russian Troops Abduct Ukrainian Mayor

Russian forces upped pressure on Kyiv Saturday, pummelling civilian areas in other Ukrainian cities, amid fresh efforts to get aid to the devastated port city of Mariupol.

Russian strikes destroyed the airport in the town of Vasylkiv on Saturday morning, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Kyiv, while an oil depot was also hit and caught fire, the mayor said.

The northwest suburbs of the capital, including Irpin and Bucha, have already endured days of heavy bombardment while Russian armoured vehicles are advancing on the northeastern edge.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Friday called it a “city under siege”, while Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Saturday Kyiv was reinforcing defences and stockpiling food and medicine.

The southern port city of Mariupol is facing what Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called “the worst humanitarian catastrophe on the planet”, with more than 1,500 civilians dead in 12 days.

 

AFP

Ukraine Steps Up Pleas For Warplanes And Other Military Aid

Zelensky demands 'immediate' EU membership for Ukraine
This handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on February 28, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivering an address in Kyiv. UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP

 

Ukraine on Saturday urged the West to amp up military assistance to the besieged country, including warplanes, as Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated warnings against NATO.

“The highest demand that we have is in fighter jets, attack aircraft, and air-defense systems,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a small group of journalists on the Poland-Ukraine border.

“If we lose the skies, there will be much more blood on the ground,” he said after a meeting with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken.

Separately, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes” that Ukrainians are trained to fly, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said following a video call between legislators and the Ukrainian leader.

READ ALSO: Russia Resumes ‘Offensive’ After Mariupol Ceasefire

As the conflict moved into its 10th day, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West of a wider war if a no-fly zone is set up, as his forces resumed an offensive against a key Ukrainian city where security fears stalled a planned evacuation.

While Zelensky criticized NATO for ruling out a no-fly zone — amid worries it could spark a wider war — Putin spoke of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world” if such a zone were established.

“Any movement in this direction will be considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by that country,” Putin said.

An intense round of shuttle diplomacy continued as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a surprise visit to the Kremlin for three hours of talks with Putin, Bennett’s office said.

It was Putin’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since the invasion began.

The Israeli leader later spoke with Zelensky.

Kyiv had asked Israel — which has strong relations with both Russia and Ukraine — to launch a dialogue with Moscow.

For Zelensky, under an escalating bombardment that has flattened more and more infrastructure and sent nearly 1.4 million civilians fleeing, the Western military alliance’s “no” to a no-fly zone essentially gave “the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages”.

The strategic city of Mariupol, on the Azoz Sea, has for days been under attack and without electricity, food and water.

After Russia declared a ceasefire to open a humanitarian corridor, city officials said the population of 450,000 could begin to leave by bus and private cars.

But the officials then delayed the evacuation, saying, “The Russian side does not adhere to the ceasefire and has continued shelling both Mariupol itself and its environs.”

A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman later announced the assault was back on, citing “the unwillingness of the Ukrainian side to … extend the ceasefire”.

The siege came as Russian forces inched closer to the capital, Kyiv, in an assault that has become ever more indiscriminate — and deadly.

Working-class towns such as Bucha and Irpin are in the line of fire, and air raids Friday broke many people’s resolve to stay.

“They are bombing residential areas — schools, churches, big buildings, everything,” said accountant Natalia Dydenko, glancing back at the destruction she was leaving behind.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in the northern town of Chernihiv. Those remaining live in craters or among ruins.

Scenes of devastation

“There were corpses all over the ground,” a man who gave his name only as Sergei told AFP, as air raid sirens wailed. “They were queueing here for the pharmacy that’s just there, and they’re all dead.”

AFP reporters saw scenes of devastation — despite Moscow’s insistence it is not targeting civilian areas.

A defiant Zelensky said Saturday that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking around Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, inflicting “such losses on the invaders that they have not seen even in their worst dream”.

Kuleba was equally defiant, saying, “Ukraine is bleeding, but Ukraine has not fallen, and stands both feet on the ground.”

He added: “The myth of the unbeatable and almighty Russian army is already ruined.”

Since Putin’s army invaded on February 24, Russia has pummeled Ukrainian cities, with officials reporting hundreds of civilians killed.

But Moscow has so far seized only two key cities — Berdiansk and Kherson on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.

Capturing Mariupol, however, would severely limit Ukraine’s maritime access and allow Russian forces to connect by land with troops from annexed Crimea and the Donbas.

The Kremlin said it was waiting for a third round of talks with Ukraine in Belarus.

The new talks would take place Monday, the Ukrainian side said.

The war has had serious global economic impacts, and the IMF warned on Saturday that its effects would be “all the more devastating” should the conflict escalate.

Russia’s business and other contacts with the West have been steadily cut. Moscow has suspended all flights by flagship carrier Aeroflot, effective Tuesday.

And the list of major companies suspending operations in Russia has grown steadily, now including Spanish clothing giant Zara and fashion chain owner Inditex.

In Washington, some lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden to take tougher measures, including banning Russia’s oil imports — though the administration is wary of seeing high fuel prices rise further.

With fears growing of direct conflict between NATO and Russia — both nuclear-armed — the US and Moscow have set up a new direct phone line to reduce the risks of “miscalculation”, the Pentagon said Friday.

US General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, became the latest Western figure to rule out a no-fly zone, saying it would mean taking on Russian air forces — something, he said in Riga, that neither NATO nor member state leaders are interested in.

Media exodus

Russian authorities have imposed a news blackout and multiple media outlets have halted operations. Twitter was restricted and Facebook blocked in Russia.

A host of news outlets including the BBC and Bloomberg News said they were suspending work in Russia after a new law there imposes fines and jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing “fake news” about the army.

CNN said it would halt broadcasting in Russia, while independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said it would remove Ukraine content.

The Kremlin on Saturday defended the new law, saying it was necessary as the country was facing “an unprecedented information war”.

Putin has been unmoved as Russia has become isolated in economic, sporting and cultural fields.

But that did not stop tens of thousands of people from taking to the streets of Western cities from London to New York to Prague to protest against the invasion.

 

AFP

EU Dampens Ukraine Plea For ‘Immediate’ Membership

The Ukrainian flag flutters along side the European Union flag outside the European Parliament headquarters to show their support for Ukrania after the nation was invaded on February 24 by Russia, in Brussels on February 28, 2022. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

 

The EU on Monday poured cold water on a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for “immediate” membership to the bloc for his country as Kyiv battled a Russian invasion.

EU officials stressed that the adherence procedure takes years, dampening Ukraine’s hopes that suddenly becoming part of the European club could help it better weather the Russian onslaught and speed up military, financial and political support.

Several officials walked back a comment by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen that appeared to hold out the prospect of Ukraine being admitted.

“They are one of us and we want them in,” she told Euronews in an interview on Sunday, after emphasising existing EU-Ukraine cooperation.

Zelensky seized upon that on Monday to appeal to the European Union “for the immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure”.

READ ALSO: Switzerland Adopts Same Sanctions As EU Against Russia

“Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing. I’m sure it’s fair. I’m sure it’s possible.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal tweeted that “the time to put it down on paper has come. Ukraine is applying for EU membership under a special procedure.”

However no such fast-track procedure exists, officials said.

Aspirants wanting to join the bloc typically face a long and complex process that often requires major reforms to reach EU standards.

They also have to prove that their finances are heading in a direction that will allow them to adopt the euro.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that any bid for membership could take “a lot of years”.

Von der Leyen’s spokesman, Eric Mamer, walked back her comments, telling journalists that the EU chief meant that Ukraine “is a European country and we want them in, meaning Europe in general”.

“She then also specified that there is a process (for joining the EU). And I think that this is the important point,” he added.

– EU ‘sensitivities’ –

The European Commission said that, in any case, it can only negotiate with hopeful candidate countries on the basis of a mandate from the EU’s 27 member states — something it has not received for Ukraine.

“At the end of the day, this is a debate at the highest political level, for the (European) Council,” where the member states take decisions, said a commission spokeswoman, Ana Pisonero.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, told a group of journalists that there were already longstanding disagreements among EU countries on enlarging the bloc.

“There are different opinions and sensitivities within the EU on enlargement,” he told a group of journalists.

He said Kyiv would have to submit an official request to join before member states — which would have to greenlight membership unanimously — could come up with a position.

According to Zelensky’s Telegram channel, the Ukrainian president signed such a request on Monday.

The European Union, created by six nations under a different name in 1957, has expanded in four waves over the past three decades. After Britain’s exit from the bloc in 2020, it counts 27 member states.

There are currently five countries that are candidates to join — Turkey, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania — but their bids have been stuck in limbo for years.

The last country to join the EU was Croatia, which was admitted in 2013 — after nearly a decade of negotiations and reforms.

AFP

‘Abandon Your Equipment,’ Ukrainian President Tells Russian Soldiers

Ukraine leader urges Russian soldiers to lay down arms
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv early on February 25, 2022. Invading Russian forces pressed deep into Ukraine as deadly battles reached the outskirts of Kyiv.
Handout / UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP

 

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday urged Russian soldiers to lay down their weapons and desert as Ukrainian and Russian delegations were set to hold talks on Moscow’s invasion.

“Abandon your equipment. Get out of here. Don’t believe your commanders. Don’t believe your propagandists. Just save your lives,” Zelensky said in a new address to Russia’s forces, claiming that more than 4,500 Russian soldiers had already lost their lives during the Kremlin’s assault.

Ukraine’s delegation is set to meet Russian representatives for the first talks since Moscow’s invasion, as the fighting for several Ukrainian cities continues and the Russian ruble collapses.

The meeting will take place just across the border in neighbouring Belarus, a key Kremlin ally that has allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian delegation arrived at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border to take part in talks with representatives of the Russian Federation,” the Ukrainian presidency said in a statement.

“The key issue of the talks is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine.”

He also urged the European Union to give Ukraine “immediate” membership, via a special procedure.

Russian state media posted a video of Ukrainian delegates arriving by helicopter.

Russian delegate Leonid Slutsky, the head of the Russian parliament’s international affairs committee, wrote on the Telegram messenger service: “We will start soon”.

The talks come as Ukraine’s forces fiercely resist the Russian offensive, a day after President Vladimir Putin ordered his defence chiefs to put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert.

The Ukrainian delegation includes defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov as well as deputy foreign minister Mykola Tochytskyi.

The talks come after a phone call between Zelensky and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Zelensky has said he is sceptical about the possibility of a breakthrough.

“As always: I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try,” he said.

Kyiv was initially reluctant to send a delegation to Belarus, given the country’s role as facilitator in Russia’s attack on Ukraine.