Ukraine offers Mariupol talks with Russia to evacuate civilians

Mykhailo Podolak, political advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, receives questions from a member of the media after a meeting with Russian negotiators in Istanbul, Turkey on March 29, 2022. REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN/FILE PHOTO

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(Reuters) – Top Ukrainian negotiators on Wednesday offered to hold private talks with Russia in Mariupol without conditions in a bid to evacuate troops and civilians from the besieged port city.

Negotiator Mikhailo Podolak tweeted on Wednesday that the talks could be “one-to-one. Two-on-two. To save our Azov (far right) men, military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded.”

Ukraine accused Russian forces, on Wednesday, of failing to adhere to a local ceasefire agreement long enough to allow large numbers of women, children and the elderly to flee the largely bombed city by Russian forces. Read more

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The remaining fighters, holed up in massive ironworks, ignored earlier Russian ultimatums to surrender and made clear on Wednesday that their position had not changed.

David Arachhamia, the second negotiator, said in an online post that he and Podolyak had been in frequent contact with Ukrainian forces in the city.

“Today, in conversation with the city’s defenders, a proposal was made for direct negotiations, on site, on the evacuation of our military garrison,” he said. From our side, we are ready to reach such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side.”

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A senior member of the Azov battalion – which is now integrated into Ukraine’s armed forces and leads Mariupol’s defense – said earlier that the defenders had rejected Russia’s two-day demand to drop the weapons.

Instead, they sought a deal to allow civilians to leave, but said the continued Russian bombing and failure to respect the ceasefire had made the evacuation impossible.

“I therefore call for upholding these guarantees. Only with the help of a third party can civilians leave the plant,” Azov’s deputy commander, Svyatoslav Palamar, said in a video appeal.

He said that Azov had asked Podolak and Arakamia to come to the city for talks with the chief Russian negotiators.

“Let me say that we do not accept the conditions set by the Russian Federation for giving up our weapons and for our defenders to present themselves as prisoners,” Ballamard said.

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(Reporting by David Leungren and Ron Popesky) Editing by Jonathan Otis; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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