By Associated Press
Ukraine’s president said Wednesday that Russia must pull back to its pre-war positions as a first step before diplomatic talks, a negotiating line that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he currently sees no willingness on the part of Russia to resume stalled negotiations on ending the three-month war.
Speaking by video link to attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear it too is ready to “shift from the bloody war to diplomacy.”
“It’s possible if Russia shows at least something. When I say at least something, I mean pulling back troops to where they were before Feb. 24,” the day Russia’s invasion began, he said. “I believe it would be a correct step for Russia to make.”Zelenskyy also made clear that Ukraine wants to drive Russian troops out of all captured areas.
“Ukraine will fight until it reclaims all its territories,” he said. “It’s about our independence and our sovereignty.”
Russia, which has gradually narrowed its own military goals in Ukraine amid fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces, might be playing for time, Zelenskyy added.
Meanwhile, a regional governor in eastern Ukraine said that at least six civilians have been killed by the latest Russian shelling in a town at the epicenter of fighting.
Luhansk region Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Wednesday that another eight people have been wounded in the shelling of Sievierodonetsk over the past 24 hours. He accused the Russian troops of deliberately targeting shelters where civilians were hiding.
The town is located in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas, where Russian forces have been pressing their offensive despite stiff Ukrainian resistance.
Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for eight years and hold large swaths of territory. Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities are the only part of the Donbas’ Luhansk region still under Ukrainian government control.
The head of the Donetsk region’s military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said two rockets which hit the town of Pokrovsk early Wednesday morning injured four civilians, who were treated in hospital.
One strike left a crater at least three meters (10 feet) deep, with the remnants of what appeared to be a rocket still smoldering. A row of low terraced houses near the strike suffered significant damage, with roofing tiles blown off, door frames ripped from the walls and chunks of concrete scattered around.
“There’s no place to live in left, everything is smashed,” said Viktoria Kurbonova, a mother-of-two who lived in one of the terraced houses. The windows had been blown out by an earlier strike about a month ago, and they had replaced them with plastic sheeting. That, she said, probably saved their lives as at least there was no glass flying around.
Zelenskyy acknowledged late Tuesday that his country’s forces in the region faced a difficult situation.
“Practically the full might of the Russian army, whatever they have left, is being thrown at the offensive there,” he said in his nightly address to the nation. “Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk — the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
In a further sign that Moscow is trying to bolster its stretched military machine in Ukraine, Russian lawmakers passed a bill which scraps the age limit of 40 for those signing their first voluntary military contracts.
The chair of the parliament’s defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said the measure would make it easier to hire people with “in-demand specialisms.” A description of the bill on the parliament website indicated older recruits could be suited to operate precision weapons or to serve in engineering or medical roles.