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Irpin mayor says city bordering Kyiv liberated from Russian control

Ukrainian official estimates at least 5,000 have died in besieged Mariupol, but number could be twice that; Russian negotiators arrive in Turkey ahead of peace talks

Ukrainian servicemen carry rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles as they walk towards the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 13, 2022. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)
Ukrainian servicemen carry rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles as they walk towards the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 13, 2022. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)

The mayor of Irpin, a northwestern suburb of Kyiv that has been the site of some of the heaviest fighting in the capital area, said Monday that the city has been “liberated” from Russian troops.

Irpin gained wide attention after photos circulated of a mother and her two children who were killed by shelling as they tried to flee, their bodies lying on the pavement with luggage and a pet carrier nearby.

Announcing the liberation of the vity in a video posted to Telegram, Mayor Oleksandr Markushyn said, “We understand that there will be more attacks on our town and we will defend it courageously,” according to Reuters.

Elsewhere, at least 5,000 people have died in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion last month, a senior Ukrainian official said.

“About 5,000 people were buried, but the burials stopped 10 days ago because of continued shelling,” Tetyana Lomakina, a presidential adviser now in charge of humanitarian corridors, told AFP by phone.

She added that the number of people killed could only be estimated, with bodies stuck under the rubble.

“We could be talking about 10,000 dead,” she said.

Ukraine’s humanitarian needs are most dire in Mariupol, where Ukraine said that about 160,000 civilians remain encircled by Russian forces, desperate for food, water and medicine.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the situation there was “catastrophic” and Russia’s assault from land, sea, and air had turned a city once home to 450,000 people “into dust.”

A screenshot from unconfirmed video said to show the destruction in Mariupol caused by the Russian siege and bombardment of the southern Ukrainian city, March 2022. (Twitter)

Peace talks in Turkey

The mixed news from Ukraine came as a plane carrying members of a Russian delegation landed in Istanbul ahead of talks with Ukrainian negotiators aimed at ending the month-long war.

Turkey’s private DHA news agency said the Russian government plane landed at Istanbul Airport. The face-to-face talks between the two sides are scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Ukraine could declare neutrality, potentially accept a compromise on contested areas in the country’s east, and offer security guarantees to Russia to secure peace “without delay.” He said only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader could end the war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet, but only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.

Earlier talks have failed to make progress on ending the war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.

Ukrainian servicemen try to help people wounded, in Irpin, Ukraine, March 6, 2022. (Andriy Dubchak/ AP)

NATO member Turkey has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia. Earlier this month, it hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers.

UN humanitarian ceasefire

With talks already set in Turkey, the United Nations chief said he is launching an immediate effort to explore possible arrangements for “a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that he used his “good offices” to ask Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN’s worldwide humanitarian operations, to explore the possibility of a ceasefire with Russia and Ukraine.

He told reporters that he is appealing for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow for progress in serious political negotiations, aimed at reaching a peace agreement.”

Guterres said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, there has been a “senseless loss of thousands of lives,” displacement of 10 million people, systematic destruction of homes, schools and hospitals and other essential infrastructure, “and skyrocketing food and energy prices worldwide.”

A cessation of hostilities will allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and people to move safely, the secretary-general said, and “it will save lives, prevent suffering, and protect civilians.”

“I strongly appeal to the parties to this conflict, and to the international community as a whole, to work with us for peace in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and across the world,” the UN chief said.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes a statement outside the Security Council at UN headquarters, March 14, 2022. (Richard Drew/AP)

The number of refugees who have flooded out of Ukraine is nearing 4 million, but data shows fewer people have crossed the border in recent days.

Border guards, aid agencies, and refugees say Russia’s unpredictable war on Ukraine offers few signs as to whether it is just a pause or a permanent drop-off.

In the first two weeks after the invasion, about 2.5 million people in Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million left the country to avoid the bombs and bloodshed. In the second two weeks, the number of refugees was roughly half that.

The total exodus through Sunday now stands at 3.87 million, according to the latest tally announced Monday from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. In the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 people crossed Ukraine’s borders to seek safety, the slowest one-day count yet.

“People who were determined to leave when war breaks out fled in the first days,” said Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

UNHCR says the war has triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the speed and breadth of refugees fleeing to countries including Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia — as well as Russia — is unprecedented in recent times. Poland alone has taken in 2.3 million refugees and Romania nearly 600,000. The United States has vowed to take in 100,000.

A fiercer than expected Ukrainian resistance — bolstered by weapons from the US and other Western allies — has bogged Russian forces down. Russia has resorted to pummeling Ukrainian towns and cities with artillery and airstrikes.

Ukraine has banned reporting on troop and equipment movements not announced or approved by the military. Journalists who violate the law could face three to eight years in prison. In one case, a Kyiv resident was accused by the security services of posting images on TikTok showing Ukrainian military vehicles near a shopping mall that was later destroyed by a Russian missile strike.

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