KYIV, Ukraine — 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 earnest negotiations on ending the three-month war.
“At the beginning, there was an impression that we can move ahead, that there would be a certain result or some outcome of those talks. But it all has stalled,” Zelenskyy said through an interpreter by video link to attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
He expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear its willingness to engage in serious talks.
“They should demonstrate at least something like steps withdrawing their troops and equipment to the position before the 24th of February,” the day Russia’s invasion began, he said. “That would be a correct step, first step in negotiations.”
Zelenskyy also made clear that Ukraine’s aim is to regain all of its lost territory.
“Ukraine is not going to concede our territory. We are fighting in our country, on our land,” he said.
Russia, which has gradually narrowed its own military goals in Ukraine amid fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces, might be playing for time, Zelenskyy added.
A regional governor in eastern Ukraine says 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 in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas, where the 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.
Injuries were also reported from the eastern town of Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region early Wednesday morning.
Pokrovsk’s administration head Ruslan Trebushkin said in a Facebook post that the damage caused and the number of injured were still being assessed.
One strike left a crater at least three meters (10 feet) deep, 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 pieces 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.
Late Tuesday, Zelenskyy said the 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.”
A solution to getting wheat out of Ukraine for export doesn’t appear to be imminent.
British military authorities say Ukraine’s overland export routes are “highly unlikely” to offset the problems caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port of Odessa, putting further pressure on global grain prices.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in an update posted Wednesday morning, says there has been no “significant” merchant shipping in or out of Odessa since the start of the Russian invasion.
The ministry says that the blockade, combined with the shortage of overland shipping routes, means that significant supplies of grain remain in storage and can’t be exported.
Russia said the strategic Ukrainian port of Mariupol has become functional after three months of fighting.
The military has completed clearing the port of land mines and it has been made fully operational, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday.
Russian forces have taken full control over Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, after the last Ukrainian defenders at the giant Azovstal seaside steel plant laid down their weapons.