Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday he would be open to negotiating with Russia only if its military retreated to its position from before its invasion.
Zelenskyy made the comment during a meeting Friday at London’s Chatham House think-tank. Ukrainian and Russian officials have previously held peace talks during the war, but negotiations have largely stalled in recent weeks.
If the Russian military returned to its position from Feb. 23, the day before the invasion began, “we will be able to start discussing things normally,” Zelenskyy said.
The comment comes as Russian troops have intensified shelling at the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol in recent days, Ukrainian officials have said. However, almost 500 additional civilians were able to evacuate Friday from the plant in the latest humanitarian operation, said Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office.
Asked Friday about the siege, Zelenskyy said: “Mariupol will never fall. I’m not talking about heroism or anything … There is nothing there to fall apart. It is already devastated.”
There were also concerns over Russia’s plans for Victory Day on Monday, which marks the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The Kremlin declined to comment to CNN on whether plans were being made for a parade in Mariupol.
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►The European Union is planning to add Alina Kabaeva, a woman romantically linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church to its sanctions list, CNN and the Guardian reported.
►First lady Jill Biden will be in Romania on Friday to begin her solo trip to Europe. She plans to meet with refugees Sunday in a small Slovakian village on the border with Ukraine.
►Germany will provide Ukraine with seven powerful self-propelled howitzers as the country steps up its aid of heavy weaponry, the German defense minister said Friday.
►Targeting data provided by the U.S. helped Ukrainian forces sink the Moskva, flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea last month, NBC News reported Thursday, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
►Russia’s military has fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine and 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
An official from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization on Friday said there is “anecdotal evidence” that Russian troops were stealing grain from Ukraine.
The accusation comes amid concerns about a growing food crisis due to the war.
About 700,000 tons of grain have disappeared in Ukraine, Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s markets and trade division, said Friday.
“There’s anecdotal evidence that Russian troops have destroyed storage capacity and that they are looting the storage grain that is available,” he said. “They are also stealing farm equipment.”
Ukrainian forces have repelled at least 11 attacks in the Donbas region, destroying Russian tanks and vehicles in the process, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in a statement Friday.
Fighting continues in the region, and Russian forces are aiming to take full control of Popasna and resume offensives in Lyman and Siversk, the Ukrainian military said.
However, Ukrainian defense chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi on Thursday announced a planned counteroffensive to repel Russians from Kharkiv and Izyum. Ukrainian troops have already pushed Russian forces east from Kharkiv in recent days.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday decried the European Union’s proposed ban on Russian oil, comparing the move to dropping an “atomic bomb” on Hungary’s economy.
Orban said his country was willing to negotiate on the latest round of economic sanctions against Russia, but including an embargo on Russian oil could not be accepted.
Hungary relies heavily on Russia for its energy, with about 85% of gas and 60% of oil coming from Russia. Switching to other sources of oil would be too burdensome on Hungary’s economy, Orban said.
“We cannot accept a proposal that ignores this circumstance because in its current form it is equivalent to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” he added.
Former President George W. Bush said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday, calling him “the Winston Churchill of our time.”
“I thanked the President for his leadership, his example, and his commitment to liberty, and I saluted the courage of the Ukrainian people,” Bush said in a Twitter post, which included photos of the two men speaking by video link.
“President Zelenskyy assured me that they will not waver in their fight against Putin’s barbarism and thuggery. Americans are inspired by their fortitude and resilience. We will continue to stand with Ukrainians as they stand up for their freedom.”
Contributing: The Associated Press