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Zelenskyy Proposes Meeting Putin, Asks Israeli PM to be ‘Intermediary’

In a positive development on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jerusalem under the guidance of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

It has been 17 days since Putin launched the invasion on February 24 that has attracted worldwide condemnation as well as tough western sanctions on Russia. The United Nations human rights office said at least 579 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion, and over 1,000 have been injured. The UN also said 42 of those killed were children, while 54 were injured. The invasion has trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Here are the latest updates of the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

Zelenskyy proposes to meet Putin via Bennett: The Kyiv Independent reported that Zelenskyy has proposed to meet Putin in Jerusalem. Zelenskyy said he had asked the Israeli PM to act as an intermediary as he “trusted” him. Ukraine said for positive results from Israel’s bid to broker peace with Russia, denying a media report that suggested Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had tried to nudge Kyiv into caving to Moscow’s demands. Bennett, on Ukraine’s behest, held a three-hour meeting with Putin last week. He has since spoken twice to him over telephone and four times with Zelenskyy. Moscow has said little to nothing about Bennett’s mediation efforts.

Evacuations, humanitarian corridors: Ukraine is expecting a new wave of attacks on Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donbass regions after a slowdown in Russia’s offensive, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff. He said Ukraine did not expect Belarus to join the Russian invasion force. Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv, Sumy and some other areas on Saturday. The governor of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba said fighting and threats of Russian air attacks were continuing on Saturday morning but later said some evacuations were proceeding. The Donetsk region’s governor said constant shelling was complicating bringing aid into Mariupol. The city council said at least 1,582 civilians have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade. It was not possible to verify casualty figures.

Situation on the ground: Air raid sirens were heard in most Ukrainian cities urging people to seek shelters. Russian rocket attacks destroyed a Ukrainian airbase and hit an ammunition depot near the town of Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, Interfax Ukraine quoted Vasylkiv mayor Natalia Balasynovych as saying. Moscow has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a special operation to demilitarise Ukraine and unseat leaders it refers to as “neo-Nazis”. It has not responded to Ukrainian challenges to provide evidence. Britain’s defence ministry said Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained encircled under heavy Russian shelling.

Ukraine asks Germany, France for help: Zelenskyy said he had spoken to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron about pressuring Russia to release the mayor of Melitopol, who Ukraine says was kidnapped on Friday. Over 2,000 residents of the city, which is now under Russian control, protested outside the city administration building to demand the release of mayor Ivan Fedorov. Russia has not yet commented on Fedorov’s fate. Russian forces kidnapped him on false accusations of terrorism. Scholz and Macron urged Putin to declare an immediate ceasefire in a 75-minute phone call on Saturday, said Scholz’s spokesperson. The Kremlin readout of the call with Macron and Scholz did not mention a ceasefire and accused Ukraine of using civilians as human shields.

New sanctions: Efforts to isolate Russia economically have stepped up, with the United States imposing new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU will suspend Moscow’s privileged trade and economic treatment, crack down on its use of crypto-assets, and ban the import of iron and steel goods from Russia, as well as the export of luxury goods in the other direction. Moscow said the EU will end up paying at least three times more for oil, gas and electricity.

No war, says Pope: Renewing his calls for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis emphasised the impact of war on children. He tweeted: “Never war! Think first about the children, about those who are deprived of the hope for a dignified life: dead or wounded children, orphans, children who play with the remnants of war.” He added: “In the name of God, stop! Ukrainian officials and the U.N. human rights office say dozens of children have been killed since the start of the war.”

(With agency inputs)

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