Kyiv and Moscow reached an "understanding" on ways to ease the suffering of people in Ukraine amid fighting that has killed thousands and prompted more than a million to flee the country, even as Russia said nothing would stop it subjugating its pro-western neighbour.
Russian troops consolidated control over the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Thursday and closed in on the Azov Sea port of Mariupol, while continuing to shell Kyiv, Kharkiv and other large cities and trying to take the town of Enerhodar, site of one of Europe's biggest atomic power plants.
"The parties reached an understanding on joint provision of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of the civilian population, as well as for the delivery of medicines and food to places where the fighting is most fierce," said a Ukrainian delegate to the talks, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.
Start talking to Russian representatives. The key issues on the agenda:— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) March 3, 2022
1. Immediate ceasefire
3. Humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians from destroyed or constantly shelled villages/cities. pic.twitter.com/Pv0ISNjsod
He said the meeting on the Belarus-Poland border also yielded tentative agreement on the possibility of “a temporary ceasefire for the period when the evacuation will take place, in the sectors where it is carried out”.
Russian envoy Vladimir Medinsky did not mention a possible ceasefire but said: "The main thing we decided on today was the issue of saving people – civilians – who are in the zone of military clashes . . . Russia calls on civilians who find themselves in this situation, if military actions continue, to use these humanitarian corridors."
The United Nations says more than one million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded last week, and many others have left their homes and moved to relatively calm western parts of the country.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the largest of its kind in Europe, was on fire early on Friday after an attack by Russian troops, the mayor of the nearby town of Energodar said in an online post.
Mayor Dmytro Orlov had earlier reported fierce fighting between Ukrainians and Russian troops near the plant in southeastern Ukraine.
“As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire,” Mr Orlov said on his Telegram channel, citing what he called a threat to world security. He did not give details.
Earlier, Ukrainian authorities reported Russian troops were stepping up efforts to seize the plant and had entered the town with tanks.
Video footage from Enerhodar showed shelling and fighting on the outskirts of the town of 50,000 people.
The EU’s 27 members agreed for the first time to activate a directive that will allow all Ukrainians fleeing the invasion to receive temporary residency in the bloc, as it prepares to face what may become the continent’s greatest exodus since the second World War.
In the US, the White House said that the Biden administration will give temporary protected status to people from Ukraine who are in the US and halt deportation of Ukrainian nationals who do not have green cards or other documentation.
In Dublin, a meeting of the Coalition leaders and senior Ministers discussed the humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine and the potential impact of the conflict on the economy and cost-of-living for households in Ireland.
The possibility of using modular homes to house Ukrainian refugees - in the event that they arrive to Ireland in large numbers - is being considered by the Government.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also said the Government needs to look at excise duties in order to help households with rising energy and fuel prices due to the situation in Ukraine. It is understood such changes are being discussed but the Government is also awaiting details of what will be in an “EU toolbox” of measures.
Ukraine has said more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Russia’s bombardment of towns and cities, and both Russia and Ukraine say thousands of each other’s troops have been killed in battle.
"Now on Ukrainian territory, our soldiers and officers are fighting for Russia . . . for the denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine, so that we can't be threatened by an 'anti-Russia' right on our borders that the West has been creating for years," Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, repeating unfounded claims about the Kyiv government.
In a phone call with French president Emmanuel Macron, Mr Putin "emphasised that the tasks of the special military operation will be fulfilled in any event, and attempts to gain time by dragging out negotiations will only lead to additional demands [on Kyiv] in our negotiating position," the Kremlin said.
The Kremlin claims to be striking only military targets and accuses Kyiv of using its people as “human shields”, yet footage emerges from Ukraine every day of Russian bombs striking apartment blocks, office buildings, universities and other civilian sites.
The council of Mariupol accused Russian forces of “breaking food supplies, setting us up in a blockade . . . Deliberately, for seven days, they have been destroying [the city’s] critical life-support infrastructure. We have no light, water or heat again.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy repeated that he was ready to meet Mr Putin. "What do you want from us? Get off our land. If you don't want to leave now, sit down with me at the negotiating table . . . What are you afraid of?" Additional reporting: Bloomberg/Reuters