War in Ukraine: Talks yield agreement on need for corridors to evacuate civilians

Zelenskiy calls for meeting with Putin as concerns mount over Russian convoy outside Kyiv

Russia and Ukraine have agreed on the need to set up humanitarian corridors and a possible ceasefire around them for Ukrainian civilians fleeing the war, negotiators for both sides said following talks on Thursday.

But while Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said the talks had made “substantial progress”, Russian invasion forces surrounded and bombarded Ukrainian cities as the conflict entered its second week.

A Ukrainian negotiator said the talks had not yielded the results Kyiv hoped for but the two sides had reached an understanding on evacuating civilians.

In Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin, brushing aside worldwide condemnation of the invasion, said the military operation was going according to plan.


Ukrainian soldiers and civilians kept up their resistance to the invading force and the capital Kyiv and other main cities remained in their hands on Thursday evening.

But the humanitarian crisis deepened, with the United Nations saying one million people had now fled their homes.

Those who stayed were enduring shelling and rockets strikes on several cities, often on residential areas. Swathes of central Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city with 1.5 million people, have been blasted into rubble.

The talks, at an undisclosed location, marked the first time the two sides had agreed any form of progress on any issue since the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the two sides envisaged a possible temporary ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of civilians, and the creating of humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.

“That is, not everywhere, but only in those places where the humanitarian corridors themselves will be located, it will be possible to cease fire for the duration of the evacuation,” he said.

They had also reached an understanding on the delivery of medicines and food to the places where the fiercest fighting was taking place.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said earlier Kyiv and Moscow could find a way out of the war if the Kremlin treated Ukraine on an equal footing and came to talks with a will to negotiate in good faith.

“There are things in which some compromises must be found so that people do not die, but there are things in which there are no compromises,” Zelenskiy said in a televised interview, saying he was willing to have an open conversation with Putin.

Putin remained outwardly oblivious to the almost universal global condemnation of his actions and to the international economic and financial sanctions aimed at bringing Russia’s economy to its knees.

Russia’s military operations in Ukraine were going according to plan, he said in televised comments, praising its soldiers as heroes.

Main events on Day 8 of the invasion of Ukraine:

  • Russia claims to have seized control of Kherson
  • Russian is trying to create a blockade around Mariupol, says mayor
  • A million people have fled Ukraine since invasion, UN says
  • Macron tells Putin he is making a 'major mistake' in Ukraine
  • Talks yield agreement on need to set up corridors to allow civilians to flee war

‘Major mistake’

Earlier on Thursday, French president Emmanuel Macron told President Putin he was making a “major mistake” in Ukraine, as concerns mount over the movements of a huge column of Russian military vehicles outside Kyiv.

Mr Macron told the Russian president he was deluding himself about the government in Kyiv and that the war would cost Russia dearly over the long term, a French official said.

In the phone call initiated by Putin, the Russian leader reiterated his determination to obtain the neutralisation and disarmament of Ukraine, whether diplomatically or by arms, the official said.

“There was nothing in what President Putin said that could reassure us,” the French presidential adviser said, adding that Putin had reiterated his “narrative” that he was seeking the “denazification of Ukraine”.

“You are lying to yourself,” Macron told Putin, the official said. “’It will cost your country dearly, your country will end up isolated, weakened and under sanctions for a very long time.”

Concern is growing over the movements of a huge convoy of Russian military vehicles outside Kyiv, amid a lack of fresh information about its position and the threat it poses.

While a US defence official suggested the Russian convoy appeared to have “stalled” there was also speculation that an estimated 15,000 troops attached to it may be regrouping, and potentially waiting for logistical supplies before an assault on Kyiv.

Efforts to ascertain the status of the convoy and the threat it poses have been set back by recent cloud cover over Ukraine that has prevented Maxar Technologies – which issued the first satellite images of the convoy – from releasing new pictures.

While information about Russian troop movements in other parts of Ukraine where there has been fighting has been well documented on social media, the convoy outside Kyiv has existed in what amounts to an information black hole, suggesting that Russia forces may closely control the territory around it.

The convoy, which at one stage was reportedly about 65km in length, with vehicles pictured three abreast on the P02 road to the immediate north of Kyiv, includes armoured vehicles, tanks, trucks, fuel tankers and artillery pieces. Its presence suggested Russian forces were massing for an attack on Kyiv.

Western defence assessments in the UK and US, however, put a more optimistic slant on the convoy’s apparent lack of progress, although it was not clear what evidence that was based on.

The UK’s ministry of defence tweeted: “The main body of the large Russian column advancing on Kyiv remains over 30km from the centre of the city, having been delayed by staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown and congestion. The column has made little discernible progress in over three days.”

The Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, in a press briefing on Wednesday, gave a more nuanced assessment, saying there had been limited movement from the military force and that it “remain[ed] stalled”. However, he cautioned that lack of movement could be due to Russia’s forces regrouping.

More than a million people are said to have fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, as Moscow said it was ready for more peace talks even as its forces bombard the country’s second-largest city and two strategic seaports.

The tally the UN refugee agency released was reached on Wednesday and amounts to more than 2 per cent of Ukraine’s population being forced out of the country in seven days.

The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, a city of about 1.5 million people where residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and pressed on to trains, not always knowing where they were headed.

An Estonian-owned cargo ship sank on Thursday off Ukraine’s major Black Sea port of Odessa, hours after a Bangladeshi vessel was hit by a missile or bomb at another Olvia, underlining the growing peril to merchant shipping following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier on Thursday Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We are ready to conduct talks but we will continue the operation because we won’t allow Ukraine to preserve a military infrastructure that threatens Russia,” adding Ukrainians will able to choose what government they should have.

Mr Lavrov said the West has continuously armed Ukraine, trained its troops and built up bases there to turn Ukraine into a bulwark against Russia – repeating Russian claims that it has used to justify its operation in Ukraine. The US and its allies have insisted that Nato is a defensive alliance that does not pose a threat to Russia. And the West fears Russia’s invasion is meant to overthrow Ukraine’s government and install a friendly government.


The mayor of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has said Russian forces are trying to create a blockade around it, attacking rail links to prevent civilians evacuating.

Constant attacks over the past 24 hours have cut off water and power supply and the local authorities need a ceasefire to restore power, he said. “The invaders are systematically and methodically trying to blockade the city of Mariupol,” he said.

It comes as Russian forces have seized control of Kherson, a key port city in southern Ukraine, the mayor has said, after tanks entered on Wednesday.

Despite an initial battle plan that Western countries said was aimed at swiftly toppling the Kyiv government, Kherson is the only Ukrainian city captured by Russia so far.

The invasion entered its second week on Thursday in an apparent tactical failure, with Russia’s main assault force stalled for days on a highway north of Kyiv and other advances halted at the outskirts of cities it is bombing into wastelands.

‘Nothing to lose’

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has remained in Kyiv, releasing regular video updates to the nation. In his latest message, he said Ukrainian lines were holding. “We have nothing to lose but our own freedom,” he said.

The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine rose to more than 1 million, the United Nations said on Thursday. Hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed, and Russia has been plunged into isolation never before experienced by an economy of such size.

The attack led to a barrage of international sanctions that threaten the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and stoked fears of wider conflict as Western countries send arms to help the Ukrainian military.

Russia denies targeting civilians although there have been widespread reports of civilian casualties and the shelling of residential areas.

Russians have shelled the city of Izyum, about 120km southeast of Kharkiv, killing six adults and two children, Ukraine's parliament said.

An explosion also rocked the Kyiv railway station where thousands of women and children were being evacuated. The blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser said, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Beijing Winter Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee reversed its original decision.

The IPC’s announcement on Wednesday that athletes from those countries would be allowed to compete under a neutral flag was met by criticism and the threat of a boycott.

Oil and commodity prices spiralled ever higher on Thursday in a grim omen for global inflation.

For Russians, the fallout has included queues outside banks, a plunge in the value of the rouble which threatens their living standards, and an exodus of Western firms who refuse to do business in the country.

Forbes reported Germany had seized Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov's mega yacht in a Hamburg shipyard, while at least five superyachts owned by billionaires were anchored or cruising in Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, data showed.

French authorities say they have seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Mr Putin, as part of European Union sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell London's Chelsea Football Club and donate money to help victims of the war in Ukraine.

International response

The United Nations general assembly condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine on Wednesday amid the continued fighting, and a second round of tentative talks between Ukraine and Russia were scheduled for Thursday

Late on Wednesday night, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor said he would immediately open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine, following requests to do so by an unprecedented number of the court's member states.

"Active investigations formally commence in Ukraine upon receipt of referrals by 39 state parties," prosecutor Karim Khan tweeted.

The referrals by member states fast-track an investigation as it allows the prosecutor to skip having to seek approval of the court in The Hague, shaving months off the process. The prosecutor had already said on Monday that he would seek court approval into allegations of war crimes in Ukraine.

Russia is not a member of the ICC and rejects its jurisdiction.

The court can investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Ukraine territory regardless of the nationality of the suspected perpetrators.

“The message of the general assembly is loud and clear: end hostilities in Ukraine – now. Silence the guns – now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy – now,” said UN secretary general António Guterres.

Russia calls its invasion a “special operation” to remove supposed “Nazi” influence in Ukraine and to demilitarise a country that has sought rapid integration with the West since a revolution in 2014. Moscow also demands that Kyiv recognise Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine just weeks after the revolution. – Additional reporting from Agencies

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe