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Ukraine's Zelenskyy Calls for Peace Talks as Russia Claims Hypersonic Weapon Strike

This satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies March 19, 2022, shows the aftermath of an airstrike earlier in the week on the Mariupol Drama Theater, in Mariupol, Ukraine, and the area around it.
This satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies March 19, 2022, shows the aftermath of an airstrike earlier in the week on the Mariupol Drama Theater, in Mariupol, Ukraine, and the area around it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow in a video address released Saturday, as Russia reported its first hypersonic missile strike on Ukrainian territory.

“The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk,” Zelenskyy said. “The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia's losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover."

Zelenskyy’s appeal for another round of talks came one day after Russia's lead negotiator said the sides have moved closer to agreement on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO.

Vladimir Medinsky said Friday the two countries are "halfway there" on the question of Ukraine adopting neutral status.

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted, "Our positions are unchanged. Cease-fire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow expected its invasion of Ukraine to end with a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Meanwhile, Russia said Saturday that its hypersonic missiles had destroyed an underground depot for missiles and ammunition Friday in Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region. Russian news agencies said it was the first time it used the advanced weapons system in Ukraine since it invaded on February 24.

Russia’s hypersonic missiles claims were not independently confirmed. A Ukrainian air force spokesperson verified the attack, but said Ukraine had no information on the type of missiles used.

Russian forces still stalled

The latest British defense intelligence assessment of the conflict, made Saturday, concluded that Russia has been forced to “change its operational approach and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition.”

“This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties,” the ministry warned.

Russian troops have failed to seize control of Kyiv, a major objective of the Kremlin, as the invasion enters its fourth week.

Ukraine’s National Police said in a statement Saturday on Telegram that Russia was attacking the northwestern suburbs of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, while the regional Kyiv government reported the city of Slavutych, north of Kyiv was “completely isolated.”

In Mariupol, Avdiivka, Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, Novoselydivka, Verkhnotoretske, Krymka and Stepne, Russia’s bombardment has damaged at least 37 residential buildings and infrastructure facilities, and killed or injured dozens of civilians, the national police statement added.

In Mariupol, police officer Michail Vershnin pleaded for help, according to reporting by The Associated Press.

“Children, elderly people are dying. The city is destroyed, and it has been wiped off the face of the earth,” he said speaking in Russian in the video filmed Friday that was authenticated by the AP. It showed several buildings on fire and what sounded like explosions could be heard.

After Ukraine said Friday that it had temporarily lost access to the Sea of Azov, Moscow said Saturday its troops had breached Ukrainian defenses to enter the strategic southern port city of Mariupol.

Also Saturday, Ukraine said that a Russian general had been killed in attacks on an airfield outside the southern city of Kherson, the fifth senior Russian officer killed since the invasion began.

Humanitarian corridors, casualties

In other developments, humanitarian corridors were opened Saturday, allowing a total of 6,623 people to evacuate from various Ukrainian cities, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president's office. He reported online that 4,128 of those people escaped from Mariupol.

The United Nations human rights office reports that more than 847 civilians had been killed and upward of 1,399 have been wounded as of Friday, while warning the actual count likely is significantly higher. The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said 112 of those killed were children.

Officials in Kyiv said Saturday that since the start of the invasion more than three weeks ago, 228 people had been killed in the capital city, including four children. In a statement, the administration reported 912 people have been wounded, though all these figures remain unconfirmed by outside sources.

Nearly 3.3 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, according to U.N. estimates.

The U.N. migration agency said Friday that in addition to those who have left the country, nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine and that another 12 million people have been stranded or unable to leave parts of Ukraine because of heightened security risks or a lack of resources.

US-China talks

On the diplomatic front, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Russia's invasion of Ukraine in a rare videoconference call Friday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden conveyed "very directly, leader to leader, what the implications and consequences would be" if China provided material support to Russia.

"China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions," she added.

China's Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement after the nearly two-hour discussion that "conflict and confrontation" is "not in anyone's interest."

VOA's White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara, Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson and U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

Some information also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.