March 15 (UPI) — Before peace talks resumed on Tuesday, the leaders of three neighboring countries entered Ukraine and traveled to the capital Kyiv as a show of support from the European Union, of which Ukraine has applied to become a member.
The peace talks are a continuation of dialogue from Monday that offered at least a glimmer of hope that some progress is being made in the negotiations. Negotiators on both sides are holding Tuesday’s talks virtually, instead of in-person.
Even while Russian forces have intensified attacks across Ukraine and spread farther west, officials have sounded more optimistic in recent talks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Monday that the new talks have gone “pretty well” and Russian delegate Leonid Slutsky suggested that they may be close to a draft agreement.
“Negotiations are ongoing,” an adviser to Zelensky said in a tweet Tuesday. “Consultations on the main negotiation platform renewed.”
The adviser said that the talks included general regulation matters, a possible new cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
In a video address on Tuesday, Zelensky appealed directly to the Russian people and urged them to stop fighting.
“As long as your country has not completely closed itself off from the whole world, turning into a very large North Korea, you must fight,” Zelensky said, according to The New York Times.
Zelensky is scheduled to remotely address a joint session of U.S. Congress on Wednesday, during which he’s expected to ask for more help and possibly send U.S. fighter jets to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia braved Russian shelling and traveled to Kyiv on Tuesday to show support for Ukraine’s government and present “a broad package” of EU support.
The three leaders — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa — were scheduled to meet with Zelensky and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal on Tuesday, the office of the Polish prime minister said in a statement.
Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczynski is also part of the delegation to Ukraine.
Polish officials said the trip was being made with the blessing of European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“The purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” they said in a statement. “The aim of this visit is also to present a broad package of support for the Ukraine and Ukrainians.”
Zelensky said shortly after the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24 that he’s applied to the EU for expedited Ukrainian membership. EU officials have been receptive to the proposition and said last week that they would welcome Ukraine to be its 28th member. They also said, however, that Ukraine must follow the traditional membership path, which can take years.
Meanwhile, Russia pressed on with attacks across Ukraine on Tuesday, with Ukrainian officials reporting the bombing of a residential neighborhood. One attack started a fire in a 15-story apartment building, killing at least one person.
Another Russian airstrike hit the entrance of a train station that was being used as a bomb shelter for civilians. Kyiv officials said the station is now closed to train traffic.
Kyiv’s mayor has imposed a 35-hour curfew that was set to begin Tuesday night, meaning residents’ movements are restricted in the city except to go to a bomb shelter.
In central Ukraine, Russian strikes damaged a runway and terminal center at the Dnipro Airport, regional leader Valentin Reznichenko said.
Russia’s advancement continued to produce mixed results, with the military taking control of key southern cities like Kherson and Melitopol — but failing to capture other key locations like Mariupol. Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.