Ukraine war: Fighting ‘deadlocked’ ahead of UN chief’s visit, says Kyiv

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A senior Ukrainian official has described the war with Russia as being in a state of “strategic deadlock”, ahead of a visit to the country by the UN secretary-general on Thursday.

Antonio Guterres is due to meet the Ukrainian and Turkish presidents, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the western city of Lviv.

“Russian forces have achieved only minimal advances, and in some cases, we have advanced, since last month,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video.

“What we are seeing is a ‘strategic deadlock’.”

The leaders are expected to discuss ways to find a political solution to the war, and address the threat to global food supplies as well as the risk of a disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, which has been taken over by Russian forces.

In his nightly video address on Wednesday, President Zelenskyy reaffirmed his demand for the Russian military to leave the plant, emphasising that “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by the UN’s nuclear watchdog the IAEA among others could guarantee safety.

“The Russian army must withdraw from the territory of the nuclear power plant and all neighbouring areas, and take away its military equipment from the station. This should happen without any conditions and as soon as possible,” Zelenskyy said.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant, which Ukraine has staunchly denied targeting. A senior Russian military commander has claimed that Ukrainian troops are planning to strike the plant again on Friday.

Erdogan is expected to use his first visit to Ukraine since the war started nearly six months ago to seek ways to expand the export of grain from Europe’s breadbasket to the world’s needy.

Last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker an agreement clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grain stuck in its Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion in February.

A separate memorandum between Russia and the UN aimed to clear roadblocks to shipments of Russian food and fertilizer to world markets.

The Turkish leader, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, is walking something of a diplomatic tightrope. Turkey is a member of NATO which backs Ukraine in the war, but its shaky economy has been increasingly reliant on Russia for trade. 

Erdogan is set to have a one-hour meeting with Zelenskyy in the early afternoon before both are joined by Guterres.

The latest diplomatic efforts brought no respite in the fighting, however.

A total of 11 people were killed and 40 wounded in a series of massive Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The late Wednesday attack on Kharkiv killed at least seven people, wounded 20 others and damaged residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, authorities said.

“Last night was one of the most tragic of the entire war in the Kharkiv region,” regional governor Oleh Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Two civilians were killed and 18 wounded, including two children, in a pre-dawn rocket attack on Thursday in which Russian forces hit an apartment building, he added.

Another two people were killed on Thursday in a rocket attack on the town of Krasnohrad in the Kharkiv region, Synehubov said.

President Zelenskyy described Wednesday’s attack on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, as a “devious and cynical strike on civilians with no justification”.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday morning claimed it targeted “a temporary base of foreign mercenaries” in Kharkiv, killing 90 of them.