Ukrainian officials on Wednesday offered to hold a special round of talks with Russia to evacuate Ukrainian troops and civilians that are still in the besieged city of Mariupol.
Russia has taken the vast majority of the city, but some Ukrainian troops are still holding out at the Azovstal steel plant, including members of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which is part of Ukraine’s National Guard. Russia has called on the Ukrainian forces to surrender, but they have refused.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who has been leading negotiations with Russia, offered the talks on Twitter. “Yes. Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone,” Podolyak wrote.
David Arakhamial, another Ukrainian negotiator, said he and Podolyak were ready to head to Mariupol if Russia agreed to the negotiations. “For our part, we are ready to arrive for such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side,” he said.
Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Battalion, said he wouldn’t accept Russia’s conditions for surrender. “Let me say that we do not accept the conditions set down by the Russian Federation on giving up our weapons and our defenders giving themselves up as prisoners,” he said.
Ukrainian officials had previously said that if the Ukrainian troops in Mariupol are killed, peace talks with Russia could end altogether. The warring sides have held several rounds of talks since Russia invaded, but in recent weeks, the negotiations have been stalled.