Members of delegations from Ukraine and Russia, including Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky (2L), Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak (2R), Volodymyr Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” lawmaker Davyd Arakhamia (3R), hold talks in Belarus’ Gomel region on February 28, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sergei KHOLODILIN / BELTA / AFP

Ukraine demanded an immediate Russian ceasefire and troop withdrawal on Monday as its delegation arrived in Belarus for talks with Russian negotiators on the fifth day of the Kremlin’s offensive.

Ukraine’s delegation is set to meet Russian representatives for the first talks since Moscow’s invasion, as the fighting for several Ukrainian cities continues and the Russian ruble collapses.

The meeting will take place just across the border in neighbouring Belarus, a key Kremlin ally that has allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine.

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“The Ukrainian delegation arrived at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border to take part in talks with representatives of the Russian Federation,” the Ukrainian presidency said in a statement.

“The key issue of the talks is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a separate statement urged Russian troops to abandon their equipment and leave the battlefield in order to save their lives, claiming that more than 4,500 Russian soldiers had already lost their lives.

He also urged the European Union to give Ukraine “immediate” membership, via a special procedure.

Russian state media posted video of Ukrainian delegates arriving by helicopter.

Russian delegate Leonid Slutsky, the head of the Russian parliament’s international affairs committee, wrote on the Telegram messenger service: “We will start soon”.

The talks come as Ukraine’s forces fiercely resist the Russian offensive, a day after President Vladimir Putin ordered his defence chiefs to put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert.

The Ukrainian delegation includes defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov as well as deputy foreign minister Mykola Tochytskyi.

The talks come after a phone call between Zelensky and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Zelensky has said he is sceptical about the possibility of a breakthrough.

“As always: I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try,” he said.

Kyiv was initially reluctant to send a delegation to Belarus, given the country’s role as facilitator in Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

AFP

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