A top Ukrainian negotiator offered on Wednesday to negotiate with Russia “without any conditions” to allow for the evacuation of troops and civilians in besieged Mariupol.
“Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his lead peace negotiator, wrote on Twitter.
Podolyak added: “One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever.”
A band of Ukrainian resistance and civilians have been holed up in the strategic southern port city, where surrounding Russian forces have launched a devastating shelling campaign — targeting civilian areas that include hospitals, theaters, shelters, and schools.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to Zelenskyy, said on Tuesday that Ukraine would not hold peace talks with Russia if President Vladimir Putin’s forces captured Mariupol.
Russia previously ordered Ukraine’s resistance in the city to surrender but Ukrainian troops refused.
Mariupol has experienced some of the most devastating bombardments since the war began nearly two months ago. The city, which is home to nearly half a million people, has been surrounded by Russian forces for weeks, leaving many without food, water, or electricity.
Earlier this month, the mayor of Mariupol estimated that more than 10,000 people had died in the city and said the death toll could eventually exceed 20,000.
The city was an early target for Russia given its proximity to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, as well as other parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Putin loyalists.