The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A grasp at diplomacy as fighting grinds on in Ukraine

The Polish president addresses Ukraine’s parliament, calling on Russia to withdraw

A destroyed bridge connecting the city of Lysychansk with the city of Severodonetsk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the path to ending the war with Russia would require diplomacy and an international agreement with security guarantees from other countries after any military win.

“Victory will be bloody,” he said in a Ukrainian television interview broadcast Saturday, and “the end will certainly be in diplomacy.”

But he and other leaders stressed that Russia shouldn’t keep control of territory it has seized during hostilities. Although Russian forces failed to take the capital, Kyiv, and the northeastern city of Kharkiv, they have captured the cities of Kherson and Mariupol in southern and southeastern Ukraine.

Bloody fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, which the United States believes is part of Moscow’s strategy to annex broad swaths of the country and install leaders loyal to Russia in a move echoing the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

“We want everything returned, and Russia doesn’t want to return anything,” Zelensky said in the interview. “And this is what it will be in the end.”

His comments come as the Russian invasion falters and military leaders are overhauling their strategy by firing commanders and increasingly relying on artillery and long-range weapons after losing thousands of troops.

Russia's war with Ukraine is releasing untold volumes of toxins and pollutants into the environment that will impact Ukrainians for years to come. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Prospect of Russian victory fades

Even as analysts and experts view Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-term objectives as unsustainable, the invasion continues to exact a toll on Ukraine, particularly in the eastern Donbas and Luhansk regions, where Russian troops are concentrated.

Zelensky said Sunday that as many as 100 soldiers a day are killed in the hard-hit east.

The southern port city of Severodonetsk — one of the last major cities in eastern Luhansk province still in Kyiv’s control — has emerged as the latest flash point in hostilities.

Regional authorities urged the thousands remaining in the once 100,000-person city to flee as heavy shelling continues and after Russian forces on Saturday destroyed a bridge used for evacuations and aid deliveries.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said that “if they destroy one more bridge, then the city will be fully cut off, unfortunately.”

Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman, warned in a post on the Telegram messaging app that Severodonetsk is becoming “a new Mariupol” — another southern port city now in ruins with civilians cut off from basic necessities after months of bombardment.

Russia contends that Mariupol is entirely under its control after Ukraine last week ended its defense of a steel plant where civilians and fighters holed up for weeks.

The mayor of Mariupol, where the plant is located, has warned that the city is “on the verge of an outbreak of infectious diseases” because of the war.

Many of the city’s residents have no access to water or functioning sewage systems, Vadym Boychenko said in a message posted Saturday on Telegram, while summer rains are likely to spread diseases from hastily dug shallow graves into water supplies.

Zelensky expressed hope about the fate of the hundreds of Ukrainian forces at the plant, bolstering the prospect of future talks with Russia.

“I said during the bombardment that if they destroy the people in Azovstal, there will never be any discussions with Russia. Today we saw that they found a way to let these people live,” Zelensky said in the interview that aired Saturday.

“Time changes things,” he added. “There are various situations. It all depends on the time.”

In a surprise visit, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Sunday addressed the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv, the first in-person appearance by a foreign leader since the war began. He reiterated Poland’s support for Ukraine and called on Russia to withdraw.

“Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future,” Duda said, according to a translation. “The international community must demand that Russia end its aggression and leave Ukraine completely.”

Zelensky vowed to grant more rights to Polish citizens, after a new law in Poland granted rights to millions of Ukrainian citizens who have sought refuge in Poland since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

“This is an unprecedented decision, according to which our citizens, who have been forced to flee to Poland due to the Russian aggression, will be granted almost the same rights and opportunities as Polish citizens. Legal residence, employment, education, health care and social benefits,” Zelensky said, according to a text of the speech.

Meanwhile, the United States is ramping up its support for Ukraine after President Biden on Saturday signed a $40 billion package to provide new military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Breaking down the U.S. military aid to Ukraine

Zelensky said more military aid to Ukraine will help the country reopen its ports and ease pressure on worldwide food prices after fighting halted exports of grain and other agricultural products.

Military and State Department officials are considering sending special force troops to guard a newly reopened embassy in Kyiv, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

A U.S. official confirmed the discussions but stressed the idea is only preliminary.

“We are in close touch with our colleagues at the State Department about potential security requirements now that they have resumed operations at the embassy in Kyiv, but no decisions have been made — and no specific proposals have been debated — at senior levels of the department about the return of U.S. military members to Ukraine for that or any other purpose,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

A delegation of U.S. diplomats will be in The Hague from Sunday until Wednesday for talks with allies “regarding our responses to atrocities committed in Ukraine” and in other conflicts, and on efforts to “bring the perpetrators of atrocities to justice,” the State Department said in a news release.

Ukrainian authorities have put three captured Russian soldiers on trial for war crimes, and the Biden administration is supporting steps by the Ukrainian prosecutor general to investigate Russia’s actions in the war.

Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, in a rare joint appearance with her husband during a prerecorded television interview, detailed the invasion’s toll on her family. She said she has barely seen her husband since the war began and joked that the interview amounted to “a date” on TV.

“Our family was torn apart, as every other Ukrainian family,” Zelenska said, later pushing back on an interviewer who suggested her husband was taken away from her.

“Nobody takes my husband away from me, not even the war,” Zelenska replied.

Christine Armario, John Hudson, Annabelle Chapman, Victoria Bisset and Bryan Pietsch contributed to this report.

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