Ukrainian President Zelensky to address Congress, raises hope for breakthrough
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said ongoing talks to halt two weeks of fighting with Russia were progressing with difficulty but raised hopes a breakthrough.
KYIV - Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky will deliver a virtual address to Congress on Wednesday as the western ally comes under intense shelling from Russia, Democratic leadership in the US Congress said on Monday.
"We look forward to the privilege of welcoming President Zelensky's address to the House and Senate and to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy," House leader Nancy Pelosi and her Senate counterpart Chuck Schumer said in a joint letter to lawmakers.
The announcement came with both sides launching a fresh round of talks, more than two weeks after Russia's President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, amid deadly air strikes in the capital Kyiv and an eastern pro-Moscow separatist region.
Ukraine said it would demand "peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops" during the talks.
Pelosi and Schumer said in the letter Zelensky's virtual address would begin at 9am (1pm GMT).
"The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin's cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine," they added.
Meanwhile, Zelensky said on Monday that ongoing talks to halt two weeks of fighting with Russia were progressing with difficulty but raised hopes a breakthrough could be announced later in the day.
The Ukrainian leader confirmed that "difficult negotiations" were underway with the Russian side, aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to Moscow's invasion of his pro-Western country.
"A video meeting between the delegations has already started today. It continues," Zelensky said in a video statement on Monday.
"Everyone is waiting for news. We will definitely report in the evening."
A fourth round of talks between Moscow and Kyiv began earlier on Monday, a senior Ukrainian negotiator said, amid mutual claims of shelling and civilian deaths.
Kyiv's lead negotiator and presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak posted a picture on Twitter of video-conference talks with Russian officials and described the negotiations as "hard", saying that the two sides were outlining their "specific positions".
Both sides indicated over the weekend that they were making headway.
Russia's negotiators hailed "significant progress" while Podolyak said Moscow's delegation had stopped issuing "ultimatums" and instead "carefully listens to our positions".
MOSCOW SAYS 20 DEAD IN DONETSK
As parties meet, Russia said on Monday that an attack by Kyiv's forces on the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine had left 20 people dead, accusing Kyiv of committing a "war crime".
Moscow accused Ukraine's army of firing a Tochka-U missile at a residential area in Donetsk, in one of the most serious attacks on the city since Russia sent troops into Ukraine over two weeks ago.
Rebels, who have controlled the city since 2014, had earlier said fragments from a rocket they shot down had left 16 civilians dead.
"Twenty peaceful residents have died," Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
"Another 28 people including children were seriously injured and hospitalised."
"The use of such weapons in a city where there are no firing positions of the armed forces," Konashenkov added, "is a war crime."
Earlier Monday separatist officials said more than a dozen people had been killed after they shot down a projectile and remnants landed in Donetsk's centre.
Separatist health officials later released updated figures matching those announced by the Russian defence ministry.
Official separatist Telegram channels distributed photos and video of the aftermath, showing burnt out cars, bodies strewn in the street, and damage to the exterior of shops.
In an interview with Russian state-run television, the head of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, said the shot-down rocket had inflicted damage to residential areas.
"People were waiting in line near an ATM and were standing at a bus stop," he said in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
"There are children among the dead," Pushilin added, adding that the casualty count would have been higher had the rocket not been downed.