'Left Alone' by West, Ukraine Offers Neutrality; Russia Seeks Surrender

Moscow- The conflict between Russia and Ukraine continued for the second day, with explosions reported in capital Kiev as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rued being "left alone" by the West and announced readiness to declare neutrality.

Russian forces pressed deep into Ukraine and were virtually knocking at the gates of the capital city of Kiev.

Ukraine's army said Friday it was fighting invading Russian forces northwest of the capital.

Russians captured Zmiinyi Island in the Black Sea, where 82 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered to them, Russia's defense ministry said. Ukrainian authorities said intense fighting was underway in the city of Sumy in the country's northeast.

The Interfax-Ukraine news agency said two explosions were heard in Kiev. Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry, said they emanated from the sounds of air defenses firing at an aircraft that was downed.

Kiev municipal authorities said at least eight people were injured when the aircraft crashed into an apartment block and set it on fire. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiev had come under “horrific Russian rocket strikes.”

Ukraine's nuclear agency said it was recording increased radiation levels from the site of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Experts at the agency did not provide exact radiation levels but said the change was due to the movement of heavy military equipment in the area lifting radioactive dust into the air.

A spokesman for Russia's defense ministry said Moscow will deploy paratroopers to help guard the nuclear power plant near Ukraine's capital.

Radiation levels at the plant are normal, the spokesman told a briefing. Russian troops have destroyed 118 Ukrainian military infrastructure sites, he said.

Russia’s military said it had “successfully” achieved its goals outlined for the first day of conflict with Ukrainian troops over the Donbas region.

"All of the tasks assigned to the groups of troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for the day were successfully completed," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Konashenkov added that the Russian military had eliminated Ukraine’s air defenses and was in control of the skies over the former Soviet republic.

Kremlin: Russia willing to negotiate Ukraine's surrender 

In a statement, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would come to the negotiating table on the condition that Ukraine promised to be neutral, not aspire to be a NATO member and also not keep any Western weaponry on its territory.

Peskov underlined that discussions over the terms of surrender would generally involve “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine.

President Zelensky said he is not afraid of talking about neutrality as his request for NATO accession went unanswered by European leaders.

On Friday, Reuters quoted Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak as saying that Ukraine wants peace and is ready for talks with Russia, including on neutral status regarding NATO.

"If talks are possible, they should be held. If in Moscow they say they want to hold talks, including on neutral status, we are not afraid of this," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would be ready to hold talks with Kiev, but only once Ukraine's military had laid down its arms.

He also said that Moscow did not want "neo-Nazis" to govern Ukraine.

Ukraine currently is not part of NATO or the European Union, though it wants to join both. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arms, after gaining independence on the
breakup of the Soviet Union, in exchange for security guarantees from European countries.

Ukraine ‘left alone’  

Zelensky said his country had been left on its own to fight Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military operation" aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics in eastern Ukraine.

"We have been left alone to defend our state," Zelensky said in a post-midnight video address to the nation. "Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don't see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid.”

Zelensky said that 137 Ukrainians, both military personnel and civilians, had been killed since the beginning of the attack, and 316 more had been wounded.

He said Russian "sabotage groups" had entered Kiev, and urged locals to remain vigilant and observe a curfew.

The Ukrainian president said he and his family remained in the country, despite Russia identifying him as "target number one.”

The UN refugee agency said around 100,000 people had been internally displaced while several thousand more had left Ukraine since the fighting erupted.

Kiev has declared martial law. It claims to have killed 50 Russian troops and shot down six Russian aircraft, an allegation that has not been independently verified.

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