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Russian and Ukrainian negotiators finish 4th round of talks without a breakthrough

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Russia and Ukraine kept a fragile diplomatic path open today with a new round of talks even as Moscow's forces continued attacking near Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and other cities across the country. The Red Cross says this fighting has created, quote, "nothing short of a nightmare" for the civilian population. And joining us now to talk about all this is NPR's Eric Westervelt, who is in western Ukraine. Hi, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good evening.

CHANG: So today's talks were the fourth round between representatives of Ukraine and Russia. Where do things even stand with these efforts now?

WESTERVELT: Well, you know, heading into this latest round of talks, there was some guarded optimism expressed. I mean, the Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podoliak said over the weekend, you know, Russia was listening carefully to our proposals. He tweeted right before the talks today that these talks would tackle big issues of peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops and security guarantees. But the talks, which were held virtually, ended without any breakthrough after just a few hours. They do plan to meet again tomorrow, so we'll see. But I have to say there's a good deal of skepticism given that past talks have led nowhere.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, these talks - obviously, they're taking place as combat continues near the Ukrainian capital and in several cities in the east of the country. Can you just update us on what's happening overall right now?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. So, I mean, as these lower-level officials negotiated or tried to, Russian forces continued their attacks on multiple fronts. There was renewed fighting on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. Ukrainian officials say Russian forces shelled several suburbs of the capital with tank rounds and artillery. There's been a lot of heavy fighting in and around the entire northwest suburb area of Kyiv, where the Russians are really kind of trying to encircle the capital. And deadly airstrikes, we have to say, were reported in multiple other cities across the country.

One sliver of good news - a cease-fire in part of Mariupol held today long enough for some people to get out. This is the coastal city in the southeast that's really seen some deplorable conditions, people running out of food and water. Ukrainian officials there say about 160 cars were able to leave today, but there are tens of thousands more that really desperately want to get out.

CHANG: Right. Well, I know that you have spent some time in the western city of Lviv reporting and talking with people who've fled fighting in the east. But over the weekend, the Russians - they struck multiple sites in the west. Are there fears now that the conflict is widening?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, there's that fear there. And I think the fear is well-founded. I mean, weekend missile strikes really shattered this sense of, you know, relative safety in the western part of the country. I mean, Russia attacked airports in cities north and south of Lviv. There was that deadly cruise missile strike on a base that the mayor told us today was being used to train volunteer fighters. That base is just about 25, 30 miles from the city center, where I am. There are now nightly air raid sirens that send, you know, everyone scurrying to the basement.

And the refugee and displaced person crisis continues as well. Nearly 3 million Ukrainians have now fled their homeland. And here in Lviv, some 200,000 have temporarily settled. Residents have welcomed them, really, with open arms, but space and resources are strained. And city officials are now calling for more international help. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.