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Turkey offers to evacuate Mariupol fighters despite disagreements

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KHARKIV, Ukraine – Turkey is working to negotiate an exit for wounded Ukrainian soldiers sheltered in the bunkers of a steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, but its efforts have been hampered by the liquidity of ground combat and neither Russia. Neither Ukraine has approved the plan, a Turkish presidential spokesman said on Saturday.

In an unusually clear interview by teleconference call from Istanbul, spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey was in talks with Ukraine and Russia, and that both sides were trying to reach an agreement while changing their position.

“It really depends on how the Russians view the war situation on the ground and the negotiations,” he said. “Fighting on the ground shapes negotiations,” he added. “Positions also change from one day to the next. It’s very fluid. “

As the final stop in the southern city of Mariupol, which was left in ruins by last week’s shelling, the Azovstal plant has become a powerful symbol for Ukrainians, and the fate of the remaining fighters – many wounded, and all of them living forever. More meager rations – closely watched.

Turkey is waiting for a ship in Istanbul for five to six weeks to evacuate Ukrainians from the port of Bardiansk and treat the injured and rehabilitate them in Turkey, Mr Kalin said. Russia and Ukraine have not yet approved the plan, he said, but proposals remain.

Mr Kalin, a former national security adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been involved in talks between Russia and Ukraine since the start of the war in late February. Turkey has hosted two rounds of peace talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, and Mr Kalin said Mr Erdogan had spoken to Mr Putin five times since the attack. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei K. Shoigu last month.

Turkey has recently received more and more appeals to mediate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians from Mariupol, including UN officials, soldiers themselves and the wives of some soldiers, who held a press conference in Kiev on Saturday to urge President Xi Jinping. China urges Putin to accept Turkey’s export offer

Mr. Kalin welcomed the calls. “We take these appeals seriously,” he said. “It’s a war zone, and if you save a person, that’s a real blessing. It’s not a solution to war, but it’s a good thing you can do it under the circumstances.”

He said the Ukrainians needed to evacuate about 1,500 troops to Turkey, of which 450 had been wounded. It’s logically difficult to get so many people out, Mr. Kalin said.

“In order for us to do this, there must be conditions on the ground,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s safe, because once they start walking through that whole operation, taking six hours or 10 hours to get to their destination, port or anywhere, there has to be complete calm, security and safety.”

Turkey has experience in negotiating evacuations from war zones, which it has successfully conducted several times during sieges by Russian and Syrian forces during the Syrian civil war.

Turkey is also supporting alternative plans to move the wounded to another Ukrainian city, Mr Kalin said. The United Nations and the Red Cross have successfully evacuated hundreds of civilians from the Azovostel steel plant in recent weeks.

Ukraine has also offered to exchange troops for Russian prisoners of war, which Mr Kalin said Russia had noted but not commented on.

The withdrawal of troops was particularly complicated by the inclusion of members of the Azov Battalion, a former right-wing militia formally integrated into the Ukrainian army. Russia has identified them as Nazis, and Mr Putin has said the war was aimed at “denigrating” Ukraine.

“I understand the Ukrainian situation, that they all belong to the Ukrainian army, with other groups, and they all want to be able to get out,” Mr Kalin said. “But if you put them all in one basket, the Russians will say, ‘No.’ So you know, it’s a lack of mutual trust, sometimes a lack of coordination. “

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