Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who was the victim of a suspected poisoning, resumed negotiations to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Tuesday — while devastating airstrikes continued to rain down even as they met, blowing a huge hole in a Ukrainian local government building.
Abramovich — the sanctioned billionaire owner of Club World Cup soccer champions Chelsea — was photographed at the latest crisis talks in Turkey despite reportedly being blinded for hours after an earlier meeting.
He was reportedly poisoned alongside several Ukrainian delegates, all suffering peeling skin on their faces and hands, constant and painful tearing, and red eyes following a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month.
The Kremlin confirmed that the longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been playing an unofficial mediating role.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Abramovich has been “ensuring certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides” and that his role was approved by both countries.
He denied reports of the earlier poisonings, however, dismissing them as part of an “information war.”
The delegates from both sides met Tuesday at an Istanbul palace, where Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said they had a “historic responsibility” to stop “this tragedy.”
“We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” Erdogan said, as he greeted the two delegations seated on opposite sides of a long table for the first face-to-face peace talks in nearly three weeks.
The crucial talks began with “a cold welcome” and no handshake, according to Ukrainian TV — and Russian missiles continued to batter several Ukrainian cities even as the nations met.
Air raid sirens sounded before dawn across Ukraine, and a missile struck an oil depot in the western Rivne region overnight, the second attack on oil facilities in a region that has been spared the worst of the fighting.
On Tuesday morning, an explosion hit an administration center in Mykolaiv — blasting a gaping hole in the nine-story building.
Regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim said most people escaped the building and rescuers were searching for a handful of missing people.
“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before striking the building, he said. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”
Ukraine military’s general staff said that “the enemy continues to vilely carry out missile and bomb strikes in an attempt to completely destroy the infrastructure and residential areas of Ukrainian cities.”
In an address on Monday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the ongoing attacks were part of “a ruthless war against our nation, against our people, against our children.”
He again lashed out at Western countries for not doing enough.
“If someone is afraid of Russia … it makes these people responsible for the catastrophe created by Russian troops in our cities, too,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
More than a month into the war, the biggest attack on a European nation since World War Two, there have been more than 3.9 million people who have fled abroad.
Thousands of civilians have also been killed, with officials in the hardest-hit city of Mariupol claiming at least 5,000 people — including about 210 children — have been killed there alone.
Western intelligence believes Putin’s ground forces have become bogged down because of the stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, combined with Russian tactical missteps, poor morale, shortages of food, fuel and cold weather gear, and other problems.
However, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted Russia had largely completed the first phase of its so-called “special “special operation” and had degraded Ukraine’s military capabilities.
With Post wires