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Fighting continues as negotiators for Ukraine and Russia make a breakthrough

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

For the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, a sign of progress towards peace today. Negotiators for the two countries met in Istanbul, with both sides outlining possible concessions. To talk about this and how the war is going, we're joined by NPR's Nathan Rott, who is in western Ukraine. Hi, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good evening.

SNELL: So these talks in Istanbul today, can you fill us in on what you heard from each side today?

ROTT: Yeah. So the Ukrainian negotiators said that they agreed to discuss contested parts of the country, namely Crimea and the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. More importantly, they seemed willing to consider neutrality in terms of military alliances like NATO, so as long as Ukraine receives security assurances from countries like U.S. and Turkey. We don't know how that would work exactly. It's not entirely clear. The Russians, for their part, said that they would take steps to show their goodwill. Here's Russia's deputy defense minister, Alexander Fomin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDER FOMIN: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "We made a decision to radically reduce military activity," he said, in Kyiv "and Chernihiv directions."

SNELL: That seems very significant, right? There's been so much fighting around both of those cities.

ROTT: Yeah, it could be really significant. And, you know, we should say that's a big could, right? Let's not forget Russia's that advancement has stalled, especially around Kyiv. A U.S. defense official says they are seeing movement of Russian troops in vehicles around the capital and near Chernihiv. But it's not necessarily a reduction in pressure on those areas. Biden, other Western leaders have expressed skepticism, but there are - and, you know, they're wondering if they will actually follow through with this. We're also hearing that from Ukrainians. I talked to a spokesperson for the Ukrainian air force here in Vinnytsia a little earlier tonight. His name is Yuri Ignat. And he did describe today as a breakthrough, but he also said this.

YURI IGNAT: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "We don't have any illusions, and we'll be preparing for the insidious stab in the back from Russia," he said. "They used to do it. They are doing it now and will be doing it in the future." He referenced the shelling and airstrikes that occurred around the country today even while negotiations were ongoing. He said the same thing happened here, even here in Vinnytsia during earlier talks. So they need to remain prepared to fight.

SNELL: So it doesn't sound like there's a, you know, a lot of confidence, that people don't necessarily believe that this is going to be over soon.

ROTT: No. I mean, we drove about 6 hours today - right? - on a major highway. And we saw a lot of traffic heading east, the general direction of the fighting, just as much as we saw heading west. You know, there are signs that things are easing up. Checkpoints have eased up. We visited a train station in Lviv yesterday, which has kind of been a jumping-off point for a lot of people fleeing from their homes. There was far fewer people there than we had seen even a week ago. But when you talk to people here, you do hear a little ray of hope from today's talks. But everybody seems, you know, pretty clear-eyed that there might be a lot of fighting still to come on the horizon.

SNELL: That's NPR's Nathan Rott in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Thank you.

ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.