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    Explosions heard as African peacekeeping mission visits Ukrainian capital

    At least two explosions rocked Kiev on Friday and air raid sirens blared as African leaders embarked on a peacekeeping mission, hoping to mediate between Ukraine and Russia.

    The peace delegation, made up of leaders from South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, the Comoros and Egypt, said it was moving ahead with plans to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later on Friday ahead of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in St. Petersburg.

    A Reuters journalist in central Kiev heard two explosions. Mayor Vitali Klitschko also reported explosions in the central Podil district. Another Reuters correspondent saw the smoke trail of two rockets in the sky over the capital. It was not clear whether those missiles had been fired by Russia or Ukrainian air defenses.

    A Reuters television crew saw the leaders arrive in Kiev in a convoy of cars and enter a hotel to use the bomb shelter.

    Later, the all-clear was issued for Kyiv, and the South African presidency tweeted that the mission “went well and according to plan”.

    Local residents take shelter in a metro station in central Kiev during a Russian missile strike
    Residents take shelter in a metro station in central Kiev on Friday during a Russian missile strike.Genya Savilov / AFP – Getty Images

    The Ukrainian Air Force said it shot down six “Kinzhal” ballistic missiles, six cruise missiles and two drones. The city authorities said they had received no reports of deaths or serious damage so far, but police said there was an undetermined number of casualties.

    The airstrike was the latest of many launched by Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has increased the frequency since Ukraine began preparing for a counter-offensive that is now underway.

    “Putin is ‘building confidence’ by launching the largest missile attack on Kiev in weeks, precisely during the visit of African leaders to our capital,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Russian missiles are a message to Africa: Russia wants more war, not peace.”

    Reuters could not confirm that it was the largest airstrike on the capital in weeks and Russia did not immediately comment on events in Kiev.

    The African leaders had begun their journey with a visit to Bucha, a city outside Kiev where Ukraine says executions, rape and torture have been carried out by Russian occupiers, and where international investigators are gathering evidence of war crimes. Russia denies the allegations.

    The peacekeeping mission, which includes South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegalese President Macky Sall, could propose a series of “confidence-building measures” during initial mediation efforts, according to a draft framework document seen by Reuters.

    The document says the purpose of the mission is to promote peace and encourage the parties to agree on a diplomacy-led process.

    Those measures could include a withdrawal of Russian troops, removal of Russian tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus, suspension of the execution of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant against Putin, and easing of Western sanctions imposed on Russia, so indicated it.

    An agreement on the cessation of hostilities could follow, and should be accompanied by negotiations between Russia and the West, the document said.

    Kiev says its own peace initiative, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian land, should be the basis for any settlement of the war.

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