'Terrorist' Russia kills 23: Zelenskiy

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Russian missiles have struck a Ukrainian city far behind the frontline in an attack officials described as a war crime that killed at least 23 people.

The strike on Vinnytsia on Thursday, which Ukraine said had been carried out with Kalibr cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea, followed a breakthrough in talks between Moscow and Kyiv on resuming Ukrainian grain shipments and underscored how far the two sides remain from a peace settlement.

The United States took steps on Thursday to facilitate Russian food and fertiliser exports by reassuring banks, shipping and insurance companies such transactions would not breach Western sanctions on Moscow.

Enabling those Russian exports is a key part of attempts by United Nations and Turkish officials to broker a deal with Moscow that would also allow for shipments of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea port of Odessa, which have been blockaded by the war.

The conflict in Ukraine has sent prices soaring for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser, stoking a global food crisis.

Negotiators hope a deal will be signed next week.

Prospects for peace, however, remain dim.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called Russia a "terrorist" state, urged more sanctions against the Kremlin and said the death toll in Vinnytsia could rise.

"Unfortunately, this is not the final number," he said in a video address.

"Debris clearance continues. Dozens of people are reported missing. There are seriously injured (people) among those hospitalised."

Russia reiterated its claim that it does not target civilians and said its attack struck a military training facility.

"The Russian Federation only strikes military objects in Ukraine and the strike in Vinnytsia was against the house of officers where the armed forces of Ukraine were being trained," Russian diplomat Evgeny Varganov told the United Nations on Thursday.

Reuters could not independently verify battlefield accounts.

Ukraine's state emergency service said three children, including a four-year-old girl named Lisa, were among the fatalities, which left 71 people hospitalised and 29 others missing.

It posted a photograph on its Telegram channel of a toy kitten, a toy dog and flowers lying in the grass.

"The little girl Lisa, killed by the Russians today, has become a ray of sunshine," it said.

Zelenskiy told an international conference aimed at prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine the attack had been mounted on "an ordinary, peaceful city".

Russia, which launched what it called its 'special military operation' against Ukraine on February 24, says it uses high-precision weapons to degrade Ukraine's military infrastructure to protect its own security.

Vinnytsia, a city of 370,000 people about 200km southwest of the capital Kyiv, hosts the command headquarters of the Ukrainian Air Force, according to an official Ukrainian military website.

Russia targeted the facility with cruise missiles in March, the Ukrainian air force said at the time.

"No other state in the world poses such a terrorist threat as Russia," Zelenskiy said.

The United States and more 40 other countries agreed on Thursday to co-ordinate investigations into suspected war crimes in Ukraine.

Russia denies the accusations, and Dmitry Medvedev, the former president who is now deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, has said attempts by the West to punish a nuclear power such as Russia for the conflict in Ukraine risk endangering humanity.

The Kremlin has said Russia is ready to halt what the West calls its unprovoked war of aggression if Kyiv agrees to its conditions.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said on Thursday Moscow would respond positively should Kyiv be ready to resume peace negotiations, the Interfax news agency reported.

Kyiv would have to affirm its non-aligned and non-nuclear status and formally recognise existing territorial realities, Rudenko was cited as saying.

Specifically, he said that would mean recognising that Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, was under Russian control, and two self-proclaimed Russian-backed statelets in eastern Ukraine were no longer under Kyiv's remit.

Ukraine has repeatedly said it is unwilling to concede any territory to a country it calls a hostile occupier and has said it plans to take back any land lost by force.

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