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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in Ukraine on Friday as part of a delegation of African leaders and senior officials seeking ways to end Russia’s war, though an air raid in Kyiv during their visit was a grim reminder of the challenge they face.
Ramaphosa’s press service said that he was met by a Ukrainian special envoy and South Africa’s ambassador at a rail station near Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where bodies of civilians lay scattered in the streets following Russian forces’ withdrawal last spring.
The Bucha visit was symbolically significant, as its name has come to stand for the barbarity of Moscow’s military since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The brutal Russian occupation of Bucha left hundreds of civilians dead in the streets and in mass graves.
The African delegation also includes senior officials from Zambia, Senegal, Uganda, Egypt, the Republic of the Congo and the Comoro Islands.
Shortly after they placed commemorative candles at a small memorial outside St. Andrew’s Church in Bucha, a town on the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv, air raid sirens began to wail in the capital and Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported an explosion in the Podilskiy district, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
“Missiles still flying at Kyiv,” Klitschko wrote on his Telegram channel.
Ramaphosa said last month that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to separate meetings with the delegation.
The delegation was set to travel to St. Petersburg later Friday, where Russia’s top international economic conference is taking place, and meet with Putin on Saturday.
Officials who helped prepare the talks said the African leaders not only aimed to initiate a peace process but also assess how Russia, which is under heavy international sanctions, can be paid for the fertilizer exports Africa desperately needs.
They are also set to discuss the related issue of ensuring more grain shipments out of Ukraine amid the war and the possibility of more prisoner swaps.
The African peace overture comes as Ukraine launches a counteroffensive to dislodge the Kremlin’s forces from occupied areas, using Western-supplied advanced weapons in attacks along the 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line. Western analysts and military officials have cautioned that the campaign could last a long time.
China has also been working on a peace proposal, but it appears to have few chances of success as the warring sides appear no closer to a cease-fire.
Ukrainian troops recorded successes along three stretches of the front line in the country’s south and east, a spokesman for Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement Friday.
According to Andriy Kovalev, Ukrainian forces have moved forward south of the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region, in the direction of the village of Robotyne, as well as around Levadne and Staromaiorske, on the boundary between Zaporizhzhia and the Donetsk province further east.
Kovalev also said that Ukrainian troops advanced in some areas around Vuhledar, a mining town in Donetsk that was the site of one of the main tank battles in the war so far.
It wasn’t possible to indepenently verify the claims.
Russian shelling on Thursday and overnight killed two civilians and wounded two others in the southern Kherson region, its Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said.
Russian forces over the previous day launched 54 strikes across the province, using mortars, artillery, multiple rocket launchers, drones, missiles and aircraft, according to Prokudin.
Ten people were wounded over that same period in the eastern Donetsk region, local Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.