Russia wants to 'create North and South Korea in Ukraine,' Ukrainian military official says

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that Ukraine is willing to become neutral and compromise over the status of the Donbas region as part of a peace deal.

Zelensky signals openness for compromise ahead of peace talks in Turkey

The latest:

  • Ukraine intelligence chief predicts 'total' guerrilla warfare.
  • Russia-backed region signals possible referendum in Ukraine's East.
  • Biden says U.S. not seeking regime change in wake of Putin comments.
  • What questions do you have about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to

Russia wants to split Ukraine into two, as happened with North and South Korea, Ukraine's military intelligence chief said on Sunday, vowing "total" guerrilla warfare to prevent a carve-up of the country.

After more than four weeks of conflict, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and signaled on Friday it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army for the past eight years.

A local leader in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic said on Sunday the region could soon hold a referendum on joining Russia, just as happened in Crimea after Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia — a vote that much of the world refused to recognize.

"In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine," Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, said in a statement, referring to the division of Korea after the Second World War.

He predicted Ukraine's army would repel Russian forces.

"In addition, the season of a total Ukrainian guerrilla safari will soon begin. Then there will be one relevant scenario left for the Russians, how to survive," he said.

Ukraine's foreign ministry spokesperson also dismissed talk of any referendum in Eastern Ukraine.

"All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void and will have no legal validity," Oleg Nikolenko told Reuters.

Ukraine open to neutrality, says Zelensky

However, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that Ukraine is willing to become neutral and compromise over the status of the Donbas region as part of a peace deal.

Zelensky took his message directly to Russian journalists in a video call that the Kremlin pre-emptively warned Russian media not to report, saying any agreement must be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.

"Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it," he said, speaking in Russian.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a video call interview with Russian journalists in Kyiv on Sunday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

Zelensky later said in his nightly video address that he would insist on the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine in any talks.

In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to hold talks this week in Istanbul and called for a ceasefire and better humanitarian conditions, his office said. Ukrainian and Russian negotiators confirmed that in-person talks would take place.

Moscow says the goals for what Putin calls a "special military operation" include demilitarizing and "denazifying" its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a pretext for unprovoked invasion. Ukraine has described previous negotiations, some of which have taken place in Russian ally Belarus, as "very difficult."

'Cruel and senseless'

The invasion has devastated several Ukrainian cities, caused a major humanitarian crisis and displaced an estimated 10 million people, nearly a quarter of Ukraine's population.

Russia has continued to move additional military units to the Ukraine border and is launching missile and air strikes on Ukrainian forces and military infrastructure, including in the city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military said on Sunday night.

Ukraine also raised concerns about the safety of the Russian-occupied defunct nuclear power plant at Chornobyl, the site of the world's worst civil nuclear accident in 1986.

Russian forces have created a risk of damaging the containment vessel constructed around the station's wrecked fourth reactor, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She urged the United Nations to dispatch a mission to assess the risks.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said Russia had started destroying Ukrainian fuel and food storage centres. Appearing to confirm that, Russia said its missiles had wrecked a fuel deposit on Saturday as well as a military repair plant near the western city of Lviv.

Ukraine was mounting small counter-offensive actions as Russian forces try to encircle its forces in Eastern Ukraine, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said.

A soldier walks between rubble of the destroyed regional headquarters of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

In his Sunday blessing, Pope Francis called for an end to the "cruel and senseless" conflict.

The United Nations has confirmed 1,119 civilian deaths and 1,790 injuries across Ukraine but says the real toll is likely to be higher. Ukraine said on Sunday 139 children had been killed and more than 205 wounded so far in the conflict.

Vereshchuk said 1,100 people were evacuated from frontline areas, including the southern city of Mariupol, after Ukraine and Russia agreed to set up two "humanitarian corridors."

The encircled port, located between Crimea and eastern areas held by Russian-backed separatists, has been devastated by weeks of heavy bombardment. Thousands of residents are sheltering in basements with scarce water, food, medicine or power.

Biden clarifies Putin comments

U.S. President Joe Biden clarified on Sunday that the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, after his declaration that Putin "cannot remain in power."

Biden's comments in Poland on Saturday also included calling Putin a "butcher" and appeared to be a sharp escalation of the U.S. approach to Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Top U.S. diplomats on Sunday had played down his declaration, and Biden, asked by a reporter as he departed a church service in Washington if he was calling for regime change in Russia, gave a one-word reply: "No."

WATCH | Biden's Putin comments 'unfortunate,' says ex-NATO commander: 

Biden's comments on Putin 'unfortunate', former NATO commander says

1 year ago
Duration 9:30
Ukraine’s president pressed NATO leaders for more support at a meeting of the alliance this week. Appearing on Rosemary Barton Live, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe Gen. Joseph Ralston weighs in on the state of Russia’s war in Ukraine and what more NATO could do to help end the conflict.

Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, sought to contextualize Biden's remarks, saying they followed a day of speaking with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. Russia's month-long invasion has driven a quarter of Ukraine's population of 44 million from their homes.

"In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day," Smith told CNN's State of the Union program before adding: "The U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference in Jerusalem that Biden was making the point that Putin couldn't be empowered to wage war. But Blinken said any decision on Russia's future leadership would be "up to the Russian people."

WATCH | Former Canadian ambassador to Russia breaks down the state of Russia's invasion:

Ukraine: Where we are

1 year ago
Duration 7:42
Former Canadian envoy Jeremy Kinsman joins CBC News Network to review the diplomatic and military aspects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the war enters its 2nd month.