- Zelenskyy says Russia's holding of "pseudo-referendums" in occupied Ukrainian areas would mean the end of peace talks.
- Any attempts by Russia to form new "pseudo-people's republics" in Ukraine would also be a deal-breaker, he said.
- Kyiv has accused Moscow of planning such referendums in order to legitimize Russia's invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has explained the factors that would end any potential peace talks with Russia — namely the latter's holding of "pseudo-referendums" in occupied Ukrainian regions and any attempts by it to annex more territories.
During a press conference at a Kyiv metro station on Sunday, Zelenskyy outlined what would make Ukraine walk away from negotiations with Russia.
"If our people in Mariupol are killed, if there will be pseudo-referendums and the establishment of new pseudo-people's republics, Ukraine will not continue negotiating," Zelenskyy said.
"But our citizens, located on the temporarily occupied territories of the Kherson region and many other settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region in the east of Ukraine, they have to know, and they should not assist the occupying forces."
He added that Russia should refrain from holding referendums in occupied areas because it would not facilitate the diplomatic settlement of the conflict.
"This would definitely be the wrong step made by Russia," Zelenskyy added. "This would mean that all those meetings of the diplomatic teams were fiction and that this is just theater — with very bad actors."
Ukraine has previously accused Russia of scheduling referendums in occupied territories from Kherson to Zaporizhzhia.
According to The Kyiv Independent, Ukraine's military has received intelligence of a staged referendum in Kherson, set for April 27. In March, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister for foreign affairs, also spoke of this "fully staged" sham referendum in a tweet, disavowing the move and declaring: "Kherson is and will always be Ukraine."
During Sunday's press event, Zelenskky also said that he did not think any messages being passed to Russian leader Vladimir Putin by friendly nations as a form of mediation would work, signaling that he is open to in-person negotiations.
"This war can only be stopped by the person who started it," Zelenskyy said of Putin. "I want the war to be stopped."
"There is a diplomatic path. There is a military path. And any person of sound mind would always opt for the diplomatic path because they would know that even if it's difficult, the diplomatic path allows one to save hundreds, thousands, or even millions of lives," he added.
Ukraine has put offers on the table, saying it may be open to negotiating with Russia if corridors are opened up for soldiers and citizens alike to evacuate Mariupol. Zelenskyy has also noted that the killing of Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol could end negotiations.
Reports from Ukraine indicate that Putin may have lost interest in peace negotiations and might be looking to grab and annex as much territory as possible. A top Russian general has also voiced similar sentiments, noting that the current goal for Moscow is to "establish full control" over Ukraine's eastern and southern regions.