Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged a group of African leaders to ask Vladimir Putin to free political prisoners.
The presidents of Zambia, Senegal, Comoros, South Africa and Egypt’s prime minister are there, alongside senior officials from Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville.
They are expected to travel to Russia for a meeting with President Putin on Saturday in St Petersburg.
After meeting the delegation, Mr Zelenskyy reiterated that peace talks would only be possible when Russia pulls out of occupied areas.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the leaders were “here to share the African perspective” as he urged a de-escalation on both sides and said the sovereignty of countries should be respected.
The mission to Ukraine, the first of its kind by African leaders, comes in the wake of other peace initiatives such as one by China, and it carried extra importance for the African countries, as they rely in varying degrees on food and fertiliser deliveries from Russia and Ukraine.
“This conflict is affecting Africa negatively,” Mr Ramaphosa said at a news conference alongside Mr Zelenskyy and the four other African heads of state or government, after the leaders met for closed-door talks on Friday afternoon.
He and others acknowledged the intensity of the fight and the animosity between Russia and Ukraine, but insisted all wars must come to an end – and that the delegation wants to help expedite that.
“I do believe that Ukrainians feel that they must fight and not give up. The road to peace is very hard,” Mr Ramaphosa said, adding that “there is a need to bring this conflict to an end sooner rather than later”.
He also called for more prisoner swaps and said displaced children should be returned to their homes.
Many African nations have long had close ties with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union supported their anti-colonial struggles.
South Africa, Senegal and Uganda have avoided censuring Moscow for the conflict, while Egypt, Zambia and Comoros voted against Russia last year in a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Moscow’s invasion.
The mood of the news conference soured when Comoros President Azali Assoumani floated the idea of a “road map” to peace, prompting questions from Mr Zelenskyy who sought a clarification and insisted he did not want “any surprises” from their visit to Mr Putin.
Mr Zelenskyy then urged them to help free political prisoners from Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
“Would you please ask Russia to liberate the political prisoners?” Mr Zelenskyy said. “Maybe this will be an important result of your mission, of your ‘road map’.”
The Ukrainian president expressed some frustration about their trip St Petersburg, saying they would have “conversations with the terrorists” on Saturday.
However, he added that he wanted to hold a Ukraine-Africa summit and hoped to have closer relations with the continent.
Earlier, the delegation placed candles at a mass grave near St Andrew’s Church in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Bucha is the site of one of the worst-known massacres of the war, with Russian troops killing hundreds of civilians there last year.
An air raid siren also rang out during the group’s visit to Kyiv and Mayor Vitali Klitschko said an explosion had been reported in the Podilskiy district.
“Russian missiles are a message to Africa: Russia wants more war, not peace,” tweeted Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.
The Ukrainian air force said it downed six Russian Kalibr cruise missiles, six Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles and two reconnaissance drones – but did not say where they were destroyed.
Peace is not the only matter on the agenda for the African leaders, however.
Officials also want to examine how Russia can be paid for fertiliser exports it desperately needs – despite sanctions against Moscow.
They are also looking at getting more vital grain shipments out of Ukraine.
Mr Ramaphosa said after his meeting with Mr Zelenskyy that there should be an opening up of logistics for both grain and fertiliser.
The delegation appear to have split allegiances, however.
South Africa, Senegal and Uganda have avoided criticising Moscow; while Zambia, Egypt and Comoros last year voted against Russia in a UN resolution condemning the invasion.
“Life is universal, and we must protect lives – Ukrainian lives, Russian lives, global lives,” said Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema on the Ukraine visit.
“Instability anywhere is instability everywhere.”