Live updates: Russia to expel more American diplomats

The latest updates on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department says Russia has begun the process of expelling several more diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The department said it received a list of diplomats on Wednesday who have been declared “persona non grata” by the Russian foreign ministry. It didn’t say how many diplomats were affected by the order, which generally results in the expulsion of those targeted within 72 hours.

The Russian foreign ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan on Monday to protest U.S. President Joe Biden’s description of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” over the invasion of Ukraine. After that meeting, Russia warned that it was close to severing diplomatic relations with the United States, which would be an unprecedented move.

The State Department called Wednesday’s move “Russia’s latest unhelpful and unproductive.


LVIV, Ukraine — Russian troops who occupy the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson seized one of the country’s most prominent theatre directors “in a fascist manner” and took him to an unknown location, Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said.

Witnesses said nine Russian military vehicles pulled up to the home of Oleksandr Kniga early Wednesday and led him out. The Russians warned neighbors that if they came out of their homes, they would be killed, the witnesses said.

“The whole world should know about this!” Tkachenko said on Facebook.

Kniga, 62, is one of the most important and respected theater directors in Ukraine. He founded the international theater festival Melpomene of Tavria.

He was among many in Kherson who oppose the Russian occupation. On Monday, Russian troops used stun grenades and fired in the air to disperse a protest.


LVIV, Ukraine — Speaking on the eve of the NATO summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the alliance to provide “effective and unrestricted” support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian invasion.

“We ask that the alliance declare that it will fully assist Ukraine to win this war, clear our territory of the invaders and restore peace in Ukraine,” he said late Wednesday during his nightly video address to the nation.

Zelensky will speak to the NATO summit by video, the president’s office said.

He appealed to Western countries to stay united in the face what he says are Russia’s efforts to “lobby its interests” with “some partners” to bring them over to its side.

“We will see who is a friend, who is a partner and who has sold out and betrayed us,” he said in an emotional speech. “Together we should not allow Russia to break anyone in NATO, the EU or G-7, to break them and drag them to the side of war.”

Zelensky noted that Ukrainian skies are still not closed to Russian aircraft and missiles and that Ukraine hasn’t received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.

“It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth,” he said. “We have lasted six times longer than the enemy had planned, but the Russian troops are destroying our cities, killing civilians indiscriminately, raping women, kidnapping children, shooting refugees, capturing aid columns and looting.”


LONDON — Britain will send thousands more missiles to Ukraine’s government as Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Western allies to boost the supply of military aid to Ukraine.

Johnson is travelling to Brussels on Thursday for talks with NATO and leaders of the Group of Seven. He is expected to provide further details of the new British aid during the visit, including the donation of 6,000 more missiles comprising anti-tank and high-explosive weaponry.

“The United Kingdom will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine, strengthening their defenses as they turn the tide in this fight,” Johnson said.

Britain has already sent more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

The U.K. government also says it is providing some 4 million pounds (US$5.3 million) in emergency funding to the BBC World Service to counter disinformation in Russia and Ukraine.


LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on people around the world to come “to your squares, your streets” to stand with Ukraine and against the war.

He said late Wednesday in his nightly video address to his people that the war “breaks my heart, the hearts of all Ukrainians and every free person on the planet.” He called for people to visibly show their support for Ukraine starting from Thursday, exactly one month after Russia launched its invasion.

He said, “Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities. Come in the name of peace. Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life.

“Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard. Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”

Switching to Russian, Zelensky appealed to Russians “to leave Russia so as not to give your tax money to the war.” Tens of thousands of Russians already have fled Russia since the war began, fearing the intensifying crackdown at home.


A senior U.S. defence official said Wednesday that Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions between 15-20 kilometres (9-12 miles) outside Kyiv, as they continue to make little to no progress moving toward the city centre.

The official said it appears the forces are no longer trying to advance into the city and, in some cases east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have been able to push Russian soldiers further away. The official said Russian forces had been 20-30 kilometres (12-19 miles) away to the east and northeast, and are now about 55 kilometres (34 miles) away.

The official said that, instead, Russian troops are exerting more energy and effort in the eastern Donbas region, specifically in Luhansk and Donetsk. The official said the U.S. is seeing Russia prioritize the fight there, in what could be an effort to cut off any Ukrainian troops in those areas and prevent them from moving west to defend other cities.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments.

The official said the U.S. has seen some activity from Russian ships in the Sea of Azov, including what appears to be efforts to send landing ships ashore with supplies, including vehicles.

Weapons and other security assistance from the U.S. continues to move into Ukraine. The official said that the final shipments from the US$350 million package approved by the U.S. will be arriving in Ukraine in the next day or so, and the first shipments from the latest $800 million package will start arriving soon.


LVIV, Ukraine — A rush to purchase guns and train with them continued in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Wednesday.

Among the people lined up at a gun range was Ihor Oprysk, who said he hadn’t fired a gun since serving in the Soviet army.

“I bought a gun to see how it feels,” Oprysk said. “To (know how to) shoot nowadays is very important. You need to know about everything.”

Gun shop owner Zakhar Sluzhalyy said he had 700 kinds of weapons for sale before the Russian invasion and was now down to 40. Supply chain problems have made it difficult to restock the shop with guns.

“The gun (sales) boom started three or four weeks before the war began,” Sluzhalyy said.

All guns are best-sellers now, he said as an US$800 Kalashnikov rifle adapted for civilian use sat on a counter in front of him.

The war has prompted officials to streamline the monthlong permitting process for gun purchases to two days, he said.


ISACCEA, Romania — Refugees crossed the Danube River separating Ukraine and Romania by ferry on Wednesday.

A woman named Anastasia arrived in the small town of Isaccea, Romania, and said she was from Odessa. She said Russian ships had shelled the city from the Black Sea and that she and her family were headed to Constanta, a city on the Black Sea in southeastern Romania.

“It’s said to be a good city, the sea is not far away,” Anastasia said. “It feels almost like at home near the Black Sea. We’ll come back home after the war, of course. We really want to come back. We didn’t want to leave, but we have little kids and we have to think about their safety.”


KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian journalist has been killed by shelling in Kyiv on a reporting assignment.

The independent Russian news outlet The Insider said that Oksana Baulina was killed Wednesday when she was documenting the damage of a Russian shelling of the Podil district of the capital and came under a new strike. It said a civilian was also killed and two people who were accompanying Baulina were wounded and hospitalized.

The Insider said that Baulina had previously worked for the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation until she was forced to leave Russia after the organization was designated “extremist” by the authorities. It said it will continue to cover the war in Ukraine, “including such Russian war crimes as indiscriminate shelling of residential areas killing civilians and journalists.”


BRUSSELS — On the eve of a summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, European Union nations signed off on another 500 million euros (US$550 million) in military aid for Ukraine to help stave off the Russian onslaught on its territory.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell called the doubling of the EU’s military aid since the Feb. 24 beginning of the war “another sign of the EU’s support to the Ukrainian armed forces to defend their territory and their population.”

Borrell had already announced the additional injection of military aid at a March 11 summit in Versailles, but the proposal still had to go through the EU’s approval process.

Days after the start of the war, the EU agreed to spend 500 million euros on military supplies for Ukrainian forces in an unprecedented step of collectively supplying weapons to a country under attack.


BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has spoken by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and inquired about the current status of efforts by Russia and Ukraine to find a diplomatic solution.

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement Wednesday night that the chancellor urged Putin to achieve a ceasefire and an improvement of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine as quickly as possible.

After his conversation with Putin, Scholz spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and asked about his assessment of the current situation and the negotiation process. Scholz and Zelensky agreed to remain in close contact.


WARSAW, Poland — Dozens of orphans and their caregivers from Ukraine who were delayed in Poland have finally boarded a plane for the U.K., where they are being given refuge due to the Russian invasion.

Some 50 youngsters from orphanages in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro were due to fly to London on Monday before traveling on to Scotland. But they were forced to wait in a hotel due to missing paperwork from Ukraine.

Their journey was organized by Scottish charity Dnipro Kids, set up in 2005 by supporters of Hibernian Football Club in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

They were flown late Wednesday to London by Virgin Atlantic, which said on Twitter that it operated a special relief flight to take over 50 Ukrainian orphans and eight caretakers away from the conflict in Ukraine.

The effort to offer them temporary refugee status until the war is over has the support of the British government.


WASHINGTON — U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was set to meet with lawmakers Wednesday to discuss a possible freeze on Russian reserves of gold.

The move comes after several lawmakers introduced the Stop Russian GOLD Act, meant to target Russia’s ability to sell its gold reserves to avoid the impact of sanctions.

Current sanctions on Russian elites, the country’s Central Bank, President Vladimir Putin and other measures do not impact Russia’s gold stockpile, which Putin has been accumulating for several years. Russia holds roughly US$130 billion in gold reserves, according to lawmakers. The Bank of Russia announced Feb. 28 that it would resume the purchase of gold on the domestic precious metals market.

The lawmakers’ effort to impose stronger sanctions on the Russian Federation come as President Joe Biden and administration officials travel to Brussels and Warsaw this week with key allies to try to prevent Russia’s war on Ukraine from spiraling into an even greater catastrophe.

“I look forward to speaking with Secretary Yellen about our bill and what additional steps Treasury can take to stand strong against Putin,” said Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. “We cannot allow Putin to take advantage of a loophole that could help finance his unconscionable attack on Ukraine.”

The meeting between Yellen and lawmakers was originally reported by Axios.


WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden’s top national security adviser says Biden and other world leaders will agree on steps to co-ordinate enforcement of crippling economic sanctions they have imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Biden and other world leaders are set to hold a series of urgent meetings Thursday in Brussels on the month-old war.

The adviser, Jake Sullivan, says additional sanctions against Russian oligarchs and political figures will be announced. He says helping European countries reduce dependence on Russian energy will be a “substantial topic of conversation.” Announcements on that are expected Friday.

Sullivan says the United States is looking for ways to “surge” supplies of liquified natural gas to Europe to help make up for supply disruptions. The European Union imports nearly all of the natural gas needed to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying nearly half of EU gas and a quarter of its oil

Sullivan, who is accompanying Biden, spoke to reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One en route to Brussels.


KYIV, Ukraine — Air raid sirens wailed over the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv at dusk on Wednesday as the city remained under attack from Russian forces.

Barrages of shelling and loud gunfire rocked the city Wednesday, striking a shopping mall and high-rise buildings in the districts of Sviatoshynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi.

Fires from shelling injured four residents, city officials said.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 264 civilians have been killed in the capital since war broke out.


ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says Italy is setting up procedures to accept Russian scientists who want to leave their homeland.

Some 60,000 people fleeing war in Ukraine have arrived in Italy over the last weeks.

The Italian government has allocated funds to help with housing and integration programs for those who have fled due to the war, but Draghi stressed in remarks in the Italian Senate on Wednesday evening that the special assistance doesn’t only apply to Ukrainian citizens.

“There are refugees who are scientists or university professors, who could come to Italy and could benefit by scholarships, by funds and financing for research,” Draghi said.

“Among these are Russian scientists who are asking to get out. We must accept them, and I asked the (interior) minister to let them know” that they are welcome and to “even set up a telephone number they can call so the procedures to welcome these scientists can be set in motion,” the premier said.

Draghi didn’t provide any number of how many such Russians might pursue the possibility.


ODESSA, Ukraine — Dozens of volunteers filled sandbags and piled them on the back of trucks at a beach in the Black Sea port city of Odessa on Wednesday. Volunteers have been at the beach filling sandbags since the war began to build barricades around the city.

Merchant sea captain Sivak Vitaliy, 47, carried sandbags over each shoulder and said with a smile, “We win.”

The father of three daughters, Vitaliy said he had gathered clothes and other items from his apartment to donate to the war effort. With no money or anything else of value to give, he came to the beach Wednesday after learning of the volunteer effort there.

“Because they (Ukrainian army) are in their own land, they will not permit anybody to come and take their land and take their lives,” Vitaliy said. “No matter how bad the situation is in Mariupol, Kharkiv, it doesn’t matter. We will win.”


WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration has made a formal determination that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Blinken said the assessment was based on a “careful review” of public and intelligence sources since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month.

America’s top diplomat said the United States would share that information with allies, partners and international institutions tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Blinken made the announcement Wednesday in a statement released as he was traveling to Brussels with President Joe Biden for an emergency summit of NATO leaders.


LONDON — Russian Olympic athletes who participated in a rally supporting President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine are facing a backlash, with one losing a sponsorship deal and facing a disciplinary investigation.

Medalists from cross-country skiing, gymnastics, figure skating and swimming gathered on stage at the Luzhniki Stadium on Friday as part of the concert and entertainment program around Putin’s speech.

Olympic champion swimmer Evgeny Rylov is under investigation from the sport’s governing body, known as FINA, for attending the event.

Rylov also lost his endorsement deal with swimwear manufacturer Speedo because of his involvement in the pro-Putin rally.

Most of the athletes, including Rylov, were pictured wearing jackets with a “Z” on the chest at the rally. The letter isn’t part of the Russian alphabet but has become a symbol of support for Russian troops after it was used as a marker on Russian armored vehicles operating in Ukraine.

Other Olympic medalists athletes in attendance included figure skaters Victoria Sinitsina, Nikita Katsalapov, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov; and rhythmic gymnastic twin sisters Dina and Arina Averina.


PARIS – Ukrainian refugees lined up outside a welcome centre in Paris on Wednesday that’s providing food and temporary shelter to people as some await transfer to permanent shelters in Brittany in northwestern France.

The centre is run jointly by Paris authorities and several French NGOs. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday that 26,000 Ukrainian refugees had arrived in the country since Feb. 24. While some have remained in France, others have traveled to Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, Castex said.

European Union member countries have granted Ukrainians a six-month temporary protection visa, renewable up to a maximum of three years. This Temporary Protection Directive, implemented for the first time in the EU, includes a residence permit, access to the labor market and housing, medical assistance, and access to education for children.

Hayko, a 30-year-old woman from Lviv, arrived in Paris with her friend, Tanja, 31, and their three children after a lengthy trip from Ukraine through Moldova and Romania. They said they left Lviv a few days after the Russian invasion began. They plan to live for now with Tanja’s sister-in-law, who lives in Paris.

“I have a 7-year-old son,” Hayko said. “My husband is in Ukraine. He is protecting our country. We don’t want to stay here for the rest of our lives. I hope it will only be for a short period of time.”

She continued: “It’s better than at home (in Ukraine) as the children were very nervous because of the sound of sirens, because of this long journey (from Ukraine to France). Here it’s very peaceful for them. It’s better here.”

Asked what her hopes were for Ukraine, Tanja said, “We hope it will remain free, our parents and husbands will be alive and we can go back home soon.”


MARIUPOL, Ukraine – Ukrainian National Guard’s Special Forces Unit Azov has released a drone video showing the widespread destruction of the coastal city of Mariupol from Russian shelling and bombardments.

The 45-second video shows a burned-out city with smoke rising from some buildings. Soot and ash cover the ground and buildings stretching to the Sea of Azov.


UNITED NATIONS — Ukraine’s UN ambassador is urging all nations that stand against Russia’s invasion to vote for a UN resolution on the humanitarian consequences of its aggression, saying this will send a powerful message aimed at helping people caught in the conflict and ending Moscow’s military action.

Russia’s UN envoy countered that the UN General Assembly, which is considering the resolution, is just “another political anti-Russian show, set this time in an allegedly humanitarian context” and urged its 193 member nations to vote against it and support a rival South African draft resolution that focuses solely on humanitarian issues with no “political assessment.”

Ukraine’s Sergiy Kyslytsya and Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia spoke at the start of Wednesday’s emergency special session of the General Assembly to consider the rival resolutions on the humanitarian impact of the war, which will mark its one-month anniversary on Thursday. Russia has also called for a vote later Wednesday in the UN Security Council on its own humanitarian resolution, which has been widely criticized for not referring to its invasion of Ukraine.

Kyslytsya said the Ukraine-backed assembly resolution, drafted by two dozen diplomats from all parts of the world and co-sponsored by nearly 100 countries, focuses on “the urgent need to elevate the humanitarian suffering on the ground and immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation.”

Nebenzia warned that adoption of that resolution “will make a resolution to the situation in Ukraine more difficult.” That’s because it will likely embolden Ukrainian negotiators and “nudge them to maintaining the current unrealistic position, which is not related to the situation on the ground, nor to the need to tackle the root causes” of Russia’s military action, he said.


WASHINGTON – A senior NATO military officer says the alliance estimates that Russia has suffered between 30,000 and 40,000 battlefield casualties in Ukraine through the first month of the war, including between 7,000 and 15,000 killed. It is NATO’s first public estimate of Russian casualties since the war started Feb. 24.

The military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO, said the estimate of the number killed is based on a combination of information from the Ukrainian government, indications from Russia, and open-source information.

The U.S. government has largely declined to provide public estimates of Russian or Ukrainian casualties, saying available information is of questionable reliability.

The NATO military officer, in a briefing from the alliance’s military headquarters in Belgium on Wednesday, said the estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian casualties is derived from what he called a standard calculation that in war an army suffers three wounded soldiers for every soldier killed. The casualties include killed in action and wounded in action, as well as those taken prisoner or missing in action, the officer said.

Associated Press Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.


BRUSSELS – The head of the European Union’s executive arm says she will discuss with President Joe Biden the possibility to secure extra deliveries of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. for the 27-nation bloc.

Speaking at the European Parliament ahead of Biden’s visit to Europe, Ursula von der Leyen said she will discuss with him “how to prioritize LNG deliveries from the United States to the European Union in the coming months.”

The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.

The bloc is looking at ways to end its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying suppliers. Von der Leyen said the EU is aiming at having a commitment for additional supplies from the U.S. “for the next two winters.”


PARIS – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on French multinationals based in Russia to leave Russia and stop indirectly supporting the war against Ukraine.

In a 20-minute virtual speech to the French parliament, the wartime leader mentioned several French companies such as carmaker Renault, supermarket chain Auchan and home improvement giant Leroy Merlin. He said they “must stop being sponsors of Russia’s war machine.”

The companies did not have any immediate comment. Zelensky used the address to French MPs to rally further European support for his war-torn country’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression. He called on France for assistance with arms, equipment and more planes “so that liberty does not slip away,” according to a French translation of the 20-minute speech.


BERLIN – Environmental campaigners staged a protest early Wednesday off Germany’s Baltic coast against oil imports from Russia.

Activists from the group Greenpeace painted the words “oil fuels war” in large letters onto the side of the oil tanker Stamos as it passed the island of Fehmarn.

German news agency dpa reported that the tanker was carrying 100,000 tons of crude oil from the Russian port of Ust-Luga to Rotterdam.

Greenpeace has called on Germany and other European countries to cease buying fossil fuels from Russia, payments for which the group says help finance the war in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly dismissed calls to boycott Russian energy supplies, saying it would cause significant damage to Germany’s economy.


PARIS – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his “true leadership” over the war during a virtual address from Kyiv to the French parliament Wednesday.

Zelensky used the address to French MPs via video link to rally further European support for his war-torn country’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression. He called on France for assistance with arms, equipment and more planes “so that liberty does not slip away,” according to a French translation of the 20-minute speech.

Using often-emotive language, the Ukrainian leader told French lawmakers “you know who the guilty one is” that “buries his head in the sand.”

The speech comes one day after French President Emmanuel Macron talked with both Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the terms of a potential cease-fire.

Though they reached “no agreement,” according to the French presidency, Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”

Zelensky has been a regular fixture in recent weeks in international lawmaking chambers, having spoken Japan’s parliament earlier Wednesday, and previously to the US Congress and the German Parliament, to harness international help.

The Kremlin says President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for liaison with international organizations has resigned.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Anatoly Chubais had submitted his resignation.

Peskov wouldn’t say if Chubais has left the country, saying it’s his private business.

Chubais, the architect of Russia’s post-Soviet privatization campaign, has served at a variety of top official jobs during the past three decades.

His latest job envisaged contacts with international organizations to pursue the goals of sustainable development – a broad portfolio that allowed him to maintain contacts with top foreign officials and organizations.

After Russia began its last month, Chubais posted a photo of Boris Nemtsov, a leading Russian opposition figure who was shot dead near the Kremlin in 2015. Even without a caption, it was seen as a powerful statement from a Moscow insider.

Chubais’ resignation appears to reflect growing divisions among top Russian officials over the military operation in Ukraine.


LIMA, Peru – A top Ukrainian cyber defence official says a steady stream of Russian cyberattacks continues, much of it intending to disrupt communications, with refugee assistance and other humanitarian organizations being targeted.

Victor Zhora, deputy chair of Ukraine’s special communications service, told reporters in an online news conference Wednesday that state-backed Russian hackers were in some cases using phishing campaigns to try to get access to accounting and other systems of European charities helping Ukrainian refugees.

Zhora said hackers “financed and basically owned by the Russian federation” were also attacking state and private organizations distributing humanitarian supplies, moving with an alacrity characteristic of a military.

He did not specify the humanitarian targets by name. The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked on Feb. 24.

Zhora said that despite repeated efforts by the Russian military to disrupt Ukrainian communications – with bombs, missiles and cyberattacks – very few regions of the country lack connectivity.

In hard-hit regions in particular where fixed telecoms links have been severed, Zhora said uplinks donated by Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service have been providing “priceless” assistance.


MEDYKA, Poland – A Ukrainian refugee described the horrid conditions in the eastern city of Kharkiv after crossing the border at Medyka, Poland, on Wednesday.

“The situation in Kharkiv is terrible,” said Natalia Savchenko, 37. “People are being killed day and night. They are shooting with everything they have. There is almost no one left in Kharkiv. There is no electricity, water. The city is almost empty. They do not supply children with medicine and food. They are just killing people.”

Savchenko said the military helped her escape by train.

“It is horrible, so horrible,” she said. “We left, but in the district where we lived, my grandmother stayed, my mum and my husband. Today our district was bombed, Shevchenkivsky district. We are running away.”


BRUSSELS – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military organization is setting up new multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe to deter Russia from launching an attack on any of its members.

The battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, will be set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Stoltenberg says they will remain in place “as long as necessary.”

Speaking Wednesday on the eve of a summit of NATO leaders, Stoltenberg said that Russia’s war on Ukraine means “a new normal for our security and NATO has to respond to that new reality.”

Stoltenberg says the leaders are likely to agree to send more assistance to Ukraine, including “equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.”

NATO’s 30 allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fears that Moscow might want to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg says that “any use of chemical weapons would totally change the nature of the conflict,” and would have “far-reaching consequences” for Russia. He declined to elaborate.


PRZEMYSL, Poland – Ukrainian refugees continued to arrive at the train station in the border city of Przemysl, Poland, on Wednesday.

Kateryna Mytkevich, 39, arrived from Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.

“We endured (the fighting), trapped at home for three weeks,” Mytkevich said. “We hoped the war would pass us by. But then the heavy artillery shifted to our city and bombs began to fall. Two schools in the city center were blown up, there were small children there. It’s so difficult. I don’t understand why we have such a curse.”

Wiping tears from her face, Mytkevich added, “I had to flee because everything was destroyed. There was no gas, no electricity, no water in the city. Our children are dying. My son had to stay in Chernihiv, I could only take my daughter with me. It hurts a lot. Now we have nowhere to go, our whole neighborhood is destroyed. Everything is completely destroyed.”

Volodymr Fedorovych, 77, also fled Chernihiv.

“There was nothing, there wasn’t even bread,” Fedorovych said. “Bread was brought in every three days. One day I was standing in line for bread, but then decided to go get some tea. I had just walked away when they dropped the bomb (on people in line). Apparently it was a helicopter, we didn’t even hear the whistle (of the bomb falling). Sixteen people died and 47 were taken by ambulance, some of them without arms and legs. Horrible. There were 100 people in that queue.”


BERLIN – A senior German official says the country’s intelligence agencies have joined the hunt for assets belonging to Russian oligarchs who have been slapped with international sanctions.

The official, who briefed journalists on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday authorities at several levels are tasked with determining which assets can be frozen in Germany.

He said this includes the federal customs agency and intelligence agencies, without elaborating.

Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok says his country’s diplomats are returning to Ukraine to open an embassy in the western town of Uzhorod.

Korcok has called the move “an important step for the diplomatic service.”

Uzhorod is located near the border with Slovakia.

He said that in addition to diplomatic activities, the diplomats will be helping at the border where thousands of Ukrainian refugees arrive every day and report about the situation in Ukraine.

Slovakia’s closed the embassy in Kyiv on March 4 due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Czech Republic has also said it is preparing to open an embassy in Uzhorod, which has not been targeted by the Russian troops.


KYIV, Ukraine – The mayor of Kyiv says Russian forces have killed 264 civilians, including four children, in the Ukraine capital since the war started last month.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Wednesday that battles were being waged in the area of Liutizh, a village 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of Kyiv and that Ukrainian forces have wrested back control of areas to the north-west and the north-east of the city, including most of Irpin.

He said the western town of Makariv has also been taken back by Ukranian troops.

Klitschko spoke to reporters in the capital Kyiv in a central park overlooking the city. Explosions and gunfire could be heard in the background as he spoke.


WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department says a U.S. Embassy official has visited with WNBA star Brittney Griner, who remains detained near Moscow, to check on her condition.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN on Wednesday that the official found Griner “to be in good condition.” Price did not identify the official who had been granted consular access to Griner, something the United States had been demanding.

Griner was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that a court had extended Griner’s pretrial detention to May 19.

Price says the U.S. “will do everything we can to see that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”

A member of a Russian state-backed prison monitoring group visited with Griner last week at the pretrial detention facility outside Moscow where she’s being held and said the Phoenix Mercury star was faring well behind bars.


PARIS – In his latest address to a foreign parliament, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is to speak to French lawmakers on Wednesday.

The address, via video link from his office in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, comes one day after French President Emmanuel Macron talked with both Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin about the terms of a potential cease-fire.

Though they reached no agreement, according to the French presidency, Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”

Zelensky hrecently addressed the U.S. Congress and the German and Japanese parliaments, among others, to harness international help.


BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia’s pro-Russian president is accusing the West of double standards, comparing Moscow’s attacks against Ukraine with the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.

The Western military alliance launched a 78-day air war against Serbia in March 1999 to stop a bloody crackdown by Serbia’s armed forces on majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who were seeking independence.

The Serbian troops were forced to leave the former province which declared independence in 2008, something both Belgrade and Moscow do not recognize.

The NATO bombing is a key argument used by Serbian nationalists to justify and support the current Russian attacks against Ukraine.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that if the West is so brave and moral, “why don’t you carry out an aggression against Russia … why don’t you (militarily) protect Ukraine?” he said on state-controlled Pink TV.

“Morality is an important category in politics, but you can’t stick to it one day and forget about it the next.”

Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia under Vucic has established close political and military ties with the Kremlin.

Serbia voted in favor of a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine but is the only European nation that has refused to join international sanctions against the Kremlin.


WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden has left the White House for a four-day trip to Europe, where he will meet with key allies to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As he departed Wednesday, Biden told reporters the possibility that Russia could use chemical weapons in the Ukraine war is a “real threat.”

He said he would say more on the subject directly to the leaders he was meeting with Thursday.

There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its invasion stalls amid logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Biden’s first stop is Brussels, where he’ll attend a hastily arranged emergency NATO summit. He will also participate in meetings of the European Union and the Group of Seven, which includes the world’s richest democracies.

He’ll travel to Warsaw on Friday to meet Polish officials.


LVIV, Ukraine — Russian ally Belarus says it is expelling Ukrainian diplomats and closing a consulate.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz didn’t specify Wednesday how many diplomats would have to leave but said a maximum of five could remain.

Glaz said, “This step is aimed at ending the undiplomatic activities of several staff of the Ukrainian foreign missions.”

Belarus has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging area for its forces invading Ukraine.

The announcement comes on the same day as Poland expelled Russian diplomats.


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has again prayed for peace in Ukraine and added a personal note to explain his aversion to war: He said his Italian grandfather, a First World War veteran, taught him to hate war in all its forms.

Francis prayed for the victims of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, including the “many soldiers who fell on both sides,” during his weekly general audience Wednesday. He urged government leaders to understand that buying and producing weapons is not the solution.

He offered a personal testimony, saying he learned “hatred and anger toward war” from his grandfather who fought in northern Italy during the First World War and conveyed his experiences to his grandson.

Francis on Friday is expected to preside over a special prayer for peace by consecrating both Ukraine and Russia to the Virgin Mary. The Vatican on Wednesday released translations of the consecration prayer in 30 languages in hopes that the faithful around the world will join him.


BRUSSELS — The European Commission has announced measures to help European Union countries provide the millions of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with access education, health care, accommodation and work.

The United Nations says more than 3.5 million people — mainly women and children — have fled Ukraine in the four weeks since Russian tanks rolled across the border and Moscow began bombarding towns and cities.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said Wednesday the new raft of measures aims to build on a “Temporary Protection Directive” issued earlier this month and on initiatives happening across Europe to welcome refugees.

The protection system, established in 2001 in response to the fallout from the 1990s Balkan wars but never previously used, streamlines entry procedures for Ukrainians arriving in the EU and outlines entitlements such as employment and housing.

Wednesday’s announcement provides support for EU countries in meeting those commitments.


ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says the European Union must engage with China to make sure it is working actively to mediate peace in Ukraine and does not show any support for Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.

Draghi told Parliament on Wednesday that the EU summit with China on April 1 must underline the bloc’s expectations that Beijing will be a constructive and authoritative player for peace.

Draghi said: “It’s fundamental that the EU is compact in keeping open spaces for dialogue with Beijing so that it contributes in a constructive way to the international mediation effort.”

He added: “We must repeat our expectations that Beijing abstains from actions supporting Moscow and participates actively and authoritatively in the peace effort.”


MOSCOW — The Russian Central Bank says it is reopening trading on the Moscow stock exchange for the first time since it was closed nearly a month ago.

Trading will resume Thursday but only for 33 stocks of large companies listed on the IMOEX index. There will be a ban on short-selling.

The exchange resumed trading in government debt earlier this week.


LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president is urging Japan and other Asian countries to step up sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

In an address by video link to Japan’s parliament on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Japan to place a national embargo on trade with Russia. He also asked Japanese companies to pull out of the Russian market.

“I call on Asian states and your partners to unite their efforts so that Russia seeks peace and stops the tsunami of its brutal invasion of our state,” Zelensky said in the address.

He told the Japanese lawmakers that over the past 28 days, “thousands of people, including 121 children” were killed in Ukraine and about nine million were forced to leave their homes.

“Our people cannot even adequately bury their murdered relatives, friends and neighbors. They have to be buried right in the yards of destroyed buildings, next to the roads,” Zelensky said.


WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Internal Security Agency says it is expelling 45 Russian intelligence officers using diplomatic status as cover to stay in country.

The agency said Wednesday it is asking the Foreign Ministry to urgently expel the Russians, describing them as a danger to Poland’s security.

The agency also said it detained a Polish citizen on suspicion of espionage on behalf of the Russian secret services. The suspect worked in Warsaw’s registry office and had access to city archives.

“Given the nature of documents kept by those units, the activity of the suspect posed a threat to both the internal and external security of Poland,” the agency said in a statement.


BERLIN — Four environmental think tanks say the European Union can stop its imports of Russian gas by 2025, allowing the bloc to end its dependence in the medium term on a key energy source that’s been called into question amid the war in Ukraine.

A report published Wednesday by Ember, E3G, the Regulatory Assistance Project and Bellona concludes that ramping up solar and wind power, reducing demand and electrification can replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports within three years.

It suggests that the remaining shortfall can be met through existing gas infrastructure, without the need to build new terminals for LNG imports that some countries are now eyeing.


GENEVA — The Swiss attorney general’s office says it is collecting evidence from Ukraine refugees on possible international crimes or embargo violations stemming from Russia’s war with Ukraine.

The attorney general’s office said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Wednesday that it’s in contact with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which monitors possible sanctions violations, to see if any violations of embargo law have been committed and merit investigation.

The Swiss government has joined the European Union in imposing sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals and entities in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Switzerland is not part of the EU.

The Swiss Bankers’ Association has estimated the assets of Russian clients deposited in Swiss banks total between 150-200 billion Swiss francs (about US$160-$215 billion).

No criminal proceedings in Switzerland have yet been launched in connection with the war.


GENEVA — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived in Moscow for talks at the Russian foreign and defence ministries on humanitarian issues caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Peter Maurer, the ICRC president, was expected Wednesday to take up issues such as prisoners of war, the conduct of hostilities and the delivery of aid.

“The devastation caused by the conflict in recent weeks, as well as eight years of conflict in Donbas, has been vast,” Maurer said in a statement, referring to the region of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists.

“There are practical steps guided by international humanitarian law that the parties must take to limit the suffering,” Maurer said.

Maurer traveled to Ukraine last week. While in Moscow, he was also expected to meet with the head of the Russian Red Cross, which has been helping people who have fled eastern Ukraine into Russia.


MOSCOW — The Russian parliament has passed a law expanding military veteran status to troops taking part in the invasion of Ukraine.

Veteran status brings various benefits, such as monthly payments, tax breaks, discounts on utilities and preferential access to medical treatment, among other things.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed the law on Wednesday, four weeks since the start of the war in Ukraine, with the three required readings taking place at once.


LONDON — Britain’s defence ministry says the war in northern Ukraine is largely “static,” with Russian forces trying to reorganize before resuming a large-scale assault.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, U.K. defence officials say “Russian forces are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east of the country as they advance from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south.”

In an update posted Wednesday on social media, Britain’s defence ministry said Russian troops in the south are trying to circumvent the city of Mykolaiv as they push west towards Odessa, a key Black Sea port that has so far been spared major attack.


PARIS — French authorities say a convoy of rescue vehicles and emergency equipment is to leave Paris on Wednesday to be provided to Ukraine’s emergency service.

A statement from the French foreign and interior ministries says 100 firefighters and rescue staff will dispatch the vehicles and equipment to Romania, at the border with Ukraine. They include 11 fire engines, 16 rescue vehicles, and 23 trucks transporting 49 tons of health and emergency equipment.

It comes in addition to a convoy of 21 new ambulances, which left on Tuesday.

The statement says the operation is meant to support rescuers from Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Service “mobilized day and night to provide relief to victims.”


BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has reiterated that his country will not support a no-fly zone over Ukraine or send troops to intervene in the war launched by Russia.

Scholz told German lawmakers on Wednesday that “NATO will not become a party to the war. We are in agreement on this with our European allies and the United States.”

Still, the German leader said Ukraine could rely on Germany’s help, citing the financial and military aid already provided, the harsh sanctions on Russia and the reception of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

Scholz said Germany would not support a boycott of Russian oil, coal and gas, but is seeking to wean itself off those imports by seeking out other suppliers and ramping up the use of renewable energy.


LVIV, Ukraine – The Kyiv city administration says Russian forces shelled the Ukrainian capital overnight and early Wednesday morning, damaging buildings in two districts.

Kyiv authorities said on Telegram that a shopping mall, some private sector buildings and high-rises came under fire in the districts of Sviatoshynskyi and Shevchenkivskyi.

Four people sustained injuries.


LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge in the encircled city of Chernihiv, the region’s governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said.

The destroyed bridge had been used for evacuating civilians and delivering humanitarian aid. It crossed the Desna River and connected the city to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Chernihiv authorities said Tuesday that the encircled city has no water or electricity and called the situation there a humanitarian disaster.

Explosions and bursts of gunfire shook Kyiv on Wednesday morning, and heavy artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russian forces have sought to encircle and take the capital’s suburbs.


LVIV, Ukraine — Russian military forces destroyed a laboratory at the Chornobyl nuclear plant that worked to improve management of radioactive waste, the Ukrainian agency responsible for the Chornobyl exclusion zone said Tuesday.

The Russian military seized the decommissioned plant at the beginning of the war last month. The exclusion zone is the contaminated area around the plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown in 1986.

The state agency said the laboratory, built at a cost of 6 million euros with support from the European Commission, opened in 2015.

The laboratory contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world,” the agency said in its statement.

Radionuclides are unstable atoms of chemical elements that release radiation..

Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said Monday that radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.


WASHINGTON — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Russia’s invasion has stalled.

Asked on CNN what Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved in Ukraine, he said: “Well, first of all not yet. He hasn’t achieved yet.” But he insisted the military operation was going “strictly in accordance with the plans and purposes that were established beforehand.”

Peskov reiterated that Putin’s main goals were to “get rid of the military potential of Ukraine” and “ensure that Ukraine changes from an anti-Russian centre to a neutral country.”


LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces not only blocked a humanitarian convoy trying to reach besieged Mariupol with desperately needed supplies on Tuesday but took captive some of the rescue workers and bus drivers.

He said the Russians had agreed to the route ahead of time.

“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling, or deliberate terror,” Zelensky said in his nighttime video address to the nation.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians seized 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles. She said their fate was unknown. The figures couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

More than 7,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday, but about 100,000 remain in the city “in inhuman conditions, under a full blockade, without food, without water, without medicine and under constant shelling, under constant bombardment,” Zelensky said.

Before the war, 430,000 people lived in the port city on the Sea of Azov.

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