What’s happening in Ukraine today and how are countries around the world responding? Read live updates on Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate will take up legislation Thursday to end normal trade relations with Russia and to ban the importation of its oil.
Both bills have been bogged down in the Senate, frustrating lawmakers who want to ratchet up the U.S. response to Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to be held accountable for what Schumer said were war crimes against Ukraine.
The trade suspension measure paves the way for U.S. President Joe Biden to enact higher tariffs on certain Russian imports.
The bill banning Russian oil would codify restrictions Biden has already put in place through executive action.
In a virtual speech to Congress last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “new packages of sanctions are needed constantly every week until the Russian military machine stops.”
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday calling for a federal government report on evidence of war crimes committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Lawmakers backed the measure amid gruesome reports of atrocities in towns around Kyiv, particularly Bucha, and new accounts of the civilian death toll in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
The legislation calls for the U.S. president to submit to Congress a report on efforts to preserve evidence related to war crimes.
Last month, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution seeking an investigation of Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes.
In his daily nighttime video address to the nation late Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to hide evidence of war crimes to interfere with the international investigation.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of trying to hide the evidence of war crimes to interfere with the international investigation.
“It seems that the Russian leadership was really afraid that the global anger over what was seen in Bucha would be repeated after what was seen in other cities,” Zelenskyy said in his daily nighttime video address to the nation late Wednesday.
“We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and cellars of territory they occupied. This is only an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more,” Zelenskyy said.
He also said thousands of people are now missing, either dead or deported to Russia.
Zelenskyy also urged Russian citizens not to be afraid to protest the war.
“If you have even a little shame about what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine, then for such Russian citizens this is a key moment: You have to demand – just demand – an end to the war,” he said.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron spoke out against Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday evening, defending himself over criticism he held multiple talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to no avail.
On Monday, Morawiecki ridiculed the French leader’s several hours of phone calls with Putin, saying that they achieved nothing.
Some fear the comments from Poland might destabilize unity of the European Union as it hopes to stand unified in the face of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
Macron told TF1 broadcaster’s evening news that he takes full responsibility for speaking to Putin “in the name of France to avoid the war and to build a new architecture for peace in Europe several years ago.”
Macron is standing for re-election in France in polls that begin Sunday.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say nearly 5,000 people were evacuated from combat areas Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 1,171 people were evacuated from the besieged Sea of Azov port of Mariupol, and 2,515 more left the cities of Berdyansk and Melitopol and other areas in the south. She said an additional 1,206 people were evacuated from the eastern region of Luhansk.
Vereshchuk and other officials have been urging residents of eastern regions to evacuate in the face of an impending Russian offensive, saying that people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions should leave for safer regions.
Donetsk region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said at least five civilians were killed and eight others wounded by Russian shelling Wednesday.
Over 10 million people, about a quarter of Ukraine’s population, have been displaced by the war, and more than 4 million of them have fled the country.
UNITED NATIONS — The United States and United Kingdom have boycotted an informal meeting of the UN Security Council called by Russia to press its baseless claims that the U.S. has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine.
The move by Russia on Wednesday was the latest of several that have led Western countries to accuse Moscow of using the UN as a platform for “disinformation” to draw attention away from its war against its smaller neighbour.
UN disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu told the council at two official Security Council meetings called by Russia on the issue last month that the United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons program in Ukraine.
“A smoke screen to draw attention away from the brutal warfare,” “irresponsible,” “dangerous” and “deplorable” were just a few of the responses by countries, including Norway, France, Ireland and Albania.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says no embargo of Russian gas is up for consideration at this point as the European Union ponders its next package of sanctions over the war in Ukraine, adding: “I don’t know if it ever will be on the table.”
Draghi told reporters Monday night that in case a gas embargo is proposed, Italy “will be very happy to follow it” if that would make peace possible.
Draghi added: “If the price of gas can be exchanged for peace … what do we choose? Peace? Or to have the air conditioning running in the summer? This is the question we must pose.”
KYIV, Ukraine – The mayor of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed during the monthlong Russian blockade, among them 210 children.
Mayor Vadym Boichenko said Wednesday that Russian forces have among other targets bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death.
Boichenko said that more than 90 per cent of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed by Russian shelling.
The Russian military is besieging the strategic Sea of Azov port, and has cut food, water and energy supplies and pummelled it with artillery and air raids. Capturing the city would allow Russia to secure a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian authorities are urging residents of eastern regions to evacuate in the face of an impending Russian offensive.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk on Wednesday called on people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to leave now “when there is still such a possibility.”
Donetsk region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that at least five civilians were killed and another eight wounded by Russian shelling Wednesday. He also urged civilians to leave for safer regions.
Over 10 million people, about a quarter of Ukraine’s population, have been displaced by the war, and more than 4 million of them have fled the country.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is saluting the international community and some of the largest corporations in the U.S. for further increasing “Russia’s economic isolation.”
Addressing thousands at the North America’s Building Trades Unions Legislative Conference at a Washington hotel on Wednesday, Biden said of the Russia-Ukraine war, “There’s nothing less happening than credible war crimes.”
The president said “responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators responsible,” and vowed that “we’re going to stifle Russia’s ability to grow for years to come.”
He said “corporate America’s stepping up for a chance,” noting that 600-plus firms have chosen to leave Russia.
MOSCOW – Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Ukraine of sabotaging a pre-agreed prisoner swap.
Speaking at a briefing, Defense Ministry official Mikhail Mizintsev claimed that Kyiv had “for a long time” blocked prisoner exchanges, including a swap set to take place Wednesday involving 251 military personnel on each side.
He alleged that the delays gave Moscow “all the reasons to suspect that Russian servicemen held in captivity are not at all well.
On April 1, representatives of the Ukrainian presidential office said Ukraine had secured the release of 86 soldiers, including 15 women, through a swap. This was confirmed by Russian officials on Wednesday.
BRUSSELS — A new U.S. commitment of Javelin missiles means the West soon will have provided Ukrainian fighters with 10 anti-tank weapons for every Russian tank in their country, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
Blinken spoke to U.S. news broadcaster MSNBC after the U.S. announced an additional US$100 million for more Javelin missiles for Ukraine. The U.S. says it has provided US$1.7 billion for Ukraine’s defence and aid since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pressing the West to provide more weapons, faster, and do more to cut off Russia from the global economy, to pressure Putin to make peace.
“In terms of what they need to act quickly and act effectively, to deal with the planes that are firing at them from the skies, the tanks that are trying to destroy their cities from the ground, they have the tools that they need,” Blinken said of Ukraine’s forces. “They’re going to keep getting them, and we’re going to keep sustaining that.”
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to call an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine but says his country will comply with Russian demands to pay for natural gas imports in rubles.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he had spoken with Putin by phone and urged the Russian leader to end the military conflict in neighbouring Ukraine. Orban said he also offered to host a conference in Hungary’s capital between the warring parties.
“I suggested that (Putin) the Ukrainian president, the French president and the German chancellor hold a meeting here in Budapest, the sooner the better,” Orban said. “It should not be a peace negotiation and not a peace settlement, because that takes longer, but an immediate ceasefire agreement.”
Orban spoke days after his Fidesz party won a fourth consecutive term leading the Hungarian government.
The right-wing nationalist leader, Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, has vehemently refused to supply weapons to Ukraine or allow their transport across the Hungary-Ukraine border. He also lobbied heavily against the EU imposing sanctions on Russian energy imports.
LARNACA, Cyprus — Russian “disinformation” about its war against Ukraine needs to be exposed, including on Russia’s “war crimes,” a U.S. State Department official said on a visit to Cyprus Wednesday.
Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland said Russian “lies” have evolved to the point of blaming Ukrainians for actions by Russian forces, including “the war crimes we see on the ground.”
“So we all have an interest in exposing Russian disinformation, ensuring our citizens have the truth and ensuring that Russian citizens also (have the truth) … despite the Iron Curtain that Putin has put down over that,” Nuland said.
Nuland was in Cyprus as part of a five-nation tour aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and rallying support for Ukraine.
WASHINGTON — A small number of Ukrainian troops in the United States since last fall for military schooling have been trained on new drones the U.S. is sending to the country for the war with Russia, a senior defence official said Wednesday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a military assessment, said under a dozen Ukraine service members were in the U.S., and that they were taken aside for a couple days for “rudimentary” training on the Switchblade drone. The official said they may get some other basic training while in the U.S. and will be returning to Ukraine relatively soon, as initially planned.
The official also said that over the last 24 hours the U.S. has assessed that all Russian troops have now left Kyiv and Chernihiv, and gone into Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganize. The estimate is that there were a total of about 40 Russian battalion tactical groups around those two cities.
The Russians continue to refocus their efforts on the east and the Donbas region, and have at least 30 battalion groups there, the official said. A battalion tactical group usually included 800-1,000 troops, and western officials have estimated that Russia dedicated up to 130 of the battalions to the Ukraine war.
As of Wednesday, the official said that the U.S. has not seen a large influx of additional Russian troops into the east yet, but added that already Ukrainian forces are also moving and adjusting to increased Russian effort in the Donbas.
LONDON — Britain says it will end imports of Russian oil and coal by the end of the year and ban U.K. investment in Russia as part of a new set of sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The British government also announced a freeze on the assets of Credit Bank of Moscow and Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and slapped travel bans and asset freezes on eight more wealthy Russians. They included Andrey Guryev, founder of the fertilizer company PhosAgro, and Sergey Sergeyevich Ivanov, president of diamond producer Alrosa.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the measures were coordinated with Britain’s allies. The U.S. also sanctioned SberBank on Wednesday, and the European Union plans to ban imports of Russian coal.
Truss said the sanctions were aimed at “decimating (President Vladimir) Putin’s war machine” and to show “the Russian elite that they cannot wash their hands of the atrocities committed on Putin’s orders.”
Britain had already announced a plan to phase out Russian oil, which accounts for 8% of the U.K. supply. Russia is the top supplier of imported coal to the U.K., though British demand for the polluting fuel has plummeted in the past decade. Britain has not ended imports of Russian natural gas, which accounts for 4% of its supply, saying only that it will do so “as soon as possible.”
UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly plans to vote Thursday on whether to suspend Russia from the UN’s premiere human rights body.
The United States initiated the move in response to the discovery of hundreds of bodies after Russian troops withdrew from towns near Ukraine’s capital. Videos and photos of corpses of people who appeared to be civilians have sparked calls for tougher sanctions and war crimes charges against Russia, which has vehemently denied responsibility.
General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak said on Wednesday that an emergency special session on Ukraine will resume at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday, when a resolution “to suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation” will be put to a vote.
The brief resolution expresses “grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, particularly at the reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights.”
To be approved, the resolution requires a two-thirds majority of assembly members that vote “yes” or “no.” Abstentions don’t count.
ROME — Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio says a fifth package of sanctions under discussion by European Union nations will be aimed at bringing Russian President Vladimir Putin to the negotiating table to “reach a truce and then a peace accord.”
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels, Di Maio cautioned on Wednesday that if the 27-nation bloc ends up banning imports of Russian oil and gas, “it’s clear that the European Union must necessarily establish a price cap on gas.”
The Italian government has lobbied hard for such a cap to help level the playing field among countries that depend heavily on Russian energy, like Italy, and the ones that don’t.
Di Maio also called for the creation of an EU fund to help mitigate the economic impact on families and businesses if future sanctions ban Russian energy imports.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department is working with European allies and prosecutors in Ukraine to investigate potential war crimes after Russia’s invasion.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that U.S. prosecutors across the world are working to collect evidence and to “collect the information on atrocities that we have all seen in both photographs and video footage.”
He pointed specifically to photos and videos from Bucha, where Associated Press journalists have witnessed evidence of killings and torture, including charred bodies.
But Garland stopped short of calling for a tribunal like the one set up to hold Nazi leaders to account after World War II. He said U.S. prosecutors in Paris were meeting with the French war crimes prosecutor, and that other Justice Department lawyers had met with prosecutors in Europe “to work out a plan for gathering evidence with respect to Ukraine.”
WASHINGTON — The U.S. on Wednesday announced that it is sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters as part of a new batch of penalties on the country’s political and economic system in retaliation for its “war crimes” in Ukraine.
The U.S. is also imposing toughened “full blocking sanctions” on Russia’s Sberbank and Alfa Bank, two of its largest financial institutions, as well as some Russian state-owned enterprises. President Joe Biden is also signing an executive order to ban new U.S. investment in Russia.
In addition to Putin’s adult daughters, the new sanctions also target the family of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
The U.S. actions are set to be imposed in concert with toughened sanctions by its European allies.
LONDON — A western official says it will take Russia up to a month to regroup its forces for a major push on eastern Ukraine.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said Wednesday that a “reasonable estimate” would be of three to four weeks before troops that have pulled back from the area around Kyiv and northern Ukraine can be re-equipped and redeployed against the Donbas region in the east.
The official said the Russian units would “have to go through a pretty lengthy period of reconstitution and refurbishment” before they could rejoin the war.
The official said almost a quarter of the Russian ground units known as battalion tactical groups in Ukraine had been “rendered non-combat-effective” in the fighting and either withdrawn or merged with other units.
The losses and pullback of Russian troops mean “the threat posed to Kyiv is limited for the foreseeable future” from Russian ground troops, the official said.
— AP writer Jill Lawless contributed.
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Finland and Sweden would be welcomed with open arms should they decide to join the world’s biggest security alliance, as Russia’s war on Ukraine spurs public support in the two Nordic countries for membership.
Russia has demanded that the 30-nation military organization stop expanding, so the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining could anger President Vladimir Putin.
But Stoltenberg says NATO members might be prepared to provide security guarantees for the period from when the two might announce any membership bid and when their applications are approved. He declined to say what kind of protection they might get.
Once members, the two neutral Nordic nations would benefit from NATO’s collective security guarantee, which obliges all members to come to the defence of any ally that comes under attack.
Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday that he is “certain that we will find ways to address concerns they may have regarding the period between the potential application and the final ratification.”
A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE last month showed that, for the first time, more than 50% of Finns support joining the western military alliance. In neighbouring Sweden, a similar poll showed that those in favour of NATO membership outnumber those against.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government has issued a guide that instructs the public how to prepare for a crisis like war and what to do during attacks with weapons ranging from conventional to chemical and nuclear.
Posted on the Government Security Centre’s website this week, the “Be Ready — Guide for Times of Crisis and War” gives detailed instructions in written form and videos.
European Union and NATO member Poland supports neighbouring Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s military invasion and is calling for European imports of Russian energy sources to stop. The tough stance has raised concerns among some ordinary Poles.
The guide describes public warning systems in the event of shelling, advises people to stock up on water, food, medication, batteries and flashlights in case of power cuts. It also includes advice on preparing for an evacuation, seeking protection during shelling or shooting, and what to do during a chemical or nuclear attack.
The centre says it is obliged to prepare the public for various difficult scenarios and the guide is not necessarily due to the war in Ukraine. Previous guides addressed situations like floods and harsh winter weather.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger says he will join EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to travel to the Ukrainian capital to meet with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy later this week.
Heger said on Wednesday, “Tomorrow in the evening, I will travel to Kyiv.” He declined to give further details about the trip.
Von der Leyen has planned to travel to Kyiv with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Olympic gold medalist Ruta Meilutyte swam in a red-dyed pond outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius on Wednesday to protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The performance called “Swimming Through” was organized by a local art community. The pond was dyed red with environmentally friendly paint to resemble blood, according to the organizers.
“It’s crucial that we keep acting, spreading truthful information, volunteering, protesting, donating, and pressuring our governments to take action,” Meilutyte said on Instagram.
Meilutyte won gold at the 2012 Games in London as well as gold at the 2013 world championship and European titles in 2014 and 2016.
She served a two-year ban from 2019 through 2021 for failing to make herself available for out-of-competition drug testing.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he expects more images to emerge like the ones of dead civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and is assailing Russian assertions that they were staged.
Scholz told Germany’s parliament on Wednesday, “Russian soldiers carried out a massacre of Ukrainian civilians before their withdrawal” from Bucha.
He added: “The cynical assertion spread by Russia that this is staged falls back on those who spread these lies. The killing of civilians is a war crime.”
Scholz said the perpetrators and the superiors who gave them orders must be held to account. He said: “We must not forget: we have to expect that we will see more such pictures.”
The chancellor said that “the killing by the Russian military is continuing undiminished.” He renewed a call for Russian President Vladimir Putin to “end this destructive and self-destructive war immediately” and withdraw his troops from Ukraine.
GENEVA — The top ally and chief strategist of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is welcoming reports that the U.S. might impose sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughters and says Putin’s “most important confidante” should be sanctioned, too.
Leonid Volkov said Wednesday it isn’t clear what, if any, properties Putin’s daughters might own that could be seized. But he says including them on the next sanctions list would send an important message as part of the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, reported Tuesday that the Russian leader’s closest family members could be targeted by the next round of sanctions against Russia.
Speaking at the independent Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Volkov said Navalny’s anti-corruption movement also wants western countries to sanction Alina Kabayeva, who won Olympic gold in rhythmic gymnastics in 2004. SHe is reported to be romantically linked to Putin.
BERLIN — A German spokesman says the government has information which indicates that bodies found after Ukraine retook Bucha last week had been lying there since at least March 10, when Russian troops were in control of the town.
Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that the information was based on non-commercial satellite images taken March 10-18 of Yablonska Street in Bucha.
“Credible information shows that from March 7 to March 30 Russian soldiers and security forces were deployed in this area,” he said. “They were also tasked with the interrogation of prisoners who were subsequently executed.”
Hebestreit said that “targeted killings by units of the Russian military and security forces are therefore proof that the Russian President and supreme commander has at least approvingly accepted human rights abuses and war crimes to achieve his goals.”
“The assertions made by the Russian side that these are staged scenes or they aren’t responsible for the murders are therefore not tenable,” he added.
Asked about the source of this information, Hebestreit said that images reviewed by Germany “were not commercial satellite images.” He declined to elaborate.
HELSINKI — The Finnish Customs agency says three consignments seized on the border with Russia contain artworks and artifacts on loan to European institutions from several Russian art museums, with a total insurance value of around 42 million euros (US$46 million).
The seizure at the Vaalimaa border point in southeastern Finland on April 2 and April 3 came as the cargo fell under the European Union sanctions imposed on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine, Finland Customs said on Wednesday.
Finland’s Foreign Ministry says the Russian artworks, including valuable paintings and statues, are classified as luxury items subject to EU sanctions on Russia, and that Finnish Customs had no other option than to temporarily confiscate them.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Teemu Sepponen told public broadcaster YLE that Russian museums will maintain legal ownership or the artworks that “have been temporarily taken over” and are stored in a secure place in Finland.
According to Russian media, the artworks were en route to Russia after having been loan in exhibitions in several museums in Italy, including the Palazzo Reale museum in Milan and the Gallerie d’Italia museum.
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s defence ministry says authorities have detected a third naval mine drifting in the Black Sea and military teams have been dispatched to deactivate it.
The explosive device was detected on Wednesday off the coast of northwestern Kocaeli province and the area has been “secured,” the ministry said.
It was the third mine spotted in Turkish waters since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including one that forced authorities to close Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait to traffic.
Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations about the naval mines that have been threatening shipping in the Black Sea.
The Russian military has alleged that the Ukrainian military has used old naval mines to protect the coast against a Russian landing and some of them have been ripped off their anchors by a storm and left adrift. Ukraine has accused Russia of using Ukrainian mines it seized after the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and setting them adrift to discredit Ukraine.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Norway is following other European nations and expelling Russian diplomats.
Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said Wednesday that three Russian diplomats had carried out activities incompatible with their status.
The timing for the expulsions “was not accidental” and comes “at a time when the whole world is shaken by reports of Russian forces abusing civilians, especially in the city of Bucha,” Huitfeldt said in a statement.
In recent days, numerous European countries have expelled Russian diplomats and staff at Russian diplomatic missions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says negotiations with Ukraine are continuing despite allegations of war crimes against civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.
Peskov said Wednesday the talks continued with Ukraine but that the Bucha revelations — which he referred to as a “staging” — had hampered talks and there was “a fairly long road ahead.”
“The working process continues but it is going much more tough than we would like. Of course we would like to see more dynamism from the Ukrainian side, but the process has not been broken off and is continuing,” Peskov said.
Russia retreated from areas around Kyiv and the northern cities of Chernihiv and Sumy after talks with Ukraine in Turkey last week. Ukrainian troops entering the areas found evidence of widespread killings of civilians. Russia denies any war crimes and has alleged Ukraine has faked the incidents.
Since the talks in Turkey, Russia and Ukraine’s delegations have continued talks via video link.
GENEVA – The International Committee of the Red Cross says one of its teams in Ukraine has led some 500 people who fled Mariupol on their own initiative in a humanitarian convoy of buses and private cars to a safer location in the embattled country.
The ICRC says its team that has been trying to enter Mariupol since last Friday got within 20 kilometres of the besieged city, but security conditions made it impossible to enter. The convoy escorted the civilians from coastal Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia, to the north.
“This convoy’s arrival to Zaporizhzhia is a huge relief for hundreds of people who have suffered immensely and are now in a safer location,” said Pascal Hundt, ICRC’s head of delegation in Ukraine. “It’s clear, though, that thousands more civilians trapped inside Mariupol need safe passage out and aid to come in.”
He said the Geneva-based organization remains available as “a neutral intermediary” to help escort civilians out of Mariupol “once concrete agreements and security conditions allow it.”
BERLIN – The aid group Doctors without Borders says its staff have witnessed an attack on a hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
The group, known by its French acronym MSF, said Wednesday that a four-member team had just entered the city’s cancer hospital when the area came under fire.
It quoted team leader Michel-Olivier Lacharite saying Monday’s attack lasted about 10 minutes. Upon leaving the hospital the team saw several injured people and dead bodies.
Lacharite was quoted as saying the bombardment of the hospital, located in a residential area, was likely to have caused civilian casualties and called on medical facilities not to be targeted.
The group didn’t provide information on which side in the war might have carried out the attack. Under international law, attacks on medical facilities and workers are deemed war crimes.
ROME – Italian firefighters have put out a fire at a villa on Lake Como reportedly owned by the pro-Putin Russian television personality Vladimir Soloyvev, who has been hit with European Union sanctions.
An official at the Como fire station confirmed that firefighters extinguished the early morning blaze Wednesday at the villa in Menaggio, one of the picturesque towns that dot the lake in northern Italy.
He said police were investigating the fire as a suspected act of protest. The villa was under renovation and the blaze involved tires at the site, said the official who declined to be identified by name, citing official policy.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera and news agency LaPresse said the villa was owned by Solovyev, a presenter on state run Channel One.
According to the EU list of sanctions, Solovyev is “known for his extremely hostile attitude towards Ukraine and praise of the Russian government.” The EU says he was targeted because of his support for “actions or policies which undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
Italian carabinieri are investigating.
LONDON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of using hunger as a weapon of war by deliberately targeting Ukraine’s essential food supplies.
In an address to Irish lawmakers Wednesday, Zelenskyy said Russian forces “are destroying things that are sustaining livelihoods” including food storage depots, blocking ports so Ukraine could not export food and “putting mines into the fields.”
“For them hunger is also a weapon, a weapon against us ordinary people,” he said, accusing Russia of “deliberately provoking a food crisis” in Ukraine, a major global producer of staples including wheat and sunflower oil.
He said it would have international ramifications, because “there will be a shortage of food and the prices will go up, and this is reality for the millions of people who are hungry, and it will be more difficult for them to feed their families.”
Zelenskyy spoke by video to a joint session of Ireland’s two houses of parliament, the latest in a string of international addresses he has used to rally support for Ukraine.
BRUSSELS – A senior European Union official says the bloc’s member countries should think about ways of offering asylum to Russian soldiers willing to desert Ukraine battlefields.
European Council president Charles Michel on Wednesday expressed his “outrage at crimes against humanity, against innocent civilians in Bucha and in many other cities.”
He called on Russian soldiers to disobey orders.
“If you want no part in killing your Ukrainian brothers and sisters, if you don’t want to be a criminal, drop your weapons, stop fighting, leave the battlefield,” Michel, who represents the bloc’s governments, said in a speech to the European Parliament
Endorsing an idea previously circulated by some EU lawmakers, Michel added that granting asylum to Russian deserters is “a valuable idea that should be pursued.”
ATHENS, Greece – Greece has joined a list of European countries expelling Russian diplomats, with the foreign ministry announcing on Wednesday it had declared 12 diplomats unwelcome.
The ministry said it had declared 12 members of Russian diplomatic and consular missions accredited to Greece as “personae non gratae,” and that the Russian ambassador had been informed.
It did not specify which diplomats were being expelled or state a reason, beyond citing that the move was carried out in accordance with international treaties.
NICOSIA, Cyprus – Cyprus’ foreign minister says a second batch of food, medicine and other articles in combination with last month’s package that have been dispatched to Ukraine are the most humanitarian aid the east Mediterranean island nation has ever sent abroad.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said Wednesday the second batch is already on its way to the war-torn country through the European Union’s civil protection mechanism. It also includes items such as tents and sleeping bags. The total quantity of aid sent to Ukraine is about 215 metric tons (237 tons).
Citizens’ Commissioner Panayiotis Sentonas said contributions came from ordinary citizens, private businesses, the Cyprus Red Cross and the government.
BERLIN – Germany’s foreign minister has accused Russia of spreading disinformation to justify its war in Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Wednesday that “as Russian tanks destroy Ukrainian cities, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is censoring news, restricting social media, spreading disinformation and punishing those who dare to speak the truth.”
She said the aim was “both clear and cynical: to demoralize the courageous people of Ukraine while keeping Russians in the dark.”
Baerbock spoke in a video message to a conference on disinformation organized by her ministry at which participants also cited examples of Russian efforts to stoke resentment in Europe against refugees from Ukraine.
LONDON – Intel says it is suspending all its business operations in Russia, becoming the latest foreign company to leave because of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
“Effective immediately, we have suspended all business operations in Russia,” the U.S. chipmaker said late Wednesday.
The company had already suspended shipments to customers in Russia and neighbouring ally Belarus after the war broke out.
Intel said it’s working to support its 1,200 employees in Russia and has put in place “business continuity measures” to reduce disruption to its global operations, though it didn’t provide details.
“Intel continues to join the global community in condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine and calling for a swift return to peace,” it said in a statement.
BEIJING – China says the reports and images of civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are “deeply disturbing” and is calling for an investigation.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Wednesday that China supports all initiatives and measures “conducive to alleviating the humanitarian crisis” in the country and is “ready to continue to work together with the international community to prevent any harm to civilians.”
The killings in Bucha may serve to put further pressure on Beijing over its largely pro-Russian stance and attempts to guide public opinion over the war.
China has called for talks while refusing to criticize Russia over its invasion. It opposes economic sanctions on Moscow and blames Washington and NATO for provoking the war and fueling the conflict by sending arms to Ukraine.
Zhao’s remarks echo those the previous day of China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, who called for an investigation, describing the reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha as “deeply disturbing.”
VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has kissed a battered Ukrainian flag that was brought to him from the Ukrainian city of Bucha and called again for an end to the war.
Francis welcomed a half-dozen Ukrainian children up to the stage of the Vatican audience hall at the end of his Wednesday general audience and gave them each a giant chocolate Easter egg. He urged prayers for them and for all Ukrainians.
“The recent news from the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, brought testimony of new atrocities, like the massacre in Bucha, even more horrendous cruelty carried out against civilians, defenceless women and children,” the pope said. “They are victims whose innocent blood cries up to the sky and implores that this war be stopped, and that the weapons be silenced. Stop disseminating war and destruction.”
He told the crowd: “These children had to flee to arrive in a safe place. This is the fruit of war.”
The pontiff held up a grimy Ukrainian flag that he said had arrived the previous day at the Vatican from Bucha, where evidence has emerged of what appears to be intentional killings of civilians during the city’s occupation by Russian troops.
Kissing it, he said: “This flag comes from the war, from that martyred city Bucha … Let us not forget them. Let us not forget the people of Ukraine.”
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Ukrainian ambassador on Wednesday after days of the two countries’ officials trading barbs over Hungary’s position on the war.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote in a social media post on Wednesday that “we condemn military aggression, we stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty,” but that “this is not our war, so we want to and will stay out of it.”
Hungary’s government has refused to supply weapons to Ukraine or allow their transfer across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, and has fought against applying sanctions on Russian energy imports.
That position has prompted criticisms of Hungary’s government by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy, who on Monday said in an address on Ukrainian television that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban would need to choose between Moscow and “the other world” of the West.
Orban, who won a landslide victory in Hungarian elections on Sunday, in a victory speech depicted Zelenskyy as one of the opponents he and his right-wing party had defeated.
On Tuesday, Szijjarto called on Ukrainian leaders to “stop insulting Hungary and to take note of the will of the Hungarian people.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Norway is beefing up its police and intelligence work, chiefly in the northern part of the country, which has a nearly 200-kilometre land border with Russia, and wants to spend 100 million kroner (US$11.5 million) on it.
Norway’s domestic intelligence service considers the intelligence threat from Russia in the Scandinavian country to have increased, Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said Wednesday.
The money would be spent on staff and equipment. The government also wants to exert more control over Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic with a Russian settlement. Under a 1920 treaty, Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard, but other signatory countries have rights to exploit its natural resources — coal.
The governor of Russia’s Kursk region on the border with Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian border guards were fired at with mortars on Tuesday.
Governor Roman Starovoit said on the messaging app Telegram that the border guards returned fire and that there were “no casualties or destruction” on the Russian side as a result of the incident.
The Ukrainian military has not yet commented on the allegation, and it could not be independently verified.
LONDON – British defence officials say 160,000 people remain trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol, where Russian airstrikes and heavy fighting are continuing.
The Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update Wednesday that those in the city have “no light, communication, medicine, heat or water.” It accused Russian forces of deliberately preventing humanitarian access, “likely to pressure defenders to surrender.”
Repeated attempts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to get a humanitarian convoy into the southern port city have failed. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian forces stopped buses accompanied by Red Cross workers from traveling to Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of about 400,000. She said Russian troops allowed 1,496 civilians to leave the Sea of Azov port on Tuesday.
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey says it shares the pain of the Ukrainian people over the “horrifying” images that emerged from towns near Kyiv and is calling for an independent investigation.
A statement from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday stopped short, however, of blaming Russia or describing the atrocities as a war crime.
Turkey has been measured in its criticism of Russia as it tries to balance its close relations with both Moscow and Kyiv. The country has hosted officials from the two countries for talks in a bid to end the war.
“The images of the massacre … are horrifying and sad for humanity. We share the pain of the Ukrainian people,” the statement read.
“The targeting of innocent civilians is unacceptable. It is our basic expectation that the issue is subjected to an independent investigation, that those responsible are identified and are held accountable,” it said.
Scenes that have emerged from Bucha, Irpin and other Ukrainian towns liberated by Ukrainian forces have led to accusations of war crimes and demands for tougher sanctions against Russia.
The ministry statement said Turkey would continue its efforts to end such “shameful scenes for humanity and to ensure peace as soon as possible.”
LVIV, Ukraine – Russian forces overnight struck a fuel depot and a factory in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, and the number of casualties remains unclear, the region’s Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Wednesday on the Telegram messaging app.
“The night was alarming and difficult. The enemy attacked our area from the air and hit the oil depot and one of the plants. The oil depot with fuel was destroyed. Rescuers are still putting out the flames at the plant. There is a strong fire,” Reznichenko wrote.
In the eastern Luhansk region, Tuesday’s shelling of Rubizhne city killed one and injured five more, Governor Serhiy Haidai said Wednesday on Telegram.
The Russian military continues to focus its efforts on preparing for an offensive in Ukraine’s east, according to a Wednesday morning update by Ukraine’s General Staff, with the aim “to establish complete control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”
Parts of the two regions have been under control of Russia-backed rebels since 2014 and are recognized by Moscow as independent states.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Police in the Romanian capital say a car has crashed into the gate of the Russian Embassy, bursting into flames and killing the driver.
Police in Bucharest say the sedan rammed into the gate at about 6 a.m. Wednesday but did not enter the embassy compound.
Video of the aftermath showed the car engulfed in flames as security personnel ran through the area.
According to police, firefighters who arrived at the scene were able to put the fire out but the driver died at the scene.
There was no immediate information on a possible motive or other details.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said French President Emmanuel Macron has agreed to provide technical and expert support for an investigation into crimes committed by Russian troops in Bucha and elsewhere.
Zelenskyy said Tuesday that he also asked Macron to help the people trapped in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.
In an interview with Turkey’s Haberturk television in Kyiv, Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to hide its actions in Mariupol and didn’t want humanitarian aid to enter the city “until they clean it all up.”
Zelenskyy said he also expects European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to visit Kyiv soon.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces still are trying to push deep into Ukraine in the east, but the Ukrainian army is holding them back.
In his daily night-time video address to the nation late Tuesday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine was aware that Russia was gathering up reinforcements for another offensive.
Zelenskyy also said Ukraine is outnumbered both in troops and equipment.
“We don’t have a choice – the fate of our land and of our people is being decided,” he said. “We know what we are fighting for. And we will do everything to win.”
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Tuesday that he and western leaders have discussed a new round of sanctions against Russia.
“After what the world saw in Bucha, the sanctions against Russia must be commensurate with the gravity of the war crimes committed by the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said in his daily night-time video address to the nation.
In coordination with the European Union and Group of Seven nations, the U.S. will roll out more sanctions against Russia on Wednesday. That reportedly will include a ban on all new investment in the country.
Also, the EU’s executive branch has proposed a ban on coal imports from Russia in what would be the first time the 27-nation bloc has sanctioned the country’s lucrative energy industry over the war.
The coal imports amount to an estimated 4 billion euros (US$4.4 billion) per year.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official says Russian troops have allowed 1,496 civilians to evacuate the besieged city of Mariupol by private vehicle but blocked a convoy of evacuation buses from entering.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russian forces stopped the buses accompanied by workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross from travelling to the Sea of Azov port on Tuesday. The civilians who were able to leave in their personal vehicles travelled to Zaporizhzhia.
Mariupol has been besieged by Russian forces for a month, cut off from food, water and energy supplies and has faced relentless artillery barrage and air raids that killed thousands.
LVIV, Ukraine — A regional official in western Ukraine says a Russian missile hit fertilizer tanks, polluting ground water.
Ternopil region Gov. Volodymyr Trush said Tuesday that the Russian missile strike destroyed six reservoirs filled with fertilizers, resulting in an ammonia leak into ground water and the Ikva River.
Authorities are advising residents not to use water wells and stop fishing and officials have organized drinking water deliveries. Trush say the environmental situation is expected to stabilize in a few days.
MOSCOW — The Russian foreign minister is accusing Ukraine’s government of sabotaging talks on ending the fighting in Ukraine, warning that Moscow will not “play cat and mouse.”
Sergey Lavrov specifically warns that Moscow will not accept the Ukrainian demand that a prospective peace agreement include an immediate pullout of Russian troops to be followed by a referendum in Ukraine on accepting the deal.
In televised remarks Tuesday, he says that if the peace deal fails to win approval in a referendum, a new deal will have to be negotiated. He says that “we don’t want to play such cat and mouse.”
Lavrov pointed at a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine signed in Minsk, Belarus, that was brokered by France and Germany but never implemented. He says that “we don’t want a repeat of the Minsk agreements.”
He also says Ukraine is “sabotaging” the talks by stonewalling Russian demands for “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country.
The tough statements from Lavrov contrasted with optimistic signals made by both Ukrainian and Russian representatives after the latest round of talks in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29.
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