LVIV, Ukraine — A local government official in the northern city of Chernihiv has said a “catastrophe” is unfolding for the population as Russian troops deliberately target food stores in a near-month-long siege.
An airstrike this week destroyed a bridge over the Desna River, which was a crucial route to bring in food and other aid from Ukraine-controlled territory further south.
“Humanitarian help, medicines and food used to be delivered into the city via this bridge,” city council secretary Olexander Lomako told The Associated Press in an audio message.
He estimated that more than 130,000 people are left in the city out of a pre-war population of 285,000 but that Ukraine remains in full control.
“Chernihiv is under total control of Ukrainian army, Ukrainian flag waves here,” he said.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukraine president presses Biden, NATO for more aid as war enters second month
— UN to vote on blaming Russia for Ukraine humanitarian crisis
— Russian stock market, crushed by war, partially reopens
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners Thursday.
Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media that Ukraine exchanged 10 “captured occupiers” for 10 Ukrainian troops.
She also said that Ukraine had handed over 11 civilian Russian sailors who Ukraine had rescued from a sinking ship off Odesa, in return for 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors from a Ukrainian search and rescue boat. The boat will also be returned via Turkey, she said.
There have previously been reports of local prisoner exchanges on a smaller scale than those announced by Vereshchuk. They included a swap of nine Russian soldiers for a captured Ukrainian mayor. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday two prisoner swaps had taken place but didn’t provide details of when they happened or who was involved.
Ukraine says more than 400,000 of its citizens have been forcibly taken to Russia.
Ukrainian Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said at a briefing Thursday that the Ukrainians were taken to by Russian troops from Mariupol and other besieged Ukrainian cities. The number includes 84,000 children. She says they are held in primitive conditions with little food and water.
Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko also said that Russians are taking Ukrainians’ passports and take them to filtration camps place where Russian FSB counterintelligence agency officers conduct security checks before moving them to various distant areas in Russia.
Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents had been long deprived of information and the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia. “Russian lies may influence those who have been under the siege,” he said.
Russian officials reported Wednesday that over 384,000 Ukrainians had voluntarily traveled to Russia where they were being offered accommodation and payments.
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says Europe needs to beware of Russian efforts to destabilize the Western Balkans against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that such moves preceded Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s continued denial that it was preparing an attack.
Similar support by Russia for breakaway movements in Bosnia, for example, could endanger the integrity and sovereignty of Western Balkans nations, Baerbock said after a meeting with her Croatian counterpart, Goran Grlic Radman.
Baerbock said the European Union and its partners would do what they can to help countries now taking in large numbers of Ukrainians fleeing the war, particularly tiny Moldova, which has received the highest number of refugees per capita so far.
Germany has organized a first direct flight to bring refugees from Moldova to Frankfurt on Friday, with more to follow, she said.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution blaming Russia for humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.
Thursday’s vote on the resolution was 140-5 with only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joining Russia in opposing the measure. There were 38 abstentions, including China.
The resolution deplores Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
The vote was almost exactly the same as on the March 2 resolution the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire and withdrawal of all its forces and demanding protection for all civilians and infrastructure indispensable to their survival. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
When the result of the vote was announced, many diplomats in the General Assembly chamber burst into applause.
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria’s prime minister said Thursday that his country will recall its ambassador to Moscow for consultations in response to a succession of statements by Russia’s ambassador that have deeply offended Bulgaria’s government.
Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said the move comes on the heels of ”undiplomatic, sharp and rude” statements made by Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova.
The latest was on Monday, when Mitrofanova said in an interview with Russia 24 TV channel that “the people of Bulgaria do not support the rhetoric and actions of their government regarding Russia’s special operation in Ukraine.”
“This is why we will summon our ambassador from Russia for consultations. Usually, when a country summons its ambassador for consultations, the other country should follow suit and do the same,” Petkov said.
LONDON — Greenpeace has accused the 27-nation European Union of bankrolling Russia’s war in Ukraine by continuing to purchase oil, gas and coal from Moscow.
EU leaders have stopped short of announcing a blanket ban on Russian imports of gas and oil but the EU commission has proposed slashing the bloc’s dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds this year. The EU is in talks with the US to ensure extra deliveries of liquefied natural gas and have also started discussions with other suppliers.
“Fossil fuels have a history of being connected with conflict and war – wherever they come from, governments must phase them out as quickly as possible, not look for new suppliers,” said Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss. He criticized
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. Many EU leaders believe that an embargo on fossil fuels from Russia would hurt the bloc’s economy too hard.
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance is stepping up its defenses against chemical and nuclear weapons as concern mounts that Russia might use such weapons in Ukraine.
Stoltenberg says that NATO leaders agreed at their summit Thursday to send equipment to Ukraine to help protect it against a chemical weapons attack.
“This could include detection equipment, protection, and medical support, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management,” he told reporters after meeting in Brussels.
But Stoltenberg says the 30 NATO allies are boosting their own “preparedness and readiness.”
The leaders agreed Thursday to deploy four new battlegroups, which usually number from 1,000-1,500 troops, to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Four other battlegroups are stationed in the Baltic States and Poland.
NATO nations are concerned that Russia’s attempt to falsely accuse them of working on chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine is part of a ruse by Moscow to create a pretext for using such arms itself.
LONDON — Britain is sanctioning 65 more companies and individuals over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The targets include Russia’s largest private bank and a woman the British government said was the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the new round of sanctions target strategic industries, banks and business elites. Among those sanctioned are Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank and Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond mining company.
The U.K. also targeted billionaires Eugene Markovich Shvidler, who has close ties to Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and Herman Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Polina Kovaleva, who was described as Lavrov’s stepdaughter, was also sanctioned as the U.K. broadens the scope of its sanctions to reach people linked to those responsible for “Russian aggression.”
LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says Russia is making arrangements to forcibly relocate thousands of civilians to Russia from the besieged port of Mariupol.
It said Thursday Russian forces had taken 6,000 Mariupol residents “to Russian filtration camps in order to use them as hostages and put more political pressure on Ukraine.”
The Foreign Ministry expressed concern for 15,000 people from a district of Mariupol under Russian control, saying Russian troops were confiscating their identity documents and insisting they traveled to Russia. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian troops of obstructing attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including by seizing bus drivers sent to collect civilians.
Ukrainian military intelligence said Thursday that Ukrainian civilians were being sent through a “filtration camp” in Russian-controlled territory then onward through southern regions of Russia and then to “economically depressed” parts of the country.
Some could be sent as far as the Pacific Ocean island of Sakhalin, Ukrainian intelligence said, and are offered jobs on condition they don’t leave for two years. The claims could not be independently verified.
Russia has said it is helping civilians evacuate from Mariupol and other cities affected by fighting. Russia claims many civilians are keen to find refuge in Russia.
BRUSSELS — NATO leaders are extending the mandate of Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for an extra year to help steer the 30-nation military organization through the security crisis sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Stoltenberg tweeted Thursday that he is “honored” by the decision of NATO leaders to extend his term until 30 September 2023.
“As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation, we stand united to keep our Alliance strong and our people safe,” he said.
The former Norwegian prime minister was named to NATO’s top civilian post in October 2014. It’s the second time that his term of office has been extended. His mandate was due to expire in September.
BRUSSELS — Group of Seven leaders have announced they are restricting the Russian Central Bank’s use of gold in transactions, while the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions targeting more than 400 elites and members of the Russian State Duma.
Previously, sanctions against Russian elites, the country’s Central Bank and President Vladimir Putin did not impact Russia’s gold stockpile, which Putin has been accumulating for several years. Russia holds roughly $130 billion in gold reserves, and the Bank of Russia announced Feb. 28 that it would resume the purchase of gold on the domestic precious metals market.
White House officials said Thursday the move will further blunt Russia’s ability to use its international reserves to prop up Russia’s economy and fund its war against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced more sanctions targeting 48 state-owned defense companies, 328 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower parliament, and dozens of Russian elites. The Duma as an entity was also named in the new sanctions.
The G-7 and the European Union also announced a new effort to share information and coordinate responses to prevent Russia from evading the impact of sanctions that western nations have levied since the Feb. 24 invasion.
WASHINGTON — A White House official says the U.S. is trying to help its Eastern European allies by taking in up to 100,000 of the 3.5 million Ukrainians refugees who have fled Russia’s invasion of their country.
Among the first Ukrainians refugee coming to the U.S. will be those who have family already in the United States, senior Biden administration officials said in a conference call with reporters.
U.S. refugee efforts will also focus on helping refugees who are considered particularly vulnerable following the Russian invasion, groups that include LGBTQ people, those with medical needs as well as journalists and dissidents, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the efforts ahead of their formal release.
The officials said further details of the refugee effort will be released later but they don’t expect to raise the overall cap of 125,000 refugees, from around the world, for budget year 2022 that the administration set last year in consultation with Congress.
That’s because the 100,000 Ukrainians can come in through other admission programs such as humanitarian parole, which was used to bring in thousands of Afghans following the U.S. withdrawal in August.
— By Ben Fox
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president has pleaded with NATO to provide his embattled nation with military assistance.
In a video address to the NATO summit Thursday, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs “military assistance without limitations,” as Russia is “using its entire arsenal” against the country.
Zelenskyy urged NATO to provide Ukraine with “1% of all your planes, 1% of all your tanks.” “We can’t just buy those,” Zelenskyy said. “When we will have all this, it will give us, just like you, 100% security.”
Ukraine is also in dire need of multiple launch rocket systems, anti-ship weapons and air defense systems, Zelenskyy said. “Is it possible to survive in such a war without this?,” he asked.
Zelenskyy said Russia used phosphorous bombs on Thursday morning, killing both adults and children. He reminded NATO leaders that thousands of Ukrainians have died in the past month, 10 million people have left their homes, and urged NATO to give “clear answers.”
“It feels like we’re in a gray area, between the West and Russia, defending our common values,” Zelenskyy said emotionally. “This is the scariest thing during a war — not to have clear answers to requests for help.”
Zelenskyy did not reiterate his request for a no-fly zone or ask to join NATO, according to a senior Biden administration official.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s Parliament has approved a plan to deploy up to 650 Czech service members to Slovakia as part of an multinational NATO force set up in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Parliament’s lower house approved the deployment Thursday after the upper house gave the green light last week.
The United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia will also contribute troops to the unit, expected to include up to 2,100 soldiers.
The plan is part of the NATO initiative to reassure member countries on the alliance’s eastern flank.
The alliance stationed troops in the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and Poland after the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by Russia. After Russia attacked Ukraine, NATO decided to boost its presence along the entire eastern flank by deploying forces in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
STOCKHOLM — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has invited Sweden to help rebuild his country as he marked one month of the Russian invasion during an address to the Swedish parliament.
“This is a month now,” Zelenskyy said during a speech by video link Thursday. “We have not seen a destruction of this scale since World War II.”
“Just look at what the Russian army has done to our country … A month of bombings similar to what we have seen in Syria,” Zelenskyy said, adding 10 million people have been displaced.
He called on “Swedish companies and state to come rebuild” the country.
Zelenskyy, speaking through an interpreter, also raised an alarm about the possibility of Russia using nuclear and chemical weapons.
His speech was broadcast live before members of the 349-seat Riksdagen which gave him a standing ovation.
BEIJING — China is rejecting accusations of helping Russia spread disinformation over Washington’s involvement in Ukraine, while repeating Moscow’s baseless claims about secret American biological warfare labs in Ukraine.
“Accusing China of spreading disinformation on Ukraine is disinformation in itself,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily Briefing Thursday. He said China has acted in “an objective and just manner.”
Wang claimed the international community continues to have “grave concerns” about U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, despite rebuttals from independent scientists.
China claims it is neutral in the conflict, although it maintains what it calls a limitless friendship with Russia, which it calls its “most important strategic partner.” China has refused to criticize Russia over its invasion — or even to refer to it as such — and Chinese state media repeatedly regurgitate Moscow’s false claims over the conflict.
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