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AP: International

More than 6M have fled Ukraine, UN says
May 12, 2022
By The Associated Press undefined
BERLIN — The U.N. refugee agency is reporting that more than 6 million people have now fled Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
Geneva-based UNHCR also said Thursday that the number of refugees who have returned back to Ukraine, either partially or fully, has reached more than 1.6 million. It says that number reflects cross-border movements, and doesn’t necessarily indicate “sustainable” returns. The agency says it’s too early to draw conclusions about “definitive trends” on returns.
Matthew Saltmarsh, an agency spokesman, also said Thursday that a total of 2.4 million people who have left Ukraine have moved beyond Ukraine’s immediate border countries which have taken in the lion’s share of refugees from the country. Poland alone has registered more than 3.2 million people who fled Ukraine. It and other European Union member countries have open borders, making tracking where people go a complex endeavor.
On Tuesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, tweeted that the number of refugees from Ukraine had reached the same 5.7 million figure as the tally from Syria’s 11-year war, which previously was the source of the world’s biggest refugee crisis.


KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Finland’s leaders in favor of applying for NATO membership
— ‘ This tears my soul apart ‘: A Ukrainian boy and a killing
— Protesters vent fury at French company for staying in Russia
— Ukrainian circus comes to town, and stays in Italy, amid war
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. children’s agency says the war in Ukraine is a “child rights crisis” where education is under attack and nearly 100 youngsters have been killed in just the last month.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that more children have been injured, millions have been displaced and schools continue to be attacked and used for military purposes.
The school year came to a standstill after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and as of last week at least 15 of 89 UNICEF-supported schools in the country’s east have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting, he said.
In mid-March, over 15,000 schools resumed education in Ukraine mostly through remote learning or in-person hybrid options, he said.
“It is estimated that 3.7 million children in Ukraine and abroad are using online and distance learning options,” Abdi said.
But he stressed that there are still “enormous obstacles” to education including availability for learning, resources, language barriers and movements of children and their families.
“Ultimately, children need an end to this war — their futures hang in the balance,” Abdi said.


KYIV, Ukraine — Talks are underway between Kyiv and Moscow on the possible evacuation of 38 “severely wounded” Ukrainian troops from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy PM said Thursday afternoon.
The steel mill is the only remaining stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined port city, and is now surrounded by Russian forces.
“Currently, we are negotiating only about 38 severely wounded fighters, who cannot stand on their own. We are working step by step,” Iryna Vereshchuk wrote in a public post on the Telegram messenger app.
She said that Kyiv hoped to exchange the soldiers for 38 “significant” Russian prisoners of war, before moving on to the next stage of the negotiations. She did not specify what this next stage would concern, but said that there were no negotiations “on the exchange of 500 or 600 people.”
Earlier on Thursday, an official at the Ukrainian President’s Office said that Kyiv hoped to extract “half a thousand” wounded Ukrainian fighters from Azovstal.
Members of the Azov Regiment holed up inside the plant have repeatedly refused to surrender, citing fears of being killed or tortured. On Tuesday, Ukrainian officials said that “more than a thousand” Ukrainian troops, many of them injured, remained at Azovstal.


KYIV, Ukraine — Four Russian air strikes targeted the Kremenchuk oil refinery, in Ukraine’s central Poltava region, on Thursday, the acting regional governor said that same day.
“Four ‘arrivals’ again at the Kremenchuk refinery. Explosions were also heard in the Poltava region,” Dmytro Lunin wrote in a Telegram post, adding that more details would follow.
In early April, Lunin had said that the Kremenchuk refinery – Ukraine’s only remaining fully functional facility of its kind at the time — was no longer operational following a Russian attack. Moscow claimed to have targeted the refinery again at the end of the month, and to have destroyed further fuel production and storage facilities.


VIENNA — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö Thursday, the same day Finland’s leaders announced the country plans to apply for NATO membership, the German chancellery said Thursday afternoon.
“Chancellor Scholz welcomed today’s statements by the President and Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin, in which both advocate their country’s immediate accession to NATO, and assured Finland of the Federal Government’s full support on this path,” Scholz’s office said in a statement.
Finland’s announcement paves the way for a historic expansion of the alliance that could deal a serious blow to Russia as its military struggles with its war in Ukraine.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border with Russia.


KYIV, Ukraine — About 3,000 Mariupol civilians are being detained in prisons controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s industrial east, the country’s human rights chief says.
Lyudmyla Denysova claimed on social media Thursday that Kyiv is aware of at least two prisons set up in the eastern Donetsk region, one in the regional capital of Donetsk and another in Olenivka, a suburb 20 kilometers southwest of the city center.
She claimed that authorities in Kyiv had received reports of people being “tortured, interrogated, threatened with execution and forced to cooperate,” and others disappearing after interrogations.
She also alleged that detainees were being kept in “inhuman conditions,” with inadequate access to bathrooms and no space to lie down.
She claimed that some captives had been released after 36 days, after signing unspecified documents, but did not provide more details. Ukrainian authorities are calling on the U.N. to intervene.
More than 100,000 civilians remain in the ruined port city of Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of about half a million. Ukrainian authorities have previously claimed that “thousands of Ukrainians” had been forcibly taken to Russia.
Troops from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment continue to hold out at the Azovstal steelworks, the last bulwark of Ukrainian resistance in the city.


MOSCOW — Russia has warned that it will have to take unspecified “military-technical” steps in response to Finland’s decision to join NATO.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Finland’s accession to NATO will “inflict serious damage on Russian-Finnish relations, as well as stability and security in Northern Europe.”
It said in a statement that “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps of military-technical and other characteristics in order to counter the emerging threats to its national security.”
The statement noted that while it’s up to Finland to decide on ways to ensure its security, “Helsinki must be aware of its responsibility and the consequences of such a move.” The ministry charged that Finland’s move also violated past agreements with Russia.
“History will determine why Finland needed to turn its territory into a bulwark of military face-off with Russia while losing independence in making its own decisions,” it added.
The ministry’s statement follows Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comment earlier Thursday that Finland’s decision wouldn’t help stability and security in Europe. Peskov said that Russia’ response will depend on NATO’s moves to expand its infrastructure closer to the Russian borders.


MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says Western sanctions against Russia are provoking a global economic crisis.
Speaking during a Thursday meeting on economic issues, Putin said Western nations were “driven by oversized political ambitions and Russophobia” to introduce sanctions that “hurt their own economies and well-being of their citizens.”
Putin charged that the “sanctions are provoking a global crisis” and will lead to “grave consequences for the EU and also some of the poorest countries of the world that are already facing the risks of hunger.”
He alleged that the “Western elites are ready to sacrifice the rest of the world to preserve their global domination.”
The Russian leader insisted the Russian economy has successfully withstood the blow from Western sanctions and that Russian companies will fill the niche left by the withdrawal of Western enterprises.


LVIV — Russia has used cluster bombs and phosphorus munitions in the southern Ukrainian region of Kryvyi Rih, according to the regional military chief.
It’s the first time use of the weapons has been reported in the area. The claim could not immediately be verified.
“The occupiers are firing, including with the use of prohibited phosphorus and cluster munitions,” regional military governor Oleksandr Vilkul said Thursday on Ukrainian TV channels. He didn’t detail where and when they allegedly were used.
He said one person was killed and one wounded over the past day.
Russian troops have been pressing an offensive toward the city of Kryvih Rih, the capital of the region. It is north of the Russian-held Black Sea port city of Kherson, and is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown.
The Ukrainian military previously accused Russian forces of using phosphorus and cluster munitions in the eastern Donbas region. Ukrainian authorities have launched investigations into their use, whch dozens of countries have agreed to ban under an international treaty.


BERLIN — The U.N.’s human rights chief says her office has found that Russian forces and affiliated armed groups are responsible for most civilian deaths during the war in Ukraine.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the “vast majority” of civilian casualties have been caused by the use of explosive weapons, including heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes.
“According to our information, while such incidents can be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appear attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups,” Bachelet told a special session of the Human Rights Council on Thursday.
Ukraine and its backers led a push to convene the special session of the 47-member body. The Geneva-based council was set to vote on a resolution that would reiterate its demand “for the immediate cessation of military hostilities against Ukraine.”
The U.N. General Assembly voted last month to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s top human rights body, over allegations of war crimes by Russian forces.


NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Ukrainian human rights activist says LGBTQ people in her country are “on the front line of resistance” against Russia’s invasion and many have joined the Ukrainian army to thwart Russian forces.
Olena Shevchenko told a European forum being held in Cyprus via a video link that Ukraine’s LGBTQ support groups also have joined in offering humanitarian assistance to all those suffering from or who have fled the fighting.
Shevchenko was critical of the European Union’s statements about safeguarding the continent’s values in the face of war, saying words should turn into actions and specifically material help like food and medicine for those who need it most.
Triantafillos Loukarelis, chairman of the Council of Europe’s committee on anti-discrimination, diversity and inclusion, said his organization has notified authorities in countries that are hosting Ukrainian refugees to be vigilant against the potential for human trafficking, especially of LGBTQ people.


MOSCOW — A top Russian official says that there is a growing threat of the fighting in Ukraine spilling into a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that growing Western arms supplies to Ukraine and training for its troops have “increased the probability that an ongoing proxy war will turn into an open and direct conflict between NATO and Russia.”
He added that “there is always a risk of such conflict turning into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for all.”
Medvedev, who served as Russia’s placeholder president in 2008-2012 while Putin shifted into the prime minister’s seat to observe term limits, has become increasingly hawkish in his statements in recent months.
In a messaging app commentary, Medvedev urged the U.S. and its allies to think about the possible consequences of their actions and “not to choke on their own saliva in the paroxysms of Russophobia.”


LONDON — Britain’s military says Ukraine has recaptured several towns and villages in the country’s northeast from Russian forces.
The Ministry of Defense says Russia’s focus on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine had left its remaining troops around the city of Kharkiv “vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukrainian counter-attacking force.”
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has suffered heavy Russian bombardment during the war as Russia sought to encircle it. But the U.K. said in an intelligence update on social media that “it has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganize and replenish its forces following heavy losses.”
It said that withdrawal was “a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population.”


HELSINKI — Finland’s president and prime minister say they’re in favor of applying for NATO membership, paving the way for the alliance to expand in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The announcement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday means Finland is virtually certain to seek NATO membership though a few steps remain before the application process can begin.
Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on joining NATO in coming days.
Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement: “As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance.”
They said that Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay, adding: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”


President Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed Russia’s determination to wrest separatist-held territory from Ukraine in a congratulatory message to the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Russia backed the separatists for years and recognized them as independent on the eve of invading Ukraine.
In a statement released by the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin said: “I am sure that through our joint efforts we will defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Luhansk republic.
Meanwhile, the head of the Luhansk self-proclaimed republic, Leonid Pasechnik, said Thursday that it would never return to Ukrainian control and that most of its residents want it to become part of Russia.
Russian migration authorities also reported that 15,000 people had crossed from Ukraine’s Donbas region to Russia’s Rostov region in 24 hours, according to Russian state news agency Tass. The number couldn’t be verified and the circumstances of the crossings were unclear.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military says Russian forces are continuing airstrikes on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and pressing their advance on towns in eastern Ukraine.
In its operational statement for Day 78 of the war, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff says Russian forces have also fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, which has been a refuge for civilians fleeing Mariupol.
It did not elaborate on the latest action around Azovstal.
The military says Russian forces also fired artillery at Ukrainian units north of the city of Kharkiv in the northeast, and reported Russian strikes in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions to the north.
Across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, site of sustained fighting since the war began, the Ukrainian military noted “partial success” in Russia’s advance. It said Ukrainian forces repulsed nine Russian attacks and destroyed several drones and military vehicles. The information could not be independently verified.

Finland moves toward joining NATO amid Russian threats
May 12, 2022
By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Finland’s leaders Thursday came out in favor of applying to join NATO, and Sweden could do the same within days, in a historic realignment on the continent 2 1/2 months after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow’s neighbors.
The Kremlin reacted by warning it will be forced to take retaliatory “military-technical” steps.
On the ground, meanwhile, Russian forces pounded areas in central and eastern Ukraine, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part its offensive to take the vital industrial Donbas region, while Ukraine recaptured some towns and villages in the country’s northeast.
Finland’s president and prime minister announced that the Nordic country should apply right away for membership in NATO, the military defense pact founded in part to counter the Soviet Union.
“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said this week.
While the country’s Parliament still has to weigh in, the announcement means Finland is all but certain to apply — and gain admission — though the process could take months to complete. Sweden, likewise, is considering applying.
That would represent a major change in Europe’s security landscape: Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.
Public opinion in both nations shifted dramatically in favor of NATO membership after the invasion, which stirred fears in countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next.
Such an expansion of the alliance would leave Russia surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and would amount to a stinging setback for Putin, who had hoped to divide and roll back NATO in Europe but is instead seeing the exact opposite happen.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden with open arms.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory steps of military-technical and other characteristics in order to counter the emerging threats to its national security.”
NATO’s funneling of weapons and other military support to Ukraine already has been critical to Kyiv’s surprising success in stymieing the invasion, and the Kremlin warned anew in ominous terms Thursday that the aid could lead to direct conflict between NATO and Russia.
“There is always a risk of such conflict turning into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for all,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council.
While Russia’s advance in the Donbas has been slow, Ukraine’s military noted that Moscow has achieved “partial success.” Western officials said Russia has gained ground and taken some villages.
Explosions were heard Thursday near the town of Bakhmut, an area of the Donbas that has seen heavy fighting. The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were storming two villages there.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia’s focus on the Donbas has left its remaining troops around the northeastern city of Kharkiv vulnerable to counterattack from Ukrainian forces, which recaptured several towns and villages around the city.
Still, Russian rocket strikes Thursday killed one person and wounded three in a suburb of Kharkiv, the regional governor said. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Fighting across the east has driven thousands of Ukrainians from their homes. Evacuees wiped away tears as they carried their children and belongings onto buses and vans to flee.
“It is terrible there now. We were leaving under missiles,” said Tatiana Kravstova, who left the town of Siversk with her 8-year-old son Artiom on a bus headed for the central city of Dnipro. “I don’t know where they were aiming at, but they were pointing at civilians.”
Ukraine also said Russian forces had fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, which has been a refuge for civilians fleeing Mariupol, and attacked in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions to the north.
Overnight airstrikes in Chernihiv killed three people, according to local media. The regional governor said the strikes on the town of Novhorod-Siverskyi damaged a boarding school, dormitory and administrative building.
And eight to 12 Russian missiles struck an oil refinery and other infrastructure in the central Ukrainian industrial hub of Kremenchuk on Thursday, the region’s acting governor, Dmytro Lunin, wrote in a Telegram post. In early April, he said, the refinery, which had been the last fully functional one in Ukraine at the time, was knocked offline by an attack.
In the southern port of Mariupol, which has largely been reduced to smoking rubble with little food, water or medicine, or what the mayor called a “medieval ghetto,” Ukrainian fighters continued to hold out at the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold of resistance in the city.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said negotiations were underway with Russia to win the release of 38 severely wounded Ukrainian defenders from the plant. She said Ukraine hoped to exchange them for 38 “significant” Russian prisoners of war.


Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, and other AP staffers around the world contributed.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

As Putin marks Victory Day, his troops make little war gains
May 9, 2022
By ELENA BECATOROS and JON GAMBRELL Associated Press
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin marked his country’s biggest patriotic holiday Monday without a major new battlefield success in Ukraine to boast of, as the war ground on through its 11th week with the Kremlin’s forces making little or no progress in their offensive.
The Russian leader oversaw a Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square, watching as troops marched in formation and military hardware rolled past in a celebration of the Soviet Union’s role in the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
While Western analysts in recent weeks had widely expected Putin to use the holiday to trumpet some kind of victory in Ukraine or announce an escalation, he did neither. Instead, he sought to justify the war again as a necessary response to what he portrayed as a hostile Ukraine.
“The danger was rising by the day,” Putin said. “Russia has given a preemptive response to aggression. It was forced, timely and the only correct decision.”
He steered clear of battlefield specifics, failing to mention the potentially pivotal battle for the vital southern port of Mariupol and not even uttering the word “Ukraine.”
On the ground, meanwhile, intense fighting raged in Ukraine’s east, the vital Black Sea port of Odesa in the south came under repeated missile attack, and Russian forces sought to finish off the Ukrainian defenders making their last stand at a steel plant in Mariupol.
Putin has long bristled at NATO’s creep eastward into former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied the country posed any threat.
As he has done all along, Putin falsely portrayed the fighting as a battle against Nazism, thereby linking the war to what many Russians consider their finest hour: the triumph over Hitler. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in what Russia refers to as the Great Patriotic War.
After unexpectedly fierce resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its effort to storm Kyiv over a month ago, Moscow’s forces have concentrated on capturing the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region.
But the fighting there has been a back-and-forth, village-by-village slog, and many analysts had suggested Putin might use his holiday speech to present the Russian people with a victory amid discontent over the country’s heavy casualties and the punishing effects of Western sanctions.
Others suggested he might declare the fighting a war, not just a “special military operation,” and order a nationwide mobilization, with a call-up of reserves, to replenish the depleted ranks for an extended conflict.
In the end, he gave no signal as to where the war is headed or how he might intend to salvage it. Specifically, he left unanswered the question of whether or how Russia will marshal more forces for a continuing war.
“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia can’t fight a long war, and the clock starts ticking on the failure of their army in Ukraine,” tweeted Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Nigel Gould Davies, former British ambassador to Belarus, said: “Russia has not won this war. It’s starting to lose it.”
He said that unless Russia has a major breakthrough, “the balance of advantages will shift steadily in favor of Ukraine, especially as Ukraine gets access to growing volumes of increasingly sophisticated Western military equipment.”
Despite Russia’s crackdown on dissent, antiwar sentiment has seeped through. Dozens of protesters were detained around the country on Victory Day, and editors at a pro-Kremlin media outlet revolted by briefly publishing a few dozen stories criticizing Putin and the invasion.
In Warsaw, antiwar protesters splattered Russia’s ambassador to Poland with what appeared to be red paint as he arrived at a cemetery to pay respects to Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.
As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, air raid sirens echoed again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in his own Victory Day address that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.
“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,” he said in a video. He added: “We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and therefore we will win.”
Russia has about 97 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, largely in the east and the south, a slight increase over last week, according to a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment. Each unit has roughly 1,000 troops, according to the Pentagon.
The official said that overall, the Russian effort in the Donbas hasn’t achieved any significant progress in recent days and continues to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.
The Ukrainian military warned of a high probability of missile strikes around the holiday, and some cities imposed curfews or warned people not to gather in public places.
More than 60 people were feared dead over the weekend after Russian bombardment flattened a Ukrainian school being used as a shelter in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia is perhaps closest to a victory in Mariupol. The U.S. official said roughly 2,000 Russian forces were around Mariupol, and the city was being pounded by airstrikes. As many as 2,000 Ukrainian defenders were believed to be holding out at the steel plant, the city’s last stronghold of resistance.
The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to complete a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas. It would also give the Kremlin a badly needed success.
Odesa, too, has increasingly been bombarded in recent days. Ukrainian officials said it came under repeated fire from missiles Monday. There were no immediate reports of any casualties, and authorities did not say what was struck.
The war in the country long known as the “breadbasket of Europe” has disrupted global food supplies.
“I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, lamented in a tweet after a visit to Odesa. “This badly needed food is stranded because of the Russian war and blockade of Black sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries.”


Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Aid workers prep stretchers, toys for Mariupol evacuees
May 3, 2022
By CARA ANNA and YESICA FISCH Associated Press
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Aid workers prepared hot food, wheelchairs and toys Tuesday for civilians slowly making their way to relative safety from the pulverized remnants of a steel plant in Mariupol, as Russian forces resumed strikes on the facility.
The Azovstal steel plant is the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in a city that is otherwise controlled by Moscow’s forces and key to their campaign in Ukraine’s east. A senior U.S. official warned that Russia is planning to annex much of the country’s east later this month.
At a reception center, stretchers and wheelchairs were lined up, tiny children’s shoes dangled from a shopping cart and a pile of toys waited for the first convoy of civilians whose evacuation is being overseen by the United Nations and Red Cross.
Their arrival would represent a rare glimmer of good news in the nearly 10-week war sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has killed thousands, forced millions to flee the country, laid waste to towns and cities, and shifted the post-Cold War balance of power in eastern Europe.
More than 100 people — including elderly women and mothers with small children — left Mariupol’s rubble-strewn steelworks over the weekend and set out in buses and ambulances.
At least some were apparently taken to a village controlled by Russia-backed separatists. The Russian military said some chose to stay in separatist areas. In the past, Ukraine has accused Moscow’s troops of taking civilians against their will to Russia or Russian-controlled areas — something the Kremlin has denied.
Others left for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, some 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol. It was not clear why the evacuees’ journey was taking so long, but the convoy likely had to pass through heavily contested areas and many checkpoints.
Mariupol has come to symbolize the human misery inflicted by the war. A Russian siege has trapped civilians with little access to food, water and electricity, as Moscow’s forces pounded the city to rubble. The plant — where about 1,000 civilians sought shelter in a warren of underground bunkers along with some 2,000 fighters who have refused to surrender — has particularly transfixed the outside world.
Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told the BBC that high-level negotiations were underway among Ukraine, Russia and international organizations on evacuating more people.
But Russian forces and their allies resumed strikes on the plant on Tuesday. Vadim Astafyev, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said that Ukrainian fighters at the plant used the cease-fire that allowed civilians to flee to take up new positions.
They “came out of the basements, took up firing positions on the territory and in the buildings of the plant,” he said. Russian troops along with the Moscow-backed separatist forces used “artillery and aircraft … to destroy these firing positions.”
After failing to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war, Russia withdrew some of its forces and then said it would switch its focus to Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas. Mariupol lies in the region, and its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops for fighting elsewhere in the Donbas.
Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Monday that the U.S. believes the Kremlin plans to annex much of eastern Ukraine and recognize the southern city of Kherson as an independent republic. Neither move would be recognized by the United States or its allies, he said.
Russia is planning to hold sham referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the Donbas that would “try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy” and attach the entities to Russia, Carpenter said. He also said there were signs that Russia would engineer an independence vote in Kherson.
Mayors and local legislators there have been abducted, internet and cellphone service has been severed and a Russian school curriculum will soon be imposed, Carpenter said. Ukraine’s government says Russia has introduced its ruble as currency there.
Getting a full picture of the unfolding battle in the east has been difficult because airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around. Both Ukraine and the Moscow-backed rebels fighting in the east have introduced tight restrictions on reporting.
But so far, Russia’s troops and their allied separatist forces appear to have made only minor gains, taking several small towns as they try to advance in relatively small groups against staunch Ukrainian resistance.
In its daily Twitter statement on the war, the British military said Tuesday it believes the Russian military is now “significantly weaker” after suffering losses in its war on Ukraine.
“Recovery from this will be exacerbated by sanctions,” the ministry said. “Failures both in strategic planning and operational execution have left it unable to translate numerical strength into decisive advantage.”
Ukraine’s resistance has been significantly bolstered by Western arms, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced a 300 million pounds ($375 million) in new military aid — including radar, drones and armored vehicles.
In a speech delivered remotely to Ukraine’s parliament, he echoed the words of Britain’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he lauded the country’s defiant response to the Russian invasion.
“The so-called irresistible force of Putin’s war machine has broken on the immoveable object of Ukrainian patriotism and love of country,” he said. “This is Ukraine’s finest hour, that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come.”
Pope Francis was quoted Tuesday in an Italian newspaper as saying that he offered to travel to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin about three weeks into the invasion. The pontiff told Corriere della Sera that he has not received a response.
On Monday, Ukraine said Russia struck a strategic road and rail bridge west of Odesa, a major Black Sea port. The bridge was heavily damaged in previous Russian strikes, and its destruction would cut a supply route for weapons and other cargo from neighboring Romania.
A satellite image captured by Planet Labs PBC and analyzed by The Associated Press showed the bridge still standing as of noon Monday.
Another image, taken Monday, showed nearly 50 Russian military helicopters at Stary Oskol, a Russian base close to the Ukrainian border and some 175 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Highlighting the toll of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that at least 220 Ukrainian children have been killed by the Russian army since the war began, and 1,570 educational institutions have been destroyed or damaged. He also noted that some people trying to escape the fighting are afraid they’ll be taken to Russia or Russian-controlled areas.
More than 1 million people, including nearly 200,000 children, have been taken from Ukraine to Russia, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday, according to state-owned news agency TASS. Defense Ministry official Mikhail Mizintsev said that number included 11,550 people in the previous 24 hours, “without the participation of the Ukrainian authorities.”
Zelenskyy said that the U.N. assured him people fleeing Mariupol would be allowed to go to areas his government controls.
Separate from the official evacuations, some Mariupol residents left on their own, often in damaged private cars.
As sunset approached Monday, Mariupol resident Yaroslav Dmytryshyn rattled up to a reception center in Zaporizhzhia in a car with a back seat full of youngsters and two signs taped to the back window: “Children” and “Little ones.”
“I can’t believe we survived,” he said, looking worn but in good spirits after two days on the road.
“There is no Mariupol whatsoever,” he said. “Someone needs to rebuild it, and it will take millions of tons of gold.”


Associated Press journalists Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Jon Gambrell and Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

India’s Muslims mark Eid al-Fitr amid attacks on community
May 3, 2022
By AIJAZ HUSSAIN Associated Press
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Muslims across India marked Eid al-Fitr on Tuesday by offering prayers outside mosques, with the celebrations this year following a series of attacks against the religious minority during the month of Ramadan.
“We will not have the same kind of festivity” this year, said Mohammad Habeeb ur Rehman, a civil engineer in India’s financial capital, Mumbai. “This is the most painful Eid with the worst memories for Indian Muslims.”
Anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks have surged across the country in the last month, including stone throwing between Hindu and Muslim groups during religious processions and subsequent demolitions by authorities of a number of properties belonging mostly to Muslims.
The community, which makes up 14% of India’s 1.4 billion population, is reeling from vilification by hard-line Hindu nationalists who have long espoused an anti-Muslim stance. Some leaders of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have tacitly supported the violence, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far been silent about it.
Eid al-Fitr is typically marked with communal prayers, celebratory gatherings around festive meals, and new clothes, but celebrations in India for the past two years have been marred by COVID-19 restrictions.
In the Indian-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir, the Muslim festival has been subdued for the past three years because of an unprecedented military lockdown after India stripped the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019, followed by the pandemic. The region also saw a rise in violence during Ramadan, with at least 20 militants, two civilians and five police and soldiers killed.
“As we prepare to celebrate Eid, a strong sense of collective loss jars at us,” said Bashir Ahmed, a businessman in Srinagar.
A violent insurgency against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region and New Delhi’s brutal response have raged for over three decades. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.
In India’s capital, New Delhi, hundreds assembled in the Jama Masjid, one of the country’s largest mosques, to offer Eid prayers there for the first time in over two years due to pandemic restrictions. Families came together early Tuesday morning and many people shared hugs and wishes.
Mohammed Hamid, a software engineer, said he was grateful to be offering prayers at the mosque again.
“It’s a good feeling because there was a lockdown for the past two years. With the grace of God, we are able to offer Eid prayers here with the children and we are thankful,” Hamid said.
The mood was cheerful in neighboring Bangladesh as millions traveled from cities to towns and villages over the weekend to celebrate Eid. Huge crowds gathered in Dhaka’s main Kamalapur Railway Station and bus terminals.
As in India, Eid celebrations in Bangladesh have been muted for the last two years due to the pandemic. This year, the government hasn’t imposed restrictions, instead advising people to follow basic health protocols.
Khaleda Akter, a garment worker in Dhaka, said she is traveling to her village and is excited to celebrate with her parents.
“I am very glad that this year we can travel without any trouble,” she said.


AP journalists Rishi Lekhi in New Delhi and Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

Climate change may increase risk of new infectious diseases
April 28, 2022
BY DREW COSTLEY AP Science Writer
Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 — and that’s likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.
This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, Ebola and coronavirus.
Researchers, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which recent research shows is possible.
They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals weren’t included in the study.
Researchers said not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemics the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans.
The study highlights two global crises — climate change and infectious disease spread — as the world grapples with what to do about both.
Previous research has looked at how deforestation and extinction and wildlife trade lead to animal-human disease spread, but there’s less research about how climate change could influence this type of disease transmission, the researchers said at a media briefing Wednesday.
“We don’t talk about climate a lot in the context of zoonoses” — diseases that can spread from animals to people, said study co-author Colin Carlson, an assistant professor of biology at Georgetown University. “Our study … brings together the two most pressing global crises we have.”
Experts on climate change and infectious disease agreed that a warming planet will likely lead to increased risk for the emergence of new viruses.
Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book “The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Disease,” said the study acknowledges the threat posed by climate change in terms of increasing risk of infectious diseases.
“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate for potential” emerging infectious disease spread caused by climate change, said Brooks.
Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study confirms long-held suspicions about the impact of warming on infectious disease emergence.
“Of particular note is that the study indicates that these encounters may already be happening with greater frequency and in places near where many people live,” Bernstein said.
Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that because climate-driven infectious disease emergence is likely already happening, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.
“It is not preventable, even in the best case climate change scenarios,” Albery said.
Carlson, who was also an author on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said we must cut greenhouse gas and phase out fossil fuels to reduce the risk of infectious disease spread.
Jaron Browne, organizing director of the climate justice group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the study highlights climate injustices experienced by people living in African and Asian nations.
“African and Asian nations face the greatest threat of increased virus exposure, once again illustrating how those on the frontlines of the crisis have very often done the least to create climate change,” Browne said.


Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Twitter, in possibly last quarterly report, sees user growth
April 28, 2022
By KELVIN CHAN and BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Business Writer
LONDON (AP) — Twitter’s quarterly profit, revenue and the number of daily users on its platform are rising but its quarterly report, released days after agreeing to be sold to billionaire Elon Musk, offered scant details about what it expects on the financial front for the rest of the year.
The social media company on Thursday reported net income of $513 million, or 61 cents a share, but that includes a big one-time gain from the sale of its MoPub business, clouding comparisons with the year-ago period.
Revenue, most of it from ads, rose 16% to $1.2 billion in the three months to March compared with the same period last year, though the company said the figure reflected “headwinds associated with the war in Ukraine,” without elaborating.
Twitter reported an average of 229 million daily active users in the quarter, which was about 14 million more than a revised 214.7 million daily users in the previous quarter.
The San Francisco company canceled a conference call with executives and industry analysts that usually accompanies its results, so there will be little further insight into the company’s current financial condition.
“Given the pending acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, we will not be providing any forward looking guidance, and are withdrawing all previously provided goals and outlook,” the company said.
Musk, who’s paying $54.20 for each outstanding share of Twitter, did not speak publicly on the quarterly report, perhaps among its last as a publicly traded entity.
Shares have yet to reach that buyout price and on Thursday, the company’s stock edged slightly lower to $48.36.
Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy Twitter was announced earlier this week and is expected to close sometime this year. But before the deal is completed, shareholders will have to weigh in, as well as regulators in the U.S. and in countries where Twitter does business. So far though, few hurdles are expected, despite objections from some of Twitter’s own employees, along with users who worry about Musk’s stance on free speech and what it might mean for harassment and hate speech on the platform.
Angelo Zino, tech analyst at CFRA, said the results, combined with a slew of challenges facing the digital ad industry, should solidify the board’s decision to approve Musk’s offer.
“We see little reason to believe Twitter could extract greater shareholder value remaining public,” he said in a research note.
Musk, who also runs the electric car company Tesla, as well as SpaceX and other ventures, says he plans to take Twitter private. If he does, the company will no longer be beholden to shareholders or publicly report its financial results, which have been mixed at best since the company went public in 2013.
Twitter has struggled to consistently post profits as a public company while generating lackluster revenue growth compared to the two dominant forces in digital advertising, Google and Facebook.
On one hand, going private could give Twitter more room to experiment while focusing less on short-term profit and its stock price. On the other hand, even the world’s richest man is likely to want the company to make money.
“I think there is nothing better for Twitter than Elon Musk buying it and ideally replacing the board, and also doubling down on investments into products and new revenue-generating sources,” John Meyer, a technology entrepreneur and investor, told The Associated Press earlier this week.


Barbara Ortutay reported from Oakland, California.


See all of AP’s tech coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/technology

Russia cuts natural gas to 2 NATO nations in escalation
April 27, 2022
By YESICA FISCH, JON GAMBRELL and VANESSA GERA Associated Press
POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, dramatically escalating its standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine. European leaders decried the move as “blackmail.”
A day after the U.S. and other Western allies vowed to speed more and heavier weapons to Ukraine, the Kremlin used its most most essential export as leverage against two of Kyiv’s staunch backers. Gas prices in Europe shot up on the news.
The tactic could eventually force targeted nations to ration gas and deal another blow to economies suffering from rising prices. At the same time, it could deprive Russia of badly needed income to fund its war effort.
Poland has been a major gateway for the delivery of weapons to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it is sending the country tanks. Bulgaria, under a new liberal government that took office last fall, has cut many of its old ties to Moscow and supported sanctions against Russia over its invasion. It has also hosted Western fighter jets at a new NATO outpost on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
The gas cuts do not immediately put the two countries in dire trouble. Poland has been working for several years to line up other sources of energy, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less essential for households.
Yet the cutoff and the Kremlin warning that other countries could be next sent shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union.
Western leaders and analysts portrayed the move by Russia as a bid to divide the Western allies and undermine their unity in support of Ukraine.
“It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division amongst member states. The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.”
State-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it was shutting off the two countries because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded. A number of other gas-importing countries have also refused to do business in rubles.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, said the cutoff was a “weaponization of energy supplies.” Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov called the suspension blackmail, adding: “We will not succumb to such a racket.”
On the battlefield, fighting continued in the country’s east along a largely static front line some 300 miles (480 kilometers) long. Russia claimed its missiles hit a batch of weapons that the U.S. and European nations had delivered to Ukraine.
Just across the border in Russia, an ammunition depot in the Belgorod region was burning early Wednesday after several explosions were heard, the governor said.
Explosions were also reported in Russia’s Kursk region near the Ukrainian border, and in Russia’s Voronezh region, authorities said an air defense system shot down a drone. Earlier this week, an oil storage facility in the Russian city of Bryansk was engulfed by fire.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak hinted at the country’s involvement in the fires, saying in a Telegram post that “karma (is) a harsh thing.”
In other developments:
— The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said the safety level at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, now under Russian occupation in Ukraine, is like a “red light blinking” as his organization tries in vain to get access for repairs.
— Just as tensions were ratcheting up, Moscow and Washington carried out a dramatic prisoner exchange, trading a Marine veteran jailed in Moscow for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in the U.S.
With the help of Western arms, Ukrainian forces have been unexpectedly successful at bogging Russia’s forces down and thwarted their attempt to take Kyiv. Moscow now says its focus is the capture of the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking industrial region in eastern Ukraine.
A defiant Putin vowed Wednesday that Russia will achieve its military goals, telling parliament, “All the tasks of the special military operation we are conducting in the Donbas and Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, will be unconditionally fulfilled.”
Pro-Moscow separatists have been battling Ukrainian troops in the Donbas for the past eight years and have declared two independent republics there that have been recognized by Russia.
The U.S. pressed its allies Tuesday to “move at the speed of war” to ensure Kyiv remains well-supplied with the weapons necessary for that battle.
The West has also sought to isolate Russia economically, by imposing punishing sanctions. Wednesday’s move marked marked a major economic counteroffensive by Moscow.
Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said Russia’s goal is to “divide and rule” — pit European countries against one another as they cast about for energy.
Poland gets around 45% of its gas from Russia but is much more dependent on coal and said it was well prepared for the cutoff. Poland has ample natural gas in storage and will soon benefit from two pipelines coming online, analyst Emily McClain of Rystad Energy said.
Bulgaria gets over 90% of its gas from Russia, and officials said they were working to find other sources, such as from Azerbaijan.
Europe is not without its own leverage since, at current prices, it is paying some $400 million a day to Russia for gas, money Putin would lose in case of a complete cutoff.
Russia can, in theory, sell oil elsewhere — to India and China, for instance. But the pipeline network from the huge deposits in the Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia to Europe does not connect with the pipelines running to China. And Russia has only limited capacity to export liquefied gas by ship.
“The move that Russia did today is basically a move where Russia hurts itself. The Kremlin is hurting the Russian economy because they are cutting off themselves from important revenues,” von der Leyen said.
European countries have worked to reduce their dependence on Russian energy. In Germany, known for its fine cars and its autobahns without speed limits, the auto club ADAC is calling on its 21 million members to help reduce the country’s oil imports from Russia by driving less and taking their foot off the gas.


Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine and Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Associated Press journalist Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, David Keyton in Kyiv, Oleksandr Stashevskyi at Chernobyl, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

One-fifth of reptiles worldwide face risk of extinction
April 27, 2022
By CHRISTINA LARSON AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Even the king cobra is “vulnerable.” More than 1 in 5 species of reptiles worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to a comprehensive new assessment of thousands of species published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Of 10,196 reptile species analyzed, 21% percent were classified as endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable to extinction — including the iconic hooded snakes of South and Southeast Asia.
“This work is a very significant achievement — it adds to our knowledge of where threatened species are, and where we must work to protect them,” said Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm, who was not involved in the study.
Similar prior assessments had been conducted for mammals, birds and amphibians, informing government decisions about how to draw boundaries of national parks and allocate environmental funds.
Work on the reptile study – which involved nearly 1,000 scientists and 52 co-authors – started in 2005. The project was slowed by challenges in fundraising, said co-author Bruce Young, a zoologist at the nonprofit science organization NatureServe.
“There’s a lot more focus on furrier, feathery species of vertebrates for conservation,” Young said, lamenting the perceived charisma gap. But reptiles are also fascinating and essential to ecosystems, he said.
The Galapagos marine iguana, the world’s only lizard adapted to marine life, is classified as “vulnerable” to extinction, said co-author Blair Hedges, a biologist at Temple University. It took 5 million years for the lizard to adapt to foraging in the sea, he said, lamenting “how much evolutionary history can be lost if this single species” goes extinct.
Six of the world’s species of sea turtles are threatened. The seventh is likely also in trouble, but scientists lack data to make a classification.
Worldwide, the greatest threat to reptile life is habitat destruction. Hunting, invasive species and climate change also pose threats, said co-author Neil Cox, a manager at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s biodiversity assessment unit.
Reptiles that live in forest areas, such as the king cobra, are more likely to be threatened with extinction than desert-dwellers, in part because forests face greater human disruptions, the study found.


Follow Christina Larson on Twitter: @larsonchristina


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Russia pounds eastern Ukraine as West promises Kyiv new arms
April 26, 2022
By YESICA FISCH and JON GAMBRELL Associated Press
TORETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia pounded eastern and southern Ukraine on Tuesday as the U.S. promised to “keep moving heaven and earth” to get Kyiv the weapons it needs to repel the new offensive, despite Moscow’s warnings that such support could trigger a wider war.
For the second day in a row, explosions rocked the separatist region of Trans-Dniester in neighboring Moldova, knocking out two powerful radio antennas close to the Ukrainian border and further heightening fears of a broader conflict erupting across Europe. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Ukraine all but blamed Russia.
Russian missile fire also knocked out a strategic railroad bridge along a route that links southern Ukraine’s Odesa port region to neighboring Romania, a NATO member, Ukrainian authorities said.
The attack on the bridge — along with a series of strikes on key railroad stations a day earlier — appears to mark a major shift in Russia’s approach. Up to now, Moscow has spared strategic bridges, perhaps in hopes of keeping them for its own use in seizing Ukraine. But now it seems to be trying to thwart Ukraine’s efforts to move troops and supplies.
Southern Ukraine and Moldova have been on edge since a senior Russian military officer said last week that the Kremlin’s goal is to secure not just eastern Ukraine but the entire south, so as to open the way to Trans-Dniester.
Two months into the devastating war, Western arms have helped Ukraine stall Russia’s invasion, but the country’s leaders have said they need more support fast.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that more help is on the way as he convened a meeting of officials from around 40 countries at the U.S. air base at Ramstein, Germany, to pledge more weapons.
“This gathering reflects the galvanized world,” Austin said in his opening remarks. He added that he wanted officials to leave the meeting “with a common and transparent understanding of Ukraine’s near-term security requirements because we’re going to keep moving heaven and earth so that we can meet them.”
After unexpectedly fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces thwarted Russia’s attempt to take Ukraine’s capital early in the war, Moscow now says its focus is the capture of the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking industrial region in eastern Ukraine.
In the small city of Toretsk in the Donbas, residents are struggling to survive, collecting rainwater for washing up and fervently hoping for an end to the fighting.
“It’s bad. Very bad. Hopeless,” said Andriy Cheromushkin. “You feel so helpless that you don’t know what you should do or shouldn’t do. Because if you want to do something, you need some money, and there is no money now.”
In its latest assessment of the fighting, the British Defense Ministry reported Russian advances and heavy fighting in the Donbas, with one town, Kreminna, apparently falling after days of street-by-street fighting.
In the gutted southern port city of Mariupol, authorities said Russian forces hit the Azovstal steel plant with 35 airstrikes over the past 24 hours. The plant is the last known stronghold of Ukrainian fighters in the city. About 1,000 civilians were said to be taking shelter there with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders.
“Russia has drastically intensified strikes over the past 24 hours and is using heavy bunker bombs,” said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor. “The number of those wounded will be clear once the rubble is cleared.”
He also accused Russian forces of shelling a route it had offered as an escape corridor from the steel mill.
Beyond Mariupol, local officials said at least nine people were killed and several more wounded in Russian attacks on towns and cities in eastern and southern Ukraine. Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region of the Donbas, said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces “continue to deliberately fire at civilians and to destroy critical infrastructure.”
Ukraine also said Russian forces shelled Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, which lies in the northeast, outside the Donbas, but is seen as key to Russia’s apparent bid to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas from the north, east and south.
Ukrainian forces struck back in the Kherson region in the south, while Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the state-run Ukrainian railway, said there were no injuries in the Russian attack on the bridge in the Odesa region.
It was not clear who was behind the blasts in Trans-Dniester, but the attacks gave rise to fears that Russia was stirring up trouble so as to create a pretext to intervene. About 1,500 Russian troops are based in Trans-Dniester, a long, narrow strip of land with about 470,000 people along the Ukrainian border.
With the potentially pivotal battle for the east underway, the U.S. and its NATO allies are scrambling to deliver artillery and other heavy weaponry in time to make a difference.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said her government will supply Gepard self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced mounting pressure to send heavy weapons such as tanks and other armored vehicles.
Austin noted that more than 30 allies and partners have joined the U.S. in sending military aid to Ukraine and that more than $5 billion worth of equipment has been committed.
The U.S. defense secretary said the war has weakened Russia’s military, adding, “We would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
A senior Kremlin official, Nikolai Patrushev, warned that “the policies of the West and the Kyiv regime controlled by it would only be the breakup of Ukraine into several states.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cautioned that if the Western flow of weapons continues, the talks aimed at ending the fighting will not produce any results.
A day earlier, Lavrov accused NATO of “pouring oil on the fire” with its support for Ukraine. He also warned against provoking World War III and said the threat of a nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated.”
“A nuclear war cannot be won and it shouldn’t be fought,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby responded in an interview with CNN. “That kind of rhetoric is clearly not called for in the current scenario. What is called for is Mr. Putin ending this war.”
Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting also continued. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticized Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbor’s territorial integrity.
Guterres urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped in the steel plant in Mariupol. Putin said that Ukrainian troops were using civilians in the plant as shields and not allowing them to leave.


Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalist Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, David Keyton in Kyiv, Oleksandr Stashevskyi at Chernobyl, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Corgis and Cars: Queen’s pageant to be parade of the people
April 26, 2022
BY DANICA KIRKA Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — During a long weekend of royal pageantry devoted to Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne, the British people will take center stage in at least one event.
More than 10,000 performers, including schoolchildren, community groups and military bands, are expecting to troop to Buckingham Palace on June 5 to cap four days of celebrations marking the queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
The event on the Mall, the tree-lined road that leads to the palace, will feature pop star Ed Sheeran, dancers, acrobats, vintage cars and depictions of the queen’s favorite corgis and horses in performances highlighting the changes in British society during Elizabeth’s long reign.
“It will be all about how, through the recollections and stories and experiences we share, we can see how we are all connected through time to each other, and to the queen,” the show’s director, David Zolkwer, said Tuesday.
Elizabeth, the longest-ruling monarch in British history, assumed the throne when she was 25 years old. In the next seven decades, the U.K. navigated the end of its empire, the Cold War, the economic tensions of the 1980s and the challenges of an increasingly multicultural society.
Now 96, the queen who was a constant presence through it all remains a symbol of stability.
The jubilee pageant seeks to celebrate that legacy with a spectacle that will begin with the ringing of Westminster Abbey’s bells, just like on Elizabeth’s coronation day.
The first of four “acts” will be a parade featuring military bands and service personnel from the U.K. and Commonwealth nations including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, Ghana, Belize, Jamaica and Sri Lanka.
Some 2,500 volunteers are expected to take part in the second act, which will be devoted to creativity, dance, fashion and music during the queen’s reign.
This part of the program will also feature 150 “national treasures” who have shaped British culture over the past 70 years, including singer Cliff Richard, chef Heston Blumenthal and figure skating gold medalists Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
The third section will celebrate the queen’s reign and personal interests with quirky British humor. The acts include a 20-foot-tall puppet of a young woman, surrounded by a pack of mischievous corgi puppets.
The event will end in front of Buckingham Palace, where Sheeran will perform and the public will be asked to join in singing “God Save the Queen.”
Organizers declined to comment on whether or not the monarch might be persuaded to appear on the palace balcony.
The U.K. is marking the queen’s jubilee June 2-June 5.

Live updates | Report: Sweden, Finland to apply to NATO
April 25, 2022
By The Associated Press undefined
STOCKHOLM — Two newspapers – one Swedish, the other one Finnish – are reporting that the governments of Sweden and Finland have agreed to submit NATO applications at the same time and that it will happen in the middle of next month.
The Finnish newspaper Iltalehti said that the Swedish government has expressed a wish to Finland that they apply together in the week starting May 22 and Swedish government sources confirmed the information to Sweden’s Expressen tabloid.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to growing support in Sweden and Finland, a Russian neighbor, for joining NATO.
Though not members, both Nordic countries closely cooperate with NATO, allowing, among other things, the alliance’s troops to exercise on their soil. Helsinki and Stockholm have also substantially intensified their bilateral defense cooperation in the past years.


KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— US promises new aid to Ukraine in fight against Russia
— To Europe’s relief, France’s Macron wins but far-right gains
— Russian officer: Missile to carry several hypersonic weapons
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department says it has approved the sale of $165 million in legacy Warsaw Pact ammunition and other non-standard ammunition to Ukraine to help in its defense against Russia.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the potential sale and has provided the legally required notification to Congress. Lawmakers can block weapons sales but are unlikely to do so because of strong support for Ukraine following the Feb. 24 invasion.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a partner country that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” the State Department said in announcing the potential sale Monday.
The sale came at the request of Ukraine’s government and includes rounds for mortars, automatic grenade launchers and howitzers.


ANKARA, Turkey — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara before he visits Moscow and Kyiv.
Guterres arrived in Turkey on Monday. The NATO-member country has retained its close ties to both Moscow and Ukraine. It has positioned itself as a negotiator between the two and has hosted a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers as well as talks between the two countries’ negotiating teams.
The U.N. chief is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Tuesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is also expected to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba later in the week.


Russia is expelling 40 German diplomats in response to Germany expelling the same number of Russian diplomats earlier this month.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday that it had summoned German ambassador Géza Andreas von Geyr for a “strong protest at the clearly unfriendly decision” to expel the Russian diplomatic staff.
The ministry said von Geyr was told that 40 members of staff at German diplomatic missions in Russia would be officially declared unwelcome in Russia.
Germany announced the expulsion of 40 Russian diplomats on Apr. 4 following mounting evidence of civilian killings and mass graves in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Environmental campaigners have used kayaks and a dinghy to stop a Russian oil tanker from unloading its cargo south of Norway’s capital, saying Norwegian companies “are financing Russia’s warfare”.
Greenpeace says its members chained themselves to the Hong Kong-registered Ust Luga, leased by Russian oil company Novatek, as it arrived at its destination, an Esso’s terminal near Toensberg.
The tanker with 95,000 tonnes of fuel had left St. Petersburg.
Esso spokeswoman Anne Fougner told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that the oil had been bought before Russia invaded Ukraine. She added that Esso Norway “does not have other contracts for the purchase of products from Russia.”
Several other activists were stopped by police before they could take part in the action, Norwegian news agency NTB reported.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court’s prosecution office is joining a joint investigation team set up by Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland to probe atrocities committed during the war in Ukraine.
The ICC’s Prosecutor Karim Khan signed an agreement Monday to participate in the multinational effort that aims to facilitate investigations and cooperation.
Eurojust, the European Union’s judicial cooperation agency, says the agreement sends “a clear message that all efforts will be undertaken to effectively gather evidence on core international crimes committed in Ukraine and bring those responsible to justice.”
Khan said last month he was opening an investigation in Ukraine and has sent investigators there and visited crime scenes himself.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say at least five people have been killed by Russian strikes on the central Vynnytsia region.
The Vynnytsia regional prosecutors said another 18 people were wounded in Monday’s Russian missile strikes on the towns of Zhmerynka and Koziatyn.
Vinnytsia regional Governor Serhiy Borzov said earlier that the Russian missiles targeted “critical infrastructure,” but didn’t elaborate.
The Vynnytsia region is fully controlled by Ukraine and is far behind the front lines.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has said the United Nations should step in to oversee an evacuation route for civilians from the besieged steel mill in Mariupol which is Ukrainian troops’ last stronghold in the port city.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app that a Russian announcement of a “humanitarian corridor” out of the Azovstal plant to operate later Monday was not agreed to by Ukraine. Vereshchuk added that Ukraine does not consider the route safe for that reason and said Russia had breached agreements on similar evacuation routes before.
Ukrainian officials have said that up to 1,000 civilians have sheltered at the sprawling steel plant.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to visit Russia and Ukraine this week. Vereshchuk called on Guterres to be the “initiator and guarantor” of a humanitarian route out of Azovstal and for U.N. and International Committee of the Red Cross personnel to accompany any evacuees.


MOSCOW — Russia’s Energy Ministry says a massive fire at an oil depot in western Russia will not cause fuel shortages.
The ministry said in a statement that Monday’s fire inflicted damage to a depot containing diesel fuel in Bryansk, and authorities are dealing with the consequences of the blaze.
The ministry said fuel supplies to consumers haven’t been interrupted and noted that the region has enough diesel fuel for 15 days.
The Emergencies Ministry said earlier that a huge blaze erupted overnight at the depot owned by Transneft-Druzhba, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled company Transneft, which operates the western-bound Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline carrying crude to Europe. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the blaze, and whether it could affect deliveries to Europe.


MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the U.S. and its allies of trying to “split Russian society.”
Speaking Monday at a meeting with top officials at the Prosecutor General’s office, Putin said Russia has come under “unprecedented Western sanctions” amid its military action in Ukraine.
He charged that the U.S, and its allies have sought to “split the Russian society and to destroy Russia from within,” adding that their plans have failed.
Putin urged Russian prosecutors to act more quickly to block unsanctioned demonstrations organized from abroad. He also noted that they should focus on exposing “open provocations” against the Russian military allegedly involving international media and social platforms.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has hailed talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as “encouraging” and “effective.”
Speaking in Monday’s video address, he said the U.S. is offering “powerful” support to his country. Zelenskyy added that they agreed “on further steps to strengthen the armed forces of Ukraine and meet all the priority needs of our army.” He noted that ramping up sanctions against Moscow also was on the meeting’s agenda.
Blinken and Austin said the United States had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition for Ukraine’s war effort, along with more than $300 million in foreign military financing.
Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine would expect the United States to lead other allies in offering a set of security guarantees in the future.
The Ukrainian president also denounced Russia for launching strikes on Orthodox Easter Sunday, describing them “deliberate destruction of life in Ukraine.”


MOSCOW — The Russian military says it will open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to evacuate from the besieged steel plant in Mariupol.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a humanitarian corridor will open at 2 p.m (1100 GMT) Monday for all civilians to leave the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. It said Russian troops will cease fire to allow civilians to safely exit the plant.
The mammoth steel plant, which has a sprawling maze of underground channels. has remained the last bulwark of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic Sea of Azov port city.
Ukrainian officials have said that up to 1,000 civilians have sheltered there. They have repeatedly urged Russia to offer them a safe exit.


MOSCOW — Russian authorities say a fire has engulfed an oil storage facility in western Russia.
The Emergencies Ministry said a huge blaze at the depot in the city of Bryansk erupted early Monday. Its cause wasn’t immediately clear.
The oil depot is owned by Transneft-Druzhba, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled company Transneft that operates the western-bound Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline carrying crude oil to Europe. It wasn’t clear if the depot was part of the pipeline infrastructure and whether the blaze could affect the deliveries.
Russian news reported that another oil storage facility in Bryansk also caught fire early Monday, and that the cause wasn’t immediately known.
Bryansk is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, where Moscow has waged a military campaign for two months. Last month, two Ukrainian helicopter gunships hit an oil reservoir in Russia’s Belgorod region that borders Ukraine, causing a fire.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has unleashed a series of strikes on the country’s railways.
Lviv region Governor Maksym Kozytskyy said a Russian missile hit a railway facility in Krasne, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Lviv, early Monday, sparking a fire.
Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, said a total of five rail facilities in central and western Ukraine have been hit by the Russian strikes. He said the attacks have delayed at least passenger 16 trains.
There was no immediate information about the damage from the strikes.


NEAR THE POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russia is failing in its war aims after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Following meetings Sunday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, along with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Blinken told reporters in Poland on Monday that, with Russia having pulled back its troops from around Kyiv and the north of Ukraine to focus on the eastern Donbas region, “When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding.”
In footage of the meeting later released by the Ukrainian presidency, Blinken praised the “extraordinary courage and leadership and success that you’ve had in pushing back this horrific Russian aggression.”
“We got used to seeing you on video around the world, but it’s great, it’s good to see you in person,” Blinken said with a smile.
Austin said that “the world has been inspired” by Ukraine in the war and that America would continue its support.


NEAR THE POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER — The United States is giving new military assistance to Ukraine and renewing a diplomatic push in the war-ravaged nation as President Joe Biden’s secretary of state and Pentagon chief complete a secretive trip to Kyiv.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Ukraine’s president of a more than $300 million package of foreign military financing and a $165 million sale of ammunition.
They also said Biden would announce his pick for a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left ahead of Russia’s invasion in February would start returning to the country this coming week.
Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said he planned to meet with the U.S. officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that or discuss any details of a possible visit.
It was the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February.
Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries. Some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv.
Officials say the remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began.


LVIV, Ukraine — A fire has erupted at a Russian oil depot near the border with Ukraine.
The Tass news agency reported the fire early Monday in Bryansk. The Russian report said oil storage tanks at the facility caught fire around 2 a.m. local time.
NASA satellites that track fires show a burning fire at coordinates that correspond to a Rosneft facility some 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, was cited by the Ukrainian news agency Unian as saying that people who live near the burning oil depot were being evacuated.
Moscow previously has blamed Ukraine for attacks on the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.
Ukraine’s top security officials have denied that Kyiv was behind an earlier airstrike on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) from the border.


MARIUPOL, Ukraine — A newly released video shows Ukrainian children in an underground bunker receiving Easter presents.
The video was released Sunday by the far-right Azov Battalion, which is among Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steelworks where soldiers and civilians have been holed up under a Russian attack.
The group’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, says the video was shot Sunday at the plant.

Live updates |U.S. pledges new Ukraine aid, diplomatic surge
April 25, 2022
By The Associated Press undefined
NEAR THE POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER — The United States is giving new military assistance to Ukraine and renewing a diplomatic push in the war-ravaged nation as President Joe Biden’s secretary of state and Pentagon chief complete a secretive trip to Kyiv.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Ukraine’s president of a more than $300 million package of foreign military financing and a $165 million sale of ammunition.
They also said President Joe Biden would announce his pick for a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left ahead of Russia’s invasion in February would start returning to the country this coming week.
Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said he planned to meet with the U.S. officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that or discuss any details of a possible visit.
It was the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February.
Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries. Some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv.
Officials say the remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began.


LVIV, Ukraine __ A fire has erupted at a Russian oil depot near the border with Ukraine.
The Tass news agency reported the fire early Monday in Bryansk. The Russian report said oil storage tanks at the facility caught fire around 2 a.m. local time.
NASA satellites that track fires show a burning fire at coordinates that correspond to a Rosneft facility some 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, was cited by the Ukrainian news agency Unian as saying that people who live near the burning oil depot were being evacuated.
Moscow previously has blamed Ukraine for attacks on the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.
Ukraine’s top security officials have denied that Kyiv was behind an earlier airstrike on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) from the border.


KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Civilians in Mariupol steelworks beg for aid in newly released video
— Ukraine official: Zelenskyy meets top-level US delegation
— Ukrainians mark Orthodox Easter with prayers for those trapped
— Far from home, Ukrainian refugees pray at Easter for peace
— Ukrainian village faces a churchless Easter
— Sanctions hit Russian economy, though Putin says otherwise
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — A newly released video shows Ukrainian children in an underground bunker receiving Easter presents.
The video was released Sunday by the far-right Azov Battalion, which is among Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steelworks where soldiers and civilians have been holed up under a Russian attack.
The group’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, says the video was shot Sunday at the plant.
One toddler is seen wearing homemade diapers made of cellophane. People are hanging laundry on makeshift hangers.
One of the women in the video begs for help from world leaders and says she and others stuck under the plant are tired of the bombing and are desperate for their freedom.
“We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombings, constant airstrikes on our land. How much longer will this continue?” she says through tears.
“The children are constantly crying here — they want to play and live,” she adds. “Stop this aggression. I ask everyone, help please, free us!”
Another woman says there are 600 civilians sheltering under the plant, without food and water.
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KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the U.S. secretaries of state and defense are meeting with the Ukrainian leader in the highest-level visit to Kyiv by an American delegation since the start of Russia’s invasion.
The adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said in an interview on Ukrainian TV late Sunday that the talks are going on “right now.”
Zelenskyy’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin comes as Ukraine presses the West for more powerful weapons in its fight against the Russian invasion, which began 60 days ago.


SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates — Hundreds of Russians and Ukrainians crowded into the only Russian Orthodox Church on the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday to celebrate Easter — far from home and in the shadow of a war that has brought devastation to Ukraine and international isolation to Moscow.
Although the two nationalities, united in language and history, typically celebrate Easter in harmony in this corner of the world where they’ve forged new lives as expats, this year there was unspoken tension.
“I don’t have any problems with Russians as people,” said Sergei, a Ukrainian businessman from Kyiv and Dubai resident of five years, who like others interviewed declined to give his last name for privacy reasons. “But war changes people. Children are dying. The Russians now hate my country.”
A few Russians interviewed said they did not support the war and felt sick or guilty about it. But to avoid any confrontation in the pews, they stuck to small talk with Ukrainians about the festivities and warming weather, they said.
Ordinary Russians say Dubai has become an increasingly rare haven as anti-Russian hostility escalates around the world over the grinding war, which has rocked the stability of Europe, sent oil prices soaring and triggered the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has discussed the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Zelenskyy said on Twitter that he “stressed the need for immediate evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, including Azovstal, and immediate exchange of blocked troops” in Sunday’s call with Erdogan. He noted that the call came before Erdogan’s planned conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine has urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant, the last remaining Ukrainian pocket of resistance in the strategic Sea of Azov port. It also has pushed Russia to conduct talks on a safe exit for the Ukrainian defenders of the plant, but Moscow has stonewalled the demands.
Zelenskyy said he and Erdogan also discussed the course of the negotiation process and possible security guarantees for Ukraine from Turkey and other nations.
Erdogan’s office said he told Zelenskyy in their call that Turkey is ready to mediate and assist in talks between Ukraine and Russia.
__
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has renewed his call for an Easter truce as Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter Sunday, when the faithful mark the resurrection of Jesus.
Without naming countries, Francis urged aggressors to “stop the attack to help the suffering of the exhausted people.”
Francis told a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square that two months had passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said that “instead of stopping, the war got worse. It is sad that in these days that are the holiest and most solemn for all Christians, the deadly clamor of arms is louder than the sound of bells announcing the Resurrection.”



KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military said Saturday it destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war.
The Ukrainian military intelligence agency posted a statement saying the command post was hit on Friday and two generals were killed and one was critically wounded.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in an online interview that 50 senior Russian officers were in the command center when it came under attack. He said their fate was unknown.
The Russian military did not comment on the claim, which could not be confirmed.


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said new evidence is emerging that shows Russian troops killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol and then tried to cover it up. He said Ukraine has intercepted Russian conversations about “how they are concealing the traces of their crimes.” Satellite images have shown what appear to be mass graves dug in towns to the west and east of Mariupol.
Zelenskyy said the Russians set up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for those trying to leave the city, which has largely been reduced to rubble. He said those who survive these camps are sent to areas under Russian occupation or to Russia itself, often as far as Siberia or the Far East. Many of them, he said, are children.
He said he spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday about the situation in Mariupol and the general course of the war.
Zelenskyy promised to find and punish those responsible for the missile attack on Odesa, which he said killed eight people and wounded 18.
Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians to observe a curfew and not attend Orthodox Easter services overnight. The lengthy services traditionally begin late Saturday and run through Sunday morning. “But starting from 5 a.m. you may go to the church in your city, town or community,” he said.

Israeli police storm Jerusalem holy site after rock-throwing
April 22, 2022
By JOSEPH KRAUSS Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police in full riot gear stormed a sensitive Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims on Friday after Palestinian youths hurled stones at a gate where they were stationed.
The renewed violence at the site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, came despite Israel temporarily halting Jewish visits, which are seen by the Palestinians as a provocation. Medics said more than two dozen Palestinians were wounded before the clashes subsided hours later.
Tens of thousands of Muslims took part in the main Friday prayers at midday, which were held as planned.
Palestinians and Israeli police have regularly clashed at the site over the last week at a time of heightened tensions following a string of deadly attacks inside Israel and arrest raids in the occupied West Bank. Three rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The string of events has raised fears of a repeat of last year, when protests and violence in Jerusalem eventually boiled over, helping to ignite an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, and communal violence in Israel’s mixed cities.
Palestinian youths hurled stones toward police at a gate leading into the compound, according to two Palestinian witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns. The police, in full riot gear, then entered the compound, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Israeli police said the Palestinians, some carrying Hamas flags, had begun stockpiling stones and erecting crude fortifications before dawn. The police said that after the rock-throwing began, they waited until after early morning prayers had finished before entering the compound.
Video footage showed the police firing at a group of journalists holding cameras and loudly identifying themselves as members of the press. At least three Palestinian reporters were wounded by rubber bullets fired by police.
Some older Palestinians urged the youths to stop throwing rocks but were ignored, as dozens of young masked men hurled stones and fireworks at the police. A tree caught fire near the gate where the clashes began. Police said it was ignited by fireworks thrown by the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Red Crescent medical service said at least 31 Palestinians were wounded, including 14 who were taken to hospitals. A policewoman was hit in the face by a rock and taken for medical treatment, the police said.
The violence subsided later in the morning after another group of dozens of Palestinians said they wanted to clean the area ahead of the main weekly prayers midday. Those went ahead, with some 150,000 worshippers attending, according to the Islamic endowment that administers the site.
After prayers, a small group of Palestinians waving Hamas flags marched in protest and tried to break into an empty police post inside the compound. The police used a drone to drop tear gas on them, sending crowds of people scattering across the esplanade.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third holiest site in Islam. The sprawling esplanade on which it is built is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of two Jewish temples in antiquity. It lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and clashes there have often ignited violence elsewhere.
Palestinians and neighboring Jordan, the custodian of the site, accuse Israel of violating longstanding arrangements by allowing increasingly large numbers of Jews to visit the site under police escort.
A longstanding prohibition on Jews praying at the site has eroded in recent years, fueling fears among Palestinians that Israel plans to take over the site or partition it.
Israel says it remains committed to the status quo and blames the violence on incitement by Hamas. It says its security forces are acting to remove rock-throwers in order to ensure freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims.
Visits by Jewish groups were halted beginning Friday for the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as they have been in the past.
This year, Ramadan coincided with the week-long Jewish Passover and major Christian holidays, with tens of thousands of people from all three faiths flocking to the Old City after the lifting of most coronavirus restrictions.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians seek an independent state in all three territories and view east Jerusalem as their capital.

Russians accused of staging French burial of bodies in Mali
April 22, 2022
By SAM MEDNICK Associated Press
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — The French military says it has videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies near an army base in northern Mali, which it says is part of a smear campaign against the French who handed the base to Malian forces earlier this week.
Aerial surveillance images taken by the French military on Thursday morning and provided to The Associated Press shows what appear to be 10 Caucasian soldiers covering approximately a dozen Malian bodies with sand 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) east of the Gossi military base in the country’s north, according to a French military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press on the matter.
In the video one of the soldiers appears to be filming the scene. The Caucasian soldiers in the video are believed to be members of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force, the officer said.
Several tweets with pictures of the bodies have been posted on accounts that support Russia or fake accounts created by Wagner, the officer said. The tweets blame the French for the killings and the burials, according to the French officer.
One tweet from an account called Dia Diarra, allegedly created by Wagner, said: “This is what the French left behind when they left base at #Gossi. These are excerpts from a video that was taken after they left! We cannot keep silent about this!”
The French army transferred control of the Gossi base to Malian soldiers on Tuesday, in what the French said was a safe, orderly and transparent manner. Later that day a “French sensor observed a dozen Caucasian individuals, most likely belonging to the Wagner Group,” and a detachment from the Malian army arrive at the Gossi site and unload equipment, said the French military in a confidential report that was seen by AP.
The French military said the move to discredit the French forces operating in northern Mali is part of a coordinated campaign of multiple information attacks on them that has been going on for months.
The apparently staged graves can be seen as the latest example of Russia’s disinformation campaign to damage France’s reputation and it also reflects badly on Mali’s army, which must have been aware of the Russians’ actions, said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Moroccan-based organization focused on economics and policy.
“This incident at Gossi camp will further put Mali’s junta at odds with the international community, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they come up with an unrealistic explanation,” he said.
He said the aerial images provided by the French military have largely stymied the Russian disinformation effort. “This is a big win for France who’s been facing tough times about its reputation in Mali,” he said.
In February, France announced it would withdraw its troops from Mali amid tensions with the country’s ruling military junta and the West African country’s decision to employ Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group. Some 1,000 of the Russian mercenaries are believed to be operating in Mali, according to military experts.

Putin claims victory in Mariupol but won’t storm steel plant
April 21, 2022
By ADAM SCHRECK Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the battle for Mariupol on Thursday, even as he ordered his troops not to take the risk of storming the giant steel plant where the last Ukrainian defenders in the city were holed up.
Instead, he directed his forces to seal off the Azovstal plant “so that not even a fly comes through.”
After nearly two lethal months of bombardment that have largely reduced Mariupol to a smoking ruin, Russian forces appear to control the rest of the strategic southern city, including its vital but now badly damaged port. But the Ukrainian troops have stubbornly held out.
Putin’s comments came as satellite images showed more than 200 new graves in a town where Ukrainian officials say the Russians have been burying Mariupol residents killed in the fighting. The imagery, from Maxar Technologies, shows long rows of graves stretching away from an existing cemetery in the town of Manhush, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mariupol.
A few thousand defenders, by Russia’s estimate, have been holed up for weeks along with hundreds of civilians in the sprawling steel plant, as Putin’s forces pounded the site and repeatedly demanded they surrender.
But on Thursday, the Russian leader declared victory without taking the plant, which covers 11 square kilometers (4 square miles) and is threaded with some 24 kilometers (15 miles) of tunnels and bunkers.
“The completion of combat work to liberate Mariupol is a success,” he said in an appearance with his defense minister. “Congratulations.”
Instead of mounting a frontal attack on the plant, Russia apparently intends to maintain the siege and wait for the defenders to surrender when they run out of food or ammunition.
Ukraine scoffed at the notion of a Russian victory.
“This situation means the following: They cannot physically capture Azovstal. They have understood this. They suffered huge losses there,” said Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The capture of Mariupol would represent the Kremlin’s biggest victory yet of the war in Ukraine. It would help Moscow secure more of the coastline, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014, and free up more forces to join the larger battle now underway for Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.
“The Russian agenda now is not to capture these really difficult places where the Ukrainians can hold out in the urban centers, but to try and capture territory and also to encircle the Ukrainian forces and declare a huge victory,” retired British Rear Adm. Chris Parry said.
As for the drive in the east, the Russians continued heavy air and artillery attacks but did not appear to gain any significant ground over the past few days, according to military analysts, who said Moscow’s forces were still gearing up for a heavier offensive.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said the Ukrainians were hindering the Russian effort to push south from Izyum.
Rockets struck a neighborhood of Kharkiv on Thursday, and at least two civilians were burned to death in their car. A school and a residential building were also hit, and firefighters tried to put out a blaze and search for anyone trapped.
Western nations, meanwhile, rushed to pour heavy weapons into Ukraine to help it counter the offensive in the east.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced an additional $800 million in military assistance for Kyiv, including heavy artillery, 144,000 rounds of ammunition and drones.
But he also warned that the $13.6 billion approved last month by the U.S. Congress for military and humanitarian aid is “almost exhausted” and more will be needed.
Russia Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu estimated 2,000 Ukrainian troops remained at the steel plant. Ukrainian officials said about 1,000 civilians were also trapped there along with 500 wounded soldiers. Shoigu said the site was blocked off and predicted it could be taken in days.
“I consider the proposed storming of the industrial area pointless,” Putin responded, saying he was concerned about Russian soldiers.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” the Russian leader added. “Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly comes through.”
All told, more than 100,000 people were believed trapped with little or no food, water, heat or medicine in Mariupol, which had a prewar population of about 430,000.
The city has seized worldwide attention as the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war, including deadly airstrikes on a maternity hospital and a theater.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of launching attacks to block civilian evacuations from the city. On Thursday, at least two Russian attacks hit the city of Zaporizhzhia, a way station for people fleeing Mariupol, though no one was wounded, the regional governor said.
For weeks now, Russian officials have said capturing the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas is the war’s main goal. Moscow’s forces opened the new phase of the war this week along a 300-mile (480-kilometer) front from the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the Azov Sea.
“They’ve realized if they get sort of held up in these sort of really sticky areas like Mariupol, they’re not going to cover the rest of the ground,” Parry said.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said that Russia probably wants to demonstrate significant successes ahead of Victory Day on May 9, the proudest day on the Russian calendar, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
“This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date,” the ministry said.


Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; Danica Kirka in London; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Cleaner Earth: Healing ozone hole, less smog, more eagles
April 21, 2022
By SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science Writer
With climate change, plastic pollution and a potential sixth mass extinction, humanity has made some incredible messes in the world.
But when people, political factions and nations have pulled together, they have also cleaned up some of those human-caused environmental problems, including healing the ozone hole, clearing perpetually smoggy air and saving many species from the brink of extinction.
“We can be good at cleaning up our messes, it’s whether or not we choose to be and what we prioritize,” said Michigan State University environmental sustainability researcher Sheril Kirshenbaum.
For Earth Day, The Associated Press asked more than 25 environmental scientists and policy experts, including two former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chiefs and the current director of the United Nations Environment Programme, to share their top stories about environmental problems that the world fixed.
“There are some amazing success stories,” said Stanford University environmental scientist Rob Jackson. “It’s easy for us to get tunnel vision with everything going wrong, and there is a lot that needs to change quickly. But it’s wonderful to remind ourselves that other people in the past have succeeded and that society has succeeded too, both nationally here in the U.S. and also internationally.”
Here are the four successes mentioned most often and a key aspect that so many ecological wins have in common.
HEALING THE OZONE HOLE
Fixing ozone depletion was by far the top choice of scientists, officials and environmental policy experts.
“It was a moment where countries that usually compete with each other grasped the collective threat and decided to implement a solution,” former EPA chief Carol Browner said in an email.
Scientists in the 1970s had discovered that a certain class of chemicals, often used in aerosol sprays and refrigeration, was eating away the protective ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere that shields the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation linked to skin cancer.
The ozone layer was thinning everywhere, creating a hole over Antarctica, which not only threatened increased skin cancer cases, but cataracts and widespread changes to ecosystems around the globe, said University of North Carolina atmospheric scientist Jason West.
“It’s the first time we created a planet-killing problem and then we turned around and solved it,” Stanford’s Jackson said.
In 1987, the countries of the world signed the Montreal Protocol, a first of its kind treaty that banned the ozone-munching chemicals. At this point every nation in the world has adopted the treaty, 99% of the ozone-depleting chemicals have been phased out, “saving 2 million people every year from skin cancer,” United Nations Environment Programme Director Inger Andersen said in an email.
The ozone hole over Antarctica worsened for a couple decades, but over the last several years it has slowly started to heal in fits and spurts. The United Nations Environment Programme projects that the ozone ” will heal completely by the 2030s.”
While activists point to the Montreal Protocol as a hope and example for the fight against climate change, it’s not quite the same. In the case of the banned ozone-sapping chemicals the corporations that manufactured them also made their replacements. But with climate change “it’s more of an existential threat to the oil and gas companies,” Jackson said.
CLEANER AIR AND WATER
In the United States and much of the industrialized world, the air is much cleaner and clearer than it was 50 or 60 years ago when major cities like Los Angeles were choked with smog and even more dangerous microscopic particles in the air. And lakes and rivers were dumping grounds, especially around Ohio, Michigan and Canada.
“We would go to Lake Erie when I was young… and play on the beach and there would be dead fish everywhere. We would have dead fish fights,” Stanford’s Jackson said.
In the United States the Clean Air Act of 1970 and its follow up in 1990 with EPA regulations “effectively cleaned our air,” UNC’s West said. A similar law passed in the 1972 for water.
“This has led to fewer health conditions such as cancer and asthma, for example, and saved millions of lives and trillions of dollars in health care costs,” Syracuse University environmental sciences professor Sam Tuttle said. “That means healthier people, more productive fisheries and a healthier and more attractive environment for all of us to enjoy.”
Tight restrictions on tiny particles alone decreased annual U.S. air pollution deaths “from about 95,000 in 1990 to 48,000 in 2019,” West said.
In Los Angeles in 1955, smog levels peaked at 680 parts per billion. In the last couple years they hit 185 parts per billion but are usually much smaller.
It’s not just air outside. Former EPA chief William K. Reilly and University of Maryland environmental health scientist Sacoby Wilson said restricting indoor smoking had huge public health effects.
On the water, Brown University environmental scientist J. Timmons Roberts also grew up on Lake Erie and stopped going to the water because of the dead fish: “Regulations and cooperation between the U.S. and Canada really made the difference and now there’s genuine eco-tourism there and thousands of walleye and other fishers come out every summer.”
SOLAR AND WIND POWER
The steep fall in price of solar and wind power, which do not produce heat-trapping gases, has surprised experts and given them hope that the world can wean itself from coal, oil and natural gas that are causing global warming.
From 2010 to 2020, the price of residential solar power dropped 64% and the price of large-scale utility solar power generation dropped 82%, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab.
Solar “is becoming a dominant energy technology and it’s becoming cheaper,” Jackson said. “It is cheaper than almost all other forms of electricity generation.”
Few people thought solar and wind prices would drop so quickly just ten years ago, Jackson, Kirshenbaum and others said.
Experts credit renewable power subsidies to pull the world out of the 2008 Great Recession, especially in Germany and the United States.
ENDANGERED SPECIES
The bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon, Canada geese and humpback whales are each environmental success stories.
All were once on the brink of extinction, put on the endangered species list for protection. Now they are all of the protected list and in some cases they are so abundant that people consider them a nuisance or they cause problems for other species.
“Conservation efforts are clawing some endangered species back from the brink,” Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm said. “We are learning to do this thing called conservation.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken 96 species off the endangered species list, 65 of them because they have recovered.
Experts credit regulations and laws across the world with restricting the killing and trading of endangered species and preventing destruction of crucial habitat for those critters and plants.
Another key change was the ban on the pesticide DDT, which reverberated through the food chain, causing thinning eggs for eagles, peregrine falcons and other birds of prey, Cornell University environmental biology professor Robert Howarth said.
COOPERATION
In the United States, many of these key successes were spurred by laws and actions taken by Republican administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“All these major milestones, including the creation of the EPA, were bipartisan, but unfortunately today we can’t seem to get that stuff done,” said Christie Todd Whitman, who was an EPA chief during a Republican presidency. “Sadly, Republicans don’t seem to care about these issues anymore — everything is so hyper partisan now that (the) GOP seem to be Neanderthals on the environment.”
Often when a Republican is president, the rest of the country moves left and becomes more friendly to environmental action, whereas they move right and become more environmentally complacent during Democratic administrations, said Kirshenbaum, a former congressional staffer and director of Science Debate. What’s important is cooperation and buy-in to big issues from all sides, experts said.
The treaty to heal the ozone hole is the example for what working together can accomplish, Syracuse’s Tuttle said: “This agreement proved that the international community could come together to create an enforceable framework to tackle an environmental problem of global significance.”


Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate


Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Russia pressures Mariupol as it focuses on Ukraine’s east
April 20, 2022
By ADAM SCHRECK Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tightened the noose around diehard Ukrainian defenders holed up at a Mariupol steel plant Wednesday amid desperate new efforts to open an evacuation corridor for trapped civilians in the ruined city, a key battleground in Moscow’s drive to seize the country’s industrial east.
As the holdouts came under punishing new attacks, the Kremlin said it submitted a draft of its demands for ending the fighting, the number of people fleeing the country climbed past 5 million, and the West raced to supply Ukraine with heavier weapons for the potentially grinding new phase of the war.
Ukraine’s military said Moscow continued to mount attacks across the east, probing for weak points in the Ukrainian defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missile and air attacks on Ukrainian targets, including concentrations of troops and vehicles.
The Kremlin’s stated goal is to capture the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking eastern region that is home to coal mines, metal plants and heavy-equipment factories vital to Ukraine’s economy. Detaching it would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly needed victory two months into the war.
Analysts say the offensive in the east could devolve into a grim war of attrition as Russia runs up against Ukraine’s most experienced, battle-hardened troops, who have been fighting pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas for the past eight years.
With that potentially pivotal offensive underway, Russia said it has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of talks aimed at ending the conflict — days after Putin said the negotiations were at a “dead end.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the ball is in (the Ukrainians’) court, we’re waiting for a response.” He gave no details on the draft, and it was not clear when the document was sent or if it offered anything new to the Ukrainians, who presented their own demands last month.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said Kyiv was reviewing the proposals.
Moscow has long demanded, among other things, that Ukraine drop any bid to join NATO. Ukraine has expressed a willingness to abandon the notion of NATO membership in return for security guarantees from a number of other countries.
In the all but flattened city of Mariupol, Ukrainian troops said Tuesday the Russian military dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of the sprawling Azvostal steel plant — believed to be the last holdout of troops defending Mariupol — and hit a makeshift hospital where hundreds were staying. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
Serhiy Taruta, the former governor of the Donetsk region and a Mariupol native, said 300 people, including wounded troops and civilians with children, were sheltered at the hospital.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, meanwhile, said there was a preliminary agreement to open a humanitarian corridor for women, children and the elderly to leave Mariupol and head west to the Ukraine-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday afternoon.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko urged residents to leave, though previous such agreements have fallen apart, with Russians shelling escape routes or otherwise preventing buses meant to pick up evacuees from entering the city.
More than 100,000 people were believed trapped in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000.
“Do not be frightened and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can receive all the help you need — food, medicine, essentials — and the main thing is that you will be in safety,” the mayor said in a statement.
A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, remained holed up in the steel plant. The Russian side issued a new ultimatum to the defenders to surrender Wednesday, but the Ukrainians have ignored previous demands to leave the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers.
Mariupol holds strategic and symbolic value for both sides. The scale of suffering there has made it a worldwide focal point of the war. Mariupol’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas.
Eyewitness accounts and reports from officials have given a broad picture of the extent of the Russian advance. But independent reporting in the parts of the Donbas held by Russian forces and separatists is severely limited, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places on the ground.
Western nations, meanwhile, are boosting their donations of military supplies to Kyiv for this new phase of the war, which is likely to involve trench warfare, long-range artillery attacks and tank battles across relatively open terrain.
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new weapons package in the coming days that will include additional artillery and ammunition, and Canada and the Netherlands also said they would send more heavy weapons.


Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Ukraine war refugees top 5 million as assault intensifies
April 20, 2022
By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA and RAFAL NIEDZIELSKI Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — After spending weeks with no electricity or water in the basement of her family’s home in Ukraine, Viktoriya Savyichkina made a daring escape from the besieged city of Mariupol with her 9- and 14-year-old daughters.
Their dwelling for now is a huge convention center in Poland’s capital. Savyichkina said she saw a photo of the home in Mariupol destroyed. From a camp bed in a foreign country, the 40-year-old bookeeper thinks about restarting her and her children’s lives from square one.
“I don’t even know where we are going, how it will turn out,” Savyichkina said. “I would like to go home, of course. Maybe here, I will enjoy it in Poland.”
With the war in Ukraine approaching eight weeks, more than 5 million people have fled the country since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24, the U.N. refugee agency reported Wednesday. When the number reached 4 million on March 30, the exodus exceeded the worst-case predictions of the Geneva-based office of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
The even bigger milestone in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II was reached as Russia unleashed a full-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine that will disrupt and end more lives.
The millions of people who left Ukraine because of the war “have left behind their homes and families,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted Wednesday. “Many would do anything, and some even risk going back, to see their loved ones. But every new attack shatters their hopes. Only an end to the war can pave the way for rebuilding their lives.”
Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million, and UNHCR says the conflict has displaced more than 7 million people within Ukraine along with the 5.03 million who had left as of Wednesday. According to the agency, another 13 million people are believed to be trapped in the war-affected areas of Ukraine.
“We’ve seen about a quarter of Ukraine’s population, more than 12 million people in total, ,,,have been forced to flee their homes, so this is a staggering amount of people,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told The Associated Press.
More than half of the refugees, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. They are eligible for national ID numbers that entitle them to work, to free health care, schooling and bonuses for families with children.
Although many of have stayed there, an unknown number have traveled on to other countries. Savyichkina said she is thinking about taking her daughters to Germany.
“We hope we can live there, send children to school, find work and start life from zero,” she said inside the vast premises of the Global EXPO Center in Warsaw, which is providing basic accommodations for about 800 refugees.
If “everything goes well, if the children like it first of all, then we will stay. If not…,” Savyichkina said.
Further south, Hungary has emerged as a major transit point for Ukrainian refugees. Out of more than 465,000 who arrived, some 16,400 have applied for protected status, meaning they want to stay. Many are members of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine.
Hungary’s government says it has provided around $8.7 million to several charitable organizations and is giving subsidies to companies that employ Ukrainians granted asylum.
In March, a non-governmental organization, Migration Aid, rented an entire five-story building in Budapest, a former workers’ hostel, to provide temporary accommodation for people escaping the war in Ukraine. It has helped some 4,000 refugees so far.
Tatiana Shulieva, 67, a retired epidemiologist who fled from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and wants to travel on to Egypt, said the night she spent in the hostel was “like a fairytale” after having sheltered in a basement for weeks to escape constant shelling.
Neighboring Romania has received over 750,000 refugees from Ukraine. Oxana Cotus, who fled the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv with her four small children, initially decided to go to Denmark but ended up in Bucharest because she speaks Romanian and didn’t want to be far from Ukraine.
She praised the help she received from the International Red Cross in helping her relocate and get settled.
The European nations hosting refugees say they need international help to manage the challenge, especially now as Russia has intensified attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
“If we have a second wave of refugees, then a real problem will come because we are at capacity. We cannot accept more,” Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told The Associated Press.
About 300,000 war refugees are in the city of some 1.8 million, most of them staying in private homes, Trzaskowski said. Warsaw residents expected to host refugees for a few months, but not indefinitely, he said.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was in Lviv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, visiting a refugee center made of mobile modules that the governments of Ukraine and Poland jointly built to house displaced individuals who do not want to leave Ukraine.
Organizations for refugees say the best help would be for the war to stop.
“Unfortunately, without an immediate end to the fighting, the unspeakable suffering and mass displacement that we are seeing will only get worse,” UNHCR’s Mantoo said.
Data from Poland show that some 738,000 people have crossed back into Ukraine during the war. Some of them shuttle back and forth to do shopping in Poland, while others return to Ukraine to check on relatives and property, electing to either stay or depart again depending on what they find.
More than half of the refugees from Ukraine are children, according to UNHCR. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been killed or wounded in shelling and air strikes.
Mantoo called the “outpouring of support and the generosity” shown to arriving Ukrainian refugees has been “remarkable.”
“But what is important is that it is sustained and that it is channelled across to ensure that refugees are enabled to receive that support while the fighting continues, while they are unable to return home,” she said.


Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Justin Spike in Budapest and Nicolae Dumitrache in Bucharest contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

UK’s Boris Johnson faces wrath of lawmakers over partygate
April 19, 2022
By JILL LAWLESS Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing British lawmakers on Tuesday for the first time since he was fined by police for attending a birthday party in his office that broke coronavirus lockdown rules.
As the House of Commons returns from an 11-day Easter break, Johnson is expected to apologize for what he insists was a minor slip-up — but rebuff opposition calls to resign for flouting the restrictions that he imposed on the country during the pandemic.
The opposition Labour Party is trying to get lawmakers to censure Johnson over the “partygate” scandal. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, said he would allow Labour to hold a Commons debate and vote on whether Johnson should be investigated for allegedly misleading Parliament. Ministers found to have done that are generally expected to resign.
The vote is scheduled for Thursday. Before that, Johnson is expected to sound contrite, but argue that it would be wrong to change leaders while Britain faces crises including the war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living squeeze driven by surging energy and goods prices.
Johnson and his Conservative government have faced growing outrage since allegations surfaced late last year that he and his staff held office parties in 2020 and 2021 when millions in the country were barred from meeting with friends and family — or even attending funerals for their loved ones.
Johnson paid a 50-pound ($66) fine last week for attending his own surprise birthday party in Downing Street in June 2020. The penalty made Johnson the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.
The fine followed a police investigation and a civil service probe into the gatherings. Johnson tried to bat away questions, first by saying there were no parties and then by insisting that he believed no rules were broken.
Cabinet Minister Brandon Lewis insisted Johnson wasn’t a liar and had always stated “what he believes to be the truth.”
“What he said to Parliament he believed to be true at the time,” Lewis said.
Johnson’s grip on power had appeared to be on a knife-edge earlier this year because of the scandal and the departure of several top aides. Allies feared “partygate” could become a tipping point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his expenses and his moral judgment. Some Conservative lawmakers were openly calling for a no-confidence vote in their leader.
But Johnson has hung on, partly because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine distracted public and political attention.
Johnson’s international image, battered by Britain’s messy exit from the European Union under his leadership, has been revived by his firm military, political and moral support for Ukraine. Johnson traveled to Kyiv earlier this month to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Johnson could still face more fines. London’s Metropolitan Police force is investigating a dozen event, including “bring your own booze” office parties and “wine time Fridays,” organized by Johnson’s staff. So far at least 50 tickets have been handed out, including those to Johnson, his wife Carrie and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak.
If Johnson is sanctioned again, calls for a no-confidence vote could grow among Conservatives. For now, Conservative lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said his colleagues were “withholding their judgment and waiting to see what happens.”
But fellow Conservative Tobias Ellwood, who heads the Commons Defense Committee, said the government “shouldn’t use the fig leaf of our involvement with Ukraine to somehow say this is not a time to address those difficult challenges.”
He said the party should hold a no-confidence vote to determine whether “the prime minister has support and we march forward, or it is time for change.”

Ukrainian officials: Russian strikes kill at least 7 in Lviv
April 18, 2022
By YURAS KARMANAU Associated Press
LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces launched missile attacks on the western city of Lviv and pounded a multitude of other targets across Ukraine on Monday in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defenses ahead of an all-out assault on the east.
At least seven people were reported killed in Lviv, where plumes of thick black smoke rose over a city that has seen only sporadic attacks during almost two months of war and has become a haven for large numbers of civilians fleeing intense fighting elsewhere. To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has also become a major conduit for NATO-supplied weapons and for foreign fighters joining the Ukrainian cause.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, meanwhile, vowed to “fight absolutely to the end” in strategically vital Mariupol, where the last known pocket of resistance in the seven-week siege consisted of Ukrainian fighters holed up in a sprawling steel plant. The holdouts ignored a surrender-or-die ultimatum from the Russians on Sunday.
The governor of the Lviv region, Maksym Kozytskyy, said the Russian missile strikes hit three military infrastructure facilities and an auto mechanic shop. He said the wounded included a child, and emergency teams battled fires caused by the attack.
Lviv is the biggest city and a major transportation hub in western Ukraine. It sits roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Poland, a NATO member.
Russia has strongly complained about the increasing flow of Western weapons to Ukraine, and last week its Foreign Ministry issued a formal note of protest to the U.S. and its allies. On Russian state media, some anchors have charged that the supplies amount to direct Western engagement in the fight against Russia.
Lviv has also been seen as a relatively safe place for the elderly, mothers and children trying to escape the war. But a hotel sheltering Ukrainians who had fled fighting in other parts of the country was among the buildings badly damaged, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said.
“The nightmare of war has caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled with two children from the eastern city of Kharkiv. “There is no longer anywhere in Ukraine where we can feel safe.”
A powerful explosion also rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of the capital of Kyiv that is home to a military airbase, according to residents. It was not immediately clear what was hit.
Military analysts say Russia is increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to wear down the country’s ability to resist a major ground offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.
The Russian military said its missiles struck more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine in the past day, including ammunition depots, command headquarters and groups of troops and vehicles.
It claimed its artillery hit an additional 315 Ukrainian targets and warplanes conducted 108 strikes on Ukrainian troops and military equipment. The claims could not be independently verified.
Over the weekend, Russia also claimed to have destroyed Ukrainian air defense radar equipment.
Gen. Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, told Sky News the strikes were part of a “softening-up” campaign by Russia ahead of a planned ground offensive in the Donbas.
Ukraine’s government halted civilian evacuations for a second day on Monday, saying Russian forces were shelling and blocking the humanitarian corridors.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine had been negotiating passage from cities and towns in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, including Mariupol and other areas in the Donbas. The government of the Luhansk region in the Donbas said four civilians trying to flee were shot and killed by Russian forces.
Vereshchuk said Russia could be prosecuted for war crimes over its refusal to allow civilians to leave Mariupol.
“Your refusal to open these humanitarian corridors will in the future be a reason to prosecute all involved for war crimes,” she wrote on social media.
The Russians, in turn, accused “neo-Nazi nationalists” in Mariupol of hampering the evacuation.
Russia is bent on capturing the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists already control some territory, after its attempt to take the capital failed.
“We are doing everything to ensure the defense” of eastern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address to the nation on Sunday.
The looming offensive in the east, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly needed victory to point to amid the war’s mounting casualties and the economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.
The capture of Mariupol is seen as a key step in preparations for any eastern assault since it would free Russian troops up for that new campaign. The fall of the city on the Sea of Azov would also hand Russia its biggest victory of the war, giving it full control of a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014, and depriving Ukraine of a major port and its prized industrial assets.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar has described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine.”
The city has been reduced to rubble in the siege, but a few thousand fighters, by Russia’s estimate, are holding on to the giant, 11-square-kilometer (4-square-mile) Azovstal steel mill.
The relentless bombardment of Mariupol — including at a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were sheltering — has combined with street fighting to kill at least 21,000 people, by Ukrainian estimates. An estimated 100,000 people remain in the city out of a prewar population of 450,000, trapped without food, water, heat or electricity.
A pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who was arrested last week on a treason charge appeared in a video offering himself in exchange for the evacuation of Mariupol’s trapped defenders and civilians. Ukraine’s state security services posted the video of Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party with personal ties to Putin.
It was not clear whether Medvedchuk was speaking under duress.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was also hit by shelling Monday that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the scene. One of the dead was a woman who appeared to be going out to collect water in the rain. She was found lying with a water canister and an umbrella by her side.
Putin repeated his insistence that the Western sanctions “blitz” against Russia had failed.
He said the West has not managed to “provoke panic in the markets, the collapse of the banking system and shortages in stores,” though he acknowledged a sharp increase in consumer prices in Russia, saying they rose 17.5%.


This story has been updated to correct the attribution on the first partial quote about fighting to the end to Ukraine’s prime minister, not president.


Associated Press journalists Nico Maounis and Philip Crowther in Lviv, Ukraine, and Adam Schreck in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Israeli troops wound 2 Palestinians in West Bank raid
April 18, 2022
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli troops shot and wounded two Palestinians on Monday during clashes that broke out during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military said it arrested 11 Palestinians in operations across the territory overnight. In a raid in the village of Yamun, near the city of Jenin, the army said dozens of Palestinians hurled rocks and explosives at troops.
Soldiers “responded with live ammunition” toward “suspects who hurled explosive devices,” the military said. The Palestinian Health Ministry said two men were hospitalized after being critically wounded.
Israel has carried out a wave of arrest raids and other operations in recent weeks that it says are aimed at preventing further attacks after Palestinian assailants killed at least 14 people inside Israel. Two of the attackers came from in and around Jenin, which has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israeli rule.
At least 25 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in recent weeks, according to an Associated Press count. Many had carried out attacks or were involved in clashes, but an unarmed woman and a lawyer who appears to have been a bystander were also among those killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.
Tensions have run high in recent days, during the confluence of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover.
Palestinian protesters and Israeli police have clashed at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Jordan and Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago and coordinate with it on security matters, have condemned its actions at the holy site. Jordan — which serves as custodian of the site — summoned Israel’s charge d’affaires in protest on Monday.
An Arab party that made history last year by joining Israel’s governing coalition on Sunday suspended its participation — a largely symbolic act that nevertheless reflected the sensitivity of the holy site, which is at the emotional heart of the century-old conflict.
Israel says security forces were forced to enter the compound after Palestinians stockpiled stones and other objects and hurled rocks in the direction of an adjacent Jewish holy site. The Palestinians and Arab states accused the police of storming the site in violation of longstanding arrangements known as the status quo.
Protests and clashes in and around the shrine last year helped fuel the 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza.


Russia loses warship, says attacks on Kyiv will increase
April 15, 2022
By ADAM SCHRECK Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A day after Moscow suffered a stinging symbolic defeat with the loss of the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, Russia’s Defense Ministry promised Friday to ramp up missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital in response to Ukraine’s alleged military “diversions on the Russian territory.”
The threat of intensified attacks on Kyiv came after Russian authorities accused Ukraine of wounding seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings with airstrikes on Bryansk, a region that borders Ukraine. Authorities in another border region of Russia also reported Ukrainian shelling Thursday.
Kyiv has gradually displayed some signs of pre-war life after Russian troops failed to capture the city and retreated to focus on a concentrated assault in eastern Ukraine, leaving evidence of possible war crimes in their wake. A renewed bombardment could return the capital’s residents to sheltering in subway stations and the steady wail of air raid sirens.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed striking targets in Russia, and the reports by Russian authorities could not be independently verified. However, Ukrainian officials claimed their forces struck a key Russian warship with missiles on Thursday. If true, the claim would represent an important victory.
The guided-missile cruiser Moskva, named for the Russian capital, sank while being towed to port Thursday after suffering heavy damage under circumstances that remained in dispute. Moscow acknowledged a fire on board but not any attack. U.S. and other Western officials could not confirm what caused the blaze.
The Moskva had the capacity to carry 16 long-range cruise missiles, and its removal reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. If Ukrainian forces took out the vessel, the Moskva likely represents the largest warship to be sunk in combat since the Falklands War. A British submarine torpedoed an Argentine navy cruiser called the ARA General Belgrano during the 1982 conflict, killing over 300 sailors on board.
The Russian warship’s loss in an invasion already widely seen as a historic blunder also was a symbolic defeat for Moscow as its troops regroup for an offensive in eastern Ukraine after retreating from the Kyiv region and much of the north.
In his nightly address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the people of his country should be proud of having survived 50 days under attack when the Russian invaders “gave us a maximum of five.”
Zelenskyy did not mention the Moskva by name, but while listing the ways Ukraine has defended against the onslaught, mentioned “those who showed that Russian warships can sail away, even if it’s to the bottom” of the sea. It was his only reference to the Moskva.
News about the flagship overshadowed Russian claims of advances in the southern port city of Mariupol, where Moscow’s forces have been battling the Ukrainians since the early days of the invasion in some of the heaviest fighting of the war — at a horrific cost to civilians.
Dwindling numbers of Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol are holding out against a siege that has trapped well over 100,000 civilians in desperate need of food, water and heating. David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that people were being “starved to death” in the besieged city.
Mariupol’s mayor said this week that more than 10,000 civilians had died and the death toll could surpass 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find evidence of atrocities committed against civilians like the ones discovered in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv once the Russians withdrew.
The Mariupol City Council said Friday that locals reported seeing Russian troops digging up bodies that were buried in residential courtyards and not allowing any new burials “of people killed by them.”
“Why the exhumation is being carried out and where the bodies will be taken is unknown,” the council said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app.
Mariupol’s capture is critical for Russia because it would allow its forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland and the target of the looming offensive.
Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas since 2014, the same year Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has recognized the independence of two rebel-held areas of the region.
Although it’s not certain when Russia will launch the full-scale campaign, a regional Ukrainian official said Friday that seven people died and 27 were injured after Russian forces opened fire on buses carrying civilians in the village of Borovaya, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are working to establish the circumstances of the attack, Dmytro Chubenko, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, told Ukraine’s Suspilne news website.
Chubenko said that Ukrainian authorities had opened criminal proceedings in connection with a suspected “violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder.” The claims of an attack on civilian buses could not be independently verified.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that Russian strikes in the Kharkiv region “liquidated a squad of mercenaries from a Polish private military company” of up to 30 people and “liberated” an iron and steel factor in Mariupol from “Ukrainian nationalists.” The claims could not be independently verified.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry explained the damage to Russia’s Black Sea flagship by a fire had caused ammunition stowed on board to detonate. In addition to the cruise missiles, the warship also had air-defense missiles and other guns.
The ministry did not say what might have caused the blaze but reported that the “main missile weapons” were not damaged and the crew, which usually numbers about 500, abandoned the vessel. It wasn’t clear if there were any casualties.
Maksym Marchenko, the governor of Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Odesa, said Ukrainian forces struck the Moskva with two Neptune missiles and caused “serious damage.” The Neptune is an anti-ship missile that was recently developed by Ukraine based on an earlier Soviet design.
The missile’s launchers are mounted on trucks stationed near the coast, and, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, can hit targets up to 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. That would have put the Moskva within range, based on where the ship was when the fire began.
Launched as the Slava in 1979, the cruiser saw service in the Cold War and during conflicts in Georgia and Syria, and helped conduct peacetime scientific research with the United States. During the Cold War, it carried nuclear weapons.
British defense officials said the Moskva’s loss would likely force Moscow to change how its naval forces operate in the Black Sea. In a social media post Friday, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said the ship, which returned to operational service last year after a major refit, “served a key role as both a command vessel and air defense node.”
Other Russian ships in the northern Black Sea moved farther south after the Moskva incident, a senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and has lsuffered thousands of military casualties. The conflict has killed untold numbers of Ukrainian civilians and forced millions more to flee.
It has also further inflated prices at grocery stores and gasoline pumps, while dragging on the global economy. The head of the International Monetary Fund said Thursday that the war helped push the organization to downgrade economic forecasts for 143 countries.


Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

N. Korea marks key anniversary but no word on army parade
April 15, 2022
By HYUNG-JIN KIM and KIM TONG-HYUNG Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday celebrated the milestone birth anniversary of its late founder with a mass dance, fireworks and calls for stronger loyalty to his grandson and current leader Kim Jong Un, but there was no word on an expected military parade amid heightened tensions over its nuclear program.
The 110th birthday of Kim Il Sung comes after North Korea conducted a spate of weapons tests in recent months, including its first full-range intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017. Experts say North Korea aims to expand its arsenal and ramp up pressure on the United States while nuclear diplomacy is stalled.
“Let’s work harder in devotion to our respected comrade Kim Jong Un and on that path ultimately realize the dreams of our great president (Kim Il Sung) to build a powerful socialist state,” the North’s state-run website Uriminzokkiri said in a commentary.
Kim Il Sung’s birthday is the most important national holiday in North Korea, where the Kim family has ruled under a strong personality cult since the nation’s founding in 1948. Kim Jong Un became a third-generation leader after his father Kim Jong Il died in late 2011.
Kim Jong Un has pushed to advance his nuclear weapons while simultaneously reviving the economy. But a mix of pandemic border closures, U.S.-led sanctions and his own mismanagement have caused a massive economic blow in what’s become the toughest moment of his decade in power.
On Friday, Pyongyang residents bowed and lay bouquets of flowers near the bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
State TV later showed thousands of young people — men dressed in Western-style white shirts and women in colorful traditional garb — dancing in a Pyongyang plaza as fireworks launched from a nearby river bank lit up the night sky. The dancers circled a group of performers who held up yellow flowers to form the symbol of the Workers’ Party of Korea – a hammer, brush and sickle.
North Korea often marks key state anniversaries with huge military parades featuring newly built missiles, especially during anniversaries that end in zero and five. Commercial satellites earlier indicated an apparent rehearsal for a military parade, such as people assembled in formation at the Pyongyang plaza, where such events were held in the past.
After North Korea’s ICBM test last month, South Korean and U.S. officials said Pyongyang could soon launch fresh provocations like an additional ICBM test, a rocket to put a spy satellite into orbit, or even a nuclear bomb test that would be the seventh of its kind.
South Korea’s military said recently it detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that it partially dismantled before it entered now-dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018.
“I think they’ll carry out a nuclear test once it finishes restoring its nuclear testing facility,” said analyst Moon Seong Mook with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. “There is no reason for them to bring back its testing ground if they don’t plan to use them for a bomb test.”
Sung Kim, the top U.S. official on North Korea, is to visit South Korea next week for talks on the international community’s response to the North’s recent missile tests.
North Korea has recently resumed its trademark harsh rhetoric against its rivals. One of its international affairs commentators labeled President Joe Biden as “an old man in senility,” while Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, called South Korea’s defense minister “a scum-like guy” and threatened to annihilate South Korea with nuclear strikes.


Russian warship badly damaged after Ukrainians claim strike
April 14, 2022
By ADAM SCHRECK Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military sustained a major blow Thursday when the flagship of the country’s Black Sea fleet was badly damaged and its crew evacuated. Ukrainian officials said their forces hit the vessel with missiles, while Russia acknowledged a fire aboard the Moskva but no attack.
The warship named for the Russian capital was 60 to 65 nautical miles south of Odesa when the fire ignited, and the vessel was still battling flames hours later while heading east, according to a Pentagon official. The loss of the ship would be a major military setback and a devastating symbolic defeat for Moscow as its troops regroup for a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine after retreating from much of the north, including the capital.
The Moskva was moving on its own, a senior U.S defense official said, contrary to an early report from one Ukrainian official saying the ship had sunk. The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments, said the Pentagon could not confirm what caused the fire.
Russia said the fire aboard the ship, which would typically have 500 sailors on board, forced the entire crew to evacuate. It later said the blaze had been contained and that the ship would be towed to port with its guided missile launchers intact.
The ship can carry 16 long-range cruise missiles, and its removal from combat would greatly reduce Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. Regardless of the extent of the damage, any attack would represent a huge blow to Russian prestige in a war already widely seen as a historic blunder. Now entering its eighth week, Russia’s invasion has stalled because of resistance from Ukrainian fighters bolstered by weapons and other aid sent by Western nations.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC show the Moskva steaming out of the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula on Sunday. But cloud cover on Thursday made it impossible to use satellite images to locate the ship or determine its condition.
The news of the flagship’s damage overshadowed Russian claims of advances in the southern port city of Mariupol, where they have been battling the Ukrainians since the early days of the invasion in some of the heaviest fighting of the war — at a horrific cost to civilians.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 1,026 Ukrainian troops surrendered at a metals factory in the city. But Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, rejected the claim, telling Current Time TV that “the battle over the seaport is still ongoing today.”
It was unclear how many forces were still defending Mariupol.
Russian state television broadcast footage that it said was from Mariupol showing dozens of men in camouflage walking with their hands up and carrying others on stretchers. One man held a white flag.
Mariupol’s capture is critical for Russia because it would allow its forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland and the target of the coming offensive.
The Russian military continues to move helicopters and other equipment together for such a effort, according to a senior U.S. defense official, and it will likely add more ground combat units “over coming days.” But it’s still unclear when Russia could launch a bigger offensive in the Donbas.
Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukraine in the Donbas since 2014, the same year Russia seized Crimea. Russia has recognized the independence of the rebel regions in the Donbas.
The loss of the Moskva could delay any new, wide-ranging offensive.
Maksym Marchenko, the governor of the Odesa region, across the Black Sea to the northwest of Sevastopol, said the Ukrainians struck the ship with two Neptune missiles and caused “serious damage.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, then said the ship sank, calling it an event of “colossal significance.” But Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, later said he was unable to confirm that the ship was sunk or even hit by Ukrainian forces. He said he was aware of the comments by other Ukrainian officials but “could neither confirm nor deny” what happened.
“If or when this is confirmed, if it is confirmed, we can only have a sigh of relief because this means that fewer missiles will reach Ukrainian cities,” he told The Associated Press.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said ammunition on board detonated as a result of a fire, without saying what caused the blaze. It said the “main missile weapons” were not damaged. In addition to the cruise missiles, the warship also had air-defense missiles and other guns.
The Neptune is an anti-ship missile that was recently developed by Ukraine and based on an earlier Soviet design. The launchers are mounted on trucks stationed near the coast, and, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, the missiles can hit targets up to 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. That would have put the Moskva within range, based on where the fire began.
The U.S. was not able to confirm Ukraine’s claims of striking the warship, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday. Still, he called it “a big blow to Russia.”
“They’ve had to kind of choose between two stories: One story is that it was just incompetence, and the other was that they came under attack, and neither is a particular the good outcome for them,” Sullivan told the Economic Club of Washington.
During the first days of the war, The Moskva was reportedly the warship that called on Ukrainian soldiers stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender in a standoff. In a widely circulated recording, the soldier responds: “Russian warship, go (expletive) yourself.”
The AP could not independently verify the incident, but Ukraine and its supporters consider it an iconic moment of defiance. The country recently unveiled a postage stamp commemorating it.
Russia invaded on Feb. 24 and has lost potentially thousands of fighters. The conflict has killed untold numbers of Ukrainian civilians and forced millions more to flee.
It’s also further inflated prices at grocery stores and gasoline pumps because Ukraine and Russia are major producers of crops and energy, while dragging on the global economy. The head of the International Monetary Fund said Thursday that the war helped push the organization to downgrade economic forecasts for 143 countries.
Also Thursday, Russian authorities accused Ukraine of sending two low-flying military helicopters across the border and firing on residential buildings in the village of Klimovo in Russia’s Bryansk region, some 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the frontier. Russia’s Investigative Committee said seven people, including a toddler, were wounded.
Russia’s state security service had earlier said Ukrainian forces fired mortar rounds at a border post in Bryansk as refugees were crossing, forcing them to flee.
The reports could not be independently verified. Earlier this month, Ukrainian security officials denied that Kyiv was behind an air strike on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, some 55 kilometers (35 miles) from the border.

Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Pressure on US to give Ukraine more intelligence on Russia
April 14, 2022
By NOMAAN MERCHANT and JAMES LAPORTA Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has called Russia’s war on Ukraine a genocide and accused Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes. But his administration has struggled with how much intelligence it is willing to give the Ukrainian forces that are trying to stop the Russian leader.
Since the war began in late February, the Biden administration has made multiple changes to a classified directive that governs what U.S. agencies are supposed to share with Ukraine. Much of what the United States collects is shared; some is not. Where the line is drawn depends on protecting the sources and methods of the intelligence, but also trying to limit the risk of escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia.
The latest changes occurred last week when U.S. intelligence officials lifted some geographic limits on the transfer of actionable information — the kind of information used in minute-by-minute decisions on the battlefield. According to several people familiar with the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, officials removed language that had limited the specific locations of potential targets in parts of eastern Ukraine.
The shifts in the intelligence rules reflect the administration’s changing calculations of what Putin might consider escalatory. The U.S. is also trying to step up support to Ukrainian forces that have surprised much of the world in how they have held back Russia but remain undermanned and outgunned. The Pentagon this week also announced $800 million in new military assistance that could include more powerful weapons and defensive equipment.
Some people familiar with the directive say there is ambiguity about the new limits. One question is whether the U.S. would delay or limit information about a possible Russian target in areas internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory but that Moscow or its proxies controlled before the war, including the Crimean Peninsula and parts of the Donbas. U.S. personnel have at times limited intelligence that they believed Ukrainian forces could use to retake previously lost territory.
The directive still limits information given to Ukrainians about forces in Russia or neighboring Belarus, where Russian forces have staged and previously attacked from Ukraine’s north.
“We are intensely sharing timely intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them defend themselves throughout their country, including in areas held by Russia before the 2022 invasion,” said one U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified directive. The Wall Street Journal first reported the directive had been changed.
Another U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters said the administration was “providing detailed, timely intelligence to the Ukrainians on a range of fronts.”
A letter sent Monday by Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee — after the new guidance — urges Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, to “proactively share intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them protect, defend, and retake every inch of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, which includes Crimea and the Donbas.”
The senators said they “remain deeply concerned that not enough is being done to share critical intelligence that would assist the Ukrainians as Russian forces move to secure territory in the southern and eastern parts of the country.”
Unlike a Feb. 9 letter to Biden urging intelligence sharing “to the fullest extent possible,” Democrats on the committee did not join this week’s letter, reflecting apparent divisions in how members view the administration’s current guidance.
The White House insists it is providing information in line with Ukraine’s current goals. Analysts say the war is shifting from a conflict fought across the country to a stronger focus on the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine that Russia has seized or attacked recently. One expected point of focus is the strategic port city of Mariupol, whose mayor says more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the Russian siege.
In addition to its own intelligence capabilities, Ukraine relies on U.S. and Western support to help it plan and repel attacks. Before and during the war, the U.S. has publicly and privately shared intelligence about what it believes are Putin’s battle plans in the hopes of undercutting Russia and building support for a forceful Western response.
Lawmakers from both parties have spoken broadly about the limits since the Russian invasion.
Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a television interview in March that the White House was holding back some real-time intelligence “because that steps over the line to making us participating in the war.” A spokesperson for Smith, D-Wash., declined an interview request Wednesday.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., on March 1 accused the White House of delaying intelligence due to “overly-lawyered processes,” adding that “information about where an invading Russian tank was 12 hours ago does squat to prevent civilian bloodshed.”
The directive has been changed to limit delays, officials said. The latest update, according to one intelligence official, is intended to give U.S. officers “added clarity” allowing for faster and more fulsome cooperation with Ukraine.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week if the U.S. was giving Ukraine intelligence to carry out operations in Crimea or parts of the Donbas previously controlled by Russian proxies.
“We want to make sure that’s clear to our force, and so updated guidance that goes out today will make sure that’s clear,” Austin said, adding: “Certainly the current guidance was not clear in that regard, so we’ll make sure it’s clear.”
Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, late last month asked Gen. Tod Wolters, the supreme NATO commander for Europe, whether he was satisfied with the speed of information getting to Ukraine.
“Congressman, I’m comfortable, but I want it to speed up,” Wolters said. “And I always will say that even if it occurs in one second, I want it tomorrow to be in a half a second.”

LaPorta reported from Wilmington, North Carolina.

Russia has yet to stop Western arms to Ukraine
April 13, 2022
By ROBERT BURNS AP National Security Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Western weaponry pouring into Ukraine helped blunt Russia’s initial offensive and seems certain to play a central role in the approaching, potentially decisive, battle for Ukraine’s contested Donbas region. Yet the Russian military is making little headway halting what has become a historic arms express.
The U.S. numbers alone are mounting: more than 12,000 weapons designed to defeat armored vehicles, some 1,400 shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to shoot down aircraft and more than 50 million rounds of ammunition, among many other things. Dozens of other nations are adding to the totals.
The Biden administration is preparing yet another, more diverse, package of military support possibly totaling $750 million to be announced in the coming days, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans not yet publicly announced. The additional aid is a sign that the administration intends to continue expanding its support for Ukraine’s war effort.
These armaments have helped an under-gunned Ukrainian military defy predictions that it would be quickly overrun by Russia. They explain in part why Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army gave up, at least for now, its attempt to capture Kyiv, the capital, and has narrowed its focus to battling for eastern and southern Ukraine.
U.S. officials and analysts offer numerous explanations for why the Russians have had so little success interdicting Western arms moving overland from neighboring countries, including Poland. Among the likely reasons: Russia’s failure to win full control of Ukraine’s skies has limited its use of air power. Also, the Russians have struggled to deliver weapons and supplies to their own troops in Ukraine.
Some say Moscow’s problem begins at home.
“The short answer to the question is that they are an epically incompetent army badly led from the very top,” said James Stavridis, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who was the top NATO commander in Europe from 2009 to 2013.
The Russians also face practical obstacles. Robert G. Bell, a longtime NATO official and now a professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech University, said the shipments lend themselves to being hidden or disguised in ways that can make them elusive to the Russians — “short of having a network of espionage on the scene” to pinpoint the convoys’ movements.
“It’s not as easy to stop this assistance flow as it might seem,” said Stephen Biddle, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. “Things like ammunition and shoulder-fired missiles can be transported in trucks that look just like any other commercial truck. And the trucks carrying the munitions the Russians want to interdict are just a small part of a much larger flow of goods and commerce moving around in Poland and Ukraine and across the border.
“So the Russians have to find the needle in this very big haystack to destroy the weapons and ammo they’re after and not waste scarce munitions on trucks full of printer paper or baby diapers or who knows what.”
Even with this Western assistance it’s uncertain whether Ukraine will ultimately prevail against a bigger Russian force. The Biden administration has drawn the line at committing U.S. troops to the fight. It has opted instead to orchestrate international condemnation and economic sanctions, provide intelligence information, bolster NATO’s eastern flank to deter a wider war with Russia and donate weapons.
In mid-March, a Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said arms shipments would be targeted.
“We warned the United States that pumping weapons into Ukraine from a number of countries as it has orchestrated isn’t just a dangerous move but an action that turns the respective convoys into legitimate targets,” he said in televised remarks.
But thus far the Russians appear not to have put a high priority on arms interdiction, perhaps because their air force is leery of flying into Ukraine’s air defenses to search out and attack supply convoys on the move. They have struck fixed sites like arms depots and fuel storage locations, but to limited effect.
On Monday, the Russians said they destroyed four S-300 surface-to-air missile launchers that had been given to Ukraine by an unspecified European country. Slovakia, a NATO member that shares a border with Ukraine, donated just such a system last week but denied it had been destroyed. On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense said long-range missiles were used to hit two Ukrainian ammo depots.
As the fighting intensifies in the Donbas and perhaps along the coastal corridor to the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula, Putin may feel compelled to strike harder at the arms pipeline, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called vital to his nation’s survival.
In the meantime, a staggering volume and range of war materiel is arriving almost daily.
“The scope and speed of our support to meeting Ukraine’s defense needs are unprecedented in modern times,” said John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. He said the approximately $2.5 billion in weapons and other material that has been offered to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration is equivalent to more than half of Ukraine’s normal defense budget.
One example: The Pentagon says it has provided more than 5,000 Javelin missiles, which are among the world’s most effective weapons against tanks and other armored vehicles — and can even take down a low-flying helicopter. The missile, shaped like a clunky dumb bell and weighing 50 pounds (23 kilograms), is fired by an individual soldier; from its launch tube it flies up at a steep angle and descends directly onto its target in what its known as a curveball shot — hitting the top of a tank where its armor is weakest.
The Pentagon said Wednesday that an unspecified number of additional Javelins are to be delivered by Thursday, and the U.S. will complete the delivery of 100 armed Switchblade “kamikaze” drones this week.
The specific routes used to move the U.S. and other Western materials into Ukraine are secret for security reasons, but the basic process is not. Just this week, two U.S. military cargo planes arrived in Eastern Europe with items ranging from machine guns and small arms ammunition to body armor and grenades, the Pentagon said.
A similar load is due later this week to complete delivery of $800 million in assistance approved by President Joe Biden just one month ago. The weapons and equipment are offloaded, moved onto trucks and driven into Ukraine by Ukrainian soldiers for delivery.
Kirby said the material sometimes reaches troops in the field within 48 hours of entering Ukraine.

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