World

Russia-Ukraine war: US officials to meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv; Russia claims strikes in Kharkiv – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war: US officials to meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv; Russia claims strikes in Kharkiv – live” was written by Sarah Haque (now) and Rebecca Ratcliffe (earlier), for theguardian.com on Sunday 24th April 2022 10.27 UTC

There is a growing list of regions that keep popping up in coverage of this war. So where, exactly, has Russia been targeting? Here are a few key locations, with background from the AP.

Mariupol

Russia has been attempting to take Mariupol, in the Donbas region, for nearly two months, and the city on the Sea of Azov has faced some of the war’s most brutal attacks. Some 2,000 troops are fighting to hold on to the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the city, the Azovstal steel plant, which is also housing civilians in its tunnel system.

Russian forces continue to hammer the plant with air strikes, including by long-range aircraft, Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces general staff, said on Sunday.

If captured, Ukraine would lose a vital port, and Russian troops would be free to fight elsewhere. It would also establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014.

Satellite images have shown what appears to be mass graves dug in towns to the west and east of Mariupol.

Rest of the Donbas region

The wider Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war, is one of Russia’s major targets.

Last week, Russian troops overran the small city of Kreminna.

Shtupun said Russian forces intensified their assault operations toward the cities of Popasna and Siverodonetsk in Luhansk, and Kharkiv in Donetsk. Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Sunday that eight people were killed and two others were wounded in a Russian barrage on Saturday.

The Russians also have shelled the Dnipro region west of Donbas, where at least one person was killed by a Russian missile, according to regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko.

Kyiv

Russia has pulled back forces from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and the north of the country to feed into the Donbas offensive, but the British ministry of defence said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous assaults in the past week.

“Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted significant cost on Russian forces,” the ministry said in an intelligence update.

Zelenskiy speaks of hope on Easter Sunday

In his Easter message on Sunday, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke from the ancient St Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv: “The great holiday today gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win.”

“The Lord and the holy heavenly light are on our side,” he added. “We are going through very difficult ordeals. Let us reach a just end on this path – the beginning of a happy life and prosperity of Ukraine.”

Zelenskiy said: “On Easter, we ask God for great grace to make our dream come true – this is another great day – the day when great peace will come to Ukraine.”

Updated

US: ‘This is going to be a victory for Ukraine’

The BBC journalist Sophie Raworth spoke to US state department spokesperson Ned Price earlier today about the possibility of Russia winning the war.

“What we have seen from our Ukrainian partners is nothing short of victory on the battlefield,” Price said.

“Right now, they are winning the battle for Ukraine. And it’s really no surprise, because they are fighting with grit, with determination, with tenacity – but also with massive amounts of security assistance that United States and some 30-odd countries from around the world are also providing.”

He added, “This is going to be a victory for Ukraine. It is going to be a strategic defeat for Russia. However and whenever that happens, we are confident of that.”

When pressed by Raworth on whether the US is committed to sending heavy offensive weapons to push Russian soldiers off Ukraine territory, Price said: “We announced yesterday, another tranche of security assistance, in the form of $800m in security assistance. We’re providing them just what they need for this new type of battle, the battle that’s going to emerge in the Donbas and in the south.

“We are confident that with our continued support, with the determination and tenacity that our Ukrainian partners have demonstrated, they will emerge victorious there as well.”

Updated

Russia says it struck several arms depots in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region overnight.

Reuters reports:

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday its high-precision missiles struck nine Ukrainian military targets overnight, including four arms depots in the Kharkiv region where artillery weapons were stored.”

These claims could not immediately be verified.

Updated

The senior Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has urged Moscow to agree to a “real Easter truce” on Sunday.

“Russia is constantly attacking Mariupol’s Azovstal. The place where our civilians and soldiers are is covered with heavy air bombs, artillery fire and intensive concentration of forces and equipment for the assault,” Podolyak said on Twitter.

He called on Russia to immediately open a humanitarian corridor for civilians and agree on a “special round of negotiations” to facilitate an exchange of military and civilians.

Updated

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the latest developments in Ukraine with me, Sarah Haque.

It is 11am, and this morning the sun came out as Ukrainians marked Orthodox Easter in the capital, Kyiv, with prayers for those fighting on the front lines and others trapped in places like Mariupol.

AP reports that residents of villages battered by the war remain defiant in commemorating the holiday:

“We’ll celebrate Easter no matter what, no matter much horror,” said Kateryna Lazarenko, 68, in the northern village of Ivanivka outside Chernihiv, where ruined Russian tanks still littered the roads.

“How do I feel? Very nervous, everyone is nervous,” said another resident, Olena Koptyl, as she prepared her Easter bread. “The Easter holiday doesn’t bring any joy. I’m crying a lot. We cannot forget how we lived.” She and 12 others spent a month sheltering from Russian soldiers in the basement of her home before the soldiers withdrew.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to meet with US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin later today in the first high-level US trip to Kyiv since before the war began on 24 February.

Updated

Summary

  • The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy will meet US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday, the most senior US officials to visit Kyiv since the war began. It’s expected that Zelenskiy will ask the US for more heavy weapons.
  • Zelenskiy warned peace negotiations with Moscow will be suspended if Russia kills any Mariupol defenders or goes forward with the independence referendum in the partly occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
  • On Saturday, Russia resumed its assault on the last defenders in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. This came despite Moscow declaring days ago that it had achieved victory in the southern port city and that its forces did not need to take the factory.
  • Zelenskiy, speaking via a video address late on Saturday, said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes committed against people in Mariupol, including the discovery of fresh graves. Russia was continuing the activities of “filtration camps” near Mariupol, he said, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens before forcibly relocating them to Russia.
  • Zelenskiy also condemned the killing of eight people, including a three-month-old baby girl, in a missile strike on Odesa.
  • UN secretary general António Guterres will visit Turkey, which has played a key role in negotiations, on Monday before meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday and Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday.
  • The UK Ministry of Defence said Ukraine has repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in the Donbas this week. It added that while Russia has made some territorial gains, its operations are hindered by poor morale and limited time to reorganise troops.

Updated

Ukrainians have marked Orthodox Easter this Sunday with prayers for those defending the country, and those facing desperate conditions in Mariupol.

At St Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukrainians brought baskets to be blessed by priests.

Updated

The Kyiv Independent has produced the following breakdown of Russia’s military losses as of 24 April, based on data from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is not possible to verify these figures.

Updated

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leaders across Europe and North America have sought to isolate Russia by imposing “unprecedented” sanctions.

How isolated is Russia? AFP has published the following analysis:

In the weeks that followed the invasion, Nato and EU airspace closed to Russian planes and the United States ordered bans on importing Russian oil and gas, as well as seafood, vodka and diamonds.

Some Russian banks were excluded from the Swift international payment system and hundreds of prominent figures were prohibited from touching down on European soil.

But outside the West, the response has been more cautious.

At the UN General Assembly on March 2, India and South Africa abstained during a vote demanding Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine.

In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico refused to participate in the barrage of sanctions.

“There are a growing number of countries that are more willing to assert their independence in spite of the fact that they aspire to closer cooperation with the West and are even in need of Western support,” Chris Landsberg, a professor of international relations at the University of Johannesburg, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

“It’s one thing to condemn the invasion of Ukraine – it’s another to launch an economic war against Russia, and many countries in South America, Africa and Asia are not ready to cross the line,” the former Chilean ambassador to India and South Africa Jorge Heine added.

This appears to be the case for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have so far avoided taking a stand against Russia. It could also be said for India, which abstained during a vote condemning the Russian invasion at the UN Security Council in February.

“For India, the war has posed a stark and unwelcome choice between the West and Russia, a choice that it has done everything possible to avoid making,” explained Shivshankar Menon, former national security adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“The United States is an essential and indispensable partner in India’s modernisation, but Russia remains an important partner for geopolitical and military reasons,” he wrote in an article published at the beginning of April, entitled: “The Fantasy of the Free World: Are Democracies Really United Against Russia?”

For former French ambassador Michel Duclos, this tendency is nothing new.

“Already in 2015 with the Syrian crisis and the first Ukrainian crisis, we had neither India nor Brazil with us,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves: why is this the case, and what can we do to build stronger bridges with these countries? The question is more relevant than ever before”.

Updated

Zelenskiy likens Russian ‘filtration camps’ to Nazi concentration camps

Here is a recap of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s video address last night.

  • Zelenskiy condemned a missile strike in Odesa which killed eight people on Saturday, including a three-month old baby girl. “How did she threaten Russia?” Zelenskiy questioned. The missiles were launched by Russian strategic aircraft from the Caspian Sea region, he said, adding that Ukraine managed to shoot down two missiles, but five more missiles hit the city. He promised justice for those killed.
  • Zelenskiy said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes by Russian forces against Mariupol residents. “New graves of people killed by the occupiers are being found. We are talking about tens of thousands of dead Mariupol residents,” he said.
  • Zelenskiy said Russia was also continuing the activites of “filtration camps”, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens, before forcibly relocating them to Russia. He likened the camps to Nazi concentration camps.
  • Zelenskiy said he had spoken to UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, and thanked him for his support. He added he was now preparing to meet US representatives.

Updated

The UK Ministry of Defence has released its latest analysis of the war in Ukraine. It says that while Russia has made some territorial gains, its operations are hindered by poor morale and limited time to reorganise troops.

Russia has deployed Iskander-M mobile battlefield missile launchers within 60 km (40 miles) of the Ukrainian border, General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Sunday.

“Then enemy has increased the number of troops in the Belgorod region by transferring and concentrating additional units,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily morning update.

“According to available information, Iskander-M launchers have been deployed 60 km from the border with Ukraine,” it said.

Here is some more detail from a Reuters’ report on the development:

The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by Nato, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 km (300 miles) and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

Russia said on Friday it wanted to control all of southern Ukraine. Kyiv said this showed Moscow had wider goals than its declared aim of demilitarising and “denazifying” the country.

Belgorod is a city and the administrative centre of Russia’s Belgorod region, north of the border with Ukraine.

Reuters could not immediately to verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Moscow to the reports.

Russian forces are “likely attempting to starve out” those who remain in Azovstal steel plant

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said in its latest analysis last night that Russian forces are “likely attempting to starve out” the remaining defenders of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol.

Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are trapped inside the steel plant, and has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow civilians to flee safely. Those stuck inside are running out of food and water.

Yesterday, a video emerged from inside the besieged factory showing women and children who said they are “running out of strength” and needed to be urgently evacuated.

Moscow had earlier declared victory in Mariupol and said its forces did not need to take the factory. However, on Saturday a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovich, said Russian forces had resumed air strikes and tried to storm the plant.

“Our defenders hold on regardless of the very difficult situation and even carry out counter-raids,” he said.

According to ISW, Russian forces will likely attempt to starve those who remain at the plant, and not allow trapped civilians to evacuate. ISW also said Russia is expected to continue attacking southeast from Izyum, west from Kreminna and Popasna, and north from Donetsk City via Avdiivka or another axis. “Russian forces will likely increase the scale of ground offensive operations in the coming days, but it is too soon to tell how fast they will do so or how large those offensives will be,” it said.

Updated

Summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the latest developments in Ukraine with me, Rebecca Ratcliffe.

It is now 8.30am, and a curfew that was in place for traditional Orthodox Easter ceremonies was lifted three and a half hours ago.

Here’s a summary of the latest news:

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kyiv Sunday, the most senior US officials to travel to the city since the war began. It’s expected that Zelenskiy will ask the US for more heavy weapons. The US has not commented on the trip, which was announced by Zelenskiy as he held a press conference in an underground subway station on Saturday.
  • Zelenskiy warned peace negotiations with Moscow will be suspended if Russia kills any Mariupol defenders or goes forward with the independence referendum in the partly occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
  • On Saturday, Russia resumed its assault on the last defenders in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, according to a Ukraine official. This came despite Moscow declaring days ago that it had achieved victory in the southern port city and that its forces did not need to take the factory.
  • Zelenskiy, speaking via a video address late on Saturday, said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes committed against people in Mariupol, including the discovery of new graves. Russia was continuing the activities of “filtration camps” near Mariupol, he said, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens, before forcibly relocating them to Russia. He compared the camps to Nazi concentration camps.
  • Zelenskiy also condemned the killing of eight people, including a three-month-old baby girl, in a missile strike on Odesa.
  • Eight people also died in Russian attacks in Ukraine’s Luhansk region on Saturday, Serhiy Gaidai, the region’s governor, said on social media.
  • UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will visit Turkey, which has played a key role in negotiations, on Monday before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday and Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday. Zelenskiy has criticised the UN’s decision to visit Moscow first, stating: “There is no justice and no logic in this order.”

Updated

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Sport

Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund: Bundesliga – live!

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund: Bundesliga – live!” was written by Rob Smyth, for theguardian.com on Saturday 23rd April 2022 16.46 UTC

15 min Gnabry plays a beautiful one-two with Goretzka, forcing Guerreiro to make an important sliding challenge in the area.

13 min Coman tries to cushion Pavard’s cross towards Gnabry on the volley, but his touch is too heavy and the ball goes behind.

12 min Marco Rose will be pleased with Dortmund’s performance so far, although it feels like this often happens in this fixture: Dortmund start well, Bayern score, the end.

9 min Bellingham whistles a first-time shot from distance that hits a Bayern defender. He caught that well.

8 min “The Cook Islands are in Europe?” sniffs Joe Pearson. “Information for life! Thanks, Rob!”

Yep, one of the six big leagues.

6 min The TV commentary in the UK is a second or two ahead of the pictures, which is starting to give me a headache.

Updated

5 min Bellingham just overhits a through ball to Haaland, who made a terrific run down the middle.

Updated

3 min A decent start from Dortmund, who have had most of the ball in the early exchanges. Both teams are playing 4-2-3-1.

1 min Peep peep! Erling Haaland gets this mighty match under way.

Here come the players. There’s a cracking atmosphere at the Allianz Arena; of course there is.

The Bayern Munich fans cheer their team.
The Bayern Munich fans cheer their team. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Updated

No club has won 10 titles in a row in one of the big European leagues. The closest is nine by Bayern from 2013-21, Juventus in Italy from 2012-20 and Titikaveka in the Cook Islands from 1971-79.

A reminder of the teams

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1) Neuer; Pavard, Upamecano, Hernandez, Davies; Kimmich, Goretzka; Gnabry, Muller, Coman; Lewandowski.
Substitutes: Ulreich, Sule, Sane, Choupo-Moting, Sabitzer, Roca, Nianzou, Musiala, Stanisic.

Borussia Dortmund (possible 4-2-3-1) Hitz; Wolf, Akanji, Zagadou, Guerreiro; Can, Bellingham; Brandt, Reus, Reinier; Haaland.
Substitutes: Burki, Schulz, Moukoko, Passlack, Pongracic, Rothe, Semic, Bynoe-Gittens, Papadopoulos.

Updated

Despite their domestic dominance, Bayern are out of the Champions League.

Team news

Preamble

Jurgen Klopp’s all-time-greatness becomes more obvious by the week. Not just in England, where he has defied the laws of net spend to produce the worthiest adversaries Manchester City will ever have, but in Germany too. Klopp is still the last manager to stop Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga, a status he could hold for a while yet.

Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund won the title in 2011 and 2012. Since then it’s been all Bayern, and today they can clinch a tenth successive title. Fittingly, cruelly or schadenfreudely, depending on your perspective, their opponents are Borussia Dortmund.

A draw would satisfy everyone except the mathematicians, such is Bayern’s goal difference superiority, but to be confirmed as champions they need to beat Dortmund. It’s been a relatively disappointing season for Bayern – Villarreal and all that – but beating their biggest rivals to clinch a tenth straight title would assuage their Champions League pain.

Kick off 5.30pm BST, 6.30pm in Munich.

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World

Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russia says Moskva warship has sunk after reported missile strike – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russia says Moskva warship has sunk after reported missile strike – live” was written by Samantha Lock (now); Maanvi Singh, Joanna Walters, Léonie Chao-Fong, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 15th April 2022 03.53 UTC

In somewhat ironic timing, the sinking of Russian warship Moskva in the Black Sea comes days after Ukraine issued a stamp immortalising the famous exchange on Snake Island between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine’s postal service announced on Tuesday it had issued a postage stamp showing a Ukrainian solider standing defiant in the foreground of a Russian warship.

Roman Hrybov — the Ukrainian soldier who uttered the phrase “Russian warship, go fuck yourself” — was invited to the ceremony unveiling the stamp, the service said in a statement.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser confirmed on Thursday the Moskva was one of the vessels involved in the exchange between Russian troops and defenders of Snake Island in February during the first few days of the war.

CEO of the Ukrainian post Ihor Smilianskyi demonstrates postal stamps showing Ukrainian service member and Russian warship Moskva.
CEO of the Ukrainian post Ihor Smilianskyi demonstrates postal stamps showing Ukrainian service member and Russian warship Moskva.
Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
Postal stamps showing a Ukrainian service member and the Russian warship Moskva.
Postal stamps showing a Ukrainian service member and the Russian warship Moskva.
Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Updated

An inside view of a residential building in Kharkiv, damaged and partially destroyed after shelling.
An inside view of a residential building in Kharkiv, damaged and partially destroyed after shelling.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Firefighters try to extinguish the fire at a damaged factory following a Russian bombing in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on Thursday.
Firefighters try to extinguish the fire at a damaged factory following a Russian bombing in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on Thursday.
Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
A cemetery worker carries a cross for the tomb of Tetyana Gramushnyak, 75, who was killed by shelling while cooking food outside her home in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.
A cemetery worker carries a cross for the tomb of Tetyana Gramushnyak, 75, who was killed by shelling while cooking food outside her home in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Ukraine’s possibly demonstrated ability to target warships in the Black Sea may change Russian operating patterns, forcing them to deploy additional air and point-defence assets to the Black Sea or withdraw vessels from near the coast, the institute for the study of war has said in its latest report.

The loss of the Moskva – regardless if from a Ukrainian strike or an accident – is a “major propaganda victory for Ukraine” and a “boon to Ukrainian morale” the institute claims.

The Kremlin will conversely struggle to explain away the loss of one of the most important vessels in the Russian fleet. The Kremlin’s current story of losing the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet due to an accidental fire and ammunition explosion will, at minimum, likely hurt Russian morale and cannot be hidden from the Russian domestic audience.

Both explanations for the sinking of the Moskva indicate possible Russian deficiencies—either poor air defences or incredibly lax safety procedures and damage control on the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship.”

The institute added that the loss of the warship will reduce Russia’s ability to conduct cruise missile strikes but is “unlikely to deal a decisive blow to Russian operations on the whole”.

The Moskva’s main role was likely conducting precision strikes with Kalibr cruise missiles on targets in Ukrainian rear areas, including logistics centres and airfields, the report added. These Russian strikes have been effective but limited in number compared to airstrikes and ground-launched cruise missiles throughout the invasion, and the loss of the Moskva is unlikely to be a decisive blow.

Ukraine’s possibly demonstrated ability to target Russian warships in the Black Sea may change Russian operating patterns, however, forcing them to either deploy additional air and point-defence assets to the Black Sea battlegroup or withdraw vessels from positions near the Ukrainian coast.”

Japan will attend a G20 finance ministers’ meeting next week, finance minister Shunichi Suzuki said on Friday, as western nations called for expulsion of Russia from the forum and boycotting sessions where Moscow is represented.

“The Japanese government is not in the position to respond to each country’s participation,” Suzuki told a press conference when asked about Russia’s plans to join the forum online, which current G20 president Indonesia announced on Thursday.

Last week, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States will boycott some G20 meetings if Russian officials show up.

German finance minister Christian Lindner has called for rejection of any form of cooperation with Russia at the G20.

The upcoming G20 meeting “is a very important conference to discuss various issues of the global economy, including rising food and energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…where participation of each country’s finance minister and central bank governor is basically expected,” Suzuki said.

Meanwhile, Japan “will take appropriate steps in close cooperation with G7 allies and the host country Indonesia” based on a March G7 leaders’ statement that said international platforms should not continue relations with Russia in a business as usual manner, Suzuki said.

Slovakia’s defence minister Jaroslav Nad called Russian President Vladimir Putin as “equal to Hitler” for his invasion of Ukraine, in an interview with The New York Times.

Nad told the Times that Putin “is equal to Hitler” and he must be stopped in Ukraine before he can make moves towards the west.

“Ukraine is literally fighting for our future,” he added.

Slovakia shares a border with Ukraine and has been been vocal in its criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Updated

‘They didn’t know us’ Zelenskiy praises Ukraine’s bravery on 50th day of war

Ukraine President Zelenskiy has marked the 50th day of war, calling Russia’s invasion “absurd” and “suicidal” in his latest national address.

“We have withstood 50 days already. 50 days of Russian invasion, although the occupiers gave us a maximum of five,” he began.

I remember the first day of the invasion of the Russian Federation. I remember what I was told on February 24 … To put it mildly, no one was sure that we would withstand it. Everyone sympathised. Many of them advised me to flee the country. Advised to actually surrender to tyranny.

But they didn’t know us either. And they did not know how brave Ukrainians are, how much we value freedom. Our opportunity to live the way we want. Not the people who rule in such a way that their army sees toilets for the first time in their lives in the occupied territories and steals even ordinary household appliances.

Zelenskiy said Russian troops “are already repeating on our land what Europe saw only during World War II” while criticising the west’s severity of sanctions.

“50 days of our defence is an achievement. Achievement of millions of Ukrainians,” he added.

During the 50 days of this war, Ukraine became a hero for the whole free world. For those who have the courage to call a spade a spade. For those who are not poisoned by propaganda.

You have all become heroes. All Ukrainian men and women who withstood and do not give up. And who will win. Who will return peace to Ukraine. I’m sure of it.”

Here are some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine today.

A residential building destroyed in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukrain.
A residential building destroyed in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukrain.
Photograph: Pavel Klimov/Reuters
Firefighters stand in smoke after Russian artillery shelling on the outskirts of Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Firefighters stand in smoke after Russian artillery shelling on the outskirts of Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
A woman shares a tender moment with a man before she boards a train heading to the west of Ukraine, at the railway station in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
A woman shares a tender moment with a man before she boards a train heading to the west of Ukraine, at the railway station in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
People walk past the destroyed lyceum of food technologies and trade in Kharkiv.
People walk past the destroyed lyceum of food technologies and trade in Kharkiv.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
A cemetery worker takes a rest from working on the graves of civilians killed in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv.
A cemetery worker takes a rest from working on the graves of civilians killed in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Rainy weather in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region could favour the Ukrainian military ahead of a planned Russian offensive, a senior Pentagon official has said.

For several days, rain has battered Donbas and is expected to continue in the coming days, AFP reports.

“The fact that the ground is softer will make it harder for them to do anything off of paved highways,” said the official, who spoke under condition of anonymity.

The weather already played an important role in Ukraine’s north at the beginning of the invasion, when the fact that the ground was not sufficiently frozen forced Russian tanks to circulate in long convoys on paved roads, making them vulnerable to the Ukrainian forces’ Javelin anti-tank systems.

The Donbas region, which is geographically situated on a large plane, is more favourable to armed vehicles.

“The weather will certainly be a factor in war,” the official added.

Canada will send up to 150 troops on a humanitarian mission to Poland to support its massive influx of Ukrainian refugees, defence minister Anita Anand announced Thursday.

With more than half of Ukraine’s over 4.7 million asylum seekers having gone to neighbouring Poland, the Nato ally is facing a refugee crisis and has asked for assistance.

Only 100 of the total number of troops assigned to the mission will be deployed immediately, Anand told a news conference at Trenton Air Force Base in Ontario, adding that they would “assist Poland’s efforts to support and care for Ukrainians fleeing violence.”

The soldiers, who are fluent in Ukrainian, are to be sent to frontline reception centres across Poland to “provide general support, spiritual services and limited medical care,” she said.

They will also support a Poland-led humanitarian task force, and help resettle Ukrainians in Canada.

Russia asks Brazil for support to help counter western sanctions: reports

Russia has asked Brazil for support in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the G20 group of top economies to help it counter crippling sanctions imposed by the west since it invaded Ukraine, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov wrote to economy minister Paulo Guedes asking for Brazil’s “support to prevent political accusations and discrimination attempts in international financial institutions and multilateral fora.”

“Behind the scenes work is underway in the IMF and World Bank to limit or even expel Russia from the decision-making process,” Siluanov wrote. He did not elaborate on obstacles to Russian participation in those institutions, and his allegations could not be independently verified.

The letter was dated 30 March and relayed to the Brazilian minister by Russia’s ambassador in Brasilia on Wednesday.

“As you know, Russia is going through a challenging period of economic and financial turbulence caused by sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies,” the Russian minister said.

Asked about the letter, Erivaldo Gomes, the Brazilian economy ministry’s secretary of international economic affairs, indicated that Brazil would like Russia to remain part of discussions at multilateral organisations.

“From Brazil’s point of view … keeping open dialogue is essential,” he said. “Our bridges are the international bodies and our assessment is that these bridges have to be preserved.”

At least 503 civilians have been killed in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region since Russia launched its invasion on 24 February, the region’s local governor has said.

“This is an innocent civilian population, we will not forgive them for any life!” Oleg Synegubov wrote on Telegram, adding that the dead included 24 children.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city with a pre-war population of some 1.5 million, is located some 40km (25 miles) from the Russian border.

It has been a key target for Moscow’s invading forces, which have battered it with bombardments but failed to capture the city.

Updated

A Russian legislator and two aides pushed a covert propaganda campaign aimed at winning US government support for Russia’s foreign policy agenda, including moves against Ukraine, according to a Justice Department indictment seen by the Associated Press.

The effort was part of what American officials describe as a broader Russian government objective to sway public opinion in its favour, to sow discord in American institutions and to drive wedges between the US and European allies.

In this case, prosecutors say, the legislators sought to co-opt American and European political officials — including members of the US Congress — and also sought to enter the US under false pretences to participate in meetings.

The legislator, Aleksandr Babakov, 59, is identified in the indictment as a high-ranking Russian government official from the same political party as Russian President Vladimir Putin who currently serves as deputy chairman of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature. Two of his staff members — Aleksandr Nikolayevich Vorobev, 52, and Mikhail Alekseyevich Plisyuk, 58 — were also charged in Manhattan’s federal court.

All three men named are based in Russia and remain at large, authorities said. They are accused of conspiring to have a US citizen act as a foreign agent for Russia and Russian officials without notifying the Justice Department; with conspiring to evade US sanctions; and with visa fraud conspiracy.

Today’s indictment demonstrates that Russia’s illegitimate actions against Ukraine extend beyond the battlefield, as political influencers under Russia’s control allegedly plotted to steer geopolitical change in Russia’s favour through surreptitious and illegal means in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West,” Manhattan US attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.

Such malign foreign interference will be exposed, and we will pursue justice against its perpetrators.”

The United States is preparing new efforts to crack down on sanctions evasion by Russia, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said on Thursday.

“Where our focus will be over the course of the coming days is on evasion,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview at the Economic Club of Washington, Reuters reports.

“I think we’ll have some announcements in the next week or two that identify targets that are trying to facilitate that evasion both inside Russia and beyond,” he said, without giving details on the coming plans.

But Sullivan did say that Washington has no desire to give back yachts and other assets seized from people they see as oligarchs with ties to Putin.

“The president is actively looking at how we can deal with the fact that as we seize these assets, our goal is not to give them back,” he said.

“Our goal is to put them to a better use than that. But I’ll be careful in what I say today because there’s an ongoing – kind of – policy process around how we end up dealing with that question. But rest assured that the goal is not just to sit on them for a while and then pass them all back.”

A total of 2,557 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Thursday, deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Of that, 289 people evacuated from the besieged southern port of Mariupol by their own transport, Vereshchuk said in an update over the Telegram messaging app.

The head of the UN World Food Program (WFP) said people are being “starved to death” in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and predicted the country’s humanitarian crisis is likely to worsen in the coming weeks.

WFP executive director David Beasley said the war is “devastating the people in Ukraine” and lamented the lack of access faced by the agency and other aid organisations in trying to give food supplies to areas caught up in fighting.

“I don’t see any of that easing up. I just don’t see it happening right now,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

A lack of access is part of the problem, he said, but so is a shortage of manpower and fuel as resources are diverted to the war effort.

“It’s not just going to be the next few days — but the next few weeks and few months could even get more complicated than it is now,” he said.

“In fact, it’s getting worse and worse, concentrated in certain areas, and the front lines are going to be moving.”

Beasley expressed particular concern about the port city of Mariupol, where a dwindling number of Ukrainian defenders is holding out against a Russian siege that has trapped well over 100,000 civilians in desperate need of food, water and heating.

Russian forces that control access to the city have not allowed in aid, even though the WFP has demanded access.

“We will not give up on the people of Mariupol and other people that we cannot reach. But it’s a devastating situation: the people being starved to death,” he said.

Meanwhile, former CIA Director David Petraeus has described Russia’s admission that its flagship has sunk as a “rare moment of truth”.

“I’m surprised that they admitted it,” he told the BBC, adding that the facts would have “come out” eventually.

CIA director, William Burns, also acknowledged the US is sharing intelligence with Ukraine.

“We have been committed to rapid and effective intelligence sharing with our Ukrainian partners, throughout the fighting and for months beforehand.”

Burns said it was important to publicly disclose intelligence before the 24 February invasion because “we had clear evidence of [Putin] trying to pin the blame on Ukrainians, wrongly, for provoking a conflict.”

Burns said a protracted war is a strong possibility and Putin has developed an almost “mystical belief” that it’s his destiny to restore Russia’s stature in the world.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may resort to using a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon in light of military setbacks in the invasion of Ukraine, CIA director William Burns has said.

During a speech at Georgia Tech university in Atlanta, Burns said:

Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons.”

The Kremlin said it placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the assault began on 24 February, but the United States has not seen “a lot of practical evidence” of actual deployments that would cause more worry, Burns added.

We’re obviously very concerned. I know President Biden is deeply concerned about avoiding a third world war, about avoiding a threshold in which, you know, nuclear conflict becomes possible.”

We are seeing reports of explosions in Kyiv.

The Guardian has yet to verify accounts, and it is unclear what damage has been caused.

Catch up

  • The Russian flagship cruiser Moskva has sunk in the Black Sea off southern Ukraine, according to Russia’s defence ministry. It is still unclear whether the ship was hit by Ukrainian weaponry. Ukraine claims it was – whereas Russia maintains a fire on board and then “stormy sea conditions” while it was being towed were to blame. Russia only has three of this flagship class of warship, which have crews of almost 500 sailors – and the loss of Moskva is a big blow.
  • The lives of some 2.7m people with disabilities are at risk in Ukraine, a UN committee has warned, citing reports that many are trapped or abandoned in their homes, care centres and orphanages without basic supplies or medicines. The Committee said it was “deeply disturbed” that the fate of people with disabilities in Ukraine is “largely unknown”.
  • Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said Moscow will take “security and defence measures that we will deem necessary” if Sweden and Finland join Nato. In an interview with the Russian state-owned news agency Tass, the minister said the membership in the military alliance would “seriously worsen the military situation” and lead to “the most undesirable consequences”.
  • Russia’s investigative committee said Ukrainian forces carried out at least six helicopter airstrikes on the village of Klimovo in the Russian region of Bryansk, injuring seven people. The Bryansk region governor said earlier that two residential buildings in the village had been hit by shelling, which is north of the Ukrainian region of Chernihiv. Additionally, a village in Russia’s Belgorod region had come under fire from Ukraine, the region’s governor said.
  • Ukraine’s foreign ministry has appealed to the United Nations to facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who have been “illegally deported” to Russia. In a statement, the ministry said Russia had “engaged in state-organised kidnapping of children and destruction of the future of the Ukrainian nation”.
  • France is planning to return its embassy to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. It had moved to the western city of Lviv in March as Russia invaded. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged allies to resume normal diplomatic presence in Ukraine. US president Joe Biden also signalled on Thursday that his administration is in the process of deciding whether to send a high-ranking US official to Ukraine.
  • Zelenskiy has issued a video compiled by his government that further urges European countries to give up Russian oil that provides “blood” money to Moscow, and appeals for more weapons to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion. It begins with ominous music and text on screen saying: “Fifty days of evil in Europe.” Then, over images of consumers filling up their gas tanks, and of oil wells, captions read: “We ask you to stop feeding evil”.
  • Moody’s Investors Service has said that Russia “may be considered in default” if it fails to pay bonds in US dollars by 4 May. Russia paid two bonds in rubles this month after sanctions cut the country off from global financial systems and the US banned Moscow from making debt payments using dollars held in American banks.But the payment sin rubles “represents a change in payment terms” and may be considered a default, according to Moody’s. S&P Global Ratings has also declared Russia in default due to its inability to pay bonds in US dollars.

– Léonie Chao-Fong, Joanna Walters, Maanvi Singh

Guardian staff and agencies report:

A criminal case has been opened against a Siberian journalist whose news website published content critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian media reported on Thursday.

Mikhail Afanasyev, chief editor of Novy Fokus in the Russian region of Khakassia, was arrested by security forces on Wednesday over the website’s reporting on 11 riot police who allegedly refused deployment to Ukraine.

Afanasyev was accused Thursday of disseminating “deliberately false information” about the Russian armed forces, an offence which carries a maximum 10-year jail sentence under a law passed last month.

The charges come amid an unprecedented crackdown on independent media and anti-war dissent. Last month, the Russian parliament passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.

Afanasyev has published numerous investigations into sensitive issues in Khakassia, such as organised crime and alleged abuses of power by local officials.

In 2009, he was accused of libel after publishing stories that criticised the Russian government’s response to an explosion at the country’s largest hydroelectric plant that year. And in 2016, he reportedly faced death threats from a criminal gang active in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, after he detailed the group’s illegal activities and suspected ties to local police.

Another Siberia-based journalist was also arrested Wednesday on suspicion of breaching Russia’s new laws on media coverage of the situation in Ukraine. Sergei Mikhailov, founder of the LIStok weekly newspaper based in the Republic of Altay, was reportedly placed in pre-trial detention over the outlet’s alleged “calls for sanctions against Russia.”

Read more:

’Collect my parents or collect my son’s body’: a Kyiv family’s tragic plight

The day Russian troops invaded Ukraine, 18-year-old Oleksandr Ivanov was shot in the forehead and 10 times in the chest while in the passenger seat of his grandmother’s car. They had been driving to Hostomel, outside Kyiv, to pick up his grandfather and bring him to the capital.

Oleksandr, known as Sasha, did not have the life of an ordinary 18-year-old. His mother, Sveta, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when Sasha was three. Sasha had spent his life taking care of her, helping her dress, wash and go to the toilet.

Sasha had a natural love of learning, according to his family. From when he started to talk, he loved reciting poetry. At the age of seven he asked if he could learn to play the piano. Despite finishing music school with honours, he decided to study medicine. He attained full marks in Ukraine’s national high school exams for chemistry and biology and was given a scholarship to Ukraine’s best medical school, in Kyiv. Another top university, Taras Shevchenko University, also in Kyiv, rang his mother to complain when they heard he would not be coming to them.

Read more:

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the way the Moskva saga “has unfolded is a big blow to Russia”.

US officials have said it is still unclear what caused a blast onboard. But Sullivan said it has forced Moscow to choose between two stories. “One story is that it was just incompetence, and the other is that they came under attack. And neither is a particularly good outcome for them,” Sullivan said at the Economic Club of Washington, DC.

“Only the loss of a ballistic missile submarine or the Kutznetsov [Russia’s lone aircraft carrier] would inflict a more serious blow to Russian morale and the navy’s reputation with the Russian public,” said Carl Schuster, the former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

Russia’s Moskva missile cruiser sank in a “stormy sea” while being towed, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

“The cruiser ship Moskva lost its stability when it was towed to the port because of the damage to the ship’s hull that it received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition. In stormy sea conditions, the ship sank”

Russia and Ukraine have conflicting accounts of what happened to the cruiser, with Ukraine claiming it began to sink after it was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, and Russia saying a fire on board caused munitions to explode.

Moody’s Investors Service has said that Russia “may be considered in default” if it fails to pay bonds in US dollars by 4 May.

Russia paid two bonds in rubles this month after sanctions cut the country off from global financial systems and the US banned Moscow from making debt payments using dollars held in American banks.

But the payment sin rubles “represents a change in payment terms” and may be considered a default, according to Moody’s. S&P Global Ratings has also declared Russia in default due to its inability to pay bonds in US dollars.

Russia is now moving closer and closer to its first failure to repay debts since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Damaged Russian warship Moskva has sunk – Russian ministry

Russia’s defence ministry has put out a statement to say its Moskva missile cruiser has sunk in the Black Sea off southern Ukraine. It is still unclear whether the ship was hit by Ukrainian weaponry.

The ship is believed to have experienced significant damage and was thought to be heading to Sevastopol, Crimea, before it succumbed.

Russia earlier claimed it had experienced damage as a result of an ammunition fire on board. The crew were evacuated. Ukraine claimed the ship has sunk, Russia denied it, then came reports that Russia was towing its ships further out to sea, perhaps to take them out of Ukrainian missile range.

The Moskva was apparently under tow when it sank.

Russia only has three of this flagship class of warship, which have crews of almost 500 sailors.

Updated

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has issued another video compiled by his government that further urges European countries to give up Russian oil that provides “blood” money to Moscow, and appeals for more weapons to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion.

The Ukrainian president tweeted out a video, in similar fashion to ones issued before, and an example of which was particularly arresting when he played it in the middle of his video address to the US Congress last month.

A man walks next to a turret of a destroyed tank near Zalissya, northeast of Kyiv, April 14, 2022.
A man walks next to a turret of a destroyed tank near Zalissya, northeast of Kyiv, April 14, 2022.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

The video shows very graphic images of the effects of the violence perpetrated on Ukrainians by Russian forces and weapons and we won’t embed it here, intentionally, as it quickly becomes upsetting with little warning. Here is a link to the tweet.

Zelenskiy tweeted the following text to go with the video:

They’ve been trying to destroy us for 50 days, but the people are heroically resisting. We fear nothing, we know what we’re fighting for. We are brave enough to put an end to evil. Stop feeding the military machine. Help with weapons. Then peace & good will win faster.

It begins with ominous music and text on screen saying: “Fifty days of evil in Europe. Is there anything else that Russia hasn’t done yet in Ukraine?”

The video is only just over a minute and a half long but uses images of wounded and dead children, blood-soaked toys and streets, huge structural damage and the wailing of Ukraine’s bereaved. Beneath such images, the captions read, in answer to the rhetorical question posed above: “Murdering children, destroying entire cities, mining playgrounds, missile strikes on refugees, mass murder, stealing…[Russia] telling bald-faced lies to the whole world.”

Then, showing images of consumers filling up their cars with gasoline, and oil wells, the captions said: “We don’t ask you to resist evil instead of us, we ask you to stop feeding evil, and provide us with weapons,” with images of weapons such as fighter jets that the west has declined to supply to Zelenskiy, judging it too provocative to Russian president Vladimir Putin and risking NATO and Russia going to war.

Then, against a backdrop of the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, the caption says that Ukrainians have enough bravery to defeat evil and images show patriotic countrymen, both military and civilian, fighting back against the invasion.

France to move its Ukrainian embassy back to Kyiv

France said on Thursday its embassy in Ukraine would return to the capital Kyiv from the western city of Lviv, where it had been relocated in early March after the Russian invasion, Agence France-Presse reports.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, left, and his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney (right), lay flowers at a memorial wall to those Ukrainians killed Russia’s war on the country, in Kyiv on Thursday.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, left, and his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney (right), lay flowers at a memorial wall to those Ukrainians killed Russia’s war on the country, in Kyiv on Thursday.
Photograph: Department of Foreign Affairs/PA

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the announcement during a telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.

This redeployment will happen very soon and will allow France to deepen its backing for Ukraine even further in all spheres to face the war unleashed by Russia on February 24,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

France, however, continues to advise its nationals against returning to Ukraine, including to Kyiv.

We consider returning remains unthinkable for those French people who lived in Ukraine. The return of French compatriots today remains formally prohibited,” the French government noted on Tuesday, stressing that “the whole of Ukraine remains a war zone”.

France is providing support to Ukraine through military equipment, humanitarian aid and assistance for investigations into abuses allegedly committed by Russian forces against Ukrainian civilians, in addition to humanitarian supports for Poland and Moldova, which are hosting many Ukrainian refugees.

In recent days a number of other nations have said they will reopen their embassies in Kyiv, following the withdrawal of Russian forces that had been advancing on the sprawling capital before their efforts were thwarted, including the Czech, Italian, Portuguese and Turkish embassies and the European Union office.

Joe Biden signalled on Thursday that his administration is in the process of deciding whether to send a high-ranking US official to Ukraine.

The US president noted that he would be ready to go himself, but talk in Washington circles is that any such move would be more likely to involve US secretary of state Antony Blinken or defence secretary Lloyd Austin.

Biden spoke to gathered reporters as he was boarding Air Force One on the outskirts of the capital, on his way to North Carolina on a trip related to his domestic agenda.

When Biden was in Poland last month, he gave all the signs that he wanted to visit Ukraine and hinted he might go, but it did not happen and it appeared that it was too dangerous at that time.

That was before Russian forces withdrew from their advance on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Since the withdrawal, a number of European leaders have visiting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv including, last weekend, British prime minister Boris Johnson, with images whirling around the world of him walking the streets with Zelenskiy after a meeting and press conference.

Blinken briefly crossed onto Ukrainian soil in early March, while visiting the Polish border, but it was essentially an entirely symbolic gesture of solidarity.

Updated

Summary

It’s 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • The lives of some 2.7m people with disabilities are at risk in Ukraine, a UN committee has warned, citing reports that many are trapped or abandoned in their homes, care centres and orphanages without basic supplies or medicines. The Committee said it was “deeply disturbed” that the fate of people with disabilities in Ukraine is “largely unknown”.
  • Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said Moscow will take “security and defence measures that we will deem necessary” if Sweden and Finland join Nato. In an interview with the Russian state-owned news agency Tass, the minister said the membership in the military alliance would “seriously worsen the military situation” and lead to “the most undesirable consequences”.
  • Russia’s investigative committee said Ukrainian forces carried out at least six helicopter airstrikes on the village of Klimovo in the Russian region of Bryansk, injuring seven people. The Bryansk region governor said earlier that two residential buildings in the village had been hit by shelling, which is north of the Ukrainian region of Chernihiv. Additionally, a village in Russia’s Belgorod region had come under fire from Ukraine, the region’s governor said.
  • Ukraine’s foreign ministry has appealed to the United Nations to facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who have been “illegally deported” to Russia. In a statement, the ministry said Russia had “engaged in state-organised kidnapping of children and destruction of the future of the Ukrainian nation”.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, today. I’m handing the blog to my US colleague, Joanna Walters. Thank you for reading.

Fate of millions of people with disabilities in Ukraine ‘unknown’, UN says

The lives of around 2.7 million people with disabilities are at risk in Ukraine, a UN committee has warned, Reuters reports.

Citing reports that many are trapped or abandoned in their homes, care centres and orphanages without basic supplies or medicines, the Committee of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities published a statement that read:

The committee is deeply disturbed that the fate of people with disabilities in Ukraine is largely unknown.

People with disabilities have limited or no access to emergency information, shelters and safe havens, and many have been separated from their support networks, leaving them unable to respond to the situation and navigate their surroundings.

A soldier assisting a refugee from Ukraine in Przemysl, Poland.
A soldier assisting a refugee from Ukraine in Przemysl, Poland.
Photograph: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

It noted that few people with disabilities were among those internally displaced or who had reached Ukraine’s borders as refugees, “indicating that many of them have not been able to flee to safety”.

Updated

Turkey is still working on organising a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said.

Speaking to the Turkish news channel NTV, Cavusoglu said Turkey continues to approach talks between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents with “cautious optimism”, adding:

We know critical topics will be decided at leader level, so we will try to bring leaders together.

He acknowledged that recent events of alleged war crimes in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Irpin have “created a negative atmosphere on the Ukrainian side”.

Despite all those challenges, President Zelensky said talks may continue… But it takes two leaders to say yes. Especially President Putin.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has accused European countries that continue to buy Russian oil of “earning their money in other people’s blood”.

In an interview with the BBC, Zelenskiy singled out Germany and Hungary, accusing them of blocking efforts to embargo energy sales, from which Russia stands to make up to £250bn this year.

Zelenskiy also urged western countries to send more weapons to Ukraine:

The United States, the United Kingdom, some European countries – they are trying to help and are helping. But still we need it sooner; sooner and faster.

The key word is now.

Updated

Alexei Navalny has called for an “information front” against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the jailed opposition leader asserted that poll results showing 75% of Russians support the conflict were a “Kremlin lie”.

In an extended series of tweets, Navalny called on western leaders to support a massive social media ad campaign in order to break through Kremlin propaganda regarding the invasion.

“We need ads. Lots of ads,” wrote Navalny. “A huge national anti-war campaign will start with an advertising campaign. Two hundred million impressions a day to reach every Russian internet user twice. Stories, posts and prerolls. Across Russia, in cities and villages. On every tablet and every phone.”

In the statement, he called on Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, the head of Google owner Alphabet, to “urgently find a solution to crush [Vladimir] Putin’s propaganda using the advertising power of social media”.

The advertising campaign would be a way around the Kremlin’s efforts to shut down independent media in Russia. Along with most independent websites and newspapers, the Russian censor has also blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It also marks the opposition leader’s biggest foray yet into the complicated question of how widely the Russian public supports the war in Ukraine. Polling results, including from the independent Levada Centre, have shown majority support among Russians for the war.

A view shows Illich Iron and Steel Works factory behind a street in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022.
A view shows Illich Iron and Steel Works factory behind a street in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
A torn flag of Ukraine hung on a wire in front of a destroyed apartment building in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022.
A torn flag of Ukraine hung on a wire in front of a destroyed apartment building in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Germany’s chancellor is under growing pressure to authorise the delivery of heavy weaponry to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s looming eastern offensive, with Olaf Scholz’s coalition partners accusing him of failing to live up to his promises.

The centre-left leader had surprised even close partners in his three-party coalition when on 27 February he announced an “epochal change” in Germany’s foreign policy to boost defence spending and relax its restrictive stance on exporting weapons to conflict zones.

Six weeks on, prominent politicians from allied parties urged the Social Democrat to follow up words with actions after Germany was accused of stalling on delivering heavy weaponry to Ukraine and blocking a wholesale ban on Russian oil and gas.

Scholz has to “not just purse his lips but start to whistle”, said the Free Democratic party’s Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who chairs the Bundestag’s defence committee.

With a view to the apparent failure of economic sanctions in stopping Vladimir Putin’s military campaign, she said there had to be a renewed focus on hard power.

“There is only one answer that Russia understands: to continue to try to end the war through talks – but with one hand visibly on the holster,” said Strack-Zimmermann. “That means that Germany has to also supply Ukraine with heavy weapons to help it defend itself, as long as they can be handled by the Ukrainian army.”

Ukrainian strike on Russian ship is ‘credible’, western official says

Western officials have said the intelligence picture about the state of the Moskva warship is not yet clear but that there are doubts about the Russian version of events.

“I am not aware previously of a fire onboard a capital warship which had led to the ammunition magazine exploding as a consequence,” one official said, calling it “remarkably inept” if true.

Officials said it was credible that the Ukrainian forces had damaged the ship with a Ukrainian missile system they had developed.

“The fact that it’s been damaged to a point where it is either inoperable or under tow is a significant blow,” the official said, adding that there would have been “enormous determination, ingenuity and initiative of Ukrainian forces in order to be able to strike at Russian forces where perhaps they previously thought they were invulnerable, and a significant impact on Russian maritime operations”.

Western officials said it was unlikely British anti-ship missiles were involved in the apparent attack. Johnson promised on his recent trip to Kyiv that those would be made available, but the official said that had not happened yet. “It would appear that it’s not a UK capability,” the official said.

The UK has trained the Ukrainian navy in the past as part of Operation Orbital but the official said it was “difficult to draw a causal link” between the British training and the operation.

Western officials also warned that the weather in the east of Ukraine was having a major impact on the redirected Russian offensive, with no new major successes for Russia in the Donbas.

Updated

Summary

It’s 7.15pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said Moscow will take “security and defence measures that we will deem necessary” if Sweden and Finland join Nato. In an interview with the Russian state-owned news agency Tass, the minister said their membership of the military alliance would “seriously worsen the military situation” and lead to “the most undesirable consequences”.
  • Russia’s investigative committee said Ukrainian forces carried out at least six helicopter airstrikes on the village of Klimovo in the Russian region of Bryansk, injuring seven people. The Bryansk region governor said earlier that two residential buildings in the village, which is north of the Ukrainian region of Chernihiv, had been hit by shelling. Additionally, a village in Russia’s Belgorod region had come under fire from Ukraine, the region’s governor said.
  • Ukraine’s foreign ministry has appealed to the United Nations to facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who have been “illegally deported” to Russia. In a statement, the ministry said Russia had “engaged in state-organised kidnapping of children and destruction of the future of the Ukrainian nation”.
  • The UK has announced sanctions against two Russian oligarchs: Chelsea football club director, Eugene Tenenbaum, and another associate of Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich, David Davidovich. Tenenbaum will be subject to an asset freeze as well as transport sanctions. Davidovich will be also subject to an asset freeze and travel ban as well as transport sanctions.

Hello, it’s Léonie Chao-Fong here to bring you all the latest news from the war in Ukraine. I’m on Twitter or you can email me.

Updated

Damaged Russian warship still ‘battling fire’, US defence official says

The United States believes the Russian warship Moskva is still dealing with a fire, Reuters cites a senior US defence official as saying.

The ship is believed to have experienced significant damage and is thought to be heading to Sevastopol, Crimea, the official said:

Our assessment is that she still appears to be battling a fire on board.

Russia’s defence ministry said the crew had been evacuated and measures were being taken to tow the ship back to port, after an explosion of ammunition on board that Ukraine said was caused by a missile strike.

The US official said the US cannot confirm what caused the fire on the Moskva.

It very well could have been from an external source like a missile. That range is not out of range for a Neptune. Sixty miles is well within the Neptune’s effective range.

But it also could have been something else. So again, … we’re just being careful here.”

Updated

UK sanctions two close associates of Roman Abramovich

The UK government has announced sanctions against two Russian oligarchs: Chelsea football club director, Eugene Tenenbaum, and another associate of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, David Davidovich.

Tenenbaum will be subject to an asset freeze as well as transport sanctions meaning that any ship or aircraft owned, chartered, controlled or operated by him could be detained if it enters Britain.

Davidovich, described as Abramovich’s “much lower profile right-hand man”, will be subject to an asset freeze and travel ban as well as transport sanctions.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (R) and director Eugene Tenenbaum (L)
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (R) and director Eugene Tenenbaum (L)
Photograph: Jed Leicester/Action Images/Reuters

Both men have been sanctioned for their close association with Abramovich, the government said. In a statement, the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said:

We are tightening the ratchet on Putin’s war machine and targeting the circle of people closest to the Kremlin.

We will keep going with sanctions until Putin fails in Ukraine. Nothing and no one is off the table.

Updated

Germany has seized the world’s largest superyacht after “extensive investigations” determined that it is owned by the sister of the sanctioned the Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

The German federal police said on Thursday it had seized the $600m (£458m) Dilbar after weeks of painstaking financial investigative work exposed the yacht’s true ownership despite a complex web of “offshore concealment”.

The vessel is flagged in the Cayman Islands and registered to a holding company in Malta – both tax havens favoured by the global ultra-rich to park their wealth.

German authorities said they had determined the yacht was ultimately owned by Usmanov’s sister Gulbakhor Ismailova.

The luxury yacht Dilbar lies completely covered in the Blohm+Voss dock Elbe 17 in Hamburg, Germany.
The luxury yacht Dilbar lies completely covered in the Blohm+Voss dock Elbe 17 in Hamburg, Germany.
Photograph: Jonas Walzberg/AP

Usmanov, a telecoms magnate who owns the £48m mansion Beechwood House in Highgate, London and the 16th-century Sutton Place estate in Surrey, was sanctioned by the UK last month. The billionaire, who has had significant interests in the English football clubs Arsenal and Everton, had already been sanctioned by the EU and the US.

Ismailova and another of Usmanov’s sisters, Saodat Narzieva, have also been subjected to UK and EU sanctions. The UK government said Usmanov “indirectly transferred assets to Ismailova, including leaving his sister as the only beneficial owner of the yacht Dilbar”.

German authorities said they had determined the yacht was ultimately owned by Usmanov’s sister Gulbakhor Ismailova.
German authorities said they had determined the yacht was ultimately owned by Usmanov’s sister, Gulbakhor Ismailova.
Photograph: Yoruk Isik/Reuters

Updated

Russia will be ‘forced to take defensive measures’ if Sweden and Finland join Nato

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said Moscow will take “security and defence measures that we will deem necessary” if Sweden and Finland join Nato.

In an interview with the Russian state-owned news agency Tass, the minister said the membership of Sweden and Finland in the military alliance would “seriously worsen the military situation” and lead to “the most undesirable consequences”.

Grushko said:

It is clear that our border with Finland is 1,300 km long. This will mean a radical change in the military and political situation and it is understandable that we will be forced to take security and defence measures that we will deem necessary.

He added:

Otherwise, this will seriously worsen the military situation and bring about the most undesirable consequences that need to be avoided.

Although diplomatic contacts between the countries are “maintained”, Grushko said:

Sweden and Finland have joined the sanctions and are participating in the anti-Russia campaign unleashed in the West.

This is today’s reality.

The Russian minister’s comments came after Sweden and Finland took a major step towards joining Nato on Wednesday, after their prime ministers said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s “whole security landscape” and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson walks with Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Stockholm, Sweden, April 13, 2022.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson walks with Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Stockholm, Sweden, April 13, 2022.
Photograph: Tt News Agency/Reuters

The Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, said her country would decide whether to apply to join the alliance “quite fast, in weeks not months”, despite the risk of infuriating Moscow.

Her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, said there was “no point” in delaying analysis of whether it was right for Sweden to apply for Nato membership:

This is a very important time in history. The security landscape has completely changed. We have to analyse the situation to see what is best for Sweden’s security, for the Swedish people, in this new situation.

Russia’s defence ministry said it was investigating what happened to its flagship cruiser Moskva after Ukraine said it had hit the vessel with an anti-ship missile, forcing its crew to abandon ship, Luke Harding, Peter Beaumont and Pjotr Sauer report.

The ministry denied reports the warship had sunk to the bottom of the Black Sea. It said the Moskva had “retained buoyancy”, with fires extinguished and the crew transferred to another vessel.

Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesperson, was unable to give the cause of the explosion on the warship, saying: “I can’t tell you anything. This is a topic for the ministry of defence.”

Ship

Ukraine’s southern military command said on Thursday it struck the Moskva with a Neptune missile and that the ship had started sinking. Fire had erupted after the missile exploded, it said on Facebook.

It added that four Russian ships that went to the Moskva’s rescue were hampered by stormy weather and by ammunition blowing up onboard. Unconfirmed reports suggested the missile cruiser had turned upside down and had started to sink.

Commissioned in 1983, the ship was armed with 16 anti-ship Vulkan cruise missiles with a range of at least 440 miles (700km). According to reports, it also carried S-300 anti-air missiles, which are crucial to Russia’s air superiority over Crimea and Ukraine’s Kherson province, now occupied by Russian troops.

Russia has said it will be forced to strengthen its defences in the Baltic if Finland and Sweden join Nato, including by deploying nuclear weapons, as the war in Ukraine entered its seventh week.

Here is a map showing how Nato membership in Europe has grown over the years since it was founded in 1949 by 12 countries including the US and Canada. The most recent new members have been Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. The total number of countries in the alliance now stands at 30.

A map illustrating Nato membership over time
A map illustrating Nato membership over time in Europe.

Updated

Ireland’s foreign minister in Kyiv: ‘Ireland is militarily neutral’ but ‘we are not neutral on this war’

Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has been in Kyiv today as the first foreign minister on the UN security council to visit Ukraine since the latest Russian invasion of the country began on 24 February.

After visiting areas in the capital directly affected by the invasion, and meeting Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, and defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, he said the killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces is likely to be a war crime.

Speaking during a press conference with Kuleba, Coveney said it was a privilege to be with him, and said he brought a strong message of solidarity from the Irish government and people. PA Media quote him saying:

We don’t know yet how many citizens have lost their lives due to this Russian aggression but we know it is many, and the brutality and violence, not only against soldiers, but against Ukrainian civilians is something that is likely to be determined as war crimes in the future.

I am also conscious at this time that Ukraine does not want sympathy, it needs action and strong practical support in defending yourselves, and even though Ireland is militarily neutral, let me be clear we are not neutral on this war and conflict and the future of your country.

We know Ukrainians dream of a different type of future, one that is based on democracy, stability and economic opportunity, and we believe those things can be achieved through full EU membership and Ireland will advocate that it happens as rapidly as possible.

We believe that the most powerful countries in the world are accountable to international law and the atrocities against Ukraine citizens need to be part of a process to ensure full accountability.

Updated

Russia’s investigative committee has said that Ukrainian forces carried out at least six helicopter airstrikes on the village of Klimovo in the Russian region of Bryansk, injuring seven people.

The Bryansk region governor said earlier that two residential buildings in the village had been hit by shelling, which is north of the Ukrainian region of Chernihiv.

Additionally, a village in Russia’s Belgorod region had come under fire from Ukraine, the region’s governor said.

“The village of Spodaryushino has been subjected to fire from Ukraine,” the governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said in a post on the Telegram messaging service. He said no one had been injured and that the village and one other settlement had been evacuated.

Reuters reports that Ukraine’s defence ministry and military did not respond to requests for comment.

Earlier this month, Russia claimed that Ukraine sent attack helicopters across the border to strike an oil storage facility in the Russian region of Belgorod, which borders Kharkiv to the north-east of Ukraine. At the time, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, denied Ukrainian responsibility for the attack.

Updated

Russia: ‘most undesirable consequences’ if Sweden and Finland join Nato

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, is the latest to add his voice to warnings from Russia that it will take security measures if Sweden and Finland opt to join Nato.

Reuters reports that Grushko said their membership of the military alliance would lead to “the most undesirable consequences”.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has responded to the rhetoric coming out of Russia today over possible Nato expansion, saying that “Sweden and Finland are free to choose their future without interference – the UK will support whatever they decide.”

Updated

People clean up debris as they return to their destroyed homes after the Ukrainian army regained control of Hostomel city, 15km from the capital, Kyiv, on Thursday.
People clean up debris as they return to their destroyed homes after the Ukrainian army regained control of Hostomel city, 15km from the capital, Kyiv, on Thursday.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A building destroyed in Hostomel.
A building destroyed in Hostomel.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said 30 Ukrainian prisoners of war were being returned as part of an exchange with Russia, AFP reports.

In a statement, Vereshchuk said:

Five officers and 17 servicemen were exchanged. Also eight civilians, including one woman, were released.

In total, 30 of our citizens are going home today.

Earlier, the Ukrainian defence ministry said two military pilots, Ivan Pepelyashko and Oleksiy Chyzh, who had been captured in Ukraine’s Chernigiv region and held in Russia, had been released.

It was not immediately clear whether the pilots were part of the exchange announced by Vereshchuk.

The statement by the defence ministry cited Chyzh as saying that both men were subjected to hostile interrogations and denied medical treatment while in captivity.

It quoted him as saying:

We were forced to record propaganda videos. If we refused, they threatened to stop bandaging our comrades’ wounds.

Updated

The Kremlin said the condition for a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy is a document ready for the two leaders to sign.

In his daily press briefing, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, denied that the Russian president had refused to meet his Ukrainian counterpart.

Peskov said:

The president has never refused such a meeting, but appropriate conditions should be prepared for it, namely the text of the document.

Updated

The US cannot confirm yet what happened to the Russian warship Moskva because it does not have enough information, the Pentagon’s press secretary, John Kirby, said.

In an interview with MSNBC, Kirby said:

We don’t know what caused that explosion. We’ve seen the social media reports that this was maybe a Ukrainian coastal defence missile (that) hit it. We can’t rule that out, we just don’t have enough information right now.

Updated

The Guardian’s Luke Harding visited three ravaged towns close to Kyiv and spoke to residents about the devastation they experienced after Russian forces invaded.

One woman, Natasha, recounted the savage murder of her nephew, who she said was shot in the head by soldiers.

Harding travelled to the “garden towns” of Bucha, Hostomel and Borodianka, where people had lived peaceful, suburban lives until the invasion.

 

Updated

Deported children face ‘threat of illegal adoption’ in Russia, Ukraine says

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has appealed to the United Nations to facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who have been “illegally deported” to Russia.

In a statement, the ministry said Russia had engaged in the “illegal and forced displacement” of Ukrainian children, “among them orphans, children deprived of parental care, as well as children whose parents died as a result of Russia’s military aggression” across Ukraine’s borders to Russia.

The statement reads:

In violation of international humanitarian law and basic standards of humanness, Russia is engaged in state-organised kidnapping of children and destruction of the future of the Ukrainian nation.

Such actions of the Russian occupiers can be qualified as kidnapping and require a decisive reaction from the international community, primarily from the relevant international organizations.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian forces of forcibly deporting thousands of children from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine since the war began.

Earlier this month, two individuals said they and other women and children were forcibly transported to Russian territory from the besieged city of Mariupol in March. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has denied these accusations, claiming “such reports are lies”.

Updated

Displaced Ukrainian students in Scotland will be given tuition and living cost support, under proposals from the Scottish government subject to parliamentary approval.

The scheme would mean Ukrainians starting a further or higher education course this autumn will be eligible for the support if they have submitted an application through the UK’s homes for Ukraine, Ukraine family or Ukraine extension schemes.
Jamie Hepburn, Scotland’s minister for higher and further education, said:

By extending home fee status and living cost support to students arriving from Ukraine we hope to provide some stability and assurance at this deeply troubling time and ensure those forced to flee their homes can live safely and comfortably in Scotland for as long as they need to.

Eligible university students would be able to receive free tuition and living cost support of up to £8,100 a year in bursaries and loans, and students entering further education for bursary and grants of up to £4,668 a year.

Updated

Russia says Moskva ‘still afloat’ but Ukraine military claims warship started sinking when hit

Russia’s defence ministry has said the fire on board the warship Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, is “under control”.

The ship was reportedly struck by two Ukrainian missiles in the Black Sea late on Wednesday night. It was famously defied by Ukrainian troops on Snake Island at the start of the war.

In a statement, the Russian defence ministry said:

The fire on the cruiser Moskva is under control. There are no flames visible. Ammunition supplies are no longer exploding.

The cruiser Moskva is still afloat. The main missile armoury has not been damaged.

The crew of the cruiser were evacuated to Black Sea Fleet vessels nearby. Measures are being taken to tow the cruiser into port.

The causes of the fire are currently being established.

The Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, pictured in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea November 16, 2021.
The Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, pictured in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea, 16 November 2021.
Photograph: Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

The ministry had earlier said that the ship had been “seriously damaged as a result of the detonation of ammunition that occurred as a result of a fire”.

However, Ukraine’s southern military command said the Moska had started to sink after it was hit by a Neptune missile.

In a Facebook post, the southern military command said the missile cruiser had received “significant damage” and a fire ignited on board after the strike.

The statement continued:

Other units of the ship’s group tried to help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it began to sink.

Hello, it’s Léonie Chao-Fong here. I’ll be bringing you the latest developments from the war in Ukraine. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

Updated

Today so far …

  • The Russian defence ministry said the entire crew of the warship Moskva had been evacuated late on Wednesday night after an ammunition explosion and fire on the ship. However, the governor of the Odesa region, Maksym Marchenko, said the Ukrainians had struck the Moskva with two Neptune missiles. The ship was famously defied by Ukrainian troops on Snake Island at the start of the war, and is the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. The defence ministry said it would be towed back to port.
  • Russia has warned Nato that if Finland and Sweden were to join the military alliance, then it would take measures in the Baltic. Dmitry Medvedev said: “There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored.” Finland and Sweden took a major step towards joining Nato yesterday, after their prime ministers said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s “whole security landscape” and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries.
  • Lithuania’s prime minister, Ingrida Simonyte, has dismissed the earlier words of Medvedev threatening as “nothing new”. Lithuania’s defence minister, Arvydas Anusauskas said that Russia had always kept nuclear weapons in its exclave Kaliningrad anyway.
  • Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was opening criminal cases into Ukrainian servicemen’s alleged torture of their Russian counterparts.
  • The governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region said four civilians had been killed and 10 wounded during Russian shelling of the city of on Thursday.
  • Ukrainian forces claim they sabotaged a bridge as a Russian military convoy was crossing it towards Izyum in the Kharkiv region, destroying the convoy.
  • Iryna Vereshchuk, one of Ukraine’s deputy prime ministers, has announced that today there will be nine humanitarian corridors available. Civilians would need to use private cars to escape from the besieged city of Mariupol. Other evacuation routes are from Berdiansk, Tokmak and Enerhodar, and the ones in the eastern Luhansk region will only operate if occupying Russian forces stop their shelling.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called for an oil embargo in his nightly address on Wednesday. “First of all, we need an oil embargo. And Europe’s clear readiness to give up all Russian energy. The European Union must stop sponsoring Russia’s military machine.”
  • Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who has been part of the negotiating team at the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, has said a stumbling block is that Ukraine wants as many countries as possible to act as security guarantors, but Russia does not want their number to increase.
  • The US president, Joe Biden, earlier announced an additional $800m in military assistance to Ukraine including heavy artillery ahead of a wider Russian assault expected in eastern Ukraine.
  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence has warned that “The towns of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka are likely to be Russian targets for similar levels of violence” as the urban shelling seen elsewhere as Russian military operations focus to the east.
  • The UK government has announced that about 16,400 people have arrived in the UK from Ukraine under the two visa schemes the Home Office has set up to handle refugees. The UNHCR estimates the number of people who have fled Ukraine for abroad since Russia’s latest invasion began on 24 February is 4,697,964.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I will be with you again later on today. In the meantime, I am handing over to Léonie Chao-Fong.

Updated

The governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyegubov, said four civilians had been killed and 10 wounded during Russian shelling of the city on Thursday.

Reuters reports that in a statement, the Kharkiv region governor also urged residents of some towns to evacuate since he said military operations were expected to take place in the area.

The claims have not been independently verified.

Updated

The UK government has announced that about 16,400 people have arrived in the UK from Ukraine under the two visa schemes the Home Office has set up to handle refugees.

The UNHCR estimates the number of people who have fled Ukraine for abroad since Russia’s latest invasion began on 24 February is 4,697,964

Updated

Here is a selection of some of the latest images to be sent to us over the newswires from Ukraine:

Artists produce demining equipment to send to the Ukrainian military at a studio in the city of Perechyn, Zakarpattia region, Ukraine.
Artists produce demining equipment to send to the Ukrainian military at a studio in the city of Perechyn, Zakarpattia region, Ukraine.
Photograph: Reuters
A woman looks out from a bus window as she leaves Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region yesterday.
A woman looks out from a bus window as she leaves Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region yesterday.
Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
In a picture taken yesterday during a trip organized by the Russian military, Russian soldiers are seen standing guard at the Luhansk power plant in the town of Shchastya.
In a picture taken yesterday during a trip organised by the Russian military, Russian soldiers are seen standing guard at the Luhansk power plant in the town of Shchastya.
Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
A funeral ceremony for Taras Bobanych at the Lychakiv Cemetery in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
A funeral ceremony for Taras Bobanych at the Lychakiv Cemetery in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Photograph: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP/Getty Images
A photo shows the production of Molotov cocktails at a garden of a furniture company converted into a war manufacturing centre.
A photo shows the production of Molotov cocktails at a garden of a furniture company converted into a war manufacturing centre.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Lithuania’s prime minister dismisses Russian warning on Nato as ‘nothing new’

Lithuania’s prime minister, Ingrida Šimonytė, has dismissed the earlier words of Dmitry Medvedev threatening Nato over the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining as “nothing new”. [see 8.42am]

Reuters report she told the media “That Russia threatens, it is nothing new. Kaliningrad is a very militarized zone, has been for many years, and it is in the Baltic region.”

The BNS agency quotes her being strongly supportive of the potential moves for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, saying:

I believe that the presence of these countries as members of the alliance would, in fact, greatly strengthen both the Alliance and these countries and our security. As soon as such a decision is announced, I hope it will be, I think that the Baltic countries will have a very serious reason to welcome it.

Medvedev said if the two nations were to join Nato, there could be “no more talk” of a nuclear-free Baltic. However, Lithuania’s defence minister, Arvydas Anušauskas, has suggested this is meaningless. In Vilnius he told BNS that nuclear weapons have been deployed in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea since before the current crisis.

The current Russian threats look quite strange, when we know that, even without the present security situation, they keep the weapon 100km from Lithuania’s border. Nuclear weapons have always been kept in Kaliningrad. The international community, the countries in the region, are perfectly aware of this. They use it as a threat.

Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, on the shore of the Baltic Sea, is sandwiched between existing Nato members Lithuania and Poland. Šimonytė visited Ukraine on Monday to see the impact of Russian action in the country.

Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonyte (L) and Ukrainian counterpart Denys Shmyhal visit the town of Borodianka on 11 April.
The Lithuanian prime minister, Ingrida Šimonytė, (L) and Ukrainian counterpart, Denys Shmyhal, visit the town of Borodianka on 11 April.
Photograph: Ukrainian Governmental Press Service/Reuters

Updated

Russia opens criminal cases into alleged torture of its soldiers by Ukraine

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was opening criminal cases into Ukrainian servicemen’s alleged torture of their Russian counterparts.

The committee, which probes major crimes, said some Russian soldiers had been captured by Ukrainian forces in the Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv regions and held illegally by Ukraine’s security service.

“Russians were subjected to physical violence and torture in order to force them to give false explanations about the actual conditions of their illegal detention on the premises of the security service of Ukraine, as well as on (Russia’s) special military operation,” Reuters reports it said in a statement.

Reuters could not independently verify the committee’s allegations. Ukraine has said it checks all information regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and will investigate any violations and take appropriate legal action.

Updated

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon has been appearing on Sky News in the UK. He is considered an expert in chemical and biological weapons and is a visiting fellow at Magdalene College in Cambridge. On the unproven allegations this week that Russia had used a chemical weapon in Mariupol, he said:

There is a strong possibility that actually what happened was a release of toxic industrial chemicals. I know the Ukrainian government were very concerned about the steelworks in Mariupol where the fighting is going on. And stored there is a lot of toxic chemicals like chlorine and ammonia.

If that was attacked, and blew up, that could deliver those toxic chemicals and some of the symptoms we’re seeing would be respiratory symptoms from something like chlorine or ammonia. This stuff is very non-persistent and disappears very quickly.

However, he had a warning about potential future use of more deliberate chemical agents, saying:

Over time, the Russians have used chemical weapons. I’m talking to you from Salisbury, where of course there was the major Russian nerve agent attack four years ago.

And we saw the Syrian regime using chemical weapons frequently in Syria, which are morbidly brilliant weapons. If you have no morals or scruples, you would use them. The four-year siege of Aleppo, which is not dissimilar to Mariupol, was broken with 13 days of chlorine barrel bombs. So that that is a huge concern.

He also said:

With all the forces massing in the Donbas for what looks like to be a massive battle coming up, if the Russians get stuck – which I think they will do – and they in effect have been defeated in the north. If they’re held and defeated in the Donbas, then God knows what sort of weapons that will go to.

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in Ukraine. Earlier this week the Russian embassy in the US said that the country had destroyed all of its stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2017.

Updated

Russia warns Nato over Sweden and Finland membership moves

Russia has warned Nato that if Finland and Sweden were to join the military alliance, then it would take measures in the Baltic.

Dmitry Medvedev is reported by Reuters saying: “There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored. Until today, Russia has not taken such measures and was not going to.”

Medvedev has been deputy chairman of the security council of Russia since 2020. He has previously been president and prime minister of Russia, and is a long-term ally of Vladimir Putin.

Finland and Sweden took a major step towards joining Nato yesterday, after their prime ministers said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s “whole security landscape” and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries.

The Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, said on Wednesday that her country, which shares a 1,300km (810-mile) border with Russia, would decide whether to apply to join the alliance “quite fast, in weeks not months”, despite the risk of infuriating Moscow.

J Oliver Conroy writes for us this morning about his experience joining four Americans who dropped everything to travel across the world and risk their lives defending Ukraine:

A month earlier Tay was home in Dallas, Texas, watching videos about the Russian invasion, when he saw the president of Ukraine addressing the world. “To all the friends of Ukraine who want to join the defense,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, “come. We will give you weapons.”

Tay served with the 82nd Airborne in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. He marched in front of armored vehicles, sweeping for mines, and guarded against enemy motorcyclists. His unit was under constant IED attack.

After he began to have seizures, he was honorably discharged and labeled “disabled”, a classification he accepted out of economic necessity but resented. With prolonged treatment, the seizures mostly went away, but not before he went through a bad spell. His marriage ended; he got in fights and trouble with the law.

He spent years pulling himself out of the hole. He “unchubbied” himself, after so much time spent fat and depressed. He found work as a private investigator and later in underwater construction, building docks for rich people. He had partly succeeded at his project of personal reconstruction when he started to see pictures of Ukrainian civilians making molotov cocktails, and bombed-out maternity hospitals, and Zelenskiy in his olive-green zip-up.

That’s when he contacted his congressman’s office, which agreed to secure him an emergency passport after he found a Ukrainian NGO to vouch for him. He began packing, and bought a one-way flight.

When he broke the decision to his friends and family, “the reaction was terrible”. They were distraught that he would walk away from his civilian life, from his nice high-rise apartment, to fight and possibly die for Ukraine.

They did not understand, he says, that this was a way to be useful in the best way he knew how – that this was a chance to make himself right.

Read more of J Oliver Conroy’s piece here: Among the Americans fighting in Ukraine: ‘I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t come’

The UK’s ministry of defence has issued its latest public assessment of the situation on the ground in Ukraine. In it they warn that as Russian president, Vladimir Putin continues to show interest in the east of Ukraine:

Urban centres have faced repeated indiscriminate attacks from Russia throughout the conflict. The towns of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka are likely to be Russian targets for similar levels of violence.

The UK’s MoD also suggested that the Ukrainian resistence in Mariupol was still tying up significant Russian resources.

Updated

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who has been part of the negotiating team at the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, has spoken on television in Ukraine about one of the stumbling blocks in the way of talks – the number of countries that would act as security guarantors.

Reuters report he said Ukraine wants as many countries as possible to act as security guarantors, but Russia does not want their number to increase.

Russia has previously indicated that Belarus should be one of the countries that guarantees security, while Turkey has repeatedly offered to play a mediating role between its Black Sea neighbours.

Tobias Ellwood is a Conservative MP in the UK, and chair of the Commons defence committee in parliament. He has told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “the world has changed beyond recognition” as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine. PA Media quotes him saying:

We need to craft a fresh 10-year strategy about how to handle Russia and China’s aggression. The world has changed beyond recognition.

We’ve had 30 years of peace, that is now over, and there needs to be this wider, bigger debate to be held, a Casablanca-type conference, as we saw in the Second World War.

The Casablanca conference was held in 1943, and was attended by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the leaders of the Free French Forces Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud among others. Over ten days they determined the Allied strategy for the rest of the second world war, committing to a doctrine of forcing Germany and the Axis powers into “unconditional surrender”.

Here is the latest analysis from our defence and security editor Dan Sabbagh, asking are Russia’s weapons of choice getting worse?:

Moscow’s forces have been repeatedly accused of using indiscriminate weapons in cities throughout the seven-week-long Ukraine war, a disregard for civilian life that has already almost certainly led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

A preliminary war crimes assessment, conducted on behalf of 45 members of the OSCE, concluded that Russia had engaged in “a clear pattern” of war crimes, targeting, for example, hospitals, schools and places of shelter during the seven weeks of fighting.

At its simplest level, Russia is accused of using unguided bombs – heavy artillery, Grad multiple rockets, air dropped bombs – on urban areas by the OSCE monitors. “A majority of Russian attacks in populated areas have been conducted with unguided artillery,” was their grim conclusion in a 99-page report.

It is a war crime to target civilians directly, and to engage in an attack on a military target that is expected to cause a loss of civilian life excessive in relation to the battlefield gain – regardless of the weapons used.

Film shot by the Associated Press in Mariupol last month, for instance, shows a Russian tank shooting at an apartment block from some distance. In that city, scene of the worst urban fighting in the war so far, the office of the UN’s human rights commissioner has already concluded “126 multi-story residential buildings were damaged and 65 were destroyed”.

Read more of Dan Sabbagh’s analysis here: As Russia continues to bomb Ukraine, are its weapons of choice getting worse?

Nine humanitarian corridors agreed for Thursday – deputy PM

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, has announced that today there will be nine humanitarian corridors available to evacuate civilians from areas in Ukraine under attack by Russia.

Reuters reports she said civilians would need to use private cars to escaped from the besieged city of Mariupol. Other evacuation routes are from Berdiansk, Tokmak and Enerhodar, and the ones in the eastern Luhansk region will only operate if occupying Russian forces stop their shelling.

There were no corridors set up yesterday, in part, she had said, because Russia was unable to control its forces on the ground and observe agreed local ceasefires while people were fleeing. The claims were not independently verified.

Updated

The 5 Kanal news service in Ukraine is carrying a little more detail on Ukrainian claims it sabotaged a bridge as a Russian military convoy was crossing it.

They report Ukraine’s armed forces stopped the advance of military equipment towards Izyum, a town that is in the east of Ukraine.

A military statement posted to Facebook has described the ambush, saying:

Having established the route of the enemy column, the SSO operators of Ukraine surveyed the facility that was most suitable for an engineering ambush. It was a bridge on the path of enemy equipment. Then – painstaking professional work: determining the location of charges, calculating the required amount of TNT equivalent. explosives to a designated place, SSO operators of Ukraine were waiting for the enemy, who unsuspectingly went to meet death.

The claims have not been verified independently.

  • This is Martin Belam in London taking over the blog from my colleague Samantha Lock. I will be here for the next few hours, and you can contact me at martin.belam@theguardian.com

Almost 6,500 alleged war crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine are under investigation, Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office has said.

A total of 6,492 cases have been reported and 197 children have been confirmed to have been killed, the office added.

Zelenskiy calls for EU to stop ‘sponsoring Russia’s military machine’

Ukraine’s president Zelenskiy called for an oil embargo in his latest national address.

First of all, we need an oil embargo. And Europe’s clear readiness to give up all Russian energy.

The European Union must stop sponsoring Russia’s military machine.”

Zelenskiy added that he discussed western sanctions policy with a group of international and Ukrainian experts who “assessed the sanctions imposed and how Russia is trying to circumvent them”.

The group has prepared concrete proposals on how to remove sanctions loopholes and how to immediately enhance sanctions to make it tangible for Moscow, Zelenskiy added.

Bridge carrying Russian forces blown up in Kharkiv, Ukraine claims

Ukrainian troops have blown up a bridge carrying Russian forces heading to Izyum, a city on the Donets river in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, the military has said.

An entire column of Russian troops was reportedly destroyed in an operation using a UAV drone.

Updated

Russia will seek peace or leave the international arena forever, Zelenskiy says

Russian troops are stepping up activity in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, Zelenskiy said in his latest national address.

They are trying to retaliate for their defeats. Rocket bombings and artillery strikes continue. New columns of equipment are being brought in. They are looking for reserves. They are trying to recruit residents of the south of our country – that is, from these temporarily occupied areas in addition to the so-called mobilisation in certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

However, Zelenskiy noted that the recent “feverish activity” of Russian forces reflects Russia’s insecurity and inability to defeat Ukraine.

Even with significant stocks of Soviet military equipment and a significant number of soldiers, whom the commanders do not spare at all, the Russian troops doubt their ability to break us, to break Ukraine. Well, we do everything to justify their doubts.”

“This war against Ukraine can only end in Russia’s strategic defeat – sooner or later,” he added.

Either the Russian leadership will really seek peace, or as a result of this war, Russia will leave the international arena forever.”

Russia is attempting to mobilise up to 70,000 people in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military claims.

It has been established that the Russian command has assigned the task of mobilising 60-70,000 people in the territory of the so-called ‘DPR’,” the general staff of the armed forces said in its latest morning operational report, adding that the specified figures were completed “by only 20%”.

Russian forces continue to expand units near the eastern border and restore and replenish ammunition, officials added.

Ukrainian troops thwarted eight Russian attacks over the past 24 hours in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the report read.

As many as 300 people were taken by Russian forces as hostages for four weeks in the basement of a school in Yahidne north of Chernihiv, Ukraine’s ministry of defence has claimed.

The hostages allegedly kept track of the days they were held on a wall.

The names of 18 people alleged to have been killed or died in the conditions were also found written on the wall, Ukrainian officials said.

Reuters previously spoke to seven residents of Yahidne who said that, in total, at least 20 people died or were killed during the Russian occupation. No official death toll has been released by Ukrainian authorities.

Negotiations are reportedly underway on the exchange of 169 servicemen of the National Guard of Ukraine who were taken prisoner at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials say.

The ministry made the announcement in an update on the Telegram messaging app, citing Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, Denis Monastyrsky.

Chernobyl is a tragic page in our history. Unfortunately, we have to state that 169 servicemen of the National Guard were taken prisoner there.

Today, some of them, according to our information, are in the territory of the Republic of Belarus, some – in Russia. We were at the place where they were kept. This is a dungeon without light, without the ability to communicate properly. They were deprived of all means of communication while they were there. And then they were taken out. Unfortunately, I can’t say what their fate is.

Negotiations are underway to exchange them. But we understand that this will probably be only after the end of the active phase of hostilities.”

Here are some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine today.

A 12-year-old boy holds a cat standing on the debris of his house destroyed by Russian forces’ shelling in the outskirts of Chernihiv, Ukraine.

His mother, Liudmila Koval, had to have her leg amputated and was injured in her abdomen after shelling. She is still waiting for proper medical treatment, the Associated Press reports.

Chernihiv, a northern Ukrainian city, has been besieged by Russian forces.

Shells and bombs that rained down on the city for weeks have reduced its buildings and neighbourhoods to rubble.

Danyk Rak, 12, holds a cat standing on the debris of his house destroyed by Russian forces’ shelling in the outskirts of Chernihiv, Ukraine.
Danyk Rak, 12, holds a cat standing on the debris of his house destroyed by Russian forces’ shelling in the outskirts of Chernihiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
A Ukrainian man stands among the ruins at a residential area damaged by shelling in Lysychansk, Ukraine
A Ukrainian man stands among the ruins at a residential area damaged by shelling in Lysychansk, Ukraine
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Danyk Rak, 12, and his grandmother Nina Vynnyk stand on the debris of their house which was destroyed by Russian forces’ shelling in the outskirts of Chernihiv, Ukraine.
Danyk Rak, 12, and his grandmother Nina Vynnyk stand on the debris of their house which was destroyed by Russian forces’ shelling in the outskirts of Chernihiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

US to send $800m in military aid to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden earlier announced an additional $800m in military assistance to Ukraine including heavy artillery ahead of a wider Russian assault expected in eastern Ukraine.

The package, which brings the total military aid since Russian forces invaded in February to more than $2.5 billion, includes artillery systems, artillery rounds, armoured personnel carriers and unmanned coastal defence boats, Biden said in a statement after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine. These new capabilities include artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armoured personnel carriers.”

Biden said he had also approved the transfer of additional helicopters, saying equipment provided to Ukraine “has been critical” as it confronts the invasion.

“We cannot rest now. As I assured President Zelenskiy, the American people will continue to stand with the brave Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom,” Biden said.

The new package includes 11 Mi-17 helicopters and 18 155mm howitzers, along with 40,000 artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, 200 armoured personnel carriers and 300 additional Switchblade drones.

It will be the first time howitzers have been provided to Ukraine by the United States.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said some of the systems, like the howitzers and radars, will require additional training for Ukrainian forces not accustomed to using American military equipment.

“We’re aware of the clock and we know time is not our friend,” Kirby said when asked about the speed of deliveries.

Russia says warship ‘seriously damaged’ after ammunition explosion

The Russian defence ministry said the entire crew of the warship Moskva, reported to be struck by two Ukrainian missiles in the Black Sea late on Wednesday night, has been evacuated after an ammunition explosion and fire on the ship.

The ship was famously defied by Ukrainian troops on Snake Island at the start of the war. The Moskva is the flagship of the Black Sea fleet.

“The cruiser ‘Moskva’ of the Black Sea Fleet was seriously damaged as a result of the detonation of ammunition that occurred as a result of a fire, the crew was evacuated,” Russian state media outlet TASS reported, citing the Russian defene ministry.

“As a result of a fire, ammunition detonated on the Moskva missile cruiser. The ship was seriously damaged. The crew was completely evacuated,” the ministry added.

Earlier this evening, Ukraine said it struck and damaged a Russian warship in the Black Sea, according to a Telegram messaged posted by Odesa governor Maksym Marchenko.

The Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, was famously defied by Ukrainian troops on Snake Island at the start of the war.
The Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, was famously defied by Ukrainian troops on Snake Island at the start of the war.
Photograph: Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

“Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship. Glory to Ukraine!” Marchenko’s message read.

“It has been confirmed that the missile cruiser Moskva today went exactly where it was sent by our border guards on Snake Island!”

On the first day of the invasion, the small garrison refused calls from the ship for it to surrender, telling the ship to “go fuck yourself”.

Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych said the 12,500 tonne ship could have as many as 510 crew members on board.

Russian news agencies said the Moskva was armed with 16 anti-ship ‘Vulkan’ cruise missiles, which have a range of at least 700km (440 miles).

Last month Ukraine said it had destroyed a large Russian landing support ship, the Orsk, on the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast of the Black Sea.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows cruiser Moskva in port Sevastopol in Crimea on April 7.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows cruiser Moskva in port Sevastopol in Crimea on April 7.
Photograph: AP

Updated

Summary and welcome

Hello and welcome back to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments before my colleague Martin Belam takes the reigns a little later on.

Here is where the situation currently stands:

  • The Russian defence ministry has said the entire crew of the warship Moskva, reported to be struck by Ukraine in the Black Sea late on Wednesday, has been evacuated after an ammunition explosion resulted in a fire on the ship. “The cruiser Moskva of the Black Sea Fleet was seriously damaged as a result of the detonation of ammunition that occurred as a result of a fire, the crew was evacuated,” Russian state media outlet TASS reported, citing the Russian defence ministry. The ship was defied by Ukrainian troops on Snake Island at the start of the war.
  • A Ukrainian official earlier said the Moskva had been hit by two missiles but did not give any evidence. The 12,500-tonne ship has a crew of about 500.
  • Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for an oil embargo in his nightly address on Wednesday. “First of all, we need an oil embargo. And Europe’s clear readiness to give up all Russian energy. The European Union must stop sponsoring Russia’s military machine.”
  • Zelenskiy confirmed forensic experts from the international criminal court visited Bucha on Wednesday to investigate possible war crimes. “Responsibility for the Russian military for war crimes is inevitable. We will drag them all to the tribunal. And not only for what was done in Bucha.” International Criminal Court chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, told reporters “Ukraine is a crime scene” after visiting Bucha on Wednesday.
  • US president Joe Biden announced an additional $800m in military assistance to Ukraine including heavy artillery ahead of a wider Russian assault expected in eastern Ukraine. The package, which brings the total military aid since Russian forces invaded in February to more than $2.5bn, includes artillery systems, artillery rounds, armoured personnel carriers and unmanned coastal defence boats, Biden said in a statement after a phone call with Zelenskiy.
  • The US state department on Wednesday defended Biden’s charge that Russia is carrying out a genocide in Ukraine, saying its forces are trying to destroy the country and its civilian population. Biden levelled the accusation at president Vladimir Putin’s forces for the first time on Tuesday, saying it had “become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian”. US state department official, Victoria Nuland, told CNN: “I am going to predict that what president Biden called it is what we will ultimately likely find when we are able to gather all of this evidence. Because what is happening on the ground is not an accident.”
  • The French president, Emmanuel Macron, declined to repeat Biden’s accusation that Russia was carrying out “genocide” against Ukrainians, warning that verbal escalations would not help end the war. Zelenskiy responded: “Such things are very painful for us, so I will definitely do my best to discuss this issue with him.”
  • More than 1,000 Ukrainian marines defending the besieged port city of Mariupol have surrendered, Moscow has claimed. In one of the most critical battles of the war, Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that 1,026 soldiers from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, including 162 officers, had “voluntarily laid down their arms” near the city’s Ilyich iron and steelworks. There was no independent confirmation of the claim.
  • The Russian retreat from around Kyiv has led to the discovery of large numbers of apparently massacred civilians, drawing international condemnation and calls for a war crimes investigation. The Kyiv district police chief said the bodies of 765 civilians, including 30 children had been found around the capital.
  • Negotiations are reportedly underway on the exchange of 169 servicemen of the National Guard of Ukraine who were taken prisoner at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs said.
  • The presidents of four countries bordering Russia – Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – travelled to Kyiv in a show of support for their Ukrainian counterpart and his embattled troops. It follows Kyiv’s reported refusal to meet the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited Poland on Tuesday and said he had planned to go on to Ukraine but “was not wanted”.
  • Senior US officials are weighing whether to send a top Cabinet level official to Kyiv as a high profile representative in a show of solidarity with Ukraine, a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.
  • Zelenskiy told Estonian MPs, without providing evidence, that Russia was using phosphorus bombs in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces in Mariupol said a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on the city, but there has been no independent confirmation that Russia used banned chemical weapons.
  • Zelenskiy also warned that the war will become an “endless bloodbath, spreading misery, suffering, and destruction” without additional weaponry.
  • In a speech at the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, US treasury secretary Janet Yellen said that countries on the fence of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine could face global isolation. “The unified coalition of sanctioning countries will not be indifferent to actions that undermine the sanctions we’ve put in place.”
  • Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the country would decide on whether to apply for Nato membership “within weeks”. Speaking at a joint news conference with her Swedish counterpart, Marin said that as a Nato partner – but not a member – Finland was not covered under article 5, which states that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on all.
  • The UK government has imposed sanctions on another 206 individuals, including 178 people it said were involved in propping up the self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said the latest sanctions were imposed in a direct response to the “horrific rocket attacks” on a train station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, that killed dozens of civilians.
  • Australia has also imposed targeted financial sanctions on 14 Russian state-owned enterprises on Thursday, including defence-related entities such as truckmaker Kamaz, and shipping companies SEVMASH and United Shipbuilding Corp.
  • A Russian court ordered an artist to be held behind bars for allegedly replacing supermarket price labels with messages protesting against Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
  • Russia is imposing sanctions on 398 US House representatives and 87 Canadiana senators, Interfax news agency reported.
  • The European Space Agency said is has ended cooperation with Russia on three missions to the Moon due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, following a previous decision to do the same for a Mars mission.
  • Russia will seek peace or leave the international arena forever, Zelenskiy said in his latest national address. “Either the Russian leadership will really seek peace, or as a result of this war, Russia will leave the international arena forever.”
  • UN chief, Antonio Guterres, said that a ceasefire in Ukraine “doesn’t seem possible,” possibly indicating that the UN is still waiting on a response from Russia on evacuating Ukrainian civilians and providing aid.

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Russia-Ukraine war latest: new Mariupol evacuation attempt; heavy fighting expected in Kyiv, says UK – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest: new Mariupol evacuation attempt; heavy fighting expected in Kyiv, says UK – live” was written by Kevin Rawlinson (now); Tobi Thomas, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 31st March 2022 11.44 UTC

Roman Abramovich listens to peace talks on Tuesday
Roman Abramovich listens to peace talks on Tuesday
Photograph: AP

The Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is sanctioned by European nations over the invasion, was part of Moscow’s delegation at peace talks in Istanbul, Reuters quotes Turkish leaders as saying.

They claimed he is “sincerely” working to end the war that was started and is still being aggressively pursued by his own political ally, Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich made a surprise appearance at Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul. However, video footage showed him sat among observers rather than with the two negotiating teams.

Speaking to reporters on a flight from Uzbekistan, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Abramovich’s presence showed Putin “believes, trusts him”, according to broadcaster NTV and others.

Abramovich participated in the negotiations as part of the Russian delegation. Rather than looking at who was at the table, we should look at on whose behalf they were there.

The Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the broadcaster A Haber Abramovich has been liaising between Kyiv and Moscow since the 24 February invasion and working “sincerely” to end the fighting.

Of course, official talks are important, negotiations are important, but public opinion is sensitive, everyone wants to maintain their position, and there are channels that should be kept open between leaders and countries. Here, Abramovich plays a useful role.

According to Reuters, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said Abramovich was not an official member of the Russian delegation, but acknowledged his presence to “enable certain contacts”.

Turkey, a Nato member, shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has good ties with both and has offered to mediate. It has supported Kyiv, but also opposes sanctions on Moscow; including measures against Abramovich and other Russian billionaires.

Updated

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, told the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, conditions were not yet in place for a ceasefire in Ukraine, the latter told a news conference, when asked about a telephone call with the former the previous day.

According to the Reuters news agency, Draghi also said Putin told him current gas contracts remained in force and that European firms will continue to pay in euros and dollars, rather than in roubles.

What I understood, but I may be wrong, is that the conversion of the payment … is an internal matter of the Russian Federation.

Asked about increased defence spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Draghi said Italy would reach the Nato goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2028, adding that this was not in dispute among members of his coalition.

However, Draghi said that the government’s upcoming economic forecasting document would not spell out a specific increase in defence spending.

Updated

More than 5m items of medical supplies have been given to Ukraine, helping to save tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives, the UK government is claiming.

Since the Russian invasion was launched, 13 flights carrying ventilators and other medical supplies have left the UK. Lifesaving medicines, intensive care equipment and wound packs have been donated by NHS England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The UK’s health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, has said:

The appalling atrocities inflicted on the Ukrainians by Putin’s evil attacks are causing untold misery to millions of people.

The invasion has created a medical emergency and the UK has acted swiftly to give our Ukrainian friends the medical support they need which has helped save tens of thousands of lives.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said:

The UK is continuing to play a leading role in the response to Russia’s unprovoked attacks on the Ukrainian people, with UK aid supplies flowing into Ukraine and its border regions.

From medicines and equipment, to food, generators, blankets and hygiene kits, we are working with the government of Ukraine, our trusted humanitarian partners and friends in the region to help those most in need.

Updated

The number of Ukrainian refugees who have been officially registered in Spain has reached nearly 30,000, says the country’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

He added that the number of Ukrainian refugees registered was likely to rise to 70,000 in the next few days.

Updated

The UK has said that it has imposed further sanctions of prominent Russian figures and military leaders, including Sergey Brilev, a propagandist who owns the Russia Today (RT) news channel.

Other Russian figures facing sanctions includes Aleksandr Zharov, chief executive of Gazprom-Media, Alexey Nikolov the managing director of RT and Anton Anisimov, the head of Sputnik International Broadcasting were also sanctioned.

Col-Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, dubbed “the butcher of Mariupol”, is also among the 14 new additions to the sanctions list.

Commenting on the sanctions, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said:

Putin’s war on Ukraine is based on a torrent of lies. Britain has helped lead the world in exposing Kremlin disinformation, and this latest batch of sanctions hits the shameless propagandists who push out Putin’s fake news and narratives.

We will keep on going with more sanctions to ramp up the pressure on Russia and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine. Nothing and no one is off the table.

Updated

The director general of the The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Robert Mardini, has called on Ukraine and Russia to agree on a safe evacuation of civilians from Mariupol and other frontline areas.

Speaking to Reuters, Mardini said that supplies were running low, and that up to 170,000 residents were trapped with no power.

To date the ICRC has so far led two evacuations of civilians from the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy.

Updated

As reported earlier, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has appeared in the Netherlands via video link and asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.

The opposition Labour party leader of the Netherlands, Lilianne Ploumen, called on the government of the prime minister, Mark Rutte, to urgently implement EU sanctions and quickly target the assets because we can “no longer justify this to Ukraine”.

Some background:

  • Roughly 20% of Dutch natural gas comes from Russia, which has become an increasingly important trading partner for the Netherlands in recent years.
  • The Dutch, along with other EU countries including Germany, are looking for other energy sources, but quick alternatives are few and global supplies limited.
    Zelenskiy asked the Dutch to “adopt a city” in Ukraine to focus postwar reconstruction efforts.
  • The Netherlands has supplied Ukrainian forces with military equipment, including anti-tank rockets and Patriot air defence systems and is also supporting Nato’s increased presence along the military alliance’s eastern flank.
  • The Dutch have so far been unable to effectively freeze or seize tens of billions of euros in Russian assets registered in the Netherlands, due to complex tax structures that make it difficult to identify ultimate owners of corporate holdings and property.
  • A letter to parliament from the finance ministry on 22 March aid €392m ($431.24 million) in Russian assets and transactions had been frozen under EU sanctions imposed since the invasion on 24 February.

Updated

Today so far …

  • An evacuation mission is under way from Ukraine’s besieged southern port city of Mariupol. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it was planning to send a convoy of 45 buses from Zaporizhzhia to make the 220 kilometre (136 mile) journey. At least 17 of the buses have already departed.
  • Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are on their way to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol with aid supplies and stand ready to evacuate civilians, it said.
  • The boss of the British spy agency GCHQ has claimed that demoralised Russian soldiers in Ukraine were refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. Sir Jeremy Fleming said Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, “massively misjudged” his chances for a swift military victory in Ukraine and claimed that his advisers were “afraid to tell him the truth”.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has told the Australian parliament that his country is “undefeatable” against Russia as long as it can count on the support of the global community. Zelenskiy accused Putin of “nuclear blackmail” and said that an unchecked Russia was a “threat” to the world, suggesting its actions may inspire other nations to follow suit, in a thinly veiled warning about China to the parliament he was addressing.
  • As well as appearing before the Australian parliament today, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has appeared in the Netherlands via video link and asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.
  • Zelenskiy said in a video address to the people of Ukraine last night that he doesn’t believe Russia’s vows to de-escalate its fighting. He said peace talks with Russia continue “but for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.
  • Moscow would not refuse a direct meeting between its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, but any talks between them would need to be substantive, the Russian foreign ministry has said.
  • The UK’s international trade secretary was asked about UK-India relations in the wake of India’s refusal to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that “we understand why they’ve chosen to sit on the fence at the moment. They have connections in both directions.” Both the UK foreign minister and Russia’s Lavrov are in India at the same time.
  • Taiwan’s defence ministry has set up a working group to study the tactics of the war in Ukraine, including how the country has been able to hold out against Russia. Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has raised its alert level since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Oil prices tumbled on reports that the United States is considering tapping its reserves to combat a supply crisis sparked by the Ukraine war. The Russian rouble meanwhile has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I am handing over to my colleague Tobi Thomas and heading off to host our Thursday quiz. I will be back later on.

Updated

Red Cross says it is on way to besieged Mariupol with aid supplies

Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are on their way to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol with aid supplies and stand ready to evacuate civilians, it said.

Ewan Watson, ICRC spokesperson, said Ukraine and Russia must agree on the exact terms of the operation, which is planned for Friday, adding that “tens of thousands” of lives depend on its success.

“For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration,” Watson told Reuters in Geneva.

Earlier Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it was planning to send a convoy of 45 buses from Zaporizhzhia to make the 220 kilometre (136 mile) journey to Mariupol. At least 17 of the buses have already departed.

Updated

As well as appearing before the Australian parliament today, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has appeared in the Netherlands via video link and asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.

“Stronger sanctions are needed so that Russia doesn’t have a chance to pursue this war further in Europe,” Reuters quote him telling lawmakers. “Stop all trade with Russia.”

Ukrainian President Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch parliament.
Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch parliament.
Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

Updated

The US said on Wednesday that Russian forces had begun to pull out of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power site, which they seized on the first day of the invasion on 24 February.

An employee at Ukraine’s exclusion zone management agency claimed on Facebook that some soldiers had been taken to a special medical facility with acute radiation sickness, but this has not been confirmed.

On Monday workers at the site separately alleged to Reuters that soldiers had driven their armoured vehicles without radiation protection through a highly toxic zone called the “Red Forest”, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust.

Kim Willsher, our Paris correspondent who visited Chernobyl in 1990, writes:

“If either account is accurate it would suggest a remarkable level of either ignorance of what happened at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 when the nuclear plant’s Reactor 4 exploded after an experiment went wrong, or criminal recklessness. The ‘Red Forest’ is so named because the tops of the pine trees around the nuclear plant glowed red from the radiation they absorbed after the catastrophe.

The contaminated trees were later dug up and buried, but seeds from them were taken and grown to see what effect the radiation had on them. When I visited in 1990, scientists at the Chernobyl Research Centre showed me the result: saplings, many with bizarre mutations, some with needles growing backwards. Scientists estimated the contaminated area would not be safe for 24,000 years, give or take a thousand.

Before the war, tourists could visit around the area, but only with a permit and with official tour guides who have Geiger counters and know where to go. There are still many radioactive ‘hot-spots’ and no go areas.

It is possible the Russian troops did not know of the danger. On the day after the disaster, it was the sixth item on the Soviet news and locals were kept in the dark as radiation rained down on them. In 2019, when the Chernobyl mini-series was broadcast, Vladimir Putin dismissed it as American misinformation and said Russia would make its own ‘version’ of the tragedy blaming the CIA.”

Updated

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has told the Australian parliament that his country is “undefeatable” against Russia as long as it can count on the support of the global community.

In a virtual speech to MPs and senators in Canberra, the Ukrainian president requested Australia send Bushmaster armoured vehicles to assist in the fight against Russia, saying they would “do much more for our common freedom and security than staying parked on your land”.

“You have very good armoured personal vehicles, Bushmasters, that could help Ukraine substantially, and other pieces of equipment that could strengthen our position in terms of armaments,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy accused Vladimir Putin of “nuclear blackmail” and said that an unchecked Russia was a “threat” to the world, suggesting its actions may inspire other nations to follow suit, in a thinly veiled warning to the parliament he was addressing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy receives a standing ovation after addressing the House of Representatives via a video link at Parliament House in Canberra.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy receives a standing ovation after addressing the House of Representatives via a video link at Parliament House in Canberra.
Photograph: Alex Ellinghausen/AAP

“The distance between our countries is big, it’s thousands of kilometres … but there’s no such thing as distance for the brutality and chaos that Russia brought to the east of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.

“Whatever is happening in our region because of the Russian aggression … has become a real threat to your country and your people as well,” he said. “This is the nature of the evil. It can instantly cross any distance, any barriers, destroy lives.”

Read more from Josh Butler and Daniel Hurst on this: Volodymyr Zelenskiy asks Australia to send armoured vehicles to help fight Russia

Updated

Here are some more of the pictures that have appeared recently on the newswire depicting the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian youth comfort each other as they wait to get for a bus at Palanca-Maiaky-Udobne border crossing point between Moldova and Ukraine.
Ukrainians comfort each other as they wait for a bus at Palanca-Maiaky-Udobne border crossing point between Moldova and Ukraine.
Photograph: Daniel Mihăilescu/AFP/Getty Images
A local resident stands next to the grave yesterday of his friend killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol.
A resident stands next to the grave yesterday of his friend killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, the partially sunken remains of a Russian landing ship are seen in the port city of Berdiansk, Ukraine.
In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, the partially sunken remains of a Russian landing ship are seen in the port city of Berdiansk, Ukraine.
Photograph: Planet Labs PBC/AP
The interior of a destroyed house in the village of Lukianivka.
The interior of a destroyed house in the village of Lukianivka.
Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Gen Sir Nick Parker, former commander of land forces in the British army, has somewhat controversially said Nato has been “defeated”, and called for a smaller coalition of nations to develop an offensive counter-strategy to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

PA Media quote him telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

Nato’s bluff was called. We were unable to stop the Russians trampling all over Ukraine and now Nato is holding the line of the 2004 expansion, along the line of the Baltic states and Poland and Hungary and Romania.

And what it has to do is to defend that line, it’s in what in military terms we would call a defensive position.

And I don’t think it has the capacity to move on to the offensive with its 30 nations all with slightly different views.

We need to have a smaller coalition of nations who can start to develop an offensive counter-strategy to Putin.

Updated

Moscow would not refuse a meeting between its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, but any talks between them would need to be substantive, RIA news agency has cited the Russian foreign ministry saying.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said earlier today that Turkey was working to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers for further talks after hosting peace negotiations in Istanbul this week.

Updated

17 buses already on way from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol – more buses to follow

The Ukrainian government is sending 45 buses to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Seventeen buses have already left for Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia, around 220 kilometres (136 miles) to the north-west

“Tonight, we received a message from the International Red Cross Committee that the Russian Federation confirms its readiness to open access for the humanitarian convoy to the city of Mariupol with transit through the city of Berdiansk,” she said in video posted on Telegram. “We are sending 45 buses to the Mariupol corridor.”

Agence France-Presse report that another 28 were waiting for authorisation to pass the Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, near Zaporizhzhia.

“We will do everything possible to ensure that buses arrive in Mariupol today and pick up people who have not yet been able to get out of the city,” Vereschuk said.

The Russian defence ministry yesterday had said that a humanitarian corridor would be opened from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdiansk, from 10am (0700 GMT) on Thursday.

“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said last night. The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee the “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire.

Updated

The boss of the British spy agency GCHQ has claimed that demoralised Russian soldiers in Ukraine were refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. Sir Jeremy Fleming, in a speech given in Australia, said Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, “massively misjudged” his chances for a swift military victory in Ukraine and claimed that his advisers were “afraid to tell him the truth”.

Here are some video clips of his talk:

 

Updated

A new fund-raising effort for LGBTQ+ people fleeing Ukraine because of the war has been launched today by campaigning group All Out.

Matt Beard, executive director at All Out, said: “These funds are supporting LGBT+ Ukrainians with evacuation, shelter, food, water, medication and legal support. This is happening both inside the country and in neighbouring countries like Romania.

“Thousands of people are still being forcibly displaced every day. They all need our immediate and ongoing help. And LGBT+ Ukrainians are feeling particularly vulnerable.”

Transgender people have already experienced difficulties in crossing the border out of Ukraine, due to issues with documentation. The funds raised are helping organisations like Lambda Warszawa, the oldest Polish LGBT+ organisation in Warsaw. Those working at the organisation say: “We’re dealing with people who are facing multiple traumas. They’re fleeing Ukraine, a homo- and transphobic country ravaged by war, and they arrive in Poland, another country that, while peaceful, is similarly anti-LGBT.”

All Out is a global not-for-profit organisation established in 2010.

“Before the invasion of their country, there was some progress towards equality for all. Now the hopes and dreams of an emerging generation of LGBT+ Ukrainians have been cruelly dashed. Instead of increasing safety, dignity and equality, they face the prospect of the kind of brutal homophobia and transphobia increasingly seen in recent years under the Putin regime,” said Beard.

Updated

Europe must stop buying oil and gas from Russia and should apply new sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, said.

Reuters report Nausėda told a joint news conference with the Danish prime minister: “Europe must stop buying Russian gas and oil, because the Kremlin regime uses this money to finance destruction of Ukrainian cities and attacks on peaceful civilians. The fifth sanction package must deliver a maximum blow to the Kremlin regime.”

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, and Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda pose for the media prior to their meeting at the Presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, left, and Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, pose for the media prior to their meeting at the presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Photograph: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

Earlier, Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, had said she expects more sanctions to be applied, without specifying what they might be.

Updated

Ukraine’s president Zelenskiy addresses Australian parliament

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been addressing the Australian parliament via videolink. His appeal to them was based on the threat to global security if Russia is not halted in its ambitions against Ukraine. He told them:

We haven’t seen this in the world, for a country to start a war against a neighbouring country, openly declaring their enslavement or destruction. Not to leave even the name of that nation. Not to have even any opportunity for this nation to live freely.

Government members and senators applaud Ukrainian’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy before he addresses the Australian parliament.
Government members and senators applaud Ukrainian’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy before he addresses the Australian parliament.
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Zelenskiy went on to specifically warn about the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, telling the Australian parliament:

No one can say any part of the world [is safe] from radioactive contamination which will come if nuclear weapons are used … A country which is using nuclear blackmail should receive sanctions which would show that such blackmailing is destructive for the blackmailer.

He also raised the spectre of aggressive nations being encouraged by any Russian success, saying:

But the most terrible thing, if we don’t stop Russia now, if we don’t hold Russia accountable, than some of the countries of the world that were looking forward to a similar war against their neighbours will decide that such things are possible for them as well. The fate of global security is decided now.

Here are a selection of the latest pictures to be sent to us over the newswires from Ukraine:

A general view taken last night showing fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
A general view taken last night showing fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A woman waits for evacuation in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine yesterday.
A woman waits for evacuation in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine yesterday.
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock
This photograph taken near Kyiv shows a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Lukianivka.
This photograph taken near Kyiv shows a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Lukianivka.
Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
A family of Ukrainian refugees crosses the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland.
A family of Ukrainian refugees crosses the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland.
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

On Sky News, the UK’s international trade secretary was asked about UK-India relations in the wake of India’s refusal to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that “we understand why they’ve chosen to sit on the fence at the moment. They have connections in both directions.”

However she went on to say:

But for us, it’s really important to see all countries who believe in democracy and the rule of law and, indeed, defending your own territorial borders and wanting to have that sovereignty, respected, by those around you, to stand up for that.

The UK’s foreign secretary is currently visiting India, in a trip awkwardly timed as it coincides with India also hosting Russia’s foreign minister Sergie Lavrov. Our diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour has more.

Bus convoy has departed to evacuate civilians from Mariupol – Ukraine’s deputy PM

It looks like there is some progress on the humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from Mariupol. Reuters report that Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said that a convoy of Ukrainian buses has set out for the southern port city.

Updated

In the UK, the government minister that has been put up for interview duties is Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international secretary for trade. She opened by saying:

The prime minister continues to be very clear that Putin must fail in his outrageous and illegal war in invading Ukraine. And the UK Government continue to work hand in glove with both our US and our EU allies to support Ukraine to defend their territorial country borders, and to make sure that Putin turns his tanks around and takes them home.

On the question of the processing of refugees wanting to come to the UK, Trevelayn said the schemes are “moving at pace”. The UK has so far issued just over 25,000 visas to Ukrainians. Over 4 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their country so far.

Trevelyan was also asked on Sky News about the so-called “golden visa scheme”, where Russian oligarchs had been able to buy themselves residency in the UK by investing at least £2m into the country. Eight people who took advantage of that scheme have subsequently been put on to the list of people sanctioned by the UK government.

Asked whether this showed poor judgement from the government on who it had allowed into the country, Trevelyan entirely side-stepped the question, instead arguing that everybody, including the US and EU, must hold firm on sanctions:

There are some who say, if Putin just demonstrates that he might want to step back, we should all start to unwind these sanctions. Sanctions are there to make it very, very clear that Putin’s war must fail. That Putin’s behaviour is unacceptable. The financial pressures that we are applying with him and to those who support him, who are oligarchs, regardless of where they happen to be living now, cannot sustain their lifestyles. We will not allow that.

Taiwan’s defence ministry has set up a working group to study the tactics of the war in Ukraine, including how the country has been able to hold out against Russia, and has been discussing this with the United States, according to a recent Reuters report.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has raised its alert level since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, wary of Beijing possibly making a similar move on the island and the possible impact of the war on China’s military thinking on Taiwan.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of parliament, defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said they had had “contact” with foreign countries to talk about how the war was being fought, and had set up their own working group to study it.

Topics Taiwan is following include Russia’s poor military performance and Ukraine’s resistance, he said.

It is not only discussed in exchange meetings between the United States and Taiwan, but also discussed with other countries that have regular contacts with Taiwan.

However, we will not make remarks rashly, but through internal discussions which are important, to get results that are helpful for building armaments and preparing for war.”

A quick snap from Reuters here, that Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen expects more sanctions against Russia. She is visiting Lithuania but declined to say what was being discussed.

  • This is Martin Belam here now, taking over from Samantha Lock. I will be here for the next few hours. You can get in touch with me at martin.belam@theguardian.com

Some more images to come from Ukraine illustrate the destruction inflicted on the country.

An elderly woman walks past a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
An elderly woman walks past a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
A swing set seen in the aftermath of bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
A swing set seen in the aftermath of bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A woman and her dog seek shelter underground in a metro subway station in Kharkiv.
A woman and her dog seek shelter underground in a metro subway station in Kharkiv.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, is now a battlefield once home to 1.4 million people.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, is now a battlefield once home to 1.4 million people.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

While the Russian rouble re-emerged from the rubble, oil prices tumbled on Thursday on reports that the United States is considering tapping its reserves to combat a supply crisis sparked by the Ukraine war.

Here is a report from Reuters:

Equities struggled to build on the week’s rally after Russia poured cold water on hopes that ceasefire talks were progressing, leaving the prospect of a protracted war in eastern Europe that has already sent shockwaves through the world economy.

WTI tumbled more than 5% and Brent more than 4% as reports said US President Joe Biden was looking at releasing a million barrels a day for several months as he tries to temper a surge in the market to more than $100.

Concerns about demand in China owing to a lockdown in Shanghai was adding to downward pressure.

The White House this month put an embargo on oil from Russia as part of a series of wide-ranging sanctions against the country for its invasion.

However, that sent prices soaring further and put added upward pressure on world inflation, which was already at multi-decade highs.

Officials said the president would make a statement Thursday on plans to cut energy costs “and lower gas prices at the pump for American families”.

The news comes as the International Energy Agency urges other countries to further tap their reserves.

The Russian rouble has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.

The currency was trading at 75.5 to one US dollar on Thursday morning, compared with almost 140 to the dollar at the beginning of March when it crashed with the onest of sanctions. That is actually better than it was on 22 February, two days before the invasion, when it was at 80 per dollar.

Russia has bolstered the currency by raising interest rates to 20% – therefore encouraging investment in the rouble – and imposing capital controls which mean that people cannot swap roubles for other currencies.

The Kremlin’s threat to make European gas importers like Germany pay for their supplies in roubles – thus boosting the currency’s value – has also helped. More help has come from China and India, which have increased the amount of Russian oil they are buying thanks to generous discounts from Moscow.

In case you missed the earlier announcement of a possible ceasefire in Mariupol, here are the details we reported earlier.

The Russian defence ministry announced a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Agence France-Presse.

A humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdiansk, would be opened from 10am (7am GMT), the ministry said on Wednesday.

Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by shelling while they were riding together in a car in a residential area in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by shelling while they were riding together in a car in a residential area in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said.

The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee the “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire through written notification to the Russian side, the UNHCR and ICRC before 6am (3am GMT) Thursday.

Moscow also asked the Ukrainian army to commit to ensure the security of the bus convoys along the designated corridor.

The ministry also said it had agreed to a proposal from Kyiv to open in the last 24 hours four new humanitarian corridors from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia.

Heavy fighting likely to take place in Kyiv in coming days – UK MoD

The UK’s ministry of defence has just released its latest intelligence report, suggesting heavy fighting will likely take place in Kyiv in the coming days.

Despite Russian statements indicating an intended reduction of military activity around Chernihiv, significant Russian shelling and missile strikes have continued.

Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units. Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days.

Heavy fighting continues in Mariupol, a key objective of Russian forces, however Ukrainian forces remain in control of the centre of the city.”

Updated

Zelenskiy doubts Russia’s promise to de-escalate fighting

Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to Ukraine last night that he doesn’t believe Russia’s vows to de-escalate its fighting.

In a televised speech, Zelenskiy said peace talks with Russia continue “but for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.

Today I have few words, not much time, a lot of emotions and even more tasks. It is that kind of moment. A turning point, when we can and should talk only about the most important thing.

Yes, there is an ongoing negotiation process. But these are still words. So far no specifics.”

Zelenskiy spoke of the promise made by Russia to withdraw troops from the north of Ukraine.

We know that this is not a withdrawal, but the consequences of exile. Consequences of the work of our defenders. But we also see that at the same time there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas. And we are preparing for this.

We do not believe anyone – we do not trust any beautiful verbal constructions. There is a real situation on the battlefield. And now – this is the most important thing. We will not give up anything. And we will fight for every meter of our land, for every person.”

EU and US officials have concurred with Sir Jeremy Fleming’s remarks.

A senior EU diplomat told Reuters earlier:

Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ or only sitting with them at the end of a very long table.”

Russian troops were being told that they were taking part in a military exercise prior to the Ukraine invasion, but had to sign a document that extended their duties, said two European diplomats.

They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” added one of the diplomats.

There are no signs at the moment that the situation could foster a revolt within the Russian military, but the situation is “unpredictable” and western powers “would hope that unhappy people would speak up,” said the senior European diplomat to Reuters.

Sir Jeremy Fleming also said there were growing signs that Russian soldiers “short of weapons and morale” were “refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft”.

Fleming said in a speech in Canberra at the Australian National University:

We’ve seen Russian soldiers short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

Putin has massively misjudged the situation … We believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth.”

A destroyed Russian tank seen in Sumy region, Ukraine.
A destroyed Russian tank seen in Sumy region, Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

Updated

It looks like being another turbulent day on the international energy markets where oil has dropped nearly 5% in trade so far today to just under $108 a barrel.

The fall has been partly driven by continued lockdowns in China but it will help ease the price surge caused by sanctions on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Oil prices are closely linked to natural gas prices and the cost of the latter also fell on Thursday.

Gas markets are still uncertain, however, about how the standoff with Russia over its demand to be paid in roubles will be resolved. Concern about the possible loss of supply in Germany prompted Berlin to activate emergency plans on Wednesday that could eventually lead to gas rationing. Russia supplies around 30% of Europe’s gas – but 40% of Germany’s.

A bus passes by the Adlershof gas-fired power station in Berlin.
A bus passes by the Adlershof gas-fired power station in Berlin.
Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

Capital Economics said in a note on Wednesday that the standoff could increase pressure on household incomes if it leads to rsationing and in turn higher prices for commodities and consumer goods.

The industrial sector would bear the brunt of any power rationing imposed as a result of Europe’s shift away from Russian energy, but the direct economic impact of this would be smaller than one might expect. However, the knock-on impact from higher commodity prices would be felt more widely, making output in some sectors even more uneconomic and tightening the squeeze on household incomes.

Updated

Putin ‘misled’ by advisers, White House says

Vladimir Putin has made a strategic miscalculation in launching the invasion of Ukraine and his advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth” about the extent of his error, the boss of British spy agency GCHQ said in a speech on Thursday.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, in a speech given in Australia, said the Russian leader had misjudged the strength of Ukrainian resistance, the western response and the ability of his forces to deliver a rapid victory.

“It all adds up to the strategic miscalculation that western leaders warned Putin it would be. It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and, increasingly, by ordinary Russians too,” Fleming said.

Western security officials want to lay the responsibility for February’s unprovoked invasion on Putin, who they characterise as a dominant, isolated leader who is making poor decisions partly because he no longer gets accurate information or honest opinions from his subordinates.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth” about the extent of his error, the boss of British spy agency GCHQ said in a speech on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth” about the extent of his error, the boss of British spy agency GCHQ said in a speech on Thursday.
Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

As a result, Fleming said he believed that the failure to achieve a quick victory must be causing discord in the Kremlin. “Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.”

Earlier, US officials made a similar point, arguing that Putin was being misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging western sanctions have been. Kate Bedingfield, director of communications at the White House, said:

We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership.

We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.

So, it is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby later agreed with the White House assessment: “It’s [Putin’s] military. It’s his war. He chose it … the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting.”

Some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine provide a striking illustration of life for those living during war.

Fire and smoke light up the night sky in a shade of bright orange, east of Kharkiv.

Once-bustling city streets are seen deserted while a Russian missile lies in a children’s playground.

Women nurse newborn babies in metro stations now being used as bomb shelters.

A man walks through the debris in the aftermath of Russian bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
A man walks through the debris in the aftermath of Russian bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Deserted streets in the aftermath of shelling in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Deserted streets in the aftermath of shelling in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A Russian missile is seen in a children’s playground.
A Russian missile is seen in a children’s playground.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A woman holds her baby in a metro station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A woman holds her baby in a metro station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
This general view taken on 30 March shows fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
This general view taken on 30 March shows fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Zelenskiy warns Russia is preparing a large offensive in Donbas

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned that Russia is massing its forces in the eastern region of Donbas in preparation for a big offensive.

Speaking in one of his trademark late-night television addresses from the streets of Kyiv, Zelenskiy said any withdrawal of Russian troops from the regions around Kyiv and Chernihiv – as stated by the Kremlin on Tuesday – was due to Ukrainian resistance.

But he added:

We also see that at the same time there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas. And we are preparing for this.

This assessment tallied with Russia’s other statement on Tuesday that it had allegedly completed its operations in Kyiv and was turning to the eastern area of Donbas which has been home to two self-styled pro-Russian separatist republics since 2014.

A Russian military report released late on Wednesday said:

All the main tasks of the Russian Armed Forces in the Kyiv and Chernigov [Chernihiv] directions have been completed.

A planned regrouping of troops is taking place in these areas, its goal is to intensify actions in priority areas and, above all, complete the operation to completely liberate Donbas.”

Read more on the military situation, peace talks and other key developments here:

Updated

Summary

Hello. It’s Samantha Lock with you to continue our coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Russian troops are building up in the country’s east, as the White House claimed Putin was being misinformed by his inner circle over the performance of the military.

Here is a comprehensive rundown of the latest developments over the past 12 hours:

  • The Russian defence ministry announced a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Agence France-Presse.
  • Russia and Ukraine will resume online peace talks on Friday 1 April. A senior Ukraine official said leaders of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, could meet “soon”, but the Kremlin downplayed hopes of an early breakthrough. Ukraine’s president said in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday that “for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.
  • Zelenskiy said he talked to Joe Biden for an hour on another “very active diplomatic day”, thanking the US president for a new $1bn humanitarian aid package and an additional $500m in direct budget support. Zelenskiy said: “The support of the United States is vital for us. And now it is especially important to lend a hand to Ukraine, to show all the power of the democratic world.”
  • The Ukrainian president also said he was cautious of Russia’s “verbal constructions” and described the movement of Russian troops as “not a withdrawal, but the consequences of exile”. “Yes, there is an ongoing negotiation process. But these are still words. So far no specifics,” he added.
  • A recent Russian military report appears to contradict Russia’s promise to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s north following “meaningful” progress at peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday. The report from Russia’s ministry of defence published in a Telegram post late on Wednesday states Russia is merely undertaking a “planned regrouping of troops” after successfully completing its military objectives in Kyiv and Chernihiv.
  • Russian shelling continued on Wednesday despite Moscow saying on Tuesday that it would scale back its attacks around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. However, reports citing the Pentagon said that Russian forces were “walking away” from the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
  • UK, US and EU officials say Putin has been misled over Russian military performance. Putin has received misinformation about how well Russia is doing and how much the sanctions have affected the country because some of those closest to him are afraid to tell him the truth, according to a speech planned by the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy service on Thursday.
  • Sir Jeremy Fleming said that some Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders, and that they are poorly equipped and have low morale.
  • Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a briefing: “It’s his [Putin] military. It’s his war. He chose it…the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting.
  • Global restrictions on exports of industrial components to Russia have hit car and tank production. A carmaker has shut down and tank production has halted, according to the US.
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials have said.
  • The Russian rouble has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.
  • Germany could ration power if a standoff over a Russian demand to pay for fuel with roubles disrupts or halts supplies.
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is also considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials said.
  • Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, is due to land in India on Thursday to urge Narendra Modi’s government to reduce its strategic dependency on Russia. Her arrival in New Delhi coincides with that of her sparring partner Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, who will be making his first visit since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The UK has announced new laws targeting the access of Russian oligarchs to “UK aviation and maritime technical services”, according to the Foreign Office.
  • Eight Russian oligarchs on the UK sanctions list over their links to Vladimir Putin were granted “golden visas” to live in Britain. The individuals were granted the right to live in the UK after promising to invest at least £2m under the controversial tier 1 investor visa scheme, the UK government has admitted.
  • Russian hackers have recently attempted to penetrate the networks of Nato and the militaries of some eastern European countries, according to a report by Google’s threat analysis group. The report did not say which militaries had been targeted in what Google described as “credential phishing campaigns” launched by a Russian-based group called Coldriver, or Callisto.
  • Slovakia has said it will expel 35 Russian diplomats based on information provided by intelligence services. Fellow EU countries Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic have all announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
  • It could take at least a year for Ukraine to hold a referendum on its neutrality – a key Russian demand to end the war – according to the head of Ukraine’s delegation at peace talks with Russia.

Updated

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Russia-Ukraine war latest: GCHQ head says some Russian soldiers ‘refusing to carry out orders’; White House says Putin ‘misled over Russian military performance’ – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest: GCHQ head says some Russian soldiers ‘refusing to carry out orders’; White House says Putin ‘misled over Russian military performance’ – live” was written by Samantha Lock (now), Johana Bhuiyan, Gloria Oladipo, Léonie Chao-Fong and Martin Belam (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 31st March 2022 04.28 UTC

Summary

Here is a comprehensive rundown of the latest developments over the past 12 hours:

  • The Russian defence ministry announced a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Agence France-Presse.
  • Russia and Ukraine will resume online peace talks on Friday 1 April. A senior Ukraine official said leaders of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, could meet “soon”, but the Kremlin downplayed hopes of an early breakthrough. Ukraine’s president said in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday that “for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.
  • Zelenskiy said he talked to Joe Biden for an hour on another “very active diplomatic day”, thanking the US president for a new $1bn humanitarian aid package and an additional $500m in direct budget support. Zelenskiy said: “The support of the United States is vital for us. And now it is especially important to lend a hand to Ukraine, to show all the power of the democratic world.”
  • The Ukrainian president also said he was cautious of Russia’s “verbal constructions” and described the movement of Russian troops as “not a withdrawal, but the consequences of exile”. “Yes, there is an ongoing negotiation process. But these are still words. So far no specifics,” he added.
  • A recent Russian military report appears to contradict Russia’s promise to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s north following “meaningful” progress at peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday. The report from Russia’s ministry of defence published in a Telegram post late on Wednesday states Russia is merely undertaking a “planned regrouping of troops” after successfully completing its military objectives in Kyiv and Chernihiv.
  • Russian shelling continued on Wednesday despite Moscow saying on Tuesday that it would scale back its attacks around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. However, reports citing the Pentagon said that Russian forces were “walking away” from the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
  • UK, US and EU officials say Putin has been misled over Russian military performance. Putin has received misinformation about how well Russia is doing and how much the sanctions have affected the country because some of those closest to him are afraid to tell him the truth, according to a speech planned by the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy service on Thursday.
  • Sir Jeremy Fleming is also expected to say that some Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders, and that they are poorly equipped and have low morale.
  • Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a briefing: “It’s his [Putin] military. It’s his war. He chose it…the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting.
  • Global restrictions on exports of industrial components to Russia have hit car and tank production. A carmaker has shut down and tank production has halted, according to the US.
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials have said.
  • The Russian rouble has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.
  • Germany could ration power if a standoff over a Russian demand to pay for fuel with roubles disrupts or halts supplies.
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is also considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials said.
  • Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, is due to land in India on Thursday to urge Narendra Modi’s government to reduce its strategic dependency on Russia. Her arrival in New Delhi coincides with that of her sparring partner Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, who will be making his first visit since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The UK has announced new laws targeting the access of Russian oligarchs to “UK aviation and maritime technical services”, according to the Foreign Office.
  • Eight Russian oligarchs on the UK sanctions list over their links to Vladimir Putin were granted “golden visas” to live in Britain. The individuals were granted the right to live in the UK after promising to invest at least £2m under the controversial tier 1 investor visa scheme, the UK government has admitted.
  • Russian hackers have recently attempted to penetrate the networks of Nato and the militaries of some eastern European countries, according to a report by Google’s threat analysis group. The report did not say which militaries had been targeted in what Google described as “credential phishing campaigns” launched by a Russian-based group called Coldriver, or Callisto.
  • Slovakia has said it will expel 35 Russian diplomats based on information provided by intelligence services. Fellow EU countries Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic have all announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
  • Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia considers the presence of any US or Nato military infrastructure in countries bordering Afghanistan unacceptable, Russian state media outlet Tass is reporting.
  • It could take at least a year for Ukraine to hold a referendum on its neutrality – a key Russian demand to end the war – according to the head of Ukraine’s delegation at peace talks with Russia.

Russia has said it considers the presence of any US or Nato military infrastructure in countries bordering Afghanistan unacceptable, Russian state media outlet Tass is reporting.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the west is trying to use the UN to “create artificial competition” in its efforts in Afghanistan, the agency said.

Citing Lavrov, Tass reported:

The Russian Federation considers it unacceptable to deploy any US and Nato military infrastructure on the territory of states neighbouring Afghanistan.

Washington is trying to avoid responsibility for the fate of Afghan citizens and refugees.

The United States, through its influence in the IMF and the World Bank, is hindering the implementation of social programs in Afghanistan.”

Updated

Russia announces ceasefire in Mariupol

The Russian defence ministry announced a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Agence France-Presse.

A humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdiansk, would be opened from 10am (7am GMT), the ministry said on Wednesday.

“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said.

The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee the “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire through written notification to the Russian side, the UNHCR and ICRC before 6am (3am GMT) Thursday.

Moscow also asked the Ukrainian army to commit to ensure the security of the bus convoys along the designated corridor.

The ministry also said it had agreed to a proposal from Kyiv to open in the last 24 hours four new humanitarian corridors from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia.

US President Joe Biden has promised to end the “nightmare” of Americans detained in Russia after meeting with the parents of a former US Marine imprisoned in Russia on Wednesday.

US citizen Trevor Reed is serving a nine-year prison term in a penal colony some 500 km (300 miles) southeast of Moscow after being convicted of assaulting police officers while drunk in 2019.

“President Biden met today with Joey and Paula Reed, the parents of Trevor Reed, who is wrongfully detained in Russia,” presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“During their meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to continue to work to secure the release of Trevor, Paul Whelan, and other Americans wrongfully held in Russia and elsewhere.”

“We understand the pain felt by all of Trevor’s families and friends enduring the nightmare of his absence, which we are committed to bringing to an end.”

US State department spokesman Ned Price earlier said that US diplomats are being denied access to Americans being held by Russia.

Those include Reed and Paul Whelan, who are being held on what the United States says are false or trumped-up charges, and professional basketball Brittney Griner, who was detained in Moscow airport on 17 February 17 on charges of carrying vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil in her luggage.

Rouble recovers to pre-war levels

The Russian rouble has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.

The currency was trading at 75.5 to one US dollar on Thursday morning, compared with almost 140 to the dollar at the beginning of March when it crashed with the onest of sanctions. That is actually better than it was on 22 February, two days before the invasion, when it was at 80 per dollar.

A 200 rouble note.
A 200 rouble note.
Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Russia has bolstered the currency by raising interest rates to 20% – therefore encouraging investment in the rouble – and imposing capital controls which mean that people cannot swap roubles for other currencies.

The Kremlin’s threat to make European gas importers like Germany pay for their supplies in roubles – thus boosting the currency’s value – has also helped. More help has come from China and India, which have increased the amount of Russian oil they are buying thanks to generous discounts from Moscow.

A recent Russian military report appears to contradict Russia’s promise to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s north following “meaningful” progress at peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Following the talks, Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said Moscow would “radically reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv”.

The promises were seemingly made in good faith, however a recent report from Russia’s ministry of defence published in a Telegram post late on Wednesday states Russia is merely undertaking a “planned regrouping of troops” after successfully completing its military objectives in Kyiv and Chernihiv.

The report, titled ‘highlights of the day’, reads:

All the main tasks of the Russian Armed Forces in the Kyiv and Chernigov [Chernihiv] directions have been completed.

A planned regrouping of troops is taking place in these areas, its goal is to intensify actions in priority areas and, above all, complete the operation to completely liberate Donbas.”

A destroyed Russian tank seen in Trostyanets in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
A destroyed Russian tank seen in Trostyanets in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

Western and Ukrainian officials reacted warily to Russia’s claim, publicly voicing their scepticism.

In an intelligence report published by Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces on Wednesday did note that Russian troops were withdrawing from the territory of Kyiv and Chernihiv but described the movement as merely “a rotation of individual units” with aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.

The report read:

According to some indications, the Russian enemy is regrouping units to focus its main efforts on the east.

At the same time, the so-called ‘withdrawal of troops’ is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead the military leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and create a misconception about the occupiers’ refusal to plan to encircle the city of Kyiv.”

Updated

A somewhat exasperated Zelenskiy has said peace talks with Russia are ongoing but nothing “concrete” has come out of them.

The Ukrainian leader released another video address from the streets of the capital, saying Russia is continuing to mass troops near Donbas and any withdrawal form near Kyiv was due to Ukrainian resistance.

“We know that this is not a withdrawal, but the consequences of… the work of our defenders,” he said. “But we also see that at the same time there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas. And we are preparing for this.”

Watch Zelenskiy’s latest address in the video below.

 

Ukraine neutrality would need to go to referendum in process that could take at least a year

It could take at least a year for Ukraine to hold a referendum on its neutrality – a key Russian demand to end the war – according to the head of Ukraine’s delegation at peace talks with Russia.

David Arakhamia told the Financial Times that the parties were close to agreement on the security guarantees and Ukraine’s EU bid, but urged caution about the prospects for a breakthrough.

“All the issues” have been “on the table since the beginning” of negotiations but “lots of points — like in every single item there are unresolved points”, Arakhamia said.

Any prospective deal would have to be agreed with the guarantors and ratified by their parliaments, Zelenskiy reiterated on Sunday.

Ukraine would then put the deal to a national referendum where any decision would ultimately be made by the people of Ukraine. This would not occur until perhaps several months’ time before a possible change to constitution — a process that could require at least a year.

The only resolved [issue] is the type of international guarantees Ukraine is looking for, but . . . we still have to get the approval from the guarantors otherwise the deal will never fly,” Arakhamia said.

In a TV interview, Arakhamia said declaring neutrality would require three million signatures to be registered.

“This is a big procedure that cannot take place outside of peaceful territory,” he said.

Germany could ration power if gas standoff with Russia continues

Germany could ration power if a standoff over a Russian demand to pay for fuel with roubles disrupts or halts supplies.

Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, on Wednesday implemented the “early warning phase” of an existing gas emergency plan, where a crisis team from the economics ministry, the regulator and the private sector will monitor imports and storage.

Habeck told reporters Germany’s gas supplies were guaranteed for now but urged consumers and companies to reduce consumption, saying that “every kilowatt hour counts”.

A bus passes by the Adlershof gas-fired power station in Berlin on Wednesday.
A bus passes by the Adlershof gas-fired power station in Berlin on Wednesday.
Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

If supplies fall short, Germany’s network regulator can ration gas, with industry first in line for cuts and preferential treatment for private households, hospitals and other critical institutions.

Paying in Russia’s currency would undercut the effectiveness of western sanctions on the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine and Germany, which depends on Russia for much of its natural gas, is under pressure not to accede to the demand.

Moscow is expected to make public its plans for rouble payments on Thursday, Reuters says, although it said it would not immediately demand that buyers pay for gas exports in the currency.

As analysts waited for more clarity on the situation and whether Russia would cut off supplies, figures showed that March was the most expensive month for power prices in European history, analysts at Rystad Energy said on Thursday, breaking the record set in December for the big five European markets (Germany, France, Italy, UK, Spain).

Italy will end up with highest average prices, above €300 for the month of March.
UK, France and Spain are not far behind, all close to €300, and then a sizable gap down to Germany around €250 and the Nordics around €140.

Updated

President Joe Biden’s administration is considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials have said.

Biden is expected to give remarks on Thursday on his administration’s actions, the White House said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions on Moscow have driven up the price of oil.

The White House said Biden will deliver remarks at 1:30pm ET (5:30pm GMT) on “his administration’s actions to reduce the impact of Putin’s price hike on energy prices and lower gas prices at the pump for American families.” It did not give additional details.

The Biden administration is considering another release of oil from the SPR to help stabilise global energy markets that, if carried out, could be bigger than the sale of 30 million barrels earlier this month, a US source said on Friday.

International Energy Agency member states agreed to release over 60 million barrels of oil reserves earlier in March, with 30 million barrels coming from the US SPR.

The Biden administration is considering temporarily removing restrictions on summer sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends as a way to lower fuel costs for US consumers, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Adding more ethanol to gasoline blends could potentially reduce prices at US gas pumps because ethanol, which is made from corn, is currently cheaper than straight gasoline.

Some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine provide a striking illustration of life for those living during war.

Fire and smoke light up the night sky in a shade of bright orange, east of Kharkiv.

Once-bustling city streets are seen deserted while a Russian missile lies in a children’s playground.

Women nurse newborn babies in metro stations now being used as bomb shelters.

A woman holds her baby in a metro station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A woman holds her baby in a metro station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Deserted streets in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Deserted streets in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Aftermath of Russian bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Aftermath of Russian bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A Russian missile is seen in a children’s playground.
A Russian missile is seen in a children’s playground.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
This general view taken on 30 March shows fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
This general view taken on 30 March shows fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Belarus will allow companies to export potash fertiliser in response to western sanctions, starting on 6 April 6, RIA news agency reported, citing a government decision.

Belarus is the world’s third-largest producer of the crop nutrient after Canada and Russia and state-owned Belaruskali is one of the world’s largest players, according to Reuters.

RIA said the Belarus government would grant export licenses to Belaruskali and the Belarus Potash Co (BPC). Washington has given BPC clients until 1 April to wind down their business with the firm.

This month, the European Union tightened existing sanctions on Belarus to completely ban potash exports while conceding they could still be sent to Russia or third countries.

Landlocked Belarus previously relied on shipments from the Baltic Sea port of Klaipeda in Lithuania. Vilnius halted the use of its railway for Belarus exports from 1 February.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on 21 March that the potash market would need to be discreet, like the arms trade, a local agency reported.

The Guardian’s defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh, brings us this this analysis piece, asking: Why is Russia’s military regrouping and can Ukraine forces disrupt them?

Russia’s announcement on Tuesday that it would “reduce military activity” around Kyiv and the nearby city of Chernihiv has been greeted with predictable scepticism, not least because shelling of both cities has continued.

While some movement of troops from the north back to Belarus has been detected, these appear to be part of normal operational redeployments, and they do not yet definitively amount to a retreat. Ukraine’s general staff said overnight Russia was engaged in “probably a rotation of the separate units and aims at misleading”.

If anything the shelling, with its consequences for civilians, is sadly to be expected: Russia will want to cover any halting of the ground offensive with firepower both to maintain uncertainty and keep Ukrainian forces tied down. And the capacity to bomb the city from a distance remains.

Yet, it is obvious that Russia is, in the words of Konrad Muzyka, a military intelligence specialist and president of Rochan Consulting, “buying time” – as it seeks to refocus on the Donbas region and win a more conventional military victory in the east.

The evident reality is that five weeks of near constant fighting north-west of the capital have utterly depleted Russia’s combat power. Across the board, Russian forces have suffered more than 10,000 casualties, the US now estimates – for a war that few of its troops expected or were properly prepared for.

Read the full story below.

Here’s a little more from Pentagon spokesman John Kirby’s briefing earlier.

Kirby said the Pentagon agrees with assessments – mentioned earlier by White House director of communications Kate Bedingfield – that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not being fully informed about events in Ukraine.

Kirby said the Pentagon saw this assessment as “disconcerting”.

It’s his military. It’s his war. He chose it…the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting.

Kirby also said that an uninformed Putin could result in a “less than faithful” effort at ending the conflict through negotiations.

If he’s not fully informed of how poorly he’s doing, then how are his negotiators going to come up with an agreement?” Kirby asked.

Footage of the rescue effort to retrieve bodies from the ruins of the city of Irpin near Kyiv after a Russian attack has been released.

The video shows the aftermath of weeks of fighting and Russian bombardment.

A day after Russia promised to scale down operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, an intensified bombardment could be heard in the suburbs of the capital, near the areas retaken by Ukrainian forces in recent days.

Mayor Oleksandr Markushyn said that Ukrainian forces had full control of the town, but asked residents not to return to the town and revealed that bodies were still trapped under rubble.

 

Slovakia has said it will expel 35 Russian diplomats based on information provided by intelligence services.

The move comes a day after fellow EU countries Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic all announced the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.

Other countries, including the United States and Poland, had earlier also expelled Russian diplomats.

Slovakia will “reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Bratislava by 35,” foreign ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga told AFP.

“We regret that following the previous expulsions of Russian diplomats in the last couple of years, the Russian diplomatic mission has not shown any interest in operating correctly in Slovakia,” he added.

Slovakia, a member of the European Union, had already expelled three Russian diplomats for espionage earlier this month.

Prime minister Eduard Heger showed his displeasure in a Facebook post headlined “Dasvidania,” or goodbye in Russian.

My government will not tolerate having Russians in Slovakia, under diplomatic cover, leading massive espionage activities, corrupting our citizens, spreading disinformation and polarising our society.”

Wrapping up his address, Zelenskiy had some stern words for “those who waste time and work only to stay in office” confirming he recalled the Ambassador of Ukraine in both Morocco and Georgia.

“There are those who work together with everyone to defend the state. So that Ukraine can gain its future. We appreciate the work of each such person,” Zelenskiy said.

“And there are those who waste time and work only to stay in office. Today I signed the first decree to recall such a person. Such an Ambassador of Ukraine. From Morocco. The Ambassador from Georgia was also recalled.”

With all due respect: if there are no weapons, no sanctions, no restrictions for Russian business – please look for another job.”

The diplomatic frontline is one of the key frontlines. And everyone there must work as efficiently as possible to win and help the army. Each on the diplomatic frontline must work just as each of our defenders on the battlefield.”

Zelenskiy described another “very active diplomatic day” and outlined his three key priorities: weapons for Ukraine, new sanctions against Russia and financial support for his state.

Referencing his call with US president Joe Biden, the Ukrainian leader said the conversation was “very detailed” and “lasted an hour”.

Of course, I thanked the United States for a new $1bn humanitarian aid package and an additional $500m in direct budget support. And I stressed that right now is a turning point.

I told President Biden what Ukraine needs. And I was as sincere as possible with him. The support of the United States is vital for us. And now it is especially important to lend a hand to Ukraine, to show all the power of the democratic world.

Zelenskiy added: “Tanks, planes, artillery systems … Freedom must be armed no worse than tyranny.”

He also referenced his earlier address to the Norwegian parliament, describing Norway as “one of the states that supported us significantly”. “I called for more help to Ukraine. With weapons and sanctions against Russia as well.”

“I spoke today with the President of Egypt and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates,” Zelenskiy added.

Updated

‘These are still words… we do not believe anyone,’ Zelenskiy says of peace talks

Hello, it’s Samantha Lock with you as my colleague Johana Bhuiyan signs off.

Here’s a little more from Zelenskiy’s earlier address.

Today I have few words, not much time, a lot of emotions and even more tasks. It is that kind of moment. A turning point, when we can and should talk only about the most important thing.

Yes, there is an ongoing negotiation process. But these are still words. So far no specifics.”

Zelenskiy spoke of the promise made by Russia to withdraw troops from the north of Ukraine.

We know that this is not a withdrawal, but the consequences of exile. Consequences of the work of our defenders. But we also see that at the same time there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas. And we are preparing for this.

We do not believe anyone – we do not trust any beautiful verbal constructions. There is a real situation on the battlefield. And now – this is the most important thing. We will not give up anything. And we will fight for every meter of our land, for every person.”

Updated

Today so far

That’s it from me today; my colleague Samantha Lock will be taking over the blog. Here’s what happened so far:

Updated

Russia and Ukraine will resume peace talks on 1 April

Zelenskiy on Wednesday said peace talks have been ongoing but nothing “concrete” has come out of them. A senior Ukrainian official said Russia and Ukraine will resume those talks online on 1 April, Reuters is reporting.

The Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said in an online post that Ukraine suggested the two countries should meet but that Russia said more work needed to be done on a draft treaty first.

Updated

Head of Britain’s GCHQ spy service says some Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders

On Wednesday, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) chief Jeremy Fleming said that there’s new intelligence that shows some Russian soldiers in Ukraine have sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own aircrafts, Reuters is reporting.

“We’ve seen Russian soldiers short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” Fleming said in a speech in Canberra at the Australian National University.

“Putin has massively misjudged the situation,” Fleming said. “We believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth.” Reuters was unable to independently confirm GCHQ’s analysis.

Here’s more from the Reuters report:

GCHQ, which gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain, has a close relationship with the U.S. National Security Agency and with the eavesdropping agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in a consortium called “Five Eyes”.

Russia’s defence ministry says its armed forces are professional and carrying out their duty in Ukraine with considerable success. It says the West has spread lies about the operation in an attempt to bring down Russia.

The United States assesses that Russia is suffering failure rates as high as 60% for some of its precision-guided missiles, three U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence told Reuters.

Putin was misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging Western sanctions have been, U.S. and European officials said on Wednesday. The Kremlin made no immediate comment.

Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend against the persecution of Russian-speaking people by Ukraine.

Updated

Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to Ukraine on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe Russia’s vows to de-escalate its fighting, AFP is reporting.

“We don’t believe anyone, not a single beautiful phrase,” he said. After Moscow said it would scale back its attacks around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernigiv, shelling reportedly continued through the night. However, Russian forces did begin to retreat from the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Zelenskiy also said that Ukraine has the right to demand weapons from the international community because it was the center for the global fight for freedom.

“Freedom must be armed as well as tyranny,” he said.

Zelenskiy said peace talks continue with Russia but nothing is concrete

In a televised speech, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said peace talks with Russia continue “but for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”, Reuters reported. Zelenskiy also said Ukraine was preparing for Russian attacks on Donbas.

Updated

Global restrictions on Russian exports has hit car and tank production

Global sanctions on exports to Russia have forced one car maker to shut down, stopped work on tanks, and cut off one computer maker’s access to necessary circuits, said Thea Kendler, assistant secretary for export administration at the Commerce Department.

Reuters reported the announcement. “Necessity brought together this unprecedented collaboration on export controls and other measures that are having a meaningful impact on Putin’s war,” Kendler said.

More from the Reuters report:

While only about 5% of Russia’s imports came from the United States, Kendler said, adding the European Union and other coalition countries accounts for roughly 50 percent of Russia’s imports.

Export controls were never expected to have immediate effects, she said, but noted the Ukrainian government reported that Russia’s two major tank plants halted work over a lack of foreign components. Baikal Electronics, a Russian semiconductor company and computer manufacturer, was cut off from integrated circuits to support its surveillance, servers, and other domestic communications equipment, she added.

Taiwan’s TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, exited the Russian market, cutting off the Moscow Center of SPARC Technologies access to Elbrus chips, which are widely used in Russian intelligence and military systems, she said. Lada halted auto production as export controls deprived it of needed parts and supplies, she added.

Renault, which controls the company that produces the Lada, said it would suspend operations at its plant in Moscow while it assesses options on its majority stake in Avtovaz AVAZI—p.MM, the country’s No. 1 carmaker.

Renault did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did TSMC. Baikal Electronics, the Moscow Center of SPARC Technologies, and Russian tank maker UralVagonZavod could not immediately be reached for comment.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the organization is unable to communicate with some of its employees in Mariupol.

“Some managed to get out. Some are inside and we can’t communicate with them at this point. Those are my colleagues,” said the UNHCR’s High Commissioner Filippo Grandi in an interview with CNN.

He also said in order to continue to evacuate refugees, as they did in Kharkiv last week, “we need firm commitments that there will be no fighting and we need a bit of time”.

Updated

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that the warehouse that was damaged in Mariupol was a location they were distributing medical supplies to hospital from. However, the ICRC had not distributed supplies from that warehouse since 15 March because of the “intensity of the fighting and the absence of a functional agreement between the parties to allow for the safe passage of humanitarian assistance”.

The ICRC said they are concerned that objects used for humanitarian relief are being targeted and called on the parties to “do everything in their power to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas and protect civilians against the effects of attacks”.

“But what we are most outraged by is the overall humanitarian situation in Mariupol and the relentless suffering inflicted on civilians living there,” the ICRC said in a statement. “People are trapped with no safe way out of the city, and they are running out of the very basics needed for their survival. This must change.”

Updated

Over the last 24 hours, the first six of “around 30” shipments of US security assistance arrived in Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.

“Material is getting into the region every single day, including over the last 24 hours,” Kirby said. According to CNN, Kirby said the US is prioritizing “the kinds of material that we know the Ukrainians need the most”, including anti-armor and anti-air systems. He also said the Switchblade drones promised to Ukraine will begin shipping in “relatively soon”.

Updated

Hi there, Johana here taking over from my colleague Gloria.

Less than 20% of Russian forces that are stationed around Kyiv are being repositioned, according to the Pentagon. But they are unlikely to head home and are instead expected to be resupplied and redeployed, Reuters is reporting.

Some of them may have already moved into Belarus, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, and Russian contractor Wagner Group has also deployed about 1,000 contractors into Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Russian forces are starting to withdraw from the Chernobyl nuclear site, reports AFP citing the US Pentagon.

A senior US official said that Russian troops are “walking away” from the facility and going into Belarus.

The US is looking at options to expand sanctions imposed on Russia and will provide further updates in the coming days, reports Reuters.

Speaking at the daily White House briefing, [White House spokesperson Kate Bedingfield] said President Joe Biden is continuing to look at options to expand sanctions and will have more information in coming days. Biden has imposed a wide variety of economic penalties aimed at punishing Russia.

More on air strike in the Ukraine city of Dnipro: a Ukrainian official confirmed that an oil depot was hit in the attack with no casualties reported.

Russian hackers attempted to penetrate the network of Nato and militaries in some eastern European countries, reports Reuters.

Russian hackers have recently attempted to penetrate the networks of NATO and the militaries of some eastern European countries, Google’s Threat Analysis Group said in a report published on Wednesday.

The report did not say which militaries had been targeted in what Google described as “credential phishing campaigns” launched by a Russian-based group called Coldriver, or Callisto. “These campaigns were sent using newly created Gmail accounts to non-Google accounts, so the success rate of these campaigns is unknown,” the report said.

NATO was not immediately available for comment on the report. Russia, which is now under heavy Western economic sanctions following its decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, regularly denies accusations of mounting cyber attacks on Western targets.

In 2019, Finnish cybersecurity firm F-Secure Labs described Callisto as an unidentified and advanced threat actor “interested in intelligence gathering related to foreign and security policy” in Europe.

The group also targeted a NATO Centre of Excellence, Wednesday’s Google report said, without elaborating. In a statement, the centre did not directly address Google’s report but said: “We see malicious cyber activity on a daily basis.”

Updated

Putin misled over Russian military performance – US and EU

Putin is being misled about the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine, said several US and EU officials today.

Kate Bedingfield, director of communications at the White House, told reporters on Wednesday: “We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership.”

“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.”

She added: “So, it is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”

A senior EU diplomat seconded Bedingfield’s point, saying that the US assessment was in line with Europe’s thinking, reported Reuters.

“Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ or only sitting with them at the end of a very long table,” the diplomat said.

Russian troops were being told that they were taking part in a military exercise prior to the Ukraine invasion, but had to sign a document that extended their duties, said two European diplomats to Reuters.

They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” added one of the diplomats.

There are no signs at the moment that the situation could foster a revolt within the Russian military, but the situation is “unpredictable” and Western powers “would hope that unhappy people would speak up,” said the senior European diplomat to Reuters.

Updated

The majority of Americans support sending more troops to Nato allies in Europe amid the Ukraine invasion, reports Reuters.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll completed yesterday, 55% of bipartisan Americans agree with sending additional forces to Nato allies in the region.

Additional polls have found that about 61% of Democrats support additional troop deployment compared to 41% of Republicans.

Yesterday, the US Pentagon announced that more troops and military equipment will be sent to Nato allies in Europe, with 200 additional personnel heading to eastern Europe, including Lithuania.

No troops will be sent into Ukraine, consistent with earlier remarks Biden made about no US forces being into the country.

There are currently more than 100,000 troops in Europe versus 80,000 prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukraine city of Dnipro has experienced another missile strike, according to several online reports.

From the Kyiv Independent:

Dnipro suffers a missile strike. Authorities are not yet revealing what was targeted. Dnipro, a city of 1 million people in central Ukraine, has seen only a couple of missile strikes before, including one that severely damaged its airport.

Dnipro mayor Boris Filatov posted about the strike on Facebook, adding that he was waiting for an official message from Ukraine’s military administration before providing additional comments.

Earlier today, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that sanctions against Russia should increase until Russia’s full withdrawal from Ukraine, reports AFP.

During a hearing in parliament today, Johnson said that lifting G7 sanctions in the case of a Russian ceasefire would play “straight into [Vladimir] Putin’s playbook.”

Johnson added: “My view is we should intensify sanctions with a rolling programme until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine,” noting that the UK government was looking at “going up a gear” in its military aid to Ukraine.

Johnson ruled out giving Ukraine the equivalence of Nato Article 5 status, which deems that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Instead, Johnson said that Ukraine would benefit from the security concept “based on the idea of deterrence by denial.”

The US Department of Commerce today identified additional airplanes that had recently flown to Russia in possible violation of US export controls, reported Reuters.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday added 73 airplanes that have recently flown to Russia to a list of aircraft believed to violate U.S. export controls as part of the Biden administration’s sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have not advanced says France foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian today, reported Reuters.

In an interview with France24, Le Drian said that there are no signs that Russia has changed its position.

Here is a clip from Le Drian’s interview where he talks about the need for a ceasefire in Mariupol amid ongoing fighting in the besieged city.

It is 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand now:

  • Russia has been accused of intensifying its bombardment of the besieged Ukrainian city of Chernihiv despite claims the Kremlin would drawback out of respect for ongoing peace talks. Vladyslav Atroshenko, Chernihiv’s mayor, said the Russians had lied and that they were continuing to heavily hit his city. “They’re saying reducing intensity, they actually have increased the intensity of strikes,” he told CNN.
  • There was also continued barraging of Kyiv’s suburbs, Ukrainian officials said, said although a defence ministry spokesperson said there were some signs of troop movements away from the two cities. Russia’s defence ministry said its forces were regrouping near Kyiv and Chernihiv in order to focus on other key areas and complete the “liberation” of the breakaway Donbas region, Russian news agencies reported.
  • The Ukrainian military said Russian troops were also intensifying their attacks around the eastern city of Izyum and the eastern Donetsk region, after redeploying some units from other areas. The regional Donetsk governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said Russian forces are shelling nearly all cities along the frontline separating Ukrainian government-controlled territory from the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk in the east.
  • Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said. An International Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson confirmed an image being circulated showed an ICRC warehouse in Mariupol, but that they could not provide any other information.
  • Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, that Russian shelling of Mariupol will end only when Ukrainian troops surrender, the Kremlin said. French officials said Putin had agreed to consider plans to evacuate citizens out of the southern Ukrainian city, but the Russian government said Putin had insisted to Macron that Ukrainian “nationalist militants” must surrender.
  • An estimated 200-300 civilians were killed in the Ukrainian town of Irpin near Kyiv before the town was taken back from Russian forces this week, the local mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn, said. About 50 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed in Irpin, and some bodies were still trapped under rubble, he said, adding that there had been Russian shelling in the area all night.
  • The Kremlin played down hopes of an early breakthrough a day after peace talks in Turkey between Russia and Ukraine. “We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs,” the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said. He said it was “positive” that Kyiv had outlined its demands but there was “a lot of work to be done”.
  • More than 4 million people have fled Russia’s “utterly senseless” war on Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on 24 February, the UN refugee agency said. The figure surpasses the UN’s initial estimate that the war would create up to 4 million refugees. More than 90% are women and children.
  • The United States will provide $500m (£380m) in budgetary assistance to Ukraine, President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a call today. The two leaders spoke over the phone for nearly an hour about the ongoing efforts by the US and its allies to provide military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, according to a White House readout.
  • The UK has granted only 2,700 visas under its much-advertised Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme more than two weeks after its launch, according to Home Office figures. Meanwhile, Ukrainian refugees in Poland told the Guardian that they were baffled by the UK government’s asylum rules, which they say appear designed more to keep people out than offer shelter to those fleeing war.
  • The UK has introduced new laws which aim to “prevent Russian oligarch access to UK aviation and maritime technical services”, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said. The new laws will prohibit the maintenance of aircraft or ships belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs or their businesses, the department said in a statement.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand over the blog to my US colleague, Gloria Oladipo. Thank you for reading.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechen republic, said Moscow would make no concessions in its war in Ukraine, Reuters reports.

In a statement that appeared to deviate from Russia’s official position, Kadyrov said the Russian negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, had been wrong to suggest otherwise.

Vladimir Putin would not just stop what he had started in Ukraine, Kadyrov warned.

Updated

Ukrainian cities have been pounded by airstrikes and heavy shelling in Russia’s five-week-old invasion, killing civilians and destroying hospitals in acts that may amount to war crimes, the top UN human rights official has said.

Michelle Bachelet, addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, called on Russia to withdraw its troops.

She also said her office had received “credible allegations” that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times.

“Homes and administrative buildings, hospitals and schools, water stations and electricity systems have not been spared,” she said.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour.

Bachelet said that her office, which deploys nearly 60 UN human rights monitors in Ukraine, had verified 77 incidents in which medical facilities were damaged, including 50 hospitals.

“Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes,” she said.

“The massive destruction of civilian objects and the high number of civilian casualties strongly indicate that the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution have not been sufficiently adhered to,” Bachelet said, referring to the rules of war embodied in the Geneva conventions.

UK announces new laws targeting Russian oligarchs

The UK has introduced new laws which aim to “prevent Russian oligarch access to UK aviation and maritime technical services”, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said.

The new laws will prohibit the maintenance of aircraft or ships belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs or their businesses, the department said in a statement.

The FCDO said the new powers had been used immediately to sanction Russian businessmen Eugene Shvidler and Oleg Tinkov.

Meanwhile, the finance, trade and shipping sanctions imposed on Crimea have been expanded to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said:

There is no doubt that (Vladimir) Putin and his elite have been surprised by the strength of our sanctions.

We will continue to ramp up the pressure so long as Russian troops are in Ukraine, targeting not only the businesses of oligarchs but also their assets and international lifestyles.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps added:

Our economic and transport sanctions are working to suffocate those most complicit in Putin’s regime ensuring that no one on UK soil can support Putin’s inhuman assault in Ukraine.

US to give Ukraine $500m in budget aid, Biden tells Zelenskiy

The United States will provide $500m (£380m) in budgetary assistance to Ukraine, President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a call today.

The two leaders spoke over the phone for nearly an hour about the ongoing efforts by the US and its allies to provide military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, according to a White House readout.

A White House statement read:

The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country.

In addition, President Biden informed President Zelenskyy that the United States intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid. He also reviewed the additional sanctions and humanitarian assistance announced last week. President Zelenskyy updated President Biden on the status of Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia.

Zelenskiy said he spoke with Biden about “specific defensive support” and “a new package of enhanced sanctions”.

Yosyp, father of a Ukrainian soldier Vasyl Vekliuk, 59, who died in a shelling near Popasna in the Luhansk region, attends his funeral in Stebnyk, Lviv region, Ukraine.
Yosyp, father of a Ukrainian soldier Vasyl Vekliuk, 59, who died in a shelling near Popasna in the Luhansk region, attends his funeral in Stebnyk, Lviv region, Ukraine.
Photograph: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

Summary

It is almost 7.30pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand now:

  • Russia has been accused of intensifying its bombardment of the besieged Ukrainian city of Chernihiv despite claims the Kremlin would drawback out of respect for ongoing peace talks. Vladyslav Atroshenko, Chernihiv’s mayor, said the Russians had lied and that they were continuing to heavily hit his city. “They’re saying reducing intensity, they actually have increased the intensity of strikes,” he told CNN.
  • There was also continued barraging of Kyiv’s suburbs, Ukrainian officials said, said although a defence ministry spokesperson said there were some signs of troop movements away from the two cities. Russia’s defence ministry said its forces were regrouping near Kyiv and Chernihiv in order to focus on other key areas and complete the “liberation” of the breakaway Donbas region, Russian news agencies reported.
  • The Ukrainian military said Russian troops were also intensifying their attacks around the eastern city of Izyum and the eastern Donetsk region, after redeploying some units from other areas. The regional Donetsk governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said Russian forces are shelling nearly all cities along the frontline separating Ukrainian government-controlled territory from the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk in the east.
  • Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said. An International Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson confirmed an image being circulated showed an ICRC warehouse in Mariupol, but that they could not provide any other information.
  • Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, that Russian shelling of Mariupol will end only when Ukrainian troops surrender, the Kremlin said. French officials said Putin had agreed to consider plans to evacuate citizens out of the southern Ukrainian city, but the Russian government said Putin had insisted to Macron that Ukrainian “nationalist militants” must surrender.
  • An estimated 200-300 civilians were killed in the Ukrainian town of Irpin near Kyiv before the town was taken back from Russian forces this week, the local mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn, said. About 50 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed in Irpin, and some bodies were still trapped under rubble, he said, adding that there had been Russian shelling in the area all night.
  • The Kremlin played down hopes of an early breakthrough a day after peace talks in Turkey between Russia and Ukraine. “We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs,” the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said. He said it was “positive” that Kyiv had outlined its demands but there was “a lot of work to be done”.
  • More than 4 million people have fled Russia’s “utterly senseless” war on Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on 24 February, the UN refugee agency said. The figure surpasses the UN’s initial estimate that the war would create up to 4 million refugees. More than 90% are women and children.
  • The UK has granted only 2,700 visas under its much-advertised Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme more than two weeks after its launch, according to Home Office figures. Meanwhile, Ukrainian refugees in Poland told the Guardian that they were baffled by the UK government’s asylum rules, which they say appear designed more to keep people out than offer shelter to those fleeing war.

Léonie Chao-Fong here reporting from London, I’ll continue to bring you all the latest news from the war in Ukraine. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via email.

Updated

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings surged in March to levels not seen in five years as the war in Ukraine enters its second month, according to an independent survey published Wednesday.

According to the Levada Center, which is Russia’s main independent pollster, Putin’s job approval grew to 83% in March from 71% in February. The last time Putin reached similar approval ratings was in 2017, prior to the introduction of an unpopular pension reform that raised the country’s retirement age.

The past month also saw increases in Russians’ trust for the country’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the country’s ruling party United Russia, the pollster said.

The share of those who said Russia is moving in the right direction has also grown to 69%, a jump of 17% from the month before.

Independent sociologists have questioned the logic of polling public opinion in a country where information about the war is carefully curated by state television which has portrayed the country’s invasion of Ukraine as a defensive “special military operation” aimed at “de-nazifying” Kyiv. Sociologists have also said respondents in the country could be afraid to tell pollsters they are opposed to the war. Russia’s parliament earlier this month passed a far-reaching law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.

Still, the latest Levada polling appears to indicate that the Kremlin has so far managed to galvanize support for its invasion of the country.

The Levada Centre has not released a poll of public opinion specifically on the war since the conflict began. Plans to publish results of an earlier poll were scrapped by the centre’s employees because of concerns that their results would promote the intensification of the conflict. State-run opinion polls have indicated that around 70% support the country’s actions in Ukraine.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has promoted Ramzan Kadyrov to lieutenant-general for his role in the invasion of Ukraine, which the Chechen leader is using to showcase his loyalty to Moscow and his own impunity, Emma Graham-Harrison and Vera Mironova report.

This week Kadyrov claimed that a key ally linked to the 2015 murder of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was injured fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Rustam Geremeev was pictured in hospital, where Kadyrov visited him. Earlier videos the Chechen leader posted calling Geremeev a “dear brother” claimed to show him on the frontlines in Mariupol, including at the city hall.

Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Russian province of Chechnya in Chechnya’s regional capital of Grozny, Russia, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Russian province of Chechnya in Chechnya’s regional capital of Grozny, Russia, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Photograph: AP

Nemtsov’s family have long insisted that Geremeev was a mastermind of the murder plot. Five Chechen men were found guilty of the killing in 2017, but the trial was denounced by relatives and allies as a cover-up that failed to bring those behind the assassination to justice.

Investigators told the 2017 trial that they visited Geremeev’s property in Chechnya but “no one opened the door”. They also named Geremeev’s driver, Ruslan Mukhudinov, as an organiser of the killing and said he offered the suspects millions of roubles for the murder.

Mukhudinov has since fled and investigators said after the verdict that the case against him was ongoing. Geremeev, who is a relative of two Russian MPs, served in the same paramilitary security unit as Zaur Dadaev, a former senior officer convicted of shooting Nemtsov.

The unit has close ties to Kadyrov, though he has never been directly linked to the murder. Geremeev’s appearance on the frontlines in Mariupol is a show of both Kadyrov’s strength and his allies’ apparent ability to defy Russian law.

Russia says forces regrouping near Kyiv and Chernihiv to focus on Donbas

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces were regrouping near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv in order to focus on other key areas and complete the “liberation” of the breakaway Donbas region, Russian news agencies reported.

The announcement comes after it said it would drastically scale back military operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv. The Pentagon press secretary John Kirby later said the US believed the strategy chance was “a repositioning, not a real withdrawal”.

Moscow has said its main focus is now on Donbas. Last week, top Russian military officials said Russia was entering a “new phase” focused on “liberating” the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists have been waging a low-level insurgency for eight years.

Updated

The UK’s goal is not to remove the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, from power, Boris Johnson told the Commons liaison committee this afternoon.

Johnson said he understood why the US president, Joe Biden, had said Putin “cannot remain in power” in a speech at the weekend, but that was “not the objective of the UK government”.

Johnson told MPs:

It’s not the objective of the UK government and it’s very, very important everybody gets this, we are simply setting out to help to protect the people of Ukraine and to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence.

Asked whether the French president, Emmanuel Macron, had been speaking to Putin for “too long”, the PM replied that “Putin is plainly not to be trusted”.

Boris Johnson answering questions at a parliamentary Liaison Committee hearing in the House of Commons.
Boris Johnson answering questions at a parliamentary liaison xommittee hearing in the House of Commons.
Photograph: PRU/AFP/Getty Images

He said efforts from the west to fight disinformation are “starting to have an effect”, with signs in Russia of “people waking up to what’s going on”, adding:

One of the depressing things is the ruthlessness with which Putin tries to conceal the reality of what’s happening from the Russian population – and genuinely, you can ring and talk to Russian friends and they will seriously dispute what is going on in Ukraine.

I’m afraid people are very vulnerable to the lies that Putin is telling and we have to be extremely energetic in exposing them.

For more live updates from Johnson’s appearance before the liaison committee, head over to our UK politics live blog with Andrew Sparrow.

Updated

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russian forces in Ukraine are regrouping and preparing for renewed offensive operations, Reuters reports.

Russia’s main efforts are focused on surrounding Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, defence ministry spokesperson, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, said.

Russian forces are still trying to take the besieged southern port city of Mariupol and the towns of Popasna and Rubizhne in Luhansk, he added.

Ukraine had observed some movements of Russian forces away from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions but did not consider this to be a mass withdrawal, he said.

Updated

Putin demands surrender of Mariupol to end shelling

In a call with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday night, Vladimir Putin said Russian shelling of Mariupol will end only when Ukrainian troops surrender, the Kremlin said.

According to French officials, Putin had agreed to consider plans to evacuate citizens out of the southern Ukrainian city which the Élysée Palace said had become a “catastrophic” situation.

A statement from the French government read:

Civilian populations must be protected and must leave the city if they wish to.

They must have access to food aid, water and the medicines they need. This very degraded humanitarian situation is linked to the siege of the city by the Russian armed forces.

France, along with Turkey and Greece and several humanitarian groups, have presented the Russian president with a plan to evacuate the city.

Officials said Putin told Macron that he would “think about” the proposal.

However, in its readout of the call, the Kremlin said Putin had insisted to Macron that Ukrainian “nationalist militants” must surrender.

According to the Kremlin, Putin said:

In order to resolve the difficult humanitarian situation in this city, Ukrainian nationalist militants must stop resisting and lay down their arms.

The statement added that Putin had given Macron “detailed information about measures taken by the Russian military to provide emergency humanitarian assistance and ensure the safe evacuation” of civilians from Mariupol.

Updated

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, spoke with the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Kuleba tweeted that the EU’s fifth round of sanctions against Russia “must come as soon as possible and be as tough as possible”.

However, Borrell’s tweet following the conversation made no mention of another round of sanctions, only stating that the EU will “maintain the pressure” on Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meeting his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during his first visit to China since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, at their meeting in Huangshan in China’s Anhui province.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meeting his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during his first visit to China since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, at their meeting in Huangshan in China’s Anhui province.
Photograph: CCTV/AFP/Getty Images

Vladimir Putin’s advisers are “too afraid to tell him the truth” about how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging Westerns sanctions have been to Russia’s economy, according to a US official.

Reuters quotes the official, speaking on condition of anonymity:

We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth.

Ukrainian refugees in Poland are frustrated and confused by British asylum rules, which they say appear designed more to keep people out than offer shelter to those fleeing war.

Refugees arriving at Warsaw central station told the Guardian that they were baffled by the UK government’s rules requiring them to find a sponsor in Britain before they could apply for a visa, which could take weeks to be processed. None said they knew anyone in the UK who could sponsor them.

“I think it’s very complicated,” said Katerina Ilasova, who fled her home city of Poltava after the invasion started. “I’ve heard lots of positive things about Britain. But for me it is too complex. So people are signing up to go to other countries that are easier to get to.”

Ivan Yakovlev, who left Dnipro before the war started to work in Georgia, wanted to get to Britain because of the language. “I speak English, my wife speaks English; it will be good for us, simpler to find a job there. But I don’t know what we should do; I don’t have any connections.”

A small team of British people has set up a stall inside Warsaw station to explain the rules to refugees and advise them on how to apply. They have had a handful of successes matching Ukrainians with British sponsors, but their efforts have been dwarfed by those of a Spanish group at a neighbouring stall, who have helped more than 1,000 Ukrainians start their journey to Spain, arranging free transport and hosts at the other end.

“The bottleneck is in the visa system and the matching of refugees with hosts,” said Ed Pinkney, a British Hong Kong-based researcher who has been volunteering at the station for two weeks.

“I’m getting frustrated because it’s wasting time that could have been given to the immediate needs of Ukrainians,” he said. “The logical thing to do would be to get them to the UK and do any checks there.”

Some hopefuls do get lucky. Alyona Vinohradova was fortunate to bump into Terri Shanks, a woman from Berkshire who was in Poland for business. Shanks has offered to host Vinohradova, her husband and their 11-year-old daughter, Kamila, once the family’s application has been processed and their visa approved.

“I don’t know why we can’t bring them in on a tourist visa,” says Shanks. “The Spanish are scooping them up and worrying about the paperwork later. We don’t seem to be doing that. It’s ridiculous when there’s a home waiting.”

“I think it’s very complex,” said Vinohradova. “I think the UK is ensuring that all the Ukrainians don’t come.”

An estimated 200-300 civilians were killed in the Ukrainian town of Irpin near Kyiv before the town was taken back from Russian forces this week, the local mayor has said.

Reuters report that mayor Oleksandr Markushyn told a briefing on Wednesday that about 50 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed in Irpin, and some bodies were still trapped under rubble. He said there had been Russian shelling in the area all night.

A view of a destroyed building in Irpin, Ukraine.
A view of a destroyed building in Irpin, Ukraine.
Photograph: Video Obtained By Reuters/Reuters

More than 4 million people have fled Russia’s “utterly senseless” war on Ukraine, the United Nations has said, as the Kremlin played down hopes of an early breakthrough a day after peace talks between the two sides.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said 4,019,287 people had fled abroad since the start of Russia’s invasion on 24 February, surpassing the agency’s initial estimate that the war would create up to 4 million refugees. More than 90% are women and children.

The UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said on Twitter he had just arrived in Ukraine and was beginning discussions with authorities, the UN and other partners on “ways to increase our support to people affected and displaced by this senseless war”.

The agency has said the speed and scale of the displacement was unprecedented in Europe since the second world war. The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that as of mid-March, 6.48 million people were also internally displaced.

“They need urgent, life-saving aid,” the organisation said on Wednesday. Before the war, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in the regions under government control, excluding Crimea and the Russian-controlled regions in the east.

Read more of Jon Henley’s piece here: More than 4 million flee Russia’s ‘senseless’ war on Ukraine, says UN

Earlier, we reported the claims of the Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova, saying that Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol [see 1.30pm].

An International Red Cross spokesperson has confirmed to the Guardian:

We can confirm that the image being circulated shows the ICRC warehouse in Mariupol. We do not have a team on the ground in Mariupol so we have no other information, including on potential casualties or damage. We can say that we had already distributed all aid supplies in the warehouse.

Updated

After the Ukraine invasion, hundreds of people found themselves stranded in Calais as they tried to navigate the UK visa process. It put a spotlight on the city where many young refugees have been living outside all winter in harsh conditions, while NGOs struggled to provide the most basic services. The UK has given millions of pounds to France to try to prevent border crossings but people continue to attempt to get to Britain. Meanwhile, the residents of Calais complain of an increasingly militarised city. The Guardian’s Maeve Shearlaw and Christopher Cherry have this video report.

 

Russian strikes hit Red Cross building in Mariupol, Ukrainian ombudswoman says

Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, according to Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova.

In a statement on social media, she said:

In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Enemy aircraft and artillery fired on a building marked with a red cross on a white background, indicating the presence of wounded, civilian or humanitarian cargo.

Denisova did not specify when the strikes had taken place and said there was no confirmation yet about casualties.

Her statement continued:

This is another war crime of the Russian army in accordance with the Rome statute of the international criminal court and a gross violation of the 1949 Geneva conventions.

Until now, the only ones who shelled buildings and vehicles marked with red crosses were the troops of Hitler’s Germany.

I call on the world community to condemn the barbaric actions of the occupying country in shelling the ICRC building and to take measures to end the bloody war on the territory of Ukraine as soon as possible.

Note: the Guardian has not yet been able to independently verify her statement.

Updated

A Nasa astronaut caught a Russian ride back to Earth on Wednesday after a US record 355 days at the International Space Station, returning with two cosmonauts to a world torn apart by war.

Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan alongside the Russian Space Agency’s Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, who also spent the past year in space.

Despite escalating tensions between the US and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures. A small Nasa team of doctors and other staff was on hand for the touchdown and planned to return immediately to Houston with the 55-year-old astronaut.

Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei said he was avoiding the subject with his two Russian crewmates. Despite getting along “fantastically … I’m not sure we really want to go there“, he said.

It was the first taste of gravity for Vande Hei and Dubrov since their Soyuz launch on 9 April last year. Shkaplerov joined them at the orbiting lab in October, escorting a Russian film crew up for a brief stay. To accommodate that visit, Vande Hei and Dubrov doubled the length of their stay.

Before departing the space station, Shkaplerov embraced his fellow astronauts as “my space brothers and space sister”.

“People have problem on Earth. On orbit … we are one crew,” Shkaplerov said in a live Nasa TV broadcast on Tuesday. The space station is a symbol of “friendship and cooperation and … future of exploration of space”.

Updated

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russian forces are continuing their attacks on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, despite the Kremlin’s claims that it would halt attacks there and in Kyiv out of respect for ongoing peace talks.

Ukraine has seen some troop movements from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas, but no mass scale withdrawal, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military said.

From my colleague Shaun Walker:

A soldier comforts Larysa Kolesnyk, 82, after she was evacuated from Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
A soldier comforts Larysa Kolesnyk, 82, after she was evacuated from Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Evacuated neighbours from Irpin gather in an assistant center on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
Evacuated neighbours from Irpin gather in a relief centtre on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Updated

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said Beijing and Moscow are “more determined” to develop bilateral ties and boost cooperation, following a meeting in China with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Reuters reports.

Wang said bilateral ties had withstood new tests amid the changing international situation but had maintained the “correct” direction of development

He also reaffirmed China’s support for continued peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

The governor of Chernihiv in Ukraine has said he saw no let-up in Russian attacks despite a promise by Moscow to scale down military operations there.

Governor Viacheslav Chaus said of Russia’s pledge:

Do we believe in it? Of course not.

He said all-night strikes on Nizhyn and Chernihiv included residential buildings, libraries and shopping centres. With each rocket, Vladimir Putin was putting ‘another nail’ in his coffin, he added.

 

Updated

The Chernihiv governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said Russia had continued to attack the northern Ukrainian city this morning, despite Moscow’s promise to drastically scale back military activities in the area.

Speaking to the BBC, Chaus said:

Right now, as we speak, I can hear which I think are mortar shells.

Chernihiv and the town of Nizhyn were attacked during the night and civilian buildings were destroyed, he said.

We don’t believe [the Russians] because we’ve already seen that there isn’t a single time when their military forces keep their word.

His words came as the city’s mayor, Vladyslav Atroshenko, said Russian attacks on Chernihiv had actually increased since Russia’s claim to reduce operations.

Updated

Russia hails China as part of new ‘just, democratic world order’

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, hailed China as part of a new world order ahead of a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

In his first visit to China since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, Lavrov said the world was “living through a very serious stage in the history of international relations”, AFP reports.

In a video released by the Russian foreign ministry ahead of his meeting, Lavrov said:

We, together with you, and with our sympathisers will move towards a multipolar, just, democratic world order.

Lavrov and Wang were later photographed in face masks bumping elbows in front of their national flags.

China has not published a readout of the two ministers, but foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin later told reporters that Moscow and Beijing will continue efforts in “advancing global multipolarity and the democratisation of international relations”.

Repeating a line used by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to characterise ties, Wang added:

Our striving for peace has no limits, our upholding of security has no limits, our opposition towards hegemony has no limits.

Updated

Russia has ‘increased intensity of strikes on Chernihiv since promising to cut back operations’, mayor says

The mayor of Chernihiv, Vladyslav Atroshenko, said the northern Ukrainian city has been under “colossal attack” despite a promise by Moscow to scale down military operations there.

In an interview with CNN, Atroshenko hit out at Russia’s claim that it planned to “drastically reduce” its military assault on Chernihiv and the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Atroshenko said:

This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies.

Contrary to Russia’s statement that it would de-escalate attacks, Atroshenko said hostilities have increased in Chernihiv since the claim was made.

They’re saying reducing intensity, they actually have increased the intensity of strikes.

Today we have a colossal attack on the center of Chernihiv. Twenty-five people have been wounded and are now in hospitals. They’re all civilians.

So whenever Russia says something, this needs to be checked carefully.

Updated

Only 2,700 visas granted under UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme

The UK has granted only 2,700 visas under its much advertised Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme more than two weeks after its launch, according to Home Office figures released on Wednesday.

The department also released updated figures about the number of people who have been granted visas to come to stay with British relatives. The Ukraine Family scheme, which has been running since the start of March, has issued 22,800 visas.

More than 3.9 million refugees have left Ukraine, with the vast majority of them settling in Poland, according to the UNHCR. An estimated 6.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.

Dozens of people who hoped to bring refugees to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme have contacted the Guardian to express frustration at the slowness of the visa granting system. More than 150,000 people signed up to express interest in hosting refugees.

Thousands of people gathered in Trafalgar Square for protests as Russia continues its attack on Ukraine. 5th Mar, 2022.
Thousands of people protest in Trafalgar Square earlier this month as Russia continues its attack on Ukraine.
Photograph: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy

Applicants have complained that there is no way to track applications, leaving refugees uncertain about whether to begin travelling to the UK, or to remain in Ukraine. Some people have complained that the online form is badly designed, contains glitches and is difficult to complete if English is not your first language.

Others have struggled with the amount of documentation needed, questioning whether it is realistic for people fleeing war zones to have brought bank statements, or other documentary evidence proving they were resident in Ukraine.

Some people have reported that some family members have been granted visas while others have not, leaving them with difficult decisions about whether to split families as they try to seek safety.

Numerous potential hosts have contacted the Guardian describing their fears for the safety of refugees they are hoping to host, who are waiting, often in unsuitable accommodation, for visas to be granted.

Updated

Russia ‘sees no sign of breakthrough’ in talks with Ukraine, Kremlin says

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, speaking with reporters today, said Russia had not noticed anything really promising or that looked like a breakthrough yet in peace talks with Ukraine, Reuters is reporting.

Moscow welcomed the fact that Kyiv has set out its demands in written form, he said, but he said there was a long period of work ahead.

Ukraine negotiators said yesterday that they proposed adopting neutral status for security guarantees at talks with Russia in Istanbul, meaning Ukraine would not join military alliances or host military bases.

The senior Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the guarantee, similar to Nato’s article 5 which commits alliance members to defend one another, would involve countries such as the US, UK, Turkey, France and Germany being “legally actively involved in protecting [Ukraine] from any aggression”.

The proposals would also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of annexed Crimea and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, the negotiators told reporters following talks in Turkey.

Hello, I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll be bringing you all the latest news from the war in Ukraine today. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

Updated

Firefighters work at a residential building damaged by shelling in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine March 30, 2022.
Firefighters work at a residential building damaged by shelling in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk on Wednesday.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
A food warehouse damaged by shelling in Brovary, Kyiv region, Ukraine
A food warehouse damaged by shelling in Brovary, Kyiv region.
Photograph: State Emergency Service Of Ukraine/Reuters

Updated

Today so far …

  • Russian shells have bombarded the besieged Ukrainian city of Chernihiv overnight, its mayor has said, hours after the Kremlin claimed it would halt attacks there and in Kyiv out of respect for ongoing peace talks.
  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the talks had been “positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells”, adding that Ukraine had no intention of reducing its military efforts. Zelenskiy said Ukrainians are “not naive people” and he saw “no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction”.
  • Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russia is moving forces from northern to eastern Ukraine to try to encircle Ukrainian troops.
  • The regional Donetsk governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, has said Russian forces are shelling nearly all cities along the frontline separating Ukrainian government-controlled territory from the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk in the east.
  • Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said there is still a danger of ammunition exploding at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power station, and demanded “the UN security council immediately take measures to demilitarise the Chernobyl exclusion zone and introduce a special UN mission there to eliminate the risk of the repeat of a nuclear catastrophe.”
  • She also said Ukraine had asked Russia at talks in Istanbul yesterday to allow 97 humanitarian corridors to be established to the worst-hit towns, cities, and villages in Ukraine. Three have been set up for today.
  • The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has said 4.02 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on 24 February. More than 2.3 million of the Ukrainians who have fled abroad are now in Poland. On top of the 4 million refugees, an estimated 6.5 million people are internally displaced within the country.
  • The British government said on Wednesday it had issued 25,500 visas to Ukrainians under schemes set up to bring in refugees. Just 2,700 places have been offered on the sponsorship scheme, despite more than 150,000 British people expressing an interest in offering a home.
  • The United Nations has named three human rights experts to conduct an investigation into possible war crimes and other violations committed during the conflict in Ukraine. The independent panel will be led by Erik Mose, a Norwegian judge who was president of the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda from 2003 to 2007.
  • China and Russia have agreed “wider co-operation” after a meeting of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui.
  • Germany has declared an “early warning” that it could be heading for a gas supply emergency and said the measure was aimed at preparing for a possible disruption of natural gas flows from Russia.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I will be back later on. Léonie Chao-Fong will be with you for the next few hours.

Updated

The United Nations has named three human rights experts to conduct an investigation into possible war crimes and other violations committed during the conflict in Ukraine.

The independent panel, to be led by Erik Mose of Norway, has a mandate to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation”, a statement said.

Mose, who is 71, is a Norwegian judge who was president of the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda from 2003 to 2007.

Reuters notes that the UN human rights council agreed on 4 March to establish the commission of inquiry, for one year, at the request of Ukraine and allies including the European Union, Britain and the US.

Updated

A quick snap about a U-turn from Reuters here: Finland’s national railway operator VR Group said it would resume services between Helsinki and St Petersburg in Russia today, less than a week after having halted the service.

The operator had halted the service as a result of sanctions, but now understands they do not apply.

Updated

The British government said on Wednesday it had issued 25,500 visas to Ukrainians under schemes set up to bring in refugees after Russia invaded Ukraine last month. UNHCR states that more than 4 million Ukrainians have fled abroad in the last five weeks.

Reuters report that data from the Home Office showed that 22,800 visas had been given under the Ukraine family scheme, with 2,700 being offered under the sponsorship scheme. That second figure of 2,700 comes despite the fact that over 150,000 British people have expressed an interest in housing someone fleeing Ukraine.

Updated

The ministry of internal affairs of Ukraine have just posted some images of the damage to Lysychansk. They say: “We have significant destruction of residential high-rise buildings. There are probably people under the rubble.”

The city is in the Luhansk Oblast in the east of the country.

Updated

One of those 4 million refugees from Ukraine was a small girl in Rome today, who was blessed at the Vatican by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis blesses a refugee girl fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, during the weekly general audience at the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican.
Pope Francis blesses a refugee girl fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, during the weekly general audience at the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican.
Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Updated

The head of the UN’s population agency has said she is “extremely concerned” about the potential for the war to cause a rise in unintended pregnancies, as concerns mount over sexual violence targeting women both in and outside Ukraine.

“Apart from the inability to provide women with services that they need, such as their regular contraceptive services, there is also the question of coercion, which is very bound up with women and girls who are vulnerable. So the fears of trafficking [of female refugees], the fears of being displaced, linking to sexual violence is a preoccupation that we have,” said Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA.

Kanem was speaking at the launch of UNFPA’s annual report, which showed that nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended. While data relating to Ukraine is hard to come by for now, previous research has found that more than 20% of refugee and internally displaced women say they have experienced sexual violence. “And I would have to bet that that is an under-reporting because there’s so much stigma around around the issue,” added Kanem.

Giulia Vallese, UNFPA’s regional director for eastern Europe, said that although the UN had not been able to independently verify reports of rape and sexual violence inside Ukraine, “this doesn’t necessarily mean that it hasn’t happened. We know very well that conflicts around the world have been accompanied by sexual violence. And we have to be very, very clear that every case of rape is one case too many, even though it might be difficult to quantify them.”

Last week, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said the authorities were investigating an alleged rape of a woman by a Russian soldier in Brovary, an eastern suburb of Kyiv. Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, said the allegation was “a lie”. “We don’t believe it at all,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Maria Mezentseva, a Ukrainian MP, said there were “many more victims” of sexual assault. “We will definitely not be silent,” she added.

Updated

UN says more than 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia launched war

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has said that 4.02 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on 24 February. With a pre-invasion population of about 44 million, that equates to roughly one in every 11 Ukrainian people having crossed the border in the space of around five weeks.

On top of the 4 million refugees, an estimated 6.5 million people are internally displaced within the country. More than 2.3 million of the Ukrainians who have fled abroad are now in Poland.

Updated

My colleague Daniel Boffey is in Lviv, and sends this report on overnight events in the north of Ukraine:

Russian shells have bombarded the besieged Ukrainian city of Chernihiv overnight, its mayor has said, hours after the Kremlin claimed it would halt attacks there and in Kyiv out of respect for ongoing peace talks.

Vladyslav Atroshenko said the Russians had lied and were continuing to indiscriminately attack the encircled city, which is less than 100 miles north of the country’s capital.

Authorities in Chernihiv estimate that about 400 people have died since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, with civilians living now without electricity, gas or water.

Atroshenko said: “The night was just as we expected, that [everything Russia promised] is a lie from the beginning till the end, that’s why at night we had some serious shelling at night. And the Russians were trying to destroy all possible means of crossing Desna River towards Kyiv.”

Atroshenko, who has called for Kyiv not to swap captured pilots who had operated above Chernihiv for Ukrainian prisoners of war, said there had been no evidence of any withdrawal over the last 24 hours from around his city.

He said: “The locals live in a real humanitarian crisis for weeks with no electricity, no heating, no water, only in some areas of the city there’s gas [natural gas, not petrol]. Thousands of buildings are destroyed. Yesterday, our district, Liotka, was shelled especially heavily, where a few people died and dozens were injured.

“Have you ever met liars in your life? What stands behind their lies? They are just liars. They lie all the time!”

Read more of Daniel Boffey’s report from Lviv: Russia bombards Chernihiv hours after pledging to halt shelling

Updated

Russia is moving forces from northern to eastern Ukraine to try to encircle Ukrainian troops, but is keeping some behind near the capital, Kyiv, to tie down part of the Ukrainian military there, a presidential adviser said on national television.

Oleksiy Arestovych also said Ukraine had improved its negotiating position since before the start of the Russian invasion, pushing to secure neutral status but with external security guarantees.

He also said, Reuters reports, that the war will still be in the active phase for a week.

Updated

Here are some of the latest pictures to be sent back to us from Ukraine on the newswires:

A cyclist pushes his bike near a damaged armoured vehicle in the northeastern city of Trostianets yesterday. Ukraine said it recaptured the town on 26 March.
A cyclist pushes his bike near a damaged armoured vehicle in the north-eastern city of Trostianets yesterday. Ukraine said it recaptured the town on 26 March.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A day of pet therapy is organized at Zelenyi Gai farm in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast for adults and children who have fled other areas of Ukraine.
A day of pet therapy is organized at Zelenyi Gai farm in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast for adults and children who have fled other areas of Ukraine.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A firefighter works at a residential building damaged by shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Donetsk.
A firefighter works at a residential building damaged by shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Donetsk.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Odesa’s market continues to function in the south of Ukraine.
Odesa’s market continues to function in the south of Ukraine.
Photograph: Gilles Bader/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock
A man walks in front of a destroyed train in the northeastern city of Trostianets.
A man walks in front of a destroyed train in the northeastern city of Trostianets.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Raab: UK sanctions on Russia will remain until invasion is ‘withdrawn’

Two more points that have come out of UK deputy prime minister Dominic Raab’s media appearances today. He said UK sanctions against Russia will remain in place until the invasion of Ukraine is “withdrawn”.

“The sanctions are there to tighten the grip on Putin’s war machine,” PA Media quotes him telling the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Until the invasion is withdrawn – and I think that would need to be either entirely or verifiably – I don’t think the sanctions can or should be lifted.”

Raab was cautious about the prospect of the UK acting as an independent guarantor of Ukraine’s security if it declared itself to be neutral as part of a peace deal with Moscow.

“It would depend on what precisely is involved. We have been very clear we are not going to engage Russia in direct military confrontation. Ukraine is not a Nato member,” he said.

“We will consider anything that President Zelenskiy says he needs very carefully. But we are not going to, I think, replicate unilaterally the Nato commitments that apply to Nato members.”

Updated

Poland plans to stop using Russian oil by the end of 2022 and to stop importing Russian coal by May at the latest, the prime minister said on Wednesday, as it cuts economic ties with Moscow due to the war in Ukraine.

“We will impose a total embargo on Russian coal, and I hope that by April, May at the latest, we will have completely exited from Russian coal,” Reuters quotes Mateusz Morawiecki telling a news conference. “We will do everything to stop using Russian oil by the end of this year.”

Updated

The regional Donetsk governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, has said on national television in Ukraine that Russian forces are shelling nearly all cities along the frontline separating Ukrainian government-controlled territory from the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk. Reuters reports he warned that the situation could worsen as Russian forces concentrated their efforts to attack in that region.

Updated

Governor of Ukraine’s Chernihiv region sees no let-up in Russian attacks

The governor of Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region said he saw no let-up in Russian attacks despite a promise by Moscow to scale down military operations there.

Of Russia’s statement that they would de-escalate attacks, Reuters reports he said “Do we believe in it? Of course not.”

Governor Viacheslav Chaus said on the Telegram messaging app “The ‘decreased activity’ in the Chernihiv region was demonstrated by the enemy carrying out strikes on Nizhyn, including airstrikes, and all night long they hit Chernihiv.”

Chernihiv Oblast is the region of Ukraine directly to the north-east of the capital, Kyiv.

Updated

The Interfax news agency and Reuters have some news of that meeting between Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui. The two countries have agreed to widen cooperation in what Moscow described as “difficult international conditions”.

Germany has declared an “early warning” that it could be heading for a gas supply emergency and said the measure was aimed at preparing for a possible disruption of natural gas flows from Russia.

Economy minister Robert Habeck said supplies had been safeguarded for the time being and that Germany was closely monitoring supply flows with market operations.

You can follow more on that unfolding development with Julia Kollewe on our business live blog.

Updated

Ukraine’s deputy PM: special UN mission needed to eliminate risk of nuclear accident at Chernobyl

During her announcement that three humanitarian corridors would be set up today, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, also said the country’s armed forces tell her there is a danger of ammunition exploding at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power station, and that Russian forces occupying the plant must pull out of the area.

“We demand that the UN security council immediately take measures to demilitarise the Chernobyl exclusion zone and introduce a special UN mission there to eliminate the risk of the repeat of a nuclear catastrophe,” Reuters report her saying.

She also said Ukraine had asked Russia at talks in Istanbul yesterday to allow 97 humanitarian corridors to be established to the worst-hit towns, cities, and villages in Ukraine.

Updated

Here is the video clip of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, saying that talks with Russian negotiators had given some positive signals but warning Russia cannot be trusted. “These signals do not silence the explosion of Russian shells,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address. “Ukrainians are not naive people.”

 

Updated

Mykola Povoroznyk, the deputy mayor of Kyiv, has said on Ukrainian television that shelling could be heard outside Kyiv overnight, but the Ukrainian capital itself was not shelled by Russian forces.

Reuters report him saying: “The night passed relatively calmly, to the sounds of sirens and the sound of gunfire from battles around the city, but there was no shelling in the city itself.”

Updated

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has announced that there will be three humanitarian corridors set up in Ukraine to evacuate civilians today.

Updated

Russia and China’s foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Wang Yi have met today in China, with a photo supplied on Twitter by Russia’s foreign ministry.

Updated

Raab: we ‘can’t trust what is coming out of the mouth of Putin’s war machine’

How much faith is the UK government putting into Russia’s words about a military de-escalation? “Well, I don’t think a lot.”

Those are the words of the UK’s deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, on Sky News this morning. He went on to say:

We judge the Russian military machine by its actions, not just its words. There’s obviously some scepticism that it will regroup, to attack again, rather than seriously engage in diplomacy or anything of that nature. Of course, the door to diplomacy will always be left ajar. But I don’t think you can trust what is coming out to the mouth of Putin’s war machine.

He described Russia as using “asymmetric forces”, saying:

With Russia, you have to deal with a whole range of possibilities. You’ve got the fact that they hire mercenaries, you’ve got the fact that engage in cyber, the fact that they engage in poisoning, we’ve seen that in the past as well. The whole gamut comes with Russia and that why it is such an unconventional adversary.

On the question of war crimes, Raab said:

I was very clear with the foreign secretary and myself that we support the international criminal court which is looking at the allegations and the reports of war crimes in Ukraine. So the UK went out to the Hague and we offered support, we offered financial and technical support to the ICC prosecutor. On top of that, last Thursday, I hosted a meeting in The Hague, 38 countries joined, and we said on the basis of our package, what can we do together to make sure that there is no impunity for war crimes in Ukraine.

Things like satellite imagery, not just to prove the crime, but who is responsible for it. Preserving evidence in the fluid situation of a war zone is very difficult, which is why that support is important now. It’s about what we can do now to preserve that evidence.

And that also tells the commanders and Putin himself and everyone in between, that they’re at serious risk of ending up in the dock of a court and behind bars if they engage in further war crimes.

Updated

Today so far

Before I hand this liveblog over to my colleague, Martin Belam, here is a summary of events so far:

  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence claims Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganise and resupply.
  • Ukraine’s eastern city of Lysychansk has been shelled by heavy artillery this morning with widespread damage to residential areas, according to local officials.
  • A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are about to depart from the International Space Station (ISS) together on a Soyuz capsule back to earth this morning, despite heightened US-Russian antagonism over the war in Ukraine.
  • Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in China today in his first visit since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine last month.
  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the talks had been “positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells”, adding that Ukraine had no intention of reducing its military efforts. US president Joe Biden said: “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.” The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he had not seen anything indicating that talks were progressing in a “constructive way” and suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention”. “What Russia says, and what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter.”
  • Zelenskiy said Ukrainians are “not naive people” and he saw “no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction”. He also called for sanctions to be strengthened. “They must be effective. Not just for headlines in the media that sanctions have been imposed, but for real peace. Real.”
  • In Ukraine’s intelligence report as of 10pm local time, its military claimed Russian troops continue to withdraw from Kyiv and Chernihiv but the movement is merely “a rotation of individual units” and aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.
  • China’s ambassador to the UN addressed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing a “worrying account of the situation on ground” and called for the protection of civilian lives and respect for international humanitarian law. Dai Bing said increasing sanctions on Russia will “give rise to new humanitarian problems” including hitting global energy, food, economic, trade and financial markets.
  • Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US was seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • The UK has also seen signs of “some reduction” in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, Downing Street said. But it insisted the UK will judge tentative steps towards a possible peace deal by actions rather than words. “We don’t want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory,” the PM’s spokesperson said. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest updated that “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least 12 people were killed and 33 injured, Ukraine’s emergencies agency said.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.
  • Americans may be ‘singled out’ by Russian forces in Ukraine, the US state department said in its latest travel advisory. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” it said.

Updated

Ukrainian playwright Natal’ya Vorozhbit writes for us about her desperate departure from Kyiv after Russia’s invasion.

“How does it feel to be bombed out of your home town?” she asks. “I grabbed two rings, took my mother, daughter and the cat.”

Read Vorozhbit’s full story below.

Updated

Russian troops forced to return to Belarus and Russia to resupply, MoD says

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has just released its latest intelligence report, claiming Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganise and resupply.

The full report, published just after 6am GMT, reads:

Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganise and resupply.

Such activity is placing further pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics and demonstrates the difficulties Russia is having reorganising its units in forward areas within Ukraine.

Russia will likely continue to compensate for its reduced ground manoeuvre capability through mass artillery and missile strikes.

Russia’s stated focus on an offensive in Donetsk and Luhansk is likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance.”

Updated

Ukraine’s eastern city of Lysychansk has been shelled by heavy artillery this morning with widespread damage to residential areas, according to local officials.

“There is significant destruction of high-rise buildings. Information about the number of dead and wounded is being specified. There are a lot of blockages,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai wrote in a Telegram message.

Western leaders sceptical over Putin’s withdrawal claims

Western diplomats and leaders have also expressed doubts that Russia’s promise to withdraw troops and engage in peace talks was more than a ploy to dress up setbacks on the ground and a possible tactical exercise in playing for time.

US president Joe Biden remained cautious, saying it remains to be seen if Russia will follow through on its pledge to scale down its military operations in northern Ukraine.

An unconvinced Biden told a White House press conference on Tuesday: “We’ll see. I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.”

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he had not seen anything indicating that talks were progressing in a “constructive way” and suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention”.

 

Speaking on a visit to Morocco, Blinken said that there was “what Russia says, and what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter. What Russia is doing is the continued brutalisation of Ukraine.”

John Kirby, press secretary at the Pentagon, warned against “fooling ourselves” over the Kremlin’s claims. “Has there been some movement by some Russian units away from Kyiv in the last day or so? Yeah, we think so, small numbers,” he said. “But we believe that this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine.”

One official said: “Certainly, in terms of the negotiations, nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious … it’s more of a tactical exercise in playing for time.”

Updated

A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are about to depart the International Space Station (ISS) together on a Soyuz capsule back to earth this morning, despite heightened US-Russian antagonism over the war in Ukraine.

The Russian Soyuz capsule carrying Nasa’s Mark Vande Hei and his cosmonaut peers Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov is scheduled to undock from ISS at 6:45am GMT and make a parachute landing in central Kazakhstan nearly five hours later.

The landing zone lies roughly 400 km (250 miles) to the northeast of Russia’s space launch facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Just one day after Russia invaded Ukraine – Dmitry Rogozin, the director-general of Russia’s space agency, accused the US of trying to “destroy” cooperation at the ISS.

“If you block cooperation with us, then who is going to save the ISS from an uncontrolled descent from orbit and then falling onto the territory of the United States or Europe?” he said.

Nasa, however, said that it would continue to work with all its international partners – including Russia – and that export sanctions continue to allow it to work with Russia.

‘Ukrainians are not naive’: Zelenskiy voices doubt on Russian withdrawal

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has dismissed Russia’s pledge to drastically cut back its military activity in northern Ukraine, saying “Ukrainians are not naive people” and vowing to continue defensive military efforts.

In a video address early on Wednesday, he said:

Of course, we see all the risks. Of course, we see no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction.

Ukrainians are not naive people. Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas that only a concrete result can be trusted. The facts – if they change on our land.”

 

The Ukrainian leader urged his people to “not lose vigilance” despite saying the signals received from peace talks with Russia appeared positive.

The situation has not become easier. The scale of the challenges has not diminished.

The Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state. They still have a lot of equipment and enough people completely deprived of rights whom they can send to the cauldron of war.”

Zelenskiy said Ukraine would not be reducing its defence efforts.

The enemy is still in our territory. The shelling of our cities continues. Mariupol is blocked. Missile and air strikes do not stop. This is the reality. These are the facts.

Yes, we can call positive the signals we hear from the negotiating platform. But these signals do not silence the explosion of Russian shells.”

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has arrived in China today in his first visit since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine last month.

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed Lavrov had landed in the eastern city of Huangshan, posting photos of delegates descending from a plane and being met by Chinese health officials in hazmat suits.

Lavrov will attend a series of meetings hosted by China to discuss ways to help Afghanistan. Diplomats from the United States and Afghanistan’s neighbours are also expected to attend.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine is likely to loom large over proceedings and comes as the nation continues to refuse to condemn the invasion, lagging behind many other countries in providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces has provided some more information this morning about their earlier allegation that Russia is merely conducting a “rotation of individual units” and not withdrawing troops as promised.

During Tuesday’s peace talks in Turkey, Russian negotiators promised to cut back some of its military action, however the Ukrainian military has claimed Russian forces continue to “conduct full-scale armed aggression” against the country.

A report published at 6am local time by Ukraine’s ministry of defence reads:

Units of the 4th (Tskhinvali district, South Ossetia) and 7th (Abkhazia) military bases, which are part of the Southern Military District of the Armed Forces of Russian federation, were transferred from the occupied territories of Georgia to the territory of Ukraine in order to recruit the armed forces of the Russian federation.

From the 4th military base, three BTGs with a total number of up to 1,200 Russian and Ossetian servicemen were formed and sent to Ukraine. Two units of the 7th Military Base were formed, which is about 800 people.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

In the temporarily occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, Russian troops continue to “commit illegal acts against the local population” and “loot the homes and apartments of local residents, detain pro-Ukrainian activists and government officials in Ukraine”, officials said.

In the temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk region, Ukrainian military cheifs believe the occupying authorities plan to hold another wave of mobilisation from 1 April and that is it possible that such efforts will be made in the recently occupied territories of the region.

The report continues to claim Russia is having “problems with staffing units” and servicemen of the 26th tank regiment of the 47th tank division have begun “to submit reports requesting to terminate the contract and send them to a permanent location for further service” after initially signing contracts to participate in the war with Ukraine.

Updated

Russian troop withdrawal designed to ‘mislead’, Ukrainian military says

Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces claim Russian troops continue to withdraw from Kyiv and Chernihiv in the country’s north but described the movement are merely “a rotation of individual units” with the aim to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.

A report released late Tuesday night and published by the ministry of defence reads:

According to some indications, the Russian enemy is regrouping units to focus its main efforts on the east.

At the same time, the so-called ‘withdrawal of troops’ is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead the military leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and create a misconception about the occupiers’ refusal to plan to encircle the city of Kyiv.”

Ukrainian infantry and artillery units on the outskirts of Kyiv are patrolling the area and creating defensive trenches for a possible attack by Russian troops.
Ukrainian infantry and artillery units on the outskirts of Kyiv are patrolling the area and creating defensive trenches for a possible attack by Russian troops.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

The extent of the destruction inflicted upon Ukraine’s southern city of Mariupol is seen in the images below.

Smoke billows from high rise apartment buildings across the city and authorities continue to work to stem the damage to city infrastructure and homes.

Ukraine said it feared around 300 people had been killed in one attack alone when the Mariupol theatre was bombed on 16 March.

A view of destruction of the city of besieged Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine.
A view of destruction of the city of besieged Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine.
Photograph: EyePress News/REX/Shutterstock
There is mounting evidence of mass graves in the besieged city of Mariupol, official of the UN human rights team in Ukraine said.
There is mounting evidence of mass graves in the besieged city of Mariupol, official of the UN human rights team in Ukraine said.
Photograph: EyePress News/REX/Shutterstock
A view of damaged buildings and vehicles after shelling in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
A view of damaged buildings and vehicles after shelling in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Smoke billows from high rise apartment buildings across the city.
Smoke billows from high rise apartment buildings across the city.
Photograph: EyePress News/REX/Shutterstock

Summary

Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you as we continue to report all the latest breaking and developing news from Ukraine.

Here is a comprehensive rundown on where the crisis currently stands after Tuesday’s peace talks made little concrete progress.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the talks had been “positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells”, adding that Ukraine had no intention of reducing its military efforts. Joe Biden said: “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.” The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he had not seen anything indicating that talks were progressing in a “constructive way” and suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention”. “What Russia says, and what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter.”
  • Zelenskiy said Ukrainians are “not naive people” and he saw “no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction”. He also called for sanctions to be strengthened. “They must be effective. Not just for headlines in the media that sanctions have been imposed, but for real peace. Real.”
  • In Ukraine’s latest intelligence report as of 10pm local time, its military claimed Russian troops continue to withdraw from Kyiv and Chernihiv but the movement is merely “a rotation of individual units” and aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.
  • China’s ambassador to the UN addressed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing a “worrying account of the situation on ground” and called for the protection of civilian lives and respect for international humanitarian law. Dai Bing said increasing sanctions on Russia will “give rise to new humanitarian problems” including hitting global energy, food, economic, trade and financial markets.
  • Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US was seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • The UK has also seen signs of “some reduction” in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, Downing Street said. But it insisted the UK will judge tentative steps towards a possible peace deal by actions rather than words. “We don’t want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory,” the PM’s spokesperson said. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest updated that “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least 12 people were killed and 33 injured, Ukraine’s emergencies agency said.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.
  • Americans may be ‘singled out’ by Russian forces in Ukraine, the US state department said in its latest travel advisory. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” it said.

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Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russian troop withdrawal designed to ‘mislead’, says Ukrainian military – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russian troop withdrawal designed to ‘mislead’, says Ukrainian military – live” was written by Samantha Lock (now); Maanvi Singh, Joanna Walters, Léonie Chao-Fong and Martin Belam (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th March 2022 03.32 UTC

Summary

Before we close this blog and begin a new one, here is a comprehensive run down of the past 24 hours.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the talks had been “positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells”, adding that Ukraine had no intention of reducing its military efforts. Joe Biden said: “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.” The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he had not seen anything indicating that talks were progressing in a “constructive way” and suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention”. “What Russia says, and what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter.”
  • Zelenskiy said Ukrainians are “not naive people” and he saw “no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction”. He also called for sanctions to be strengthened. “They must be effective. Not just for headlines in the media that sanctions have been imposed, but for real peace. Real.”
  • In Ukraine’s latest intelligence report as of 10pm local time, its military claimed Russian troops continue to withdraw from Kyiv and Chernihiv but the movement is merely “a rotation of individual units” and aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.
  • China’s ambassador to the UN addressed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing a “worrying account of the situation on ground” and called for the protection of civilian lives and respect for international humanitarian law. Dai Bing said increasing sanctions on Russia will “give rise to new humanitarian problems” including hitting global energy, food, economic, trade and financial markets.
  • Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US was seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • The UK has also seen signs of “some reduction” in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, Downing Street said. But it insisted the UK will judge tentative steps towards a possible peace deal by actions rather than words. “We don’t want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory,” the PM’s spokesperson said. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest updated that “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least 12 people were killed and 33 injured, Ukraine’s emergencies agency said.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.
  • Americans may be ‘singled out’ by Russian forces in Ukraine, the US state department said in its latest travel advisory. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” it said.

Americans may be ‘singled out’ by Russian forces in Ukraine, says state department

The US state department has warned American citizens not to travel to Ukraine or Russia in its latest travel advisory. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” it said. The US embassy has limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, it noted.

China’s ambassador to the UN has addressed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing a “worrying account of the situation on ground” and called for the protection of civilian lives and respect for international humanitarian law.

Dai Bing told the latest UN Security Council, according to a statement released by China’s permanent mission to the UN:

The conflict situation in Ukraine is persisting. Effectively protecting civilian lives and meeting their humanitarian needs is a must. China calls for respect for international humanitarian law to avoid civilian casualties to the maximum extent, protect civilian facilities, provide safe passage for evacuation and humanitarian access, and ensure a continuous supply of basic necessities, such as food, drinking water, and medicines. Protection of vulnerable groups such as women and children must be strengthened.”

Increasing sanctions on Russia will “give rise to new humanitarian problems”, Bing added.

We must also be cognisant that the ever-escalating, sweeping, indiscriminate sanctions have hit global energy, food, economic, trade and financial markets, and will continue to do so, affecting the lives and livelihoods of the general public, and giving rise to new humanitarian problems.”

Addressing global food security, Bing called for an “enhanced international coordination” to stabilise food supply and food prices and a “refrain from unjustified export restrictions”.

Sanctions and economic blockades will only artificially exacerbate food shortages and price distortions, further disrupt food production and food supply chain across the world, push up food prices, and put such burdens on developing countries as they do not deserve. We call for enhanced international coordination to stabilise food supply and food prices, refrain from unjustified export restrictions, keep the market working in a stable manner, and ensure global food security.

Finally, Bing cautioned that further damage is on its way if the crisis continues and escalates, describing such an event as being “not in the interest of any party”.

The most conclusive way towards a ceasefire to end hostilities is dialogue and negotiation. The international community should encourage and support continued direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine until a positive outcome is achieved and peace is restored. Security is indivisible and seeking absolute security by pitting one bloc against another is precisely the most assured way to achieve insecurity. The United States, Nato and EU should also engage in dialogue with Russia, accommodate the legitimate security concerns of all parties, and build a balanced, effective and sustainable regional security architecture through dialogue and negotiation.”

Here are some of the latest photos to come out of Ukraine on Tuesday.

A man walks with his dog near an apartment building damaged by shelling from fighting on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.
A man walks with his dog near an apartment building damaged by shelling from fighting on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexei Alexandrov/AP
A military facility seen destroyed by shelling in the city of Brovary, outside Kyiv.
A military facility seen destroyed by shelling in the city of Brovary, outside Kyiv.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
A solider on the outskirts of Kyiv in a defensive trench preparing for a possible attack by Russian troops.
A solider on the outskirts of Kyiv in a defensive trench preparing for a possible attack by Russian troops.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a deadly Russian attack on Tuesday.
Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a deadly Russian attack on Tuesday.
Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
Julia, 34, cries next to her daughter Veronika, 6, while talking to a group of journalists in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Julia, 34, cries next to her daughter Veronika, 6, while talking to a group of journalists in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Firefighters work to put out a fire after missiles struck a fuel storage facility on the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, on Tuesday.
Firefighters work to put out a fire after missiles struck a fuel storage facility on the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, on Tuesday.
Photograph: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

A Russian hotel owner has taken in Ukrainians fleeing the fighting, saying it was partly the shame he feels over Russia’s invasion that persuaded him and his family to take in 34 Ukrainians so far, and counting.

Mikhail Golubtsov, a Russian former construction engineer, left his home country in 2014 over Moscow’s “unacceptable” annexation of Crimea, and now runs a modest but cosy hotel in the green hills of central Serbia.

Most of Golubtsov’s hotel rooms are now taken up by Ukrainian refugees, who can stay at the hotel free of charge, for as long as they need.

“The first seven people arrived because a friend gave them the address, … now they are simply arriving,” he told Reuters.

“At first (after the invasion started), I was in shock and I was so ashamed. For some time I could not speak Russian, but when guests arrive and they speak Russian to me, I speak Russian as well. I think the only thing I can do now is to help Ukrainians somehow.”

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy will address Australia’s parliament on Thursday evening by video, according to parliament records cited by Reuters.

Employment minister Stuart Robert told parliament on Thursday morning that Zelenskiy would make an address via video link at 5.30pm (7.30am GMT).

Australia has supplied defence equipment and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, as well as imposing a ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia.

It has also imposed a total of 476 sanctions on 443 individuals, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and 33 entities, including most of Russia*s banking sector and all entities responsible for the country’s sovereign debt.

The war in Ukraine will have a global impact “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War Two” and damage global food security because many of the Ukrainian farmers who produce a significant amount of the world’s wheat are now fighting Russians, the UN’s food chief has warned.

David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Program, told the UN Security Council that already high food prices are skyrocketing.

His agency was feeding 125 million people around the world before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Beasley said it has had to start cutting their rations because of rising food, fuel and shipping costs, the Associated Press reports.

He pointed to war-torn Yemen where 8 million people just had their food allotment cut 50%, “and now we’re looking at going to zero rations.”

The war in Ukraine is turning “the breadbasket of the world to breadlines” for millions of its people, while devastating countries like Egypt that normally gets 85% of its grain from Ukraine and Lebanon that got 81% in 2020, Beasley said.

Ukraine and Russia produce 30% of the world’s wheat supply, 20% of its corn and 75%-80% of the sunflower seed oil. The World Food Program buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine, he said.

The war is going to increase the agency’s monthly expenses by $71 million because of rising food, fuel and shipping costs, he said. That will total $850 million for a year and mean that there will be “4 million less people we’ll be able to reach.”

Updated

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it is greatly concerned that Russian and Ukrainian authorities are yet to meet many of their core obligations under international humanitarian law or reach consensus on key issues.

In a statement shared with the Guardian via email, a spokesperson said:

Over the last five weeks, the ICRC has been speaking with Russian and Ukrainian authorities about their obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and what practical steps must be taken to limit the suffering of civilians and those who no longer participate in hostilities, including the wounded, sick, and prisoners of war (POWs).

To the ICRC’s great concern, the parties are yet to meet many of their core obligations under IHL or reach consensus on key issues that only they can concretely deliver.”

Specifically, the ICRC said it made detailed proposals regarding the safe passage and evacuations for civilians in Mariupol, but still “lack the concrete agreements needed to move forward”.

People talk with a Red Cross worker next to an apartment building in Mariupol, Ukraine.
People talk with a Red Cross worker next to an apartment building in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Today, civilians are taking the life-and-death decision to flee when there is no ceasefire or other agreements in place that would allow them to leave safely.

Time is running out for civilians in Mariupol and in other frontline areas who have now gone for weeks with no humanitarian assistance. The militaries on the ground need to give civilians and humanitarian organisations security guarantees and practical agreements to allow aid in and for those who wish to evacuate safely.”

The ICRC added that the parties must inform of any POWs—and other people deprived of their liberty—whom they hold and allow the ICRC to visit them.

The parties need to follow through on concrete proposals for the dignified treatment of the dead so they can be identified, families informed, and bodies returned.

The belligerents are obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, to limit military operations to exclusively military objectives and to take precautionary measures.”

According to the statement, the ICRC’s president travelled first to Kyiv and then Moscow to meet with authorities where his meetings with authorities in Moscow “triggered deep anger for some”.

“We want to be clear that these diplomatic meetings with all sides are anchored in international humanitarian law and passionate advocacy for the best interest of civilians trapped in conflict,” the statement added.

Former US president Donald Trump has called on Russian president Vladimir Putin to release any damaging information he has about the Biden family and Hunter Biden’s dealings with oligarchs in eastern Europe.

“I would think Putin would know the answer to that,” Trump said in an interview with Just the News, referring to Hunter Biden’s potential dealings in Russia. “I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer.”

Trump cited a 2020 Senate report that disclosed Russian oligarch Yelena Baturina, then the wife of Moscow’s mayor, provided $3.5 million a decade ago to a company co-founded by President Joe Biden’s son and unanswered questions about why the money was given.

“How is it that the mayor of Moscow, his wife gave the Biden family three and a half million dollars? I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer,” Trump said. “I’m sure he knows.”

A grand jury has been investigating Hunter Biden’s business dealings for possible tax violations, foreign lobbying issues and money laundering but he has denied any wrongdoing.

There needs to be full peace across Ukraine for any final agreement with Russia to come into force, the head of the Ukrainian delegation said following talks with Moscow in Istanbul on Tuesday.

David Arakhamia told reporters that all troops must retreat from Ukraine and allow the 3.5 million refugees who fled the war to come back home. He added that there was enough material in Ukraine’s proposals to warrant a meeting between Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin.

Watch the video of Arakhamia’s remarks below.

 

Russian withdrawal from north is merely a rotation of troops with aim to ‘mislead’, Ukraine military says

Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces has just released its latest intelligence report as of 10pm local time, claiming Russian troops continue to withdraw from the territory of Kyiv and Chernihiv in the Ukraine’s north but the movement is merely “a rotation of individual units” and aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.

The report reads:

According to some indications, the Russian enemy is regrouping units to focus its main efforts on the east.

At the same time, the so-called ‘withdrawal of troops’ is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead the military leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and create a misconception about the occupiers’ refusal to plan to encircle the city of Kyiv.”

Ukrainian infantry and artillery units on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Ukrainian infantry and artillery units on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

US President Joe Biden’s deputy national security adviser for economics, Daleep Singh, will travel to New Delhi and meet government officials to discuss Russia’s war against Ukraine and develop an economic framework for the Indo-Pacific, the White House said on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also planning to visit India, one of the biggest buyers of Russian commodities.

New Delhi has called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine but has refused to explicitly condemn Moscow’s actions. India has also abstained from voting on multiple UN resolutions on the war.

“Singh will consult closely with counterparts on the consequences of Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine and mitigating its impact on the global economy,” the White House said in a statement.

Last week, Biden said only India among the Quad group of countries was “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The South Asian nation has tried to balance its ties with Russia and the west but unlike other members of the Quad countries – United States, Japan, Australia – it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.

Earlier today, the US president said it remains to be seen if Russia will follow through on its pledge to scale down its military operations in northern Ukraine, saying Washington and its allies will maintain sanctions and continue providing aid to Ukraine in the meantime.

“I don’t read anything into it until we see what their actions are,” Biden said of Russia at a White House press conference.

Watch Biden’s remarks in the video below.

 

Guardian reporter based in Kyiv, Shaun Walker, brings us this analysis piece, asking: Why is Abramovich playing peacemaker after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Sanctioned billionaire Roman Abramovich is not officially part of the Russian delegation, but has apparently played a major role behind the scenes, jetting between Moscow, Kyiv and Istanbul since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Further questions about what role Abramovich was playing, and why, were raised on Monday, when the Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat claimed Abramovich and a Ukrainian MP were among three people to fall ill with symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning, during a round of negotiations in Kyiv in early March.

A source confirmed to the Guardian that Abramovich had fallen ill after the meeting, and had lost his sight for several hours. He soon recovered and was able to take part in later rounds of negotiations.

Aside from the poisoning claims, the emergence of the publicity-shy oligarch at the heart of peace negotiations has also surprised many.

Read the full story below.

12 people killed, 33 wounded in Mykolaiv attack

At least 12 people were killed and 33 wounded on Tuesday when a Russian missile hit a regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, emergency officials have said.

A Russian airstrike hit a nine-storey government building before 9am local time on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris.

“The bodies of 12 people have been recovered from the site of the destruction and 33 people have been injured,” Ukraine’s emergencies agency said in a statement on Telegram.

Zelenskiy also provided an update as to the situation in Mykolaiv after a Russian airstrike hit a government building on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris.

During the day the rescue operation was ongoing in Mykolaiv. The debris of the building of the regional administration destroyed by Russian missile strikes was dismantled.

The Russian troops hit Mykolaiv very insidiously. At a time when people came to their workplaces in the morning. Thank God, most of those in the building managed to evacuate when they heard an air alarm.

This one more act of the Russian so-called denazification of Mykolaiv took place in the morning after the anniversary of [the] liberation of the city from Nazi invaders. Mykolaiv residents remember the day of March 28, 1944. And they see who the Russian troops trying to capture their city now look like.”

A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building is seen in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building is seen in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: LOUAI-BARAKAT/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
The building of the regional administration was destroyed by Russian missile strikes.
The building of the regional administration was destroyed by Russian missile strikes.
Photograph: LOUAI-BARAKAT/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
In a photo provided by the Ukrainian Military Defence, the destruction of the city’s main administrative building by a Russian airstrike is seen.
In a photo provided by the Ukrainian Military Defence, the destruction of the city’s main administrative building by a Russian airstrike is seen.
Photograph: Ukrainian Military Defense/ZUMA Press Wire Service/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

No reason to trust representatives who ‘continue to fight for our destruction’ – Zelenskiy cautions

Regarding recent peace negotiations, Zelenskiy called for caution.

Of course, we see all the risks. Of course, we see no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction. Ukrainians are not naive people. Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas that only a concrete result can be trusted. The facts – if they change on our land.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine was willing to negotiate and would continue the negotiation process.

There must be real security for us, for our state, for sovereignty, for our people. Russian troops must leave the occupied territories. Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be guaranteed. There can be no compromise on sovereignty and our territorial integrity. And there will not be any.”

Referring to sanctions, he added:

And certain countries should not even expect that certain negotiations will facilitate the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation. The question of sanctions cannot even be raised until the war is over, until we get back what’s ours and until we restore justice.

On the contrary, sanctions must be strengthened. Intensified weekly. And they must be effective. Not just for headlines in the media that sanctions have been imposed, but for real peace. Real.

Updated

Hello, it’s Samantha Lock with you as my colleague Maanvi Singh signs off for the day.

Here’s a little more from Zelenskiy’s late-night address.

The Ukrainian leader urged his people to “not lose vigilance” despite saying the signals received from peace talks with Russia appeared positive.

The situation has not become easier. The scale of the challenges has not diminished.

The Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state. They still have a lot of equipment and enough people completely deprived of rights whom they can send to the cauldron of war.”

Zelenskiy said Ukraine would not be reducing its defence efforts.

The enemy is still in our territory. The shelling of our cities continues. Mariupol is blocked. Missile and air strikes do not stop. This is the reality. These are the facts.

Yes, we can call positive the signals we hear from the negotiating platform. But these signals do not silence the explosion of Russian shells.”

Updated

Catch up

It is 1.30am in Ukraine. Here’s the latest:

  • Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations did not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there was still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told the Danish parliament in a video address.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov had been released from Russian captivity and was now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “deliberately well hidden”.
  • In his latest address, posted on Telegram, Zelenskiy said that Ukraine wouldn’t be reducing its defensive efforts despite Russian promises to ease off some parts of the country.“We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.
  • According the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest update, “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”. The assessment mirrors that of the Pentagon. “Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv,” a Pentagon spokesman said earlier. “It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.”

– Leonie Chao-Fong, Joanna Walters, Maanvi Singh

Updated

UN official concerned over videos showing apparent abuse of PoWs in Ukraine

A senior UN official has said they have seen videos purporting to show the abuse of prisoners of war on both sides in Ukraine, as Russia raised the mistreatment of its soldiers at the first day of the latest peace talks.

Matilda Bogner, head of the UN’s human rights office in Ukraine, said a number of videos of the abuse of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners were being examined, adding that “on the face of it, it does raise serious concerns”.

“It is important that these types of videos and that any ill treatment that may happen is stopped immediately,” she said, following the broadcast of footage that appeared to show Ukrainian soldiers shooting three captive Russians in their legs.

In the grainy footage, which is being investigated by Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government in Kyiv, three prisoners are seen being brought in from a car. A man with a blue armband then approaches them and says: “Hi” before shooting each of them in the leg.

The Ukrainian government has said it is taking the footage “very seriously” although there is no independent evidence of its veracity yet.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy, said: “if this turns out to be real, this is absolutely unacceptable behaviour”.

One of the biggest promoters of the video was Maria Dubovikova, a political commentator at the Russian International Affairs Council.

The BBC reported that the footage of Ukrainian soldiers being shot took place in a dairy plant in Malaya Rohan’, to the south-east of Kharkiv, which had been recently been re-taken by Ukrainian troops from Russian forces.

Analysis of the weather conditions and troop movements further suggested that the video could have been shot in the early hours of Saturday 26 March.

Read more:

With cats, ferrets and handcarts, life goes on underground in Kharkiv

Dracoa the ferret and the ginger cat named Cat have reached an uneasy truce. And while the dog across the platform still yaps at them both, after more than a month, the humans and their pets living in this corner of Kharkiv’s metro station are used to each other.

On one side of the platform, Tetiana Kapustynska hung up balloons for her 24th birthday on the pillar she sleeps behind. “The day before I cried because I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but in the end people got together and celebrated with me,” she said.

“The biggest problem was champagne, I couldn’t find a bottle anywhere,” she added with a grin, as she made cups of instant coffee for visitors with water in a flask. “Cake wasn’t so much of a problem. You can still get it in the shops.”

Dascha with her ferret Dracoa in Kharkiv metro.
Dascha with her ferret Dracoa in Kharkiv metro.
Photograph: Dmytro Frantsev/The Guardian

Kapustynska, who is a maths and physics teacher, turned the metro station’s operation room into a cross between a childcare facility and a school for the children living in the underground chamber. For her birthday, they made decorations and organised flowers.

Barely a month ago, she had been trying to choose a bar or restaurant for celebrations. But since the war began, bombs, shells and rockets have smashed Kharkiv city centre and residential areas, killing hundreds of civilians, in perhaps the most intense offensives of the war outside the besieged port town of Mariupol.

In response, life has largely moved indoors and underground, with thousands of people taking refuge in Soviet-era stations. These were designed in the cold war era to shelter the city’s residents from a western attack, but now the bunkers are protecting civilians from the Russians.

“I don’t go out much; it’s frightening,” said Denis Kapustynskyi, 19, Tetiana’s brother. He lived with his mother in Saltivka, a northern suburb that has been turned into a burnt-out wasteland by some of the most intense shelling of the war.

He does not even know if they have a house any more, after fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs at the start of the war. “On the first day of the war, the sounds of explosions were really loud. They were already shelling housing blocks. We got dressed, picked up our documents and left,” he said.

Some still risk venturing out in the daytime for light, fresh air, shopping, and Tetiana goes to feed and play with her dog, who is too big to be brought into the metro station – although every trip above ground is potentially deadly.

Read more:

In his latest address, posted on Telegram, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Ukraine wouldn’t be reducing its defensive efforts despite Russian promises to ease off some parts of the country.

Zelenskiy addresses the Danish Parliament via video link.
Zelenskiy addresses the Danish Parliament via video link.
Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

“We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.

“The Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state,” he added. “Therefore we are not reducing our defensive efforts.”

Zelenskiy signaled optimism about talks in Turkey, but noted that any peace deal couldn’t compromise Ukrainian sovereignty.

Updated

According the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest update, “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv.”

“Russian statements regarding a reduction in activity around Kyiv, and reporting indicating the withdrawal of some Russian units from these areas, may indicate Russia’s acceptance that it has now lost the initiative in the region,” said the UK defence attaché Mick Smeath in a statement. “It is highly likely that Russia will seek to divert combat power from the north to their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east.”

The assessment mirrors that of the Pentagon. “Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv,” a Pentagon spokesman said earlier. “It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.”

Updated

Thousands of Ukrainian civilians in Mariupol might have died since Russia began bombing the port city, according to the UN human rights mission.

Reuters reports:

Nearly 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in Mariupol since Russian forces laid siege to it a month ago, a spokesperson for Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on Monday.

His office said 90% of Mariupol’s buildings had been damaged and 40% destroyed, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens and factories.

“We do think that there could be thousands of deaths, of civilian casualties, in Mariupol,” Matilda Bogner, head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine which deploys some 60 monitors, said in a virtual interview.

She said the mission did not have a precise estimate but was working to gather more information.

Local officials, citing witness accounts, last week estimated that 300 people were killed in the March 16 bombing of a Mariupol theatre where people were sheltering.

As of Tuesday, the UN human rights office had confirmed 1,179 civilians killed and 1,860 injured across Ukraine in the five-week old conflict, amid reporting delays due to the hostilities, a statement said.

Updated

“No one should be fooled” by Russia’s pulling back of troops around Kyiv – White House

The White House has warned its allies “no one should be fooled by Russia’s announcements” about reducing its military presence around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and that it was important to be “clear-eyed about the reality of what is happening on the ground”, Agence France-Presse reports.

Any movement of Russian forces around Kyiv is a “redeployment and not a withdrawal”, White House director of communications Kate Bedingfield said in Washington at a briefing moments ago.

The comments echoed those coming from the Pentagon just prior, warning that Kyiv “remains under threat”.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a Russian tank captured after fighting with Russian troops in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, at the weekend.
A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a Russian tank captured after fighting with Russian troops in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, at the weekend.
Photograph: Marko Đurica/Reuters

Russia itself had noted earlier, via Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, that its promise to “drastically reduce” military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine did not represent a ceasefire.

And Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy just said that although signals from the talks in Turkey were positive, they didn’t drown out the explosions of Russian shells raining down on Ukraine.

Now Washington has amplified warnings for caution. AFP further reports:

We’re seeing a small number now that appears to be moving away from Kyiv, this on the same day that the Russians say they’re withdrawing,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said just earlier.

“But we’re not prepared to call this a retreat or even a withdrawal. We think that what they probably have in mind is a repositioning to prioritize elsewhere.”

“We all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine. It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.

“Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kiev,” the Pentagon spokesman said, but “they can still inflict massive brutality on the country including on Kyiv.”

White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield holds a press briefing at the White House moments ago.
White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield holds a press briefing at the White House moments ago.
Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Updated

A dozen members of the US Senate foreign relations committee urged Joe Biden’s administration to push for Russia’s removal from the United Nations human rights council, citing its invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reports.

In a letter dated Monday and made public on Tuesday, the eight Democrats and four Republicans asked the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to introduce a resolution to remove Russia from the rights body, citing widespread casualties in Ukraine and the destruction of residential buildings, hospital and schools.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressing the United Nations Security Council at UN HQ in New York last week.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressing the United Nations Security Council at UN HQ in New York last week.
Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Support for Ukraine is one of the rare areas of bipartisan agreement in the bitterly divided US Congress, which has approved billions of dollars in aid for the government in Kyiv.

“Swift action must be taken to show the world the United States and our allies will not stand for indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks on civilians and democracies. The time has come for Russia to no longer have a seat on the Council,” said the letter, led by the committee’s top Republican, Senator Jim Risch, and its Democratic chairman, Senator Bob Menendez.

In the letter, the senators said states engaging in a pattern of gross and systemic rights abuses can be removed by a two-thirds vote in the UN general assembly.

“We implore you to introduce a resolution in the UN General Assembly to call for the removal of the Russian Federation from the UNHRC immediately,” they wrote.

American officials at the US mission to the United Nations in New York referred a request for comment to the office in Geneva, which did not immediately respond.

The Human Rights Council is based in Geneva.

Russia, which has called its actions since 24 February a “special operation”, has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.

Only one country has been suspended from the 47-member Geneva-based council: Libya. The North African country was suspended in 2011 because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to its then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Some senior officials addressing the council during a meeting earlier this month questioned Russia’s membership, but did not explicitly call for its suspension.

Updated

The White House has provided a read-out of the five way phone call earlier today between the Nato member leaders Joe Biden, the US president, the UK’s Boris Johnson, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi.

“The leaders affirmed their determination to continue raising costs on Russia for its brutal attacks in Ukraine, as well as to continue supplying Ukraine with security assistance to defend itself against this unjustified and unprovoked assault,” the White House statement said.

It continued: “They reviewed their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions affected by the violence, both inside Ukraine and seeking refuge in other countries, and underscored the need for humanitarian access to civilians in Mariupol. They also discussed the importance of supporting stable energy markets in light of current disruptions due to sanctions.”

In the last three days, Biden and Macron essentially disagreed over the US president’s ad lib at the end of a speech in Poland on Saturday where he said that Russian president Vladimir Putin was a butcher who “cannot remain in power”.

On Sunday, as US officials rushed to play down Biden’s remarks and insisted they were not meant to signal a new US policy stance of “regime change” in Russia, Macron warned warned against the use of inflammatory language in an already volatile situation.

Yesterday, Biden said he was not “walking anything back”, made no apologies for his use of language and said the comment had been made from a personal sense of moral outrage after meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House today.
Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House today.
Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

Updated

The death toll from the Russian strike on a regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv has risen from at least seven to at least nine, with 28 people wounded, local authorities said and various wire services reported.

The wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene, the emergencies service said in an online post.

Footage from the state rescue service showed a gaping hole in a side of the building, with firefighters extinguishing a fire where the rocket hit and the wounded being put onto ambulance stretchers.

A woman cries as she waits for news of her relative, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Mykolaiv.
A woman cries as she waits for news of her relative in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

There was blood visible in the debris, and shattered glass and upturned furniture strewn on the floor in the offices inside the building, Reuters reported.

This is just a nightmare. A girl died on my floor. What can I say? Are you kidding? I hugged her, two minutes passed, and she passed,” said a woman who was helped out of the building by rescuers.

They destroyed half of the building, hit my office,” regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.

Russian forces have attacked Ukraine’s southern ports including Kherson, Odesa, Mykolaiv and Mariupol as they try to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and establish a land corridor from Russia to Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized in 2014.

Kim said there was an upside to the strike – it suggested Russia had given up trying to take over the city.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour. It denies targeting civilians and did not comment on the strike on Mykolaiv.

Ukraine and the west say Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion.

It was so noisy, people were very afraid. People all ran into the hallway and some are still sitting there because they’re still scared. After that the [air-raid] sirens went off,” said Natalia Novikova, 57, an employee in the department of health in the local administration

Elizabeth Kaplun, 81, is helped by her grandson, Yuriy Kaplun, 33, and Steve, a security adviser of journalists, as she enters a bomb shelter located near a destroyed Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv.
Elizabeth Kaplun, 81, is helped by her grandson, Yuriy Kaplun, 33, and Steve, a security adviser of journalists, as she enters a bomb shelter located near a destroyed Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

Updated

Catch up

It is 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand now:

  • Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told the Danish parliament in a video address.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “deliberately well hidden”.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand the blog over to my US colleague, Joanna Walters.

Updated

Biden says ‘we’ll see’ if Russia de-escalates in Ukraine

The US president, Joe Biden, said it remains to be seen whether Russia follows through with any actions to scale down its military operations in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters at the White House following his meeting with Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, Biden said:

We’ll see. I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We’ll see if they follow through with what they’ve suggested.

Updated

Sasha, an 11-year-old boy who was wounded during the shelling of Mariupol, sits with his mother in a bed in children’s ward of the hospital, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
Sasha, an 11-year-old boy who was wounded during the shelling of Mariupol, sits with his mother on a bed in the children’s ward of the hospital in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on 29 March.
Photograph: Marko Đurica/Reuters
A Ukrainian service member walks on the front line near Kyiv.
A Ukrainian service member walks on the front line near Kyiv.
Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Marta, who fled the war in Ukraine comforts one of her dogs as the other rests inside a pet backpack next to a child on March 29, 2022 in Krakow, Poland.
A dog inside a pet backpack in Krakow, Poland. The animal belongs to Marta, who fled the war in Ukraine.
Photograph: Omar Marques/Getty Images

Updated

Western officials ‘very wary’ of Russia’s promises during peace talks

Western officials said they were “very wary” about Russian diplomatic promises made during the peace talks in Istanbul and fear that Vladimir Putin could be seeking to take advantage of the situation.

One official said:

Certainly, in terms of the negotiations, nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious … it’s more of a tactical exercise in playing for time.

Negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations had not yet reached the point where it was possible to talk about a ceasefire, although there is a feeling that at the very least the war is entering a new phase.

One official said:

Clearly, we are at a moment when some of the tactics and strategies are changing. Exactly what that prefigures at the moment, I don’t think we feel particularly confident about.

But there were not yet discussions that amounted to “in any shape or form a cessation of hostilities”, they added.

A five-way phone call between Joe Biden, the US president, plus the UK’s Boris Johnson, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi agreed to ramp up pressure on Russia, added the official, who had knowledge of the call.

Significantly, the five said they wanted to “increase our support for Ukraine”, implying more weapons would be sent to help Kyiv, and to “continue to tighten the economic vice around Russia”. There was “not a cigarette paper between them”, the official added.

Statements from Russia’s deputy defence minister that Moscow was pulling out forces in northern Ukraine also had to be judged sceptically at this stage.

An official added:

I think you will have to wait and see over the next few days whether that’s a seismic shift.

Nevertheless, despite the uncertainty, it is believed the talks in Istanbul remain the only hope for ending the brutal fighting.

It is nevertheless the best way forward in due course. And we would hope that at some stage it would become real and lead to a ceasefire.

Updated

Romania will distribute potassium iodine tablets to residents free of charge to prepare in case of a nuclear emergency, the country’s health minister, Alexandru Rafila, said today.

Describing the likelihood of a nuclear incident as “not probable” but “possible”, Rafila said the government would start distributing the tablets from next week through family doctors.

He told reporters:

They should be taken if there is a nuclear incident in the vicinity. Otherwise, they should not be taken.

Several doctors have warned against taking iodine without proper precautions, pointing at the serious side effects, Reuters reports.

Russia using peace talks as ‘tactical exercise in playing for time’, western official says

Russia has not yet demonstrated it is serious about negotiations with Ukraine, a western official speaking on condition of anonymity said.

Reuters is reporting the official as saying:

In terms of the negotiations, nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that President Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious about that, it’s more of a tactical exercise in playing for time.

The official added that talks were “nevertheless the best way forward in due course”.

We would hope that at some stage it would become real and lead to a ceasefire … we are sceptical that it is real just yet. Nevertheless, we do want to see a ceasefire which will emerge ultimately from a negotiation.

Updated

France says no Mariupol humanitarian mission possible ‘at this stage’

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, discussed the situation in Ukraine in a phone call today.

Macron brought up the subject of carrying out a humanitarian mission for the besieged city of Mariupol with Putin, but conditions are not in place at this stage, a French presidency official said.

Russia’s position on a humanitarian mission for Mariupol remains tough, the official said, adding that Putin told the French president that he would think about it.

In a statement, the Kremlin said the two leaders also discussed Russia’s decision to request payments in roubles for Russian gas supplies to the European Union.

Russian troop movement is a ‘gear shift, not withdrawal’, US official says

A US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”, Reuters reports.

The official warned:

We believe any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv is a redeployment, not a withdrawal.

And the world should be prepared for continued major offensives against other areas of Ukraine.

They added:

They are shifting gears … No one should mistake that for Russia ending the conflict.

Separately, a US official told the BBC that some Russian forces are moving away from the Ukrainian capital.

Yes, we have seen the Russians begin to draw away from Kyiv.

But we have little confidence at this stage that it marks some significant shift or a meaningful retreat. The Russians are still pounding Kyiv with airstrikes.

Time will tell.

Updated

Here are some images from the aftermath of a Russian strike on a government building in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning.

At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, Ukraine’s president, Volodmyr Zelenskiy, said. Authorities are still searching for more survivors in the rubble.

Rescue workers look at the rubble of government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Rescue workers look at the rubble of government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on 29 March 2022.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
A firefighter clears the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv, 29 March 2022.
A firefighter clears the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Ruth Michaelson has been following the peace talks for us from Istanbul, and sends this latest dispatch from the Turkish city:

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators arrived in the early morning hours at Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace to conduct talks in a formal setting, shielded from a media scrum assembled at the entrance.

The delegations conducted delicate negotiations facing one another at a long conference table inside a stone-walled room, with pictures of the meeting showing Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich seated at a small nearby table alongside Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın.

The discussions followed a short opening speech by The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who addressed them from a lectern, telling them:

The world is waiting for good news, and good news from you.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to present Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted “unconditional security guarantees for Ukraine, ceasefire, effective decisions on humanitarian corridors and humanitarian convoys, observance by the parties of the rules and customs of war. Difficult negotiations for peace in our country. Istanbul round right now,” with a picture that showed him embracing another member of one of the delegations.

Despite the difficulties of the talks, the results appeared warmer and more productive than previous sessions in Belarus or talks between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in the southern Turkish city of Antalya.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, told a press conference that “we see with satisfaction that both sides are getting closer at every stage,” and expressed hopes that the foreign ministers and later perhaps even Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin would meet.

Ukrainian and Turkish diplomats later said that the Istanbul talks were not scheduled to continue into a second day. Yet after the initial formal meeting, discussions between both Ukrainian and Russian representatives continued apace at the glitzy Shangri-La hotel adjacent to the Dolmabahçe Palace.

Podolyak resisted further questions from journalists and disappeared from view under the crystal chandeliers in the hotel lobby. But out on the sunlit terrace of the Shangri-La’s seafood and burger restaurant, Abramovich sat and talked intently with Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov, with whom he reportedly previously held a series of talks in Istanbul under Kalin’s supervision.

Umerov and Abramovich reportedly suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning during their previous series of unofficial talks. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told Ukraine’s channel 24 television prior to the meeting:

I advise anyone going through negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface.

The restaurant’s long terrace overlooks the Bosphorus and the adjacent bustling Beşiktaş ferry stop, with travellers hurrying past seemingly unaware of their proximity to the group or their furtive negotiations.

Abramovich, drinking a tulip-shaped glass of Turkish black tea under heavy security, sat with his back to the adjacent boardwalk as he leaned in to talk with Umerov, later joined by Ukrainian parliamentary leader and head of the delegation David Arakhamia.

The rest of the Ukrainian delegation, including the defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, wearing military green, were seated at the far end of the terrace, later getting up to reveal a forest of half-empty wine glasses.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (L) leaves the Dolmabahçe palace.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (L) leaves the Dolmabahçe palace.
Photograph: Yasin Akgül/AFP/Getty Images

Abramovich, Umerov and Arakhamia moved into the restaurant’s interior away from public view, soon joined by Reznikov, who strolled inside after them. Once inside, Abramovich peeled off to sit on a plush sofa alone to make a phone call, accompanied only by his glass of tea while Arakhamia joined other members of the Ukrainian delegation at a large table laden with food.

Despite the restaurant’s extensive menu and large fridge advertising its stock of dry-aged meat, Abramovich did not appear to eat during the entire meeting.

He later followed Umerov and other members of the Ukrainian delegation, clutching stuffed blue binders, to another area of the restaurant to continue their discussions well into the late afternoon, hours after the official talks had ended.

Outside under the bright lobby lights, a Ukrainian general strolled across the marble floor next to an accompanying diplomat, who fell asleep in an armchair while clutching a briefcase, exhausted from the day’s events.

Updated

Summary

It is almost 7.15pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand now:

  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told the Danish parliament in a video address.
  • However, Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US said it is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Large numbers of military vehicles with Russian flags were reportedly seen retreating from the Kyiv direction. The US officials warned that Russia could always reverse their latest move.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “deliberately well hidden”.

Hello, I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll continue to bring you all the latest news from the war in Ukraine. You can reach me on Twitter or via email.

A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said.

Roman Hrybov, a Ukrainian border guard, was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February.

Initial reports said 13 border guards had died after refusing to surrender the island. When asked to lay down their weapons, the soldiers are said to have responded to an officer on board the Russian warship with a defiant: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.” It later emerged that the soldiers had survived.

The phrase became a rallying cry for Ukraine’s defenders and was commemorated in a postage stamp by the Ukrainian postal service.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.

Updated

A Ukrainian soldier sits on top of a Russian artillery vehicle marked with the ‘Z’ symbol, which Ukraine captured during fighting outside Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
A Ukrainian soldier sits on top of a Russian artillery vehicle marked with the ‘Z’ symbol, which Ukraine captured during fighting outside Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 29 March.
Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, a top military commander, walks in a trench at a position north of the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, a top Ukrainian military commander, walks in a trench at a position north of the capital, Kyiv, on 29 March.
Photograph: Vadim Ghirdă/AP

Updated

Four Russian officials have been expelled from Ireland for “activities not in accordance with diplomatic behaviour, the Irish department of foreign affairs has said.

It will keep diplomatic relations open and allow the Russian embassy to remain open.

The move comes weeks after an RTÉ documentary raised questions about the function of the expansive embassy site in Dublin.

In a statement, the DFA said:

This afternoon, the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian Ambassador to Iveagh House to advise him that four senior officials have been asked to leave the State. This is because their activities have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour. This action is being taken under Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Government continues to believe that diplomatic channels between Ireland and the Russian Federation should remain open. This is in the interests of our citizens as well as to ensure that we can continue to have a diplomatic channel of communication between Ireland and the Russian Federation in the future. This channel of communication has been important in the context of conveying our strong views on the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which we regard as a serious breach of international law.

Updated

UK sees ‘some reduction’ in Russian bombardment around Kyiv

The UK has seen signs of “some reduction” in Russian bombardment around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Downing Street said.

However, the UK wants to see a full withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine and will judge tentative steps towards a possible peace deal by actions rather than words, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said.

Asked if the PM was encouraged by Russia’s promise to scale down military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine, Johnson’s spokesperson said:

We will judge Putin and his regime by his actions, not by his words.

He told reporters:

There has been some reduction in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, largely because Ukrainian forces have been successfully pushing back the Russian offensives in the northwest of the city.

But fighting continues. There’s heavy bombardment in Mariupol and other areas. So we don’t want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

Russian de-escalation around Kyiv and Chernihiv does not mean ceasefire, Russian negotiator says

Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine does not represent a ceasefire, Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said.

In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to do” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.

He said:

This is not a ceasefire but this is our aspiration, gradually to reach a de-escalation of the conflict at least on these fronts.

Updated

Russia beginning to withdraw some forces from around Kyiv, US says

The US is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a change in Russian strategy in Ukraine, senior US military officials said.

The US is already observing a major strategy shift after Russia’s defence ministry announced earlier today that it would “drastically reduce” military activity outside Kyiv and Chernihiv, according to two senior US officials.

Russia is beginning to withdraw some forces, including Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) leaving the surrounding areas around the Ukrainian capital, CNN cited the officials as saying.

The Russian forces now pulling back in some areas of the north to focus on gains in the south and east. The officials warned that Russia could always reverse their latest move.

From CNN’s Jim Sciutto:

Large numbers of military vehicles with Russian flags were reportedly seen retreating from the Kyiv direction.

However, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he has not seen “signs of real seriousness” from Russia in pursuing peace, adding that Moscow should “end the aggression now, stop firing, pull its forces back and of course engage in talks”.

Speaking today at a joint press conference with Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, Blinken said he has not seen signs the talks between Ukraine and Russia are “moving forward in an effective way”.

There is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter.

Ukraine’s military said it had noted withdrawals of some forces around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Updated

Boris Johnson told a meeting of senior ministers that a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine would not be enough to trigger the lifting of UK sanctions, Downing Street said.

The PM’s spokesperson suggested a full withdrawal would be a good start but a ceasefire was only the first step towards that, telling reporters:

The prime minister said a ceasefire alone would not be cause for UK sanctions to be removed on Russia.

He said the pressure on (Russian president Vladimir) Putin must be increased both through further economic measures and providing military aid to ensure Russia changes course completely.

He added:

I think as ever, we will judge Putin by his actions.

Updated

A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris.

 

Updated

British cybersecurity agency NCSC has published a special blog advising businesses to review their IT security as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues – although it stressed while there have been “ongoing cyber-attacks” by Russia against Ukraine “we’ve not seen – and don’t expect to see – the massive, global cyber-attacks that some have predicted”.

The agency urged businesses and individuals to remain alert nevertheless and keep software patched and up to date, because the overall cybersecurity environment remains uncertain while the war between the countries continues.

Officials also advised that any British business that relies on Russian software should “reconsider their risk” if they operate in the wider public sector, provide services related to the UK’s critical infrastructure, do business with Ukraine or are in any way high profile, where any hack would represent “a PR win for Russia”.

This was in case the Kremlin tried to force Russian software companies to “cause damage to UK interests”, said Ian Levy, NCSC’s technical director. He said that “we have no evidence the Russian state intends to suborn Russian commercial products and service”, but warned “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

He added:

The war has proven many widely held beliefs wrong and the situation remains highly unpredictable. In our view, it would be prudent to plan for the possibility that this could happen.

Updated

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Benelux. Belgium has just announced that it is expelling 21 Russian diplomats for spying. The Netherlands is doing the same with 17 others.

In the UK, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, told the cabinet that Britain’s support was moving to a “new phase” as the Ukrainians sought to retake territory captured by the Russians.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said they were looking at “all possible options” to ensure the Ukrainians had the equipment they needed while avoiding any “escalatory effects”.

Asked what he meant by this, PA Media reports that the prime minister’s official spokesperson said it reflected “different asks of us as we provide further defensive aid, military capability”.

“Obviously they are in a different phase in their situation. First there was the invasion and now they are seeking to both defend and also regain territory,” he said.

Asked if this meant sending more offensive rather than defensive weaponry, the spokesman said the UK did not want to do anything that had any “escalatory effects”, but he said: “We are considering all possible options when it comes to making sure the Ukrainian government have what they need to defend themselves.”

He added: “Now, we are looking at what further equipment and what capabilities we can provide but I’m not going to get into what that might entail at this stage.”

He said as well as working with Nato, the UK was in conversation directly with the Ukrainian government and was delivering equipment directly to the country.

It should be noted that these quotes pre-date the information that has been coming out of the peace talks in Istanbul, with Russia suggesting it may scale down military activity in the west of Ukraine around Kyiv.

Updated

Here is the video clip of what could prove to be a significant shift in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Speaking on television after talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams in Istanbul, Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said Moscow had decided to “radically reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust” and create the right conditions to sign a peace deal with Ukraine.

 

Updated

Ruth Michaelson has been following the peace talks for us from Istanbul, and sends this latest dispatch from the Turkish city:

Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul signalled the first signs of progress in discussions between the Russian and Ukrainian sides, despite the fact that the three-hour meeting started late and appeared to finish almost an hour ahead of schedule.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, accompanied by the majority leader and head of the Ukrainian delegation David Arakhamia and MP Rustem Umerov, retired immediately following the official talks to a luxury restaurant on a terrace at the adjacent Shangri-La hotel overlooking the Bosphorus, where Abramovich drank tea under heavy security and the group appeared to continue their discussions.

Abramovich and Umerov reportedly previously held a series of meetings in Istanbul as a parallel track to official negotiations under the supervision of Turkish presidential adviser, İbrahim Kalın.

The meeting at the restaurant did not initially appear to include the Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who told journalists following the negotiations that “the results of today’s meeting are sufficient for a meeting at the leaders’ level”.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak gestures as he speaks to the press after the Russia and Ukraine face-to-face talks in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak gestures as he speaks to the press after the Russia and Ukraine face-to-face talks in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Photograph: Yasin Akgül/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian defence minister Olekseii Reznikov, wearing military green, followed Abramovich, Umerov and Arakhamia to a different location in the restaurant interior to continue discussions away from public view.

Ukrainian negotiators stated following the official talks that the sides had discussed their demands for “security guarantees” at length, agreeing that Ukraine could remain “neutral” in exchange for protections equivalent to Nato’s article 5, meaning collective security guaranteed by other nations.

They also discussed the future status of the Crimean peninsula, adding “Donetsk and Lugansk are a slightly different issue, the presidents will resolve it among themselves.”

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a press conference that “we see with satisfaction that both sides are getting closer at every stage”.

Çavuşoğlu added that the Istanbul meeting will hopefully prompt a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers, followed by a potential meeting of both leaders, long a request of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The greatest progress was made during today’s talks,” he said.

Updated

A quick snap from Reuters that in comments broadcast on state media, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said that Kyiv’s proposals to Moscow at talks in Istanbul included one that Russia would not oppose Ukraine joining the European Union.

Here is a selection of some of the latest images of the Ukraine crisis to land on the newswires:

Two young girls look out from a barrier as they wait in a queue at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, after fleeing Ukraine.
Two young girls look out from a barrier as they wait in a queue at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, after fleeing Ukraine.
Photograph: Sergei Grits/AP
Ukrainian policemen check driver’s documents as they patrol in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last night.
Ukrainian policemen check driver’s documents as they patrol in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last night.
Photograph: Aleksey Filippov/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles in the Rivne region of Ukraine.
Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles in the Rivne region of Ukraine.
Photograph: State Emergency Service Of Ukraine/Reuters
Ukrainian soldiers and relatives attend a ceremony at the funeral of the soldier Teodor Osadchyi, killed during the Russian invasion, at Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers and relatives attend a ceremony at the funeral of the soldier Teodor Osadchyi, killed during the Russian invasion, at Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine.
Photograph: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP/Getty Images

Angela Giuffrida reports for us from Italy:

A luxury car worth €600,000 and built to withstand bullets and explosives has been seized in Sardinia as part of EU sanctions against oligarchs with close links to Vladimir Putin.

The black Mercedes Maybach S650 Guard belongs to Alisher Usmanov, an ex-shareholder in Arsenal football club, and was recently seized by police in Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda, Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.

Usmanov is said to own several properties on the island, but it is not clear whether they have been seized too.

Corriere said the “maximum protection” car was bought from a company in Sardinia in 2018.

Usmanov, once said to be the UK’s richest person, last week claimed that millions of pounds of his assets are in an irrevocable trust.

Russian oligarchs have long gravitated to Porto Cervo during the summer and other key hotspots in luxury.

In early March, Italian police seized a yacht owned by Alexei Mordashov, the richest man in Russia before being blacklisted by the European Union, and another owned by Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire with close ties to Putin, in the Ligurian port of Imperia.

Ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, has denounced the invasion of Ukraine as an “atrocious” act that is causing enormous suffering during a visit to Warsaw.

Although he did not denounce Russia by name, he said: “It is simply impossible to imagine how much devastation this atrocious invasion has caused for the Ukrainian people and the entire world,” at a news briefing. He added that solidarity with Ukrainians “is the only thing that can overcome evil and darkness in the world”.

A file photo of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from late last year.
A file photo of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from late last year.
Photograph: Ted Shaffrey/AP

Bartholomew also met with Archbishop Stanisaw Gdecki, the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

Associated Press quote him going further with a condemnation of Russia, saying that Russia’s invasion has resulted in the deaths of “thousands of innocent people” including “hundreds of children, elderly people, women, and men who had nothing to do with the hostilities”.

“Many of the aggressor’s actions bear the hallmarks of genocide,” Gdecki said.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has defended the attack on Ukraine, writing in a letter on 10 March that “This conflict did not start today. It is my firm belief that its initiators are not the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share common historical fate. The origins of the confrontation lie in the relationships between the west and Russia.”

Updated

At least seven killed after strike on building in Mykolaiv, Zelenskiy says

A Russian rocket that struck a regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv today has left at least seven people dead and 22 injured, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

Speaking in a video address to the Danish parliament today, the Ukrainian president said:

As far as we know now seven people were killed, 22 were wounded, and people are still going through the rubble.

He added:

There were no military ambitions in Mykolaiv, the people in Mykolaiv presented no threat to Russia.

And even then, like all the Ukrainians, they became the targets for the Russian troops.

Eighteen of the wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene, the emergencies service said in an online post.

The regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
The regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

Vitaly Kim, the governor of Mykolaiv, said in a series of video posts that dozens of people had managed to flee from the building before it was hit. There were reports of air raid sirens in Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning.

President Zelenskiy told the Danish parliament that the Russian siege of the port city of Mariupol constituted a “crime against humanity”.

What the Russian troops are doing to Mariupol is a crime against humanity, which is happening in front of the eyes of the whole planet in real time.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks in a video broadcast to members of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on March 29, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks in a video broadcast to members of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

A Ukrainian negotiator said a “security guarantees” treaty with an “enhanced analogue” of Nato’s “article 5” collective defence clause was discussed during today’s talks with Russia in Istanbul.

From Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy and the lead negotiator in talks with Russia:

Updated

Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said Moscow has decided to “radically reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernigiv” in order to “increase mutual trust and create the right conditions for future negotiations and reach the final aim of signing a peace deal with Ukraine”.

Fomin added that the Russian delegation will give more details on the decision to reduce military activity on their return to Moscow.

Speaking alongside Fomin, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medisnky said the talks were “constructive”, adding that Russia was taking “two steps to de-escalate the conflict”.

Medinsky said:

We received proposals from Ukraine to consider their clearly formulated position on inclusion in the peace treaty. These proposals will be looked at in the coming period and delivered to the President, and an answer will be given.

Medinsky also said that a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy was possible in the future.

The meeting between Putin and Zelensky is possible simultaneously with the preliminary signing of a peace treaty.

Updated

Here’s more from Ukrainian negotiators following their first face-to-face talks with the Russian delegation in nearly three weeks. The Ukrainian team said it proposed adopting neutral status in exchange for security guarantees, meaning it would not join military alliances or host military bases.

The proposals would also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of annexed Crimea and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, the negotiators told reporters in Istanbul.

The proposals are the most detailed and concrete that Ukraine has aired publicly, Reuters reports.

Negotiator Oleksander Chaly said in comments broadcast on Ukrainian national television:

If we manage to consolidate these key provisions, and for us this is the most fundamental, then Ukraine will be in a position to actually fix its current status as a non-bloc and non-nuclear state in the form of permanent neutrality.

He added:

We will not host foreign military bases on our territory, as well as deploy military contingents on our territory, and we will not enter into military-political alliances.

Military exercises on our territory will take place with the consent of the guarantor countries.

There was enough material in the current Ukrainian proposals to warrant a meeting between the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainian negotiators said, adding they were awaiting Russia’s response.

Russia says it will ‘drastically reduce military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv’

Russia’s defence ministry said Russia will “drastically reduce” military activity outside Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Speaking on television after talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams in Istanbul, Russia’s deputy defence minister said Moscow has decided to “fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine.”

From the Financial Times’ Max Seddon:

Updated

Ukrainian negotiators have shared some details of what was covered at today’s talks between Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul, the two delegations’ first face-to-face meeting in more than a fortnight.

Ukraine proposed adopting neutral status in exchange for security guarantees, meaning it would not join military alliances or host military bases, Ukrainian negotiators told reporters.

The proposals would also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of annexed Crimea and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, Reuters reports.

A superyacht has been detained in London as part of sanctions against Russia, the UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced.

Officials boarded Phi, owned by a Russian businessman, in Canary Wharf, east London, on Tuesday. The vessel is the first to be detained in the UK under sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.

Phi – named after the mathematical concept – made its maiden voyage last year after being built in the Netherlands. It is 58.5 metres and features what is described as an “infinite wine cellar” and a freshwater swimming pool. The vessel was in London for a superyacht awards ceremony and was due to depart at noon on Tuesday.

The superyacht Phi owned by a Russian businessman in Canary Wharf, east London which has been detained as part of sanctions against Russia.
The superyacht Phi owned by a Russian businessman in Canary Wharf, east London which has been detained as part of sanctions against Russia.
Photograph: James Manning/PA

Shapps said:

Today we’ve detained a £38m superyacht and turned an icon of Russia’s power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to Putin and his cronies. Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from connections to Putin’s regime.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it worked with the National Crime Agency and the Border Force maritime investigation bureau to identify and detain the vessel. It refused to reveal the name of the owner.

The department described Phi’s ownership as “deliberately well-hidden”. The vessel is registered to a company based in Saint Kitts and Nevis and carries a Maltese flag.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out.

“Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.

In a statement, it said:

Today, civilians are taking the life-and-death decision to flee when there is no ceasefire or other agreements in place that would allow them to leave safely.

Robert Mardini, the aid agency’s director-general, told Reuters that the ICRC would not participate in any forced evacuations of civilians from Ukraine and it had no first-hand information that this is happening.

Our concern is that the very intensity of the fighting is putting civilians in harm’s way, the fact that in places like Mariupol civilians are not able to leave in safe conditions, there were no concrete agreements by parties to the conflict for safe evacuation of civilians, nor has there been a green light to get humanitarian aid in.

The meeting between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in Istanbul has ended, the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey said.

The talks lasted around four hours with occasional breaks. It is unclear if the discussions will continue for a second day, Reuters reports.

Three killed after strike on building in Mykolaiv

A Russian rocket hit the regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv today, killing at least three people and wounding 22, local authorities said.

In an online post, emergency services said 18 of the wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene.

Reuters cited witnesses who saw the destruction from a distance and ambulances and fire engines heading to the scene.

Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters
A Russian strike battered the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, a key port under heavy assault for weeks, the regional governor said on March 29, 2022.
A Russian strike battered the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, a key port under heavy assault for weeks, the regional governor said on March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said:

They destroyed half of the building, got into my office.

Updated

Ruth Michaelson is in Istanbul to cover the peace talks for us. She sends this report:

“I advise anyone going through negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly told delegates. Pictures from inside the negotiations, expected to stretch into the afternoon, suggest Kuleba’s instructions might be a challenge.

While Abramovich’s presence inside the negotiation room alongside Kalin, who reportedly arranged a series of talks between him and Umerov at five-star hotels across Istanbul, suggested to some that this parallel track of negotiations might have ended in favour of these official talks, others were not convinced.

“A presence in the room doesn’t mean the parallel track has collapsed,” said Sinan Ülgen, of the Istanbul think-tank the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM). “We can read into [Abramovich’s presence] is the receptivity of both Kyiv and Moscow to Turkey’s involvement. Not only is Turkey acting formally as a facilitator but it also has an active role in this second track of diplomacy to defuse the conflict.”

“From a Turkish perspective, what matters is that Turkey remains a central piece of diplomatic efforts going forward, first to agree on a ceasefire and then to reach a political settlement,” he said. “I would pay particular attention if, at the end of the talks, the two sides issue a statement outlining some degree of convergence.”

However Ülgen added that observers should temper their expectations from today’s talks, after previous rounds of negotiations in Belarus and in the southern Turkish city of Antalya yielded few results. “I think we should not harbour any big expectations from this specific round of talks. I think the dynamics on the ground are not very suitable to this type of…more positive expectations,” he added.

Roman Abramovich listens as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Roman Abramovich listens as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Photograph: Turkish Presidency/Reuters

Updated

Here’s more from Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who said relations between Russia and the US would inevitably be affected by “personal insults” by the US President, Joe Biden, directed at his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Personal insults cannot but leave their mark on relations between heads of state.

However, Peskov said:

One way or another, sooner or later, we will have to speak about questions of strategic stability and security and so on.

The Kremlin was referring to unscripted remarks made by Biden at a speech in Poland at the weekend, in which the US president said Putin “cannot remain in power”.

US President Joe Biden outside the Royal Palace, Warsaw, Poland. 26 Mar 2022
US President Joe Biden outside the Royal Palace, Warsaw, Poland. 26 Mar 2022
Photograph: Anna Voitenko/Ukrinform/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

On Monday, Biden defended his remarks and denied that he was seeking “regime change” as a new policy. “I’m not walking anything back,” Biden said.

I was expressing the moral outrage I felt … I had just come from being with those families. But I want to be clear that I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change.

Updated

Kremlin dismisses reports of Abramovich poisoning as ‘part of information war’

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday dismissed reports that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning during an informal round of talks earlier this month, calling the reports “part of the information war”.

Peskov said during his daily call with reporters:

This is part of the information panic, part of the information sabotage, information war. These reports are not true…it is necessary to strongly filter the flow of information.

Peskov further confirmed that Abramovich was part of the talks in Istanbul that will kick off today, but said the Russian billionaire was not an official member of the delegation.

Abramovich is involved in ensuring certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides.

There was photographic evidence to confirm that Abramovich is indeed in the room this morning with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, President Recep Tayyip Érdogan and Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Photograph: RIA Novosti / POOL

Updated

Russia’s main goal is ‘liberation’ of Donbas, Shoigu says

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region, a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war.

Russian state news agency Interfax quoted Shoigu as saying on Tuesday:

The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed. The combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has been significantly reduced, which makes it possible to focus our main attention and main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas.

Shoigu further claimed that the Ukrainian air force and the air defence system have been “practically destroyed” and that Russia now controlled the skies.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
Photograph: Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/EPA

Last Friday, a spokesperson of Russia’s defence ministry also said that the first phase of its military operation was “generally” complete, saying the country would focus on the “liberation” of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and Donetsk region, jointly known as the Donbas.

The country’s forces, however, have continued their action on several battlefronts across Ukraine over the weekend, including attacking the western city of Lviv, where a Russian cruise missile slammed into a fuel depot.

Russia has been shifting its objectives in Ukraine throughout the war, as the country failed to secure a quick victory over Ukraine. The Financial Times on Monday reported that the Kremlin no longer requested Ukraine be “denazified” and “demilitarised”, initial core demands that Russian president Vladimir Putin raised to justify the invasion.

The two sides will hold highly anticipated peace talks in Istanbul today, but some Ukrainian officials have warned Russia could be using the talks as an opportunity to regroup and fix its tactical and logistical issues.

Updated

Ukraine’s military capacity seriously degraded, Russia says

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Ukraine’s military capacity had been seriously degraded, adding that the main tasks of the first phase of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine had been completed, Reuters reports.

Speaking to officials in a televised meeting, Shoigu also warned that Russia would respond appropriately if Nato supplied Ukraine with planes and air defence systems.

Interfax news agency reports that Shoigu said Ukraine no longer has a navy, and that the main task of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine now is “liberating” Donbas.

Hello. I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments from the war in Ukraine. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

Updated

Today so far …

  • Fresh talks between Ukraine and Russia have begun in Istanbul, with Kyiv seeking a ceasefire without compromising on its sovereignty or territorial integrity and both sides playing down hopes of an early breakthrough.
  • Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the talks – the two delegations’ first face-to-face meeting in more than a fortnight – at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, urging both sets of negotiators to “put an end to this tragedy”.
  • The Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was in attendance – and talks started with “a cold welcome and no handshake”.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Ukraine and Russia to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and other places as vital supplies run out.
  • Robert Mardini, ICRC director general, said the neutral aid agency would not participate in any forced evacuations of civilians from Ukraine and it had no first-hand information that this is happening. He also said there was a “disinformation campaign” against the ICRC on social media.
  • Ukraine hopes to open three humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities today, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
  • The main government building in Mykolaiv in Ukraine has been struck and damaged by a missile strike. There are no reports of fatalities but eight people are said to be trapped under the rubble.
  • Russia’s defence ministry has claimed it has destroyed a major fuel depot in Ukraine’s Rivne region.
  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence released its latest intelligence report on the situation unfolding in Ukraine, claiming Ukrainian forces are continuing to conduct localised counterattacks outside Kyiv.
  • Ukraine’s military also released its latest operational report as of 6am this morning and appears to corroborate with British intelligence, claiming its forces carried out successful counterattacks in some directions.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial” and called for countries to keep supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
  • Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has tweeted to call upon states around the world to criminalise the use of the “Z” symbol as a way to publicly support Russia’s war of aggression.
  • Finland’s security service said it expects neighbouring Russia to mount a campaign of disinformation over the coming months to influence the Nordic nation’s debate over joining Nato.
  • The Russian foreign ministry is summoning ambassadors from the Baltic states to announce the expulsion of diplomats.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I will be back a little later on. I am now handing over to Léonie Chao-Fong who will guide you through the next few hours of developments in the war.

Updated

Macron and Putin to have phone call later today

A quick snap from Reuters that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is due to talk to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, later today.

At the weekend, Macron warned against inflammatory remarks after the US president, Joe Biden, said Putin “cannot remain in power”, words that Biden has stood by. Macron is in the middle of a domestic election campaign.

Updated

Here is a round-up of this morning’s latest diplomatic developments from my colleague Jon Henley:

Fresh talks between Ukraine and Russia have begun in Istanbul, with Kyiv seeking a ceasefire without compromising on its sovereignty or territorial integrity and both sides playing down hopes of an early breakthrough.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the talks – the two delegations’ first face-to-face meeting in more than a fortnight – at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, urging both sets of negotiators to “put an end to this tragedy”.

With Russia’s invasion appearing stalled on the ground, Erdogan said each side had “legitimate concerns” but added: “We have now entered a period where concrete results are needed. It should be “possible to reach a solution acceptable to the international community”, he said, with further conflict “in no one’s interest”.

Ukrainian media said the talks – with the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in attendance – started with “a cold welcome and no handshake”. Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymr Zelenskiy, said delegations were working on “the entire spectrum of contentious issues”.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said the least he was hoping for was an end to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe, and the most was a ceasefire. “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty,” he insisted.

“If we see that the mood has changed and they are ready for a serious, substantive conversation and balanced arrangements, then things will move forward,” Kuleba said. He said if it was a “repetition of their propaganda”, then talks would again fail.

Read more of Jon Henley’s round-up here: Ukraine-Russia peace talks start in Turkey amid warnings they may again fail

Updated

Our correspondent Ruth Michaelson is in Istanbul, and brings us this analysis of the presence of sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich in today’s peace talks:

Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov had reportedly arranged a series of talks between them at five-star hotels across Istanbul. Abramovich’s presence inside the negotiation room alongside Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın suggested to some that this parallel track of negotiations might have ended in favour of these official talks. But others were not convinced.

“A presence in the room doesn’t mean the parallel track has collapsed,” said Sinan Ülgen, of the Istanbul thinktank the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

“We can read into [Abramovich’s presence] the receptivity of both Kyiv and Moscow to Turkey’s involvement. Not only is Turkey acting formally as a facilitator but it also has an active role in this second track of diplomacy to diffuse the conflict.”

“From a Turkish perspective, what matters is that Turkey remains a central piece of diplomatic efforts going forward, first to agree on a ceasefire and then to reach a political settlement,” he said. “I would pay particular attention if, at the end of the talks, the two sides issue a statement outlining some degree of convergence.”

However, Ülgen added that observers should temper their expectations from today’s talks, after previous rounds of negotiations in Belarus and in the southern Turkish city of Antalya yielded few results.

“I think we should not harbour any big expectations from this specific round of talks. I think the dynamics on the ground are not very suitable to this type of … more positive expectations,” he added.

Updated

On the theme of disinformation, Finland expects neighbouring Russia to mount a campaign of disinformation in coming months to influence the Nordic nation’s debate over joining Nato, the Finnish security service Supo said today.

In an updated assessment the agency said that “broad influencing and unlawful intelligence operations” by Russia were among the main threats to Finland’s national security.

“Finnish society as a whole should be prepared for various measures from Russia seeking to influence policymaking in Finland on the Nato issue,” Supo director Antti Pelttari said.

“Public authorities must secure the conditions for a full and frank debate without intimidation, and ensure that outsiders are unable to influence security policy decisions made by Finland.”

Opinion polls show Finnish willingness to join Nato has soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, indicating for the first time a majority in favour of becoming a member.

A taskforce led by Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto is currently reviewing ways for Finland to strengthen its national security, including possible Nato membership.

Supo said it has, however, as yet seen no significant change in Russian operations targeting Finland, the agency added.

Updated

International Committee of the Red Cross director-general warns of ‘disinformation campaign’ against them

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Ukraine and Russia to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and other places as vital supplies run out.

Robert Mardini, ICRC director general, told Reuters that the neutral aid agency would not participate in any forced evacuations of civilians from Ukraine and it had no first-hand information that this is happening.

He also said there was a “disinformation campaign” against the ICRC on social media.

“Our concern is that the very intensity of the fighting is putting civilians in harm’s way, the fact that in places like Mariupol civilians are not able to leave in safe conditions, there were no concrete agreements by parties to the conflict for safe evacuation of civilians, nor has there been a green light to get humanitarian aid in,” Mardini said.

Ukraine and Russia must allow the ICRC to visit captured prisoners of war, in line with the Geneva conventions, and return the remains of people killed in the conflict, he said in an interview at ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

Updated

We have the very first read-out from talks in Istanbul coming out in brief on Reuters at the moment. The key points to have emerged so far are:

  • Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky has said there will be a statement after the talks, in several hours.
  • Russia say they have protested to the Ukraine delegation over the alleged abuse of Russian prisoners – no doubt a reference to the video circulating purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war.
  • Ukraine’s presidential advisor has said the main issue for Ukraine at the talks is security guarantees, with humanitarian issues second.

Updated

Ruth Michaelson is in Istanbul to cover the peace talks for us. She sends this report:

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators arrived at Istanbul’s opulent Dolmabahçe Palace for talks early this morning, although talks didn’t start until after 11am local time according to the Ukrainian side.

Ukrainian television reported the talks began with “a cold welcome” and no handshake between the delegations as things kicked off.

“The eyes of the world were turned to this meeting, where the ministers of the two warring countries sat at the same table,” reported Turkish daily Hurriyet.

The meeting itself is closed to the press, corralled outside between the aptly named Shangri-La hotel and Istanbul’s naval museum on the bustling street outside, awaiting statements expected to come from the Ukrainian side.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who previously held part of parallel talks with the Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov in Istanbul, had a front row seat as the talks started.

Pictures of Abramovich wearing a translation headset and sitting next to Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın quickly spread across Turkish media, after reports that Abramovich and Umerov were poisoned during previous negotiation efforts.

Updated

Here are some of the latest images to have appeared on the newswires today from Ukraine:

A Ukrainian soldier in Mykolaiv shows a picture of a damaged Ukrainian government administration building on a mobile phone following a bombing.
A Ukrainian soldier in Mykolaiv shows a picture of a damaged government administration building on a mobile phone following a bombing.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters
Members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fight against Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia region.
Members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fight against Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia region.
Photograph: Reuters
A volunteer fighter of the Revanche Battalion takes a rest in the living room of a local villager in the Lukayanivka frontline, east of Kyiv.
A volunteer fighter of the Revanche Battalion takes a rest in the living room of a local villager in the Lukayanivka frontline, east of Kyiv.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A flag flies next to a makeshift barricade in central Odesa.
A flag flies next to a makeshift barricade in central Odesa.
Photograph: Gilles Bader/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock
A woman looks at her phone near soldiers standing guard outside a government building in Mykolaiv.
A woman looks at her phone near soldiers standing guard outside a government building in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Reuters has a direct quote from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, addressing the start of peace talks in Istanbul. He told delegates:

It is up to the sides to stop this tragedy. Achieving a ceasefire and peace as soon as possible is to the benefit of everyone. We think we have now entered a period where concrete results are needed from talk. The negotiating process, which you have been carrying out under the orders of your leaders, has raised hopes for peace.

There is also photographic evidence to confirm that sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich is indeed in the room.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and businessman Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and businessman Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Photograph: RIA Novosti / POOL

Updated

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has posted on Twitter to say he had thanked Czech prime minister Petr Fiala, saying “he noted the significant humanitarian and security assistance, exceptional treatment of Ukrainians who found temporary shelter in the Czech Republic”.

Fiala himself has just announced that he has tested positive for Covid and will be isolating for a week.

Updated

The main government building in Mykolaiv in Ukraine has been struck and damaged by a missile strike this morning, according to a post on Telegram by the regional governor Vitaliy Kim. There are no reports of fatalities but eight people are said to be trapped under the rubble.

Ukrainian journalist Oleh Novikov has pictures from the scene.

Kim has clearly not entirely lost his sense of humour during the war, because he has said on his Telegram video post that it means Russia can’t be trying to take the city any more, as if they were planning to occupy it they would have needed these offices.

Mykolaiv is near the south coast of Ukraine, between Odesa and Kherson, and would be a natural target if the Russian military objective is to seize control of a strip of land along that coast.

Updated

There is another diplomatic development coming along this morning, as the Tass and RIA news agencies in Russia are reporting that the Russian foreign ministry is summoning ambassadors from the Baltic states to announce the expulsion of diplomats. I will bring you more on that when I have it.

‘Cold welcome, no handshake’ at start of peace talks in Istanbul – reports

Ukrainian television is reporting that the peace talks in Istanbul started with “a cold welcome, no handshake”, although it isn’t clear whether reporters witnessed this, or have just been informed this was the case.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymr Zelenskiy, said on Twitter the delegations were discussing “the fundamental provisions of the negotiation process. Delegations are working in parallel on the entire spectrum of contentious issues.”

Updated

As recently as 24 February this year, every time we wrote about Roman Abramovich we tended to have to carry disclaimers like “Abramovich has vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Vladimir Putin and Russia or that he has done anything to merit sanctions being imposed against him” as he had very energetic lawyers.

Reuters is quoting two sources saying that Abramovich is in attendance at the Istanbul peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. That suggests the nature of his relationship with Putin has either changed dramatically in the course of the last month, or that Abramovich’s lawyers were somehow previously mistaken.

Updated

We have some pictures from the opening of the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, hosted by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before their face-to-face talks.
Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdoğan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before their face-to-face talks.
Photograph: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Reuters
President Erdoğan’s view of the room.
President Erdoğan’s view of the room.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A view from the back of the room at the Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul.
A view from the back of the room at the Dolmabahce presidential office in Istanbul.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Two quick snaps from Reuters here – with contrasting implications. Russia’s defence ministry has claimed it has destroyed a major fuel depot in Ukraine’s Rivne region. The Guardian and Reuters have not independently verified this.

At the same time, Gazprom has just announced that gas exports to the rest of Europe via Ukraine remain high. The RIA news agency reported that gas has been flowing at a rate of just over 109m cubic metres per day, which is in line with the Kremlin-owned Gazprom’s contractual obligations.

Updated

Peter Forbes Ricketts, retired senior diplomat and the UK’s former permanent representative to Nato in Brussels, has also been making media appearances in the UK this morning. He told Sky News:

We’d all love to think that negotiations could produce a breakthrough and a ceasefire, and I’ve absolutely no doubt that President’s Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian side are totally sincere. But I’m really wary of the Russians here. I don’t honestly see that the conditions are there for a meaningful ceasefire.

I think it’s brave of President Zelenskiy to face up to the fact that Ukraine is not going to join Nato anytime soon. He’s interested in security guarantees from the major powers and a neutral status for Ukraine, possibly with the right to join the EU. All these are important, but they’re frankly secondary issues. The key thing is what happens to this territory that Russian forces have occupied.

I do not believe that Putin will be willing to give up places like Mariupol, once they do hold it firmly. That’s on the corridor between the east, which Russia already controls, and the south and the Crimean peninsula. I’m afraid his minimum objective is to hold the territory that he’s now occupied.

That requires Ukraine to accept, effectively, the partition of their country. And I just find it very hard to imagine that any Ukrainian government could do that. So I’m pretty sceptical about the outcome of these talks, although it’s a good thing people are talking.

Updated

Ukraine hopes to open three humanitarian corridors for Tuesday

Ukraine hopes to open three humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities today, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Reuters reports she said this would include trying to establish a safe corridor for people to leave the encircled southern port city of Mariupol in private vehicles.

Updated

A few more of the words of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at the start of the peace talks in Istanbul via Reuters. He has said that Turkey sees both President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as “valuable friends”. He has also said that progress in the Istanbul talks can pave the way for a meeting between the two leaders of Ukraine and Russia, which Turkey is also willing to host.

The Ukrainian delegation arrives for the peace talks.
The Ukrainian delegation arrives for the peace talks.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Turkey’s president Erdoğan addresses delegates ahead of peace talks

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is addressing the delegates before the process starts. I will hope to have some fuller quotes in due course but initially Reuters have a quick snap that he has said he hopes the meeting will be beneficial for the countries involved and the whole region, that Turkey has shown a fair stance on the conflict at every stage, and that a fair peace will not have a loser. He has called for an immediate ceasefire.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Photograph: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Reuters

Here is a picture of the press scrum which was greeting delegates outside of the venue for the Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul today.

Press members are seen during peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce office in Istanbul.
Press members are seen during peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce office in Istanbul.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

In the UK, education minister Will Quince has been doing the media round for the government, and has been asked several question about Ukraine on Sky News.

He expressed a wish that any peace talks would be successful, saying “as much as there is scepticism globally about whether these peace talks will be successful, I desperately hope that they are, on any terms that are acceptable to the Ukrainian president and Ukrainian people”.

Regarding the allegation of poisoning at a previous round of talks, Quince would not be drawn on the veracity of the claims. He said it was a “worrying development” and that there was “no doubt [the] UK government will be looking to establish the facts there” but that ultimately it was a matter for local authorities.

On criticism of the low numbers of refugees being processed and accepted into the UK, he was defensive of the UK government’s two schemes saying:

On the family scheme we’ve had about 23,000 people accepted on that scheme and about 8,000 of those are children … I know that number will increase.

And then on the other scheme, which is in relation to the homeless Ukrainians, British people have been absolutely incredible. Over 150,000 have expressed an interest.

He could not give a number of successful placements yet but said “many are in progress” and added: “I want to thank from the bottom of my heart everyone who’s reached out, seeing those terrible scenes in Ukraine, who is offering up their home.”

Updated

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has tweeted to call upon states around the world to criminalise the use of the “Z” symbol as a way to publicly support Russia’s war of aggression:

I call on all states to criminalise the use of the ‘Z’ symbol as a way to publicly support Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. ’Z’ means Russian war crimes, bombed out cities, thousands of murdered Ukrainians. Public support of this barbarism must be forbidden.

Updated

Summary

  • Face-to-face peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are likely to start in Turkey today after negotiators arrived in Istanbul for their first face-to-face talks in more than two weeks. Both sides have played down the chances of a major breakthrough and a senior US official said Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to compromise.
  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence released its latest intelligence report on the situation unfolding in Ukraine, claiming Ukrainian forces are continuing to conduct localised counterattacks outside Kyiv.
  • Ukraine’s military also released its latest operational report as of 6am this morning and appears to corroborate with British intelligence, claiming its forces carried out successful counterattacks in some directions.
  • More than 60 Ukrainian churches and religious buildings have been destroyed and 733 educational institutions damaged by Russian forces since the invasion first began on 24 February, according to Ukraine’s crisis centre (UCMC).
  • A total of 144 children have so far been killed and more than 220 injured as a result of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has said.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial” and called for countries to keep supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia feels it is “amongst war” with the west after an array of sanctions were imposed on Russian businesses and individuals. Referencing Russia’s ongoing tension with Nato, Peskov told broadcaster PBS: “For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective west that we are afraid of your Nato’s moving eastwards. We too are afraid of Nato getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don’t push us into the corner. No.”
  • Peskov added that “no one is thinking about using” or “even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon”.
  • Video footage purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war is being investigated by the Ukrainian government. The film, which has not been verified, appears to show Ukrainian soldiers removing three hooded Russians from a van before shooting them in the legs.
  • Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, accused Putin’s forces of abducting innocent civilians, describing the move as an “abhorrent tactic” after Ukrainian human rights group, ZMINA, claimed to have identified dozens of individuals who had been abducted, with thousands more deported to Russia.
  • The US president, Joe Biden, said he will “make no apologies” after appearing to call for Putin’s removal last week. When asked by a reporter if he regretted saying that Putin should not remain in power, Biden said: “I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt.”

Updated

Peskov added that “no one is thinking about using” or “even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon” in an interview with PBS on Monday evening.

Reporter Ryan Chilcote asked Peskov to clear up the confusion surrounding Russia’s position on a possible nuclear attack after the Russian official previously said that Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its very existence were threatened.

“So could you please clarify for us what exactly would amount to an existential threat to Russia?” Chilcote asked.

Peskov replied:

Well, first of all, we have no doubt that all the objectives of our special military operation in Ukraine will be completed. We have no doubt about that.

But any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon. We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat or the existence of our country.”

Chilcote pressed: “So, why not just clear this up right now? Why can’t you, on behalf of Russia, rule out the use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, right here?”

Dmitry Peskov replied: “No one is thinking about using, about — even about idea of using a nuclear weapon.”

‘Don’t push us into the corner’ Kremlin spokesperson warns

Vladimir Putin’s main spokesman has said that sanctions on trade and oligarchs were akin to “total war” against Russia, and that the west has pushed the Kremlin “into the corner” with Nato expansion, as officials prepare for the resumption of peace talks with Ukraine on Tuesday.

Dmitry Peskov said in an interview on American television PBS that the punitive sanctions levelled against Russia were “quite unfriendly” and made the country feel as it were at war with the US and its western allies.

Unfortunately, those conditions, they are quite unfriendly. And they are enemy, enemy-like for us. We entered the phase, the phase of a total war. And we in Russia, we will feel ourselves amongst war, because Western European countries, United States, Canada, Australia, they actually — they actually — they are leading war against us in trade, in economy, in seizing our properties, in seizing our funds, in blocking our financial relations.

And we have to adapt ourselves to new reality. You have to understand Russia. You have to understand Russia.”

Referencing Russia’s ongoing tension with Nato, Peskov said:

For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective west that we are afraid of your Nato’s moving eastwards. We too are afraid of Nato getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don’t push us into the corner. No.

Now we said, listen, guys, we are not happy with this coup in Ukraine. And you have guarantees by Poland, by France and by Germany. You would probably remember the document with the signatures of the relevant foreign ministers. No reaction.

Then, we said, listen, guys, we’re not happy with the possibility of Ukraine’s getting into Nato, because it will endanger us additionally, and it will ruin the balance of mutual deterrence in Europe. No reaction.

Then we said, listen, guys, we want equal relationship. We want to take into account each other’s concerns. If you don’t into account our concerns, then we will be a little bit nervous. No reaction completely.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that sanctions on trade and oligarchs were akin to “total war” against Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that sanctions on trade and oligarchs were akin to “total war” against Russia.
Photograph: SPUTNIK/Reuters

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has just released its latest intelligence report on the situation unfolding in Ukraine, claiming Ukrainian forces are continuing to conduct localised counterattacks outside Kyiv

The report appears to corroborate earlier operational reports released by Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces.

The British intelligence report reads:

Ukrainian forces have continued to conduct localised counterattacks to the north-west of Kyiv – including at Irpen, Bucha and Hostomel. These attacks have had some success and the Russians have been pushed back from a number of positions.

However, Russia still poses a significant threat to the city through their strike capability.

Russian forces have maintained their offensive on Mariupul with continuous heavy shelling of the city, however the centre of the city remains under Ukrainian control.

Elsewhere, Russian forces are maintaining blocking positions while attempting to reorganise and reset their forces.”

Updated

A total of 144 children have so far been killed and more than 220 injured as a result of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has said adding that the figures are probably much higher as deaths in Mariupol have not yet been confirmed.

Bombing and shelling also damaged 773 educational institutions, 75 of which were completely destroyed, the office said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Updated

More than 60 Ukrainian churches and religious buildings have been destroyed and 733 educational institutions damaged by Russian forces since the invasion first began on 24 February, according to Ukraine’s crisis centre (UCMC).

The spiritual structures – mainly Orthodox temples – were reportedly destroyed across eight regions of Ukraine: Kyiv, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Sumy, Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

“The vast majority of them are Orthodox temples. Mosques, synagogues, Protestant churches, religious educational institutions and important administrative buildings of religious organisations were also destroyed,” the agency said in a statement late on Monday.

A further 733 educational institutions were also damaged as a result of Russian bombing and shelling with 74 completely destroyed as of 28 March, the UCMC added in a separate statement.

Updated

While Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, Ukrainians are trying to preserve the symbols of their cultural heritage.

In Kyiv in particular, statues such as those flanking Mykhailivska Square and the Grand Princess Olga are surrounded by sandbags often thanks to the work of volunteers.

Volunteers cover a monument of the Princess Olga, Apostle Andrew, Cyril and Methodius.
Volunteers cover a monument of the Princess Olga, Apostle Andrew, Cyril and Methodius.
Photograph: Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
The statues in Mykhailivska Square seen protected with sandbags in Kyiv.
The statues in Mykhailivska Square are protected with sandbags in Kyiv.
Photograph: Ty ONeil/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
A man rides a bicycle backdropped by a statue of Grand Princess Olga of Kyiv, in the process of being covered in sandbags to avoid damage from potential shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
A statue of Grand Princess Olga of Kyiv, in the process of being covered in sandbags to avoid damage from potential shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Vadim Ghirdă/AP

Updated

In case you missed Joe Biden’s earlier remarks regarding his comments in Warsaw, you can watch the video from his press conference below.

During an appearance in Poland at the weekend, Biden said that Russian president Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”, which then prompted hurried efforts by other senior figures in the administration to play down the comment in the face of international criticism.

However, Biden on Monday defended the unscripted remarks, saying it reflected his own moral outrage, not an administration policy shift.

“I wasn’t then nor am I now articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt and I make no apologies,” he said. Biden added that he was “not walking anything back” by clarifying the remark. Asked whether the remark would spur a negative response from Putin, Biden said: “I don’t care what he thinks … He’s going to do what he’s going to do”.

 

Ukrainians paying for ‘weak’ sanctions with their lives, Zelenskiy says

Zelenskiy delivered some emphatic lines in his most recent national address regarding what he described as “passive” sanctions imposed by the west on Russia.

Ukraine cannot and will not agree with the passive sanctions position of some entities towards Russia. There should be no ‘suspended’ sanctions packages – that if the Russian troops do something, then there will be some answer…

We went through this story last year when we said that strong preventive sanctions against Russia were needed to prevent an invasion. The preventive package was not made. A full-scale war has begun.

There are now many hints and warnings that sanctions will be tightened, such as an embargo on Russian oil supplies to Europe, if Russia uses chemical weapons. There are simply no words.”

Zelenskiy continued to claim a tightening of sanctions now depends on Russia’s use of chemical weapons.

Just think about what it all came down to. Waiting for chemical weapons… We, living people, have to wait… Doesn’t everything that the Russian military is doing and has already done deserve an oil embargo? Don’t phosphorus bombs deserve that? Do the shelled chemical production or nuclear power plant deserve that?

Zelenskiy urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial”.

If the sanctions packages are weak or do not work enough, if they can be circumvented, it creates a dangerous illusion for the Russian leadership that they can continue to afford what they are doing now. And Ukrainians pay for it with their lives. Thousands of lives.”

 

Wrapping up his late-night address, Zelenskiy urged other countries to act with courage.

Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine.

Fear always makes you an accomplice.

If someone is afraid of Russia, if he or she is afraid to make the necessary decisions that are important to us, in particular for us to get planes, tanks, necessary artillery, shells, it makes these people responsible for the catastrophe created by Russian troops in our cities, too.

Because if you could save, you had to save.”

Ukraine repels 7 Russian attacks, armed forces say

Ukraine’s military has just released its latest operational report as of 6am this this morning, claiming its forces have carried out successful counterattacks in some directions.

Russia continues to carry out out missile-bomb strikes in an attempt to “completely destroy the infrastructure and residential quarters of Ukrainian cities”, Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said.

Such attacks in the temporarily occupied regions of Kyiv, Zaporizhzhya, Chernihiv, Kherson and Kharkiv are in violation of international humanitarian law requirements and have seen Russian troops continue to terrorise civilian populations, officials said.

“Residential houses are shot; robbed, kidnapped and held hostage,” the report read.

A total of seven Russian attacks were thwarted over the past day, with 12 tanks and 10 combat vehicles destroyed, according to officials.

Ukraine’s air force also reportedly hit 17 air targets on Monday, including 8 aircraft, 3 helicopters, 4 UAVs and 2 winged missiles. The Guardian has been unable to verify these claims.

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen near the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday.
Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen near the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

An earlier report claimed Russian troops are “weakened, disoriented” and “cut off from logistics and the main forces”.

“The command of the Russian occupying forces is trying to compensate for the decline in the combat potential of the enemy’s units by indiscriminate artillery fire and rocket-bomb attacks, thus destroying the infrastructure of Ukrainian cities,” officials from the general staff of the armed forces said.

Ukrainian forces “continue to maintain the circular defence of the city of Mariupol and defend and deter the advance of the enemy in the Chernihiv region,” the report added.

Ukrainian forces are also continuing to defend Kyiv and the settlements of Motyzhyn, Lisne, Kapitanivka and Dmytrivka, officials said.

Here are some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine today.

Apartment buildings are seen destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.

One woman looks at the destruction caused to her roof after a Russian attack inside her house near Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Women walk past a damaged building that was shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.

Statues and iconic symbols of Ukraine’s cultural heritage stand surrounded by sandbags to protect against shelling.

Women walk past a damaged building that was shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Women walk past a damaged building that was shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
A volunteer cleans rubble from the area next to destroyed buildings shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv.
A volunteer cleans rubble from the area next to destroyed buildings shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
The statues in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv are protected with sandbags.
The statues in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv are protected with sandbags.
Photograph: Ty ONeil/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
Halyna Falko, 52, looks at the destruction caused after a Russian attack inside her house near Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Halyna Falko, 52, looks at the destruction caused after a Russian attack inside her house near Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
A service member of pro-Russian troops walks near an apartment building destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.
A service member of pro-Russian troops walks near an apartment building destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Summary

Hello. Thank you for joining us for today’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

I’m Samantha Lock and I will be bringing you all the latest developments before my colleague, Martin Belam, takes over from London.

It is approaching 7am in Ukraine with peace talks expected to continue.

  • Face-to-face peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are likely to start in Turkey today after negotiators arrived in Istanbul for their first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks. Both sides have played down the chances of a major breakthrough and a senior US official said Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to compromise.
  • Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address that he had had a “very active diplomatic day” after speaking with British prime minister Boris Johnson, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi and the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.
  • Zelenskiy also urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial” and called for countries to keep supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia feels it is “amongst war” with the west after an array of sanctions were imposed on Russian businesses and individuals. Referencing Russia’s ongoing tension with Nato, Peskov told broadcaster PBS: “For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective west that we are afraid of your Nato’s moving eastwards. We too are afraid of Nato getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don’t push us into the corner. No.”
  • Peskov added “no one is thinking about using” or “even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon”.
  • Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and a Ukrainian peace negotiator suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning earlier this month, according to a source with direct knowledge of the incident. Abramovich was taking part in informal peace negotiations in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, early in March when he began to feel ill, the source told the Guardian. Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov was also part of the negotiation.
  • UK military intelligence says that Russia is expected to send more than 1,000 mercenaries into eastern Ukraine as they continue to suffer heavy losses. Russia’s private military company, the Wagner group, has already deployed to eastern Ukraine and is expected to send more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior officials in the organisation, according to the Ministry of Defence.
  • Kyiv sees no signs on the ground that Russia has given up a plan to surround the Ukrainian capital, Ukrainian defence ministry spokesperson Oleksander Motuzyanyk said. “For now we don’t see the movement of enemy forces away from Kyiv,” he said in a televised briefing. Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces claimed Russian troops are “weakened, disoriented” and “cut off from logistics and the main forces”.
  • Ukrainian forces have seized back full control of the town of Irpin, a few miles from Kyiv. The area’s mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn. said Irpin had been “liberated” and that Russian soldiers were “offering to surrender”. The United States cannot confirm who is in control of the city of Irpin, a senior US defence official said.
  • Russian soldiers who seized the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster drove unprotected through a highly toxic zone called the “Red Forest”, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust, Chernobyl workers told Reuters. The two sources said they had witnessed Russian tanks and other armoured vehicles moving through the Red Forest, which is the most radioactively contaminated part of the zone around Chernobyl.
  • Almost 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in the devastated city of Mariupol since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, a spokesperson for the mayor said. Vadym Boichenko said Mariupol was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe and must be completely evacuated, with about 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power.
  • Ukraine’s economy minister, Yulia Svyrydenko, said the war has so far cost the country $564.9bn (£429.3bn) in terms of damage to infrastructure, lost economic growth and other factors. Eight thousand kilometres (4,970 miles) of roads and 10m sq metres of housing have been damaged or destroyed as a result of fighting, she said in an online post.
  • Video footage purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war is being investigated by the Ukrainian government. The film, which has not been verified, appears to show Ukrainian soldiers removing three hooded Russians from a van before shooting them in the legs.
  • US president Joe Biden said he will “make no apologies” after appearing to call for Putin’s removal last week. When asked by a reporter if he regretted saying that Putin should not remain in power, Biden said: “I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt.”
  • Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, accused Putin’s forces of abducting innocent civilians, describing the move as an “abhorrent tactic” after Ukrainian human rights group, ZMINA, claimed to have identified dozens of individuals who had been abducted, with thousands more deported to Russia.

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Corona Virus, US NEWS, World

‘We’re way behind’: next US booster rollout faces delays and lack of funds

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘We’re way behind’: next US booster rollout faces delays and lack of funds” was written by Melody Schreiber, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th March 2022 09.00 UTC

As vaccine makers seek authorization for a fourth dose of their Covid vaccines in America, existing delays with vaccination and a lack of federal funding could slow the next booster rollout across the country, experts say.

“We’re way behind the eight-ball,” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. The rollout of the first round of boosters, authorized in the US last fall, “just fell off the cliff”, with many Americans still not realizing they are eligible or that the booster is recommended.

With a potential second booster on the horizon for vulnerable groups, the Biden administration is still struggling to drum up American public interest in additional shots – and funding from Congress to pay for Covid initiatives.

“We’re out of money pretty much for the pandemic spending, which is terrifying because we don’t know what’s coming around the corner,” said Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Pfizer-BioNtech asked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 15 March for another round of boosters for those 65 and up, while Moderna went a step further and asked on 17 March for more boosters among those 18 and up to give the FDA “flexibility” in considering who would benefit from additional shots, including vulnerable younger people, the company said.

The doses in question would be the original formulation of the vaccines. Omicron-specific vaccines are still in the trial phase, but scientists believe updating the vaccines as the virus evolves could broaden immune responses to future variants.

A $15bn funding package for testing, treatment, vaccines and more was cut unexpectedly from an omnibus spending bill in Congress on 9 March.

Health officials spoke to Democratic senators about the urgent need for Covid funding in a meeting on Wednesday, Politico reports, but the plan may meet with opposition: Republicans, who were not at the meeting, say the White House’s $22.5bn request must be accompanied with equal cuts to government spending elsewhere.

There is enough funding to give fourth doses of the vaccines to immunocompromised people, who already qualify for the shots, and for those over 65, if the shot is authorized for them in coming weeks, the coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said at a White House briefing on Wednesday.

But wider booster campaigns would not have funding under the current budget shortfalls, and first- and second-shot campaigns could also be affected in the longer term.

The funding collapse may also affect future research on updated vaccines and treatments. “Maybe we will see a new variant that’s escaped all of these, and we need a new vaccine,” Wallace said. Without funding to create and then distribute the updated vaccines, “that is going to be an issue”.

Three doses were on average 94% effective against needing mechanical ventilation or dying during the Omicron surge, according to research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published on Friday.

That kind of effectiveness is “a miracle”, Topol said. “That’s incredible, but that’s never been conveyed to the public – it’s amazing to me.”

“If we had a chemo that would do that for cancer – increase the odds of survival by that much – everybody with cancer would want to get it,” Wallace said.

Yet only about 29% of the US population has been boosted. Less than half (44%) of all Americans who received their initial shots continued in the series, although that figure is higher (67%) in those aged 65 and older.

“There was a huge push to get people fully vaccinated, which was the two doses, but not as big of a push for the booster,” Wallace said. “A lot of people just don’t understand that the booster is now available to everybody.”

When the boosters were first rolled out, they were limited to certain populations, including older and immune-compromised Americans as well as health workers, before they were opened to all adults and eventually to children 12 and up.

“There was mass confusion, and that’s why the uptake is so poor,” Topol said.

Some populations – including older Americans and health workers – received their first boosters last fall, raising concerns about waning efficacy among those who are most at-risk of getting or becoming very sick from the virus.

The effectiveness of the third dose at preventing hospitalization wanes to 78% four months after the booster, according to another recent CDC report.

In a recent study from Israel, a fourth mRNA dose increased antibody levels and protected against infection slightly better.

The members of the FDA’s independent advisory committee will meet on 6 April to discuss booster authorization policies moving forward, especially in the light of new and emerging variants.

No vote is scheduled for the advisers’ meeting, which will focus on a framework for boosters rather than specific applications for authorization.

The CDC recommends that everyone 12 and up who received two doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should also receive a booster dose two or five months later, depending on the vaccine.

Immunocompromised people – including those undergoing treatment for cancer, organ transplant recipients, people living with HIV, and patients regularly taking immune-suppressing drugs like corticosteroids – already qualify for a fourth dose, because they may not mount a strong or lasting response to the initial three shots. Roughly 2.7% of Americans, or about 9 million people, are immunocompromised.

Officials also need to step up efforts to vaccinate those who aren’t fully vaccinated, representing about one-third of the US population. “We need to somehow try to make inroads in that group, because it’s big,” Wallace said.

And vaccinating the rest of the world is key for ending surges of the virus and the emergence of new variants globally.

These three groups – the immunocompromised, those over 65, and those who haven’t been vaccinated – should take priority before others receive fourth doses, Wallace said.

The US is likely to see another wave of Covid and vaccines can take weeks to become fully effective, making vaccination campaigns urgent now, experts said.

“It is good that there’s a lull in circulating virus – that’s wonderful,” Topol said. “This is the time to get protected for the next wave, of which there will be one or two or more – but that hasn’t been conveyed.

“People have been lulled into a zone of complacency, which is unfortunate,” Topol said. “It’s understandable after all the fatigue, and everyone is so sick of this, but it’s not what’s in the cards, and we need to prepare, defend and protect people.”

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