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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