Russia-Ukraine war latest news: invaders ‘cannot conquer us’, Zelenskiy says, as 13,000 flee besieged cities – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest news: invaders ‘cannot conquer us’, Zelenskiy says, as 13,000 flee besieged cities – live” was written by Samantha Lock (now); Vivian Ho, Miranda Bryant, Léonie Chao-Fong and Helen Livingstone (earlier), for theguardian.com on Sunday 13th March 2022 02.44 UTC

The separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region of Ukraine was particularly hard hit by Russian shelling on Saturday.

A local hospital was destroyed, forcing people to gather in the basement as pro-Russian troop service members in uniforms were seen standing guard nearby.

Medical workers stand outside a local hospital, which was destroyed from shelling in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Medical workers stand outside a local hospital, which was destroyed from shelling in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
People gather in the basement of a local Volnovakha hospital.
People gather in the basement of a local Volnovakha hospital.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Local residents and service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms walk past a residential building which was damaged during the conflict.
Local residents and service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms walk past a residential building which was damaged during the conflict.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia stand guard outside a local police department in Volnovakha.
Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia stand guard outside a local police department in Volnovakha.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
A woman stands outside a destroyed hospital in Volnovakha.
A woman stands outside a destroyed hospital in Volnovakha.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Russia installs new mayor in Melitopol – reports

The Russian military has reportedly installed a new mayor in the occupied south-eastern Ukrainian city Melitopol following the alleged abduction of mayor Ivan Fedorov on Friday afternoon.

Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, earlier said Fedorov had been kidnapped and detained by a group of 10 armed men from the Russian forces.

Melitopol’s newly installed mayor is believed to be Galina Danilchenko, a former member of the city council, according to a statement on the Zaporozhye regional administration website, as reported by Ukrainian media, CNN and the BBC.

 

Danilchenko was reportedly introduced as the acting mayor on local TV where she made a televised statement saying her “main task is to take all necessary steps to get the city back to normal.”

She claimed there were people still in Melitopol who would try to destabilise “the situation and provoke a reaction of bad behaviour.”

“I ask you to keep your wits about you and not to give in to these provocations,” Danilchenko said. “I appeal to the deputies, elected by the people, on all levels. Since you were elected by the people, it is your duty to care about the well-being of your citizens.”

“This committee will be tasked with administrative responsibilities on the territory of Melitopol and the Melitopol region,” she added.

Updated

Russia’s central bank will continue to keep the Moscow stock market closed to trading next week with the Moscow Exchange to remain closed from March 14 to 18, the central bank announced on Saturday.

The foreign exchange market, money market and repo market will remain open on those days, the statement said. A decision on trading next week will be made in the coming days.

Online auction site eBay has said that it is blocking all transactions involving Russian addresses due to “service interruptions by payment vendors and major shipping carriers.”

A spokesperson told CNBC:

We stand with Ukraine and are taking a number of steps to support the Ukrainian people and our sellers in the region.

As a result of service interruptions by payment vendors and major shipping carriers, we have temporarily suspended all transactions involving Russian addresses and transactions involving Ukraine addresses may experience delays.”

The company is taking a number of steps to support Ukrainians and sellers in the region, including waiving seller fees, protecting sellers from late shipment penalties and negative feedback and matching employee donations to organisations helping Ukraine.

The e-commerce company has already removed all products related to Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing its policy against items that promote or glorify hatred or violence.

Strategic uncertainty in Russian military leadership, Ukraine says

The Ukrainian ministry of defence has just released its daily operational report as of 10pm Saturday, local time.

According to military officials, an “uncertainty of the military leadership of the Russian federation in matters of strategic objectives” and fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces has hindered Russia’s operational goals.

“Measures are being taken to restore combat capability and regroup troops. The enemy is trying to reconnoitre and clarify the positions of the armed forces of Ukraine and possible ways of attack,” the report reads.

A convoy of Russian troops seen outside the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
A convoy of Russian troops seen outside the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Officials also warn of a “high probability” of direct participation of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus against Ukraine as well as an increase in operation reserves from the airborne forces.

“Military and civilian infrastructure continues to be destroyed,” while Russian forces continue attempts to storm the city of Mariupol.

Updated

Here is what the UK Sunday papers are reporting about Ukraine, with the government’s offer of £350 a month for people to house Ukrainian refugees the most popular top line:

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy made another national address, claiming Russian forces have neither the strength nor the spirit to conquer Ukraine.

Posting a video to his social media accounts late Saturday evening, Zelenskiy pleaded for more aid while noting humanitarian corridors in Ukraine have been working with 12,729 people evacuated on Saturday.

The Russian invaders cannot conquer us. They do not have such strength. They do not have such spirit. They are holding only on violence. Only on terror. Only on weapons, which they have a lot.

But the invaders have no natural basis for normal life. So that people can feel happy and dream. They are organically incapable of making life normal! Wherever Russia has come to a foreign land, dreams are impossible.

I keep reiterating to our allies and friends abroad; they have to keep doing more for our country, for Ukrainians and Ukraine. Because it is not only for Ukraine, but it is for all of Europe.

The evil which purposefully targets peaceful cities and ambulance vans and explodes hospitals will not stop with just one country if they have the strength to keep going.

All of the humanitarian corridors, by the way, which were agreed to – they have worked,” he said, adding “and then there will be humanitarian aid to Mariupol [but] because of difficulties, they had to stop in Gdansk.”

Updated

The seven women and children who Ukraine said were killed when Russian forces attacked a convoy escaping a village in the Kyiv region on Saturday were not as previously stated in an agreed evacuation corridor, the defence ministry said in a statement about midnight.

Ukraine’s intelligence service initially said Russia fired at a convoy of civilian evacuees who had been in a “green corridor” agreed with Russia from the village of Peremoha.

A defence ministry statement later said people had in fact tried to escape by themselves, “so they began evacuating without the ‘green corridor’ agreed by the parties”.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met Russian President Vladimir Putin for several hours on Thursday evening in a bid to end the war in Ukraine, Germany’s Bild am Sonntag (BamS) reported, although it was unclear what was achieved.

Citing a person with detailed insight into Schroeder’s activities, the newspaper said Schroeder had also had a long talk with one of Putin’s closest advisers.

He left Moscow early on Saturday morning with his wife and flew to Istanbul, the paper said, without disclosing any further details of the conversations.

The former chancellor, who is a personal friend of Putin and has links to Russian companies, had met a group of Ukrainians with links to the country’s delegation for peace talks with Russia in Turkey on Monday evening, reported BamS.

The source told BamS that Schroeder was currently the only person to have had direct contact with both Putin and top Ukrainian officials.

Politico reported the meeting had not been agreed to with German government sources. Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to comment on the meeting beyond saying that he would take note of any results and include them in other efforts he was involved in.

Schroeder, Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor from 1998 to 2005, is on the board of Russian oil giant Rosneft and is chairman of the shareholders’ committee of the company in charge of building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has been shelved.

He has faced calls from some German government politicians to step down from his roles over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Updated

Brits to £350 a month for housing Ukrainian refugees

Brits who open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion will get £350 a month under a “cash for accommodation” scheme, as ministers try to make amends for the UK’s chaotic response to the crisis.

In a humiliation for Priti Patel, the home secretary, who has been heavily criticised for failing to remove bureaucratic visa requirements for refugees that have been waived by other European countries, fellow cabinet minister Michael Gove announced the plan last night, calling for a “national effort” on behalf of people in desperate need.

Gove, secretary for levelling up, housing and communities said: “The crisis in Ukraine has sent shock waves across the world as hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything they know and love.”

Under the scheme Ukrainians who are matched and housed with a UK “sponsor” will be granted leave to remain for three years. They will be able to work, claim benefits and access public services in that time.

Updated

Summary

It’s 2am in Ukraine now.

  • New satellite imagery of Mariupol is showing the widespread damage suffered since Russian forces surrounded the city 12 days ago. More than 1,500 civilians have been killed, and humanitarian aid groups say those remaining have not had access to water or medications in days. The constant shelling of the city has made it difficult to evacuate civilians and bring in supplies.
  • The rate of refugees crossing the Ukrainian border has slowed, but Ukraine’s neighboring countries are still struggling to provide shelter for the estimated 2.6 million who have fled since the Russians invaded last month. About 13,000 refugees were evacuated through humanitarian corridors today.
  • France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, spoke to Russian president Vladimir Putin by phone on Saturday and urged him to order an immediate ceasefire. But a French official said: “We did not detect a willingness on Putin’s part to end the war”.
  • Ukrainian officials informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, that Russia was planning to take “full and permanent” control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant – an allegation that Russia denies.
  • The Russian army has suffered its biggest losses in decades, according to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He said 31 Russian battalion tactical groups have now been rendered incapable of combat.
  • At least 79 children have been killed and more than 100 have been injured so far in the war, according to Ukrainian officials.
  • Seven civilians have died after coming under Russian fire while trying to flee fighting near Kyiv. Ukraine initially accused Russia of firing at a convoy of civilian evacuees from the village of Peremoha while they were in a designated humnitarian corridor, but later said it was not such a route.
  • People have taken to the streets of cities all over the world to protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including in Berlin, Warsaw, London, New York and Los Angeles.
  • US president Joe Biden has authorised $200m in weapons and other assistance for Ukraine, the White House has said.

That’s all from me. I’ll be turning over coverage to my colleague, Samantha Lock. Thank you for reading.

Updated

The Maxar Technologies satellite photos of Mariupol, released today, shows just some of the devastation wrought by Russian forces since they surrounded the southern Ukraine port city 12 days ago.

More than 1,500 civilians have died. Humanitarian aid groups on the ground are reporting that the residents remaining have no access to running water or medications.

Artillery craters in the fields and damaged buildings in the Zhovtnevyi district of western Mariupol
Artillery craters in the fields and damaged buildings in the Zhovtnevyi district of western Mariupol.
Photograph: AP
Burning apartment buildings on Zelinskovo Street in western Mariupol
Burning apartment buildings on Zelinskovo Street in western Mariupol.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Apartment buildings and fire in western Mariupol
Apartment buildings and fire in western Mariupol.
Photograph: Maxar Technologies/Reuters
Fires in an industrial area in the Primorskyi district of western Mariupol
Fires in an industrial area in the Primorskyi district of western Mariupol.
Photograph: AP

Updated

Across the US, protesters gathered at “Close the Sky” rallies to call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

People sing the Ukrainian national anthem in Times Square, New York, during a “Close the Sky” rally calling for a no-fly zone over Ukraine
People sing the Ukrainian national anthem in Times Square, New York, during a “Close the Sky” rally calling for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Marchers wave signs and chant “Stop the war”, “Ban Russian oil”, “Ukraine is not Russia” and “Close the sky” as they circle Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand in Boston
Marchers wave signs and chant “Stop the war”, “Ban Russian oil”, “Ukraine is not Russia” and “Close the sky” as they circle Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand in Boston.
Photograph: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images
A woman holds a sign saying “Close the skies over Ukraine, pray for Ukraine!” at a rally in front of the White House in Washington
A woman holds a sign saying “Close the skies over Ukraine, pray for Ukraine!” at a rally in front of the White House in Washington.
Photograph: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
Demonstrators rally in support of Ukraine in Santa Monica, California
Demonstrators rally in support of Ukraine in Santa Monica, California.
Photograph: Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Ukraine’s neighbors struggling to find shelter for refugees

While the rate of refugees streaming over the Ukrainian border has slowed as of today, Ukraine’s neighboring countries are still struggling to provide shelter for the estimated 2.6 million refugees, Reuters is reporting.

Hungary has received over 230,000 refugees, with 10,530 arriving on Friday. Romania reported 380,866, including 16,348 on Friday. Slovakia said it had 185,660 arrivals, with most continuing their journey further west, often to the Czech Republic, where officials on Friday estimated the number of refugees at 200,000.

Two-thirds of those fleeing have gone to Poland, an estimated 1.3 million – Poland’s border guard said 76,200 people arrived on Friday, which was actually a 12% drop from the day before.

Updated

Ukraine: Russia planning to take full control of Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant

Ukraine officials informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, that Russia was planning to take “full and permanent” control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant – an allegation that Russia denied.

Russian forces seized control of the plant – the largest of its kind in Europe – last week after an attack that started a fire close to one of its six reactors and drew condemnation from a number of world leaders as being reckless and irresponsible.

Since then, about 400 Russian soldiers were “being present full time on site” and the plant remains under the control of the Russian military forces’ commander, as Petro Kotin, president of Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator Energoatom, wrote in a letter to the UN.

Efforts to repair damaged power lines at the Chernobyl nuclear plant were also ongoing.

Updated

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, spoke to Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, about receiving assistance in securing the release of Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, who was taken captive by Russian forces on Friday.

At least 79 children have been killed and more than 100 injured in the Russian war on Ukraine:

In addition to death and injury, in the chaos of trying to escape the bloodshed, children are going missing at the Ukrainian border, with humanitarian aid groups reporting instances of human trafficking.

Read more here:

Updated

About 13,000 Ukrainians evacuated through humanitarian corridors

Reuters is reporting that about 13,000 Ukrainians were able to be evacuated through humanitarian corridors today. However, out of the besieged port city of Mariupol, where at least 1,582 civilians have already been killed, the convoy failed to leave.

The regional governor of Donetsk has said that the constant shelling of the southern Ukrainian city of 430,000 people has complicated getting aid and supplies through to those who need it, as well as complicated the ability to get people out safely.

“They are bombing it (Mariupol) 24 hours a day, launching missiles. It is hatred. They kill children,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said during a video address.

Russian soldiers pillaged a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach Mariupol and blocked another, a Ukrainian official told the Associated Press.

Russian forces have had Mariupol surrounded for at least 12 days, and Ukraine’s military said today that Russians forces had captured the city’s eastern outskirts, tightening their hold on the strategic port.

Taking Mariupol and other ports along the Azov Sea could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. But as of today, Mariupol remained in Ukrainian control.

While Ukrainians continue to defend their homeland on the ground, elsewhere around the world, others are putting pressure on their governments to punish the Russian government through other means besides warfare.

In London, protesters took aim at Polina Kovaleva, the 26-year-old stepdaughter of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian minister of foreign affairs.

They are calling for Kovaleva and the rest of Lavrov’s family to be sanctioned and ejected from the United Kingdom, under an unexplained wealth order order – under British law, a “politically exposed person” must explain the origin of assets that “appear to be disproportionate to their known lawfully obtained income”.

Updated

Croatia criticizes Nato following crash of Soviet-era drone

Croatian officials criticized Nato today for what they described as a slow reaction to a military drone crashing into a field near a student dormitory in the Croatian capital, the Associated Press is reporting.

The Soviet-era Tu-141 “Strizh” reconnaissance drone apparently flew from the Ukrainian war zone through the airspace of three Nato member states – Romania, Hungary and Croatia – before coming down in the capital city of Zagreb, damaging about 40 parked cars. No one was hurt.

Both Russia and Ukraine have denied launching the drone, but military experts say Ukraine is the only known current operator of the Tu-141.

Nato, which exists in part to help protect and alert its member states from surprise occurrences such as this, said the alliance’s integrated air and missile defense had tracked the drone’s flight path. But Andrej Plenković, Croatian prime minister, said Nato reacted only after questions were posed by journalists.

“We cannot tolerate this situation, nor should it have ever happened,” Plenković said while visiting the crash site.

“This was a pure and clear threat and both Nato and the EU should have reacted,” he said. “We will work to raise the readiness not only of us but of others as well. “

Updated

Extensive damage to civilian infrastructure in besieged port city Mariupol

Reuters is reporting that new satellite imagery from today revealed extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and buildings throughout the city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine.

Russian forces had surrounded Mariupol more than a week ago, and have been shelling it steadily ever since. Today, Russian forces shelled a mosque that had been sheltering 80 adults and children, as well as Turkish citizens. Footage posted on Twitter today also showed a Russian tank firing at apartment buildings.

At least 1,582 civilians have been killed in Mariupol. Despite the constant attacks, Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control.

Updated

While 2.5 million Ukrainians have now fled their homeland and become refugees, the state border guard service is reporting that hundreds of thousands are returning as well – many to fight for their country.

Updated

All around Europe today, demonstrators protested the Russian invasion of Ukraine and gathered in solidarity with Ukrainians.

Protesters on Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Protesters on Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Photograph: Ramon An Flymen/EPA
A carnival float in Berlin, designed by German float artist Jacques Tilly, shows Vladimir Putin trying to swallow the country of Ukraine with the words ‘Choke on it!!!’
A carnival float in Berlin, designed by German float artist Jacques Tilly, shows Vladimir Putin trying to swallow the country of Ukraine with the words ‘Choke on it!!!’.
Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA
Balloons in the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine’s flag accompany a demonstration titled ‘Mothers are calling: stop shooting the children’ in Warsaw, Poland
Balloons in the colours of Ukraine’s flag accompany a demonstration titled ‘Mothers are calling: stop shooting the children’ in Warsaw, Poland.
Photograph: Mateusz Marek/EPA
Protesters hold Ukrainian flags and posters at a ‘Stand with Ukraine’ demonstration in Republique Square in Paris, France
Protesters hold Ukrainian flags and posters at a ‘Stand with Ukraine’ demonstration in Republique Square in Paris, France.
Photograph: Christophe Petit-Tesson/EPA

Updated

The Russian defense ministry said that the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is continuing to decline rapidly, Reuters is reporting.

Amid accusations today that Russian troops shot civilian evacuees, including children, the Russian defense ministry is also saying that Ukraine is not opening up humanitarian corridors to Russia.

Updated

The Kyiv Independent is reporting that the Security Service of Ukraine has intercepted phone calls that prove that Russian troops near Kharkiv were ordered to shoot at civilians, including children.

The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights has documented, as of Tuesday, at least 170 people killed in the Kharkiv region – including five children.

Updated

Hey there, Vivian Ho here, taking over our rolling coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Please get in touch with any tips or suggestions: vivian.ho@guardian.co.uk. It is 8.30pm in Ukraine now.

The Associated Press is reporting that about 6,500 Russian tourists are stranded in Thailand’s beach resorts because of the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.

With many of their assets frozen because of sanctions and their flights canceled by airlines that have stopped flying to Russia, many have no way of getting home. A select few, according to Yuthasak Supasorn, the governor of the tourism authority of Thailand, are also choosing to delay their return.

In addition to the 6,500 Russians stuck in Thailand, there are 1,000 Ukrainians who are unable to return to their homeland because it is under attack.

Updated

Here’s a summary of the latest developments…

  • The Ukrainian intelligence service says seven civilians have died after Russian troops fired at an evacuation convoy in the Kyiv region. Ukraine accused Russia of firing at a convoy of civilian evacuees from the village of Peremoha.
  • US president Joe Biden has authorised $200m in weapons and other assistance for Ukraine, the White House has said. In a memorandum to the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, Biden directed that the funds be allocated through the Foreign Assistance Act and designated for Ukraine’s defence.
  • The Ukrainian foreign minister said Russia is using similar tactics in Ukraine to what it did in Syria and that Mariupol is besieged but still under Ukrainian control. Dmytro Kuleba also said that Russia tried to make a logistics base near Chernobyl.
  • The US has said it is willing to take diplomatic steps to help the Ukrainian government. A state department spokesperson made the comments on Saturday after the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the west should be more involved in negotiations to end the war.

That’s it from me for today. Handing over now to my colleague Vivian Ho. Thanks for reading.

Updated

Russia will have to seek alternative sources to reinforce their “overstretched regular forces”, the UK’s ministry of defence has said in its latest intelligence update.

The MoD tweeted:

President Putin has publicly welcomed the recruitment of ‘16,000 mostly Middle Eastern volunteers’ to support his invasion of Ukraine.

Syrian mercenaries have deployed alongside Russian proxy forces in Libya since late 2020.

This follows earlier reporting that Russia was also planning to deploy experienced mercenaries from Russian Private Military Companies to support the invasion.

Russia this week has also been forced to acknowledge the use of conscript soldiers in its operations against Ukraine.

As losses mount, Russia will be forced to draw on alternative sources to reinforce their overstretched regular forces.

Updated

The regional governor of Donetsk has said that constant shelling is complicating bringing aid into Mariupol, reports Reuters.

Updated

Seven civilians dead in Kyiv region after Russia fired at evacuation convoy

The Ukrainian intelligence service says seven civilians have died after Russian troops fired at an evacuation convoy in the Kyiv region.

Ukraine accused Russia of firing at a convoy of civilian evacuees from the village of Peremoha, reports Reuters.

“After the attack, the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back to Peremoha and are not letting them out of the village,” the intelligence service said in a statement.

Russia has denied targeting civilians since the start of the invasion on 24 February.

Updated

Thousands of people filled one of Florence’s biggest squares today to show their support for Ukraine.

Residents of Florence, which is the twin city of Kyiv, watched a speech by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and waved blue and yellow flags in Piazza Santa Croce as church bells tolled 17 times – once for each day since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Thousands attend a Cities Stand With Ukraine event in Florence today in support of the country.
Thousands attend a Cities Stand With Ukraine event in Florence today in support of the country.
Photograph: Claudio Giovannini/EPA

“Russians are under a dictatorship and cannot understand why they came to destroy our cities and kill our children,” Lesia Mykhailenko, who was born in Donetsk and now works for a law firm in Florence, told Reuters. “I cannot hate them because our bonds have lasted for centuries,” she added.

In his speech, which was broadcast to dozens of European cities as part of Cities Stand with Ukraine, Zelenskiy said that 79 children had been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. He also called for more sanctions against Moscow and a no-fly zone.

Updated

Residents in Kyiv awoke to the sound of air raid sirens in the early hours of this morning which were followed by gunfire and explosions.

Sirens also reportedly sounded in Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Cherkasy and Sumy.

 

Updated

Thousands of people protested in the Ukrainian city of Melitopol earlier today after the alleged arrest of its mayor, Ivan Fedorov, by Russian forces.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of violating international law by abducting the mayor after he was falsely accused of terrorism.

Here is video footage of the protest, provided by the deputy head for the president’s office in Ukraine:

 

Biden authorises $200m in weapons and other assistance for Ukraine

US president Joe Biden has authorised $200m in weapons and other assistance for Ukraine, the White House has said.

In a memorandum to the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, Biden directed that the funds be allocated through the Foreign Assistance Act and designated for Ukraine’s defence, reports Reuters.

The new funds can be used for weapons, defence articles from the stock of the defence department and military education and training.

It comes after the US Congress approved $13.6bn in emergency aid for Ukraine.

Ukrainian foreign minister says Russia using similar tactics in Ukraine to what it did in Syria

The Ukrainian foreign minister said Russia is using similar tactics in Ukraine to what it did in Syria and that Mariupol is besieged but still under Ukrainian control, reports Reuters.

Dmytro Kuleba also said that Russia tried to make a logistics base near Chernobyl.

He said that although Russia and Ukraine are talking and that they remain open to diplomacy, Russia is still putting forward demands that are unacceptable.

Ukraine is ready to negotiate but will not surrender, he said.

Kuleba said Ukraine needs help to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes and that more needs to be done to hit the Russian economy.

If they had more planes, he said more civilian lives would have been saved.

He said he believes that Belarus is not willing to send troops to Ukraine – despite being under pressure from Russia.

Updated

US says it is willing to take diplomatic steps to help Ukraine

The US has said it is willing to take diplomatic steps to help the Ukrainian government, reports Reuters.

A state department spokesperson made the comments on Saturday after the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the west should be more involved in negotiations to end the war.

“If there are diplomatic steps that we can take that the Ukrainian government believes would be helpful, we’re prepared to take them,” the spokesperson said.

“We are working to put the Ukrainians in the strongest possible negotiating position, including by increasing pressure on Russia by imposing severe costs and by providing security assistance to help Ukrainians defend themselves.”

Hi, I’m looking after the blog for the next couple of hours. Please get in touch with any tips or suggestions: miranda.bryant@guardian.co.uk

Updated

Summary

It’s 6pm in Ukraine. Here’s where we stand now:

  • Russian forces are advancing towards Kyiv, with the bulk of ground forces now about 25km from the centre of the capital, according to the UK’s latest defence intelligence report. Air raid sirens were sounding in Kyiv in the early hours of Saturday morning.
  • Russian forces bombarded cities across the country on Friday and appeared to be regrouping for a possible assault. Two oil depots near Kyiv caught on fire after Russian attacks, one in the town of Vasylkiv which is also home to a large airbase and has become a major Russian target, local media reported.
  • Belarus has denied plans to join the Russian invasion. The country’s armed forces’ chief of general staff, Viktor Gulevich, said Belarus had no plans to enter into the war but is sending five battalion tactical groups to its border with Ukraine on rotation to replace forces already there.
  • Speaking at a news briefing today, Zelenskiy insisted any negotiations with Russia must begin with a ceasefire, but that he was open to discussions with Putin. The Ukrainian leader added that he had discussed the possibility of negotiations being held in Jerusalem with the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett.
  • The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, spoke to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. They echoed Zelenskiy’s call for a ceasefire as a condition for structured negotiations, but a French presidency official said Putin did not appear ready to end the war.
  • Russian forces are reportedly planning to conduct a “pseudo referendum” in Kherson, the Ukrainian city under Russian occupation. The deputy head of the local council in Kherson told Reuters that it wants to create a new breakaway republic.
  • Italian authorities seized a €530m (£444m) superyacht owned by Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko as part of EU sanctions. Sy A – short for Sailing Yacht A – was seized on Friday evening in the port of Trieste after being identified by Italian police as belonging to the billionaire owner of EuroChem Group, a major fertiliser producer, and the coal company SUEK.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand over the blog to my colleague Miranda Bryant. Goodbye for now.

Updated

Anastasia Erashova cries as she hugs the only one of her three children still alive. Anastasia’s two other children were killed during the shelling of Mariupol.
Anastasia Erashova cries as she hugs the only one of her three children still alive. Anastasia’s two other children were killed during the shelling of Mariupol.
Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Russians army tanks move down a street on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Russians army tanks move down a street on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
A man walks amid the debris of a cultural centre and an administration building that were destroyed during a bomb raid in the village of Byshiv outside Kyiv.
A man walks amid the debris of a cultural centre and an administration building that were destroyed during a bomb raid in the village of Byshiv outside Kyiv.
Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Updated

The eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha has been completely destroyed following the Russian invasion, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said today, Reuters reports.

Fighting continues for territory there to prevent a Russian encirclement, he said.

From the Kyiv Independent’s Illia Ponomarenko:

Putin did not show willingness to end war in call, French official says

A French presidency official said the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, did not show a willingness to end a war with Ukraine during a call today with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, Reuters reports.

The French and German leaders reiterated their call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine as a condition for full negotiations, the official said.

Updated

Russia can only take Kyiv if it razes it to the ground, Zelenskiy says

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has been speaking at a news conference in Kyiv, where he told reporters that Russia can only take the Ukrainian capital if it “razes the city to the ground”, Reuters reports.

Zelenskiy said he was open to discussions with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, adding that he had discussed the possibility of negotiations being held in Jerusalem with the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett.

He said he hoped Bennett would have a “positive influence” on peace talks with Russia.

Zelenskiy’s comments came after an unidentified Ukrainian government official said the Israeli PM had urged Zelenskiy to accept an offer made by Putin to end the war, as reported by Israel’s Walla news, the Jerusalem Post and US news site Axios.

Mikhail Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskiy, denied the media report while a senior Israeli officer described it as “patently false”.

At no point did Prime Minister Bennett advise President Zelenskiy to take a deal from Putin – because no such deal was offered to Israel for us to be able to do so. Bennett has at no point told Zelenskiy how to act, nor does he have any intention to.

Updated

Footage appears to show the mayor of the south-eastern Ukraine city Melitopol being marched away by Russian soldiers.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said the mayor, Ivan Fedorov, had been kidnapped by a group of 10 armed men from Russian forces, who put a plastic bag over his head.

 

Around 1,300 Ukrainian troops killed since Russian invasion, Zelenskiy says

Speaking at a news briefing, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said around 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed since the start of the Russian invasion.

He also claimed that around 500-600 Russian troops surrendered to Ukrainian forces on Friday.

The Guardian cannot independently verify these figures.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian and Russian negotiating teams had started discussing concrete topics rather than exchanging ultimatums.

The west should be more involved in negotiations to end the war, he said.

Updated

The European Union faces soaring energy prices in the wake of sanctions imposed against Russia over events in Ukraine, a Russian foreign ministry official said, Reuters reports.

Russia was a reliable supplier of energy but was ready for a tough confrontation in the sector if necessary, Interfax quoted Nikolai Kobrinets as saying. He did not provide details of what that confrontation might entail.

The EU could end up paying at least three times more for oil, gas and electricity, he said.

I believe the European Union would not benefit from this – we have more durable supplies and stronger nerves.

Photograph taken on March 12, 2022 shows a destroyed tram depot in Kharkiv.
A destroyed tram depot in Kharkiv.
Photograph: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images
A refugee who fled the war in Ukraine rests at Przemyśl train station, south-eastern Poland.
A refugee who fled the war in Ukraine rests at Przemyśl train station, south-eastern Poland.
Photograph: Daniel Cole/AP

Updated

Russian forces may be deliberating attacking Ukrainian food supplies in their attacks, Channel 4 News’ Lindsey Hilsum says.

Updated

Russian forces reportedly planning ‘pseudo referendum’ in Kherson

Russian forces are reportedly planning to conduct a “pseudo referendum” in Kherson, the Ukrainian city under Russian occupation.

The deputy head of the local council in Kherson told Reuters that it wants to create a new breakaway republic.

French and German leaders urge immediate ceasefire in call with Putin

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine in a call with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Reuters reports.

According to a German government spokesperson:

The conversation is part of ongoing international efforts to end the war in Ukraine.

The spokesperson said the participants agreed to say nothing further about the substance of the phone call.

Scholz had earlier spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about the situation, they added.

During the call, Putin briefed them on talks between Russia and Ukraine, the Kremlin told the news agency.

Updated

Zelenskiy says any negotiations with Russia must begin with ceasefire

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said that any negotiations with Russia will have to begin with a ceasefire as he accused the west of insufficient involvement in peace talks.

He said Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams have started talking about concrete topics as opposed to exchanging ultimatums, reports Reuters.

He also said some small Ukrainian towns have ceased to exist as a result of the war.

He said he does not see bravery from Nato on Ukraine and doesn’t see common consensus to accept the country joining the alliance.

Updated

British people who want to host Ukrainian refugees in their home under a new government scheme will have to do so for a minimum of six months, reports the Times.

At the moment Britain’s visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees is limited to those with family members already settled in the UK.

But under another plan, expected to be launched on Monday, individuals and companies will be permitted to sponsor Ukrainians with no ties to the UK.

However, the Times reports that hosts taking part in the scheme will have to commit to a minimum of six months.

A government source told the newspaper:

It’s about making sure we have secure offers. Unfortunately it’s going to need to be a long-term scheme as it doesn’t look like they’ll be going home any time soon.

More details of the SY A superyacht sezied by Italian authorities last night:

Italian authorities have seized a €530m (£444m) superyacht owned by Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko as part of EU sanctions following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sy A – short for Sailing Yacht A – was seized on Friday evening in the port of Trieste after being identified by Italian police as belonging to billionaire owner of EuroChem Group, a major fertiliser producer, and the coal company SUEK.

Video footage reportedly showed police cars with flashing lights approaching the yacht, said to be one of the largest in the world, and boarding it.

EuroChem and SUEK said in statements on Thursday that Melnichenko had resigned as a member of the board in both companies and withdrawn as their beneficiary, effective on Wednesday.

It comes as Roman Abramovich’s superyacht, Solaris, was pictured arriving in Tivat, Montenegro, on Saturday. The vessel left a port in Barcelona earlier this week as the UK government sanctioned the Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club.

On Thursday it was tracked off the coast of Sicily after reportedly undergoing repairs earlier in the week in Barcelona, one of a number of apparently hurried sailings of Russian billionaires moving their superyachts to avoid seizure. His other yacht, the more luxurious Eclipse, was on Thursday located to the west of the Canary Islands.

Solaris, a superyacht owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, which is under UK sanctions, sails towards the luxury yacht marina Porto Montenegro, near the Montenegrin city of Tivat, on Saturday.
Solaris, a superyacht owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, which is under UK sanctions, sails towards the luxury yacht marina Porto Montenegro, near the Montenegrin city of Tivat, on Saturday.
Photograph: Savo Prelević/AFP/Getty Images

Russia warns that Moscow now considers arms shipments to Ukraine as ‘legitimate targets’ for military

A senior Russian diplomat has warned that from now on Moscow will consider arms shipments to Ukraine as “legitimate targets”.

The comments by the deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, reported by Sky News and BuzzFeed News, are likely to raise fears over a potential escalation in the conflict in Ukraine.

Ryabkov said that Russia had made its position clear to the US.

He said that Russia “warned the US that pumping weapons from a number of countries it orchestrates isn’t just a dangerous move, it’s an action that makes those convoys legitimate targets”.

Denouncing US sanctions against Moscow, he said they were an “unprecedented attempt to deal a serious blow to various sectors of the Russian economy”.

But he insisted that Russia did not intend to expel western media and businesses, adding: “We aren’t going to escalate the situation.”

Updated

Roman Abramovich has been disqualified as a director of Chelsea by the Premier League board.

The decision comes after Abramovich was hit by UK government sanctions on Thursday, in turn imposing severe operational restrictions on Chelsea.

A Premier League statement reads:

Following the imposition of sanctions by the UK government, the Premier League board has disqualified Roman Abramovich as a director of Chelsea Football Club.

The board’s decision does not impact on the club’s ability to train and play its fixtures, as set out under the terms of a licence issued by the government, which expires on 31 May 2022.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called on the leaders of France and Germany to help secure the release of Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, who Kyiv says was abducted by Russian forces, AFP reports.

Zelenksiy was speaking in his latest video address, where he said 2,000 Ukrainians demonstrated in Melitopol on Saturday against the Russian invasion and to demand the release of their mayor.

Do you hear, Moscow? If 2,000 people demonstrate in Melitopol against the occupation, how many are there in Moscow against the war?

He said:

During the night and today we are talking to our partners about the situation with our mayor. Our demand is clear: he must be released immediately… I have already phoned (German) Chancellor Olaf Scholz. I have spoken to (French) President Emmanuel Macron… I will speak to all the necessary people to get our people released.

We expect world leaders to show us how they can influence the situation.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine March 12, 2022.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a news conference in Kyiv, on 12 March 2022.
Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

Updated

Evacuations of civilians from frontline towns in Ukraine’s Kyiv region were proceeding, Reuters cites regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba as saying.

Speaking to local media, Kuleba said evacuations are planned to continue into tomorrow.

We will try to get people out every day, as long as it’s possible to observe a ceasefire.

The leaders of France and Germany have started another round of phone talks with Vladimir Putin.

The French presidency said the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, have started a call with Putin over the war in Ukraine.

Macron had said at a European Union summit on Friday that he and Scholz would hold a fresh call with Putin in the coming hours after a previous three-way exchange on Thursday.

Updated

Russian army has suffered its biggest losses in decades, Zelenskiy says

In his latest video address to the nation, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, claimed 31 Russian battalion tactical groups have now been rendered incapable of combat.

The Russian troops are suffering great losses. We could even now talk about the greatest blow to the Russian troops in tens of years.

Zelenskiy urged Russia to uphold an agreed ceasefire to allow evacuations to proceed from the besieged port city of Mariupol, after blaming Moscow for the failure of previous attempts

He went on to demand the immediate release of Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, who Ukraine says was kidnapped by Russian forces.

Zelenskiy said he was in constant talks with Ukraine’s international partners about the situation with Melitpol’s mayor.

We appeal to all world leaders who speak to Moscow – France, Germany, Israel, and others.

Updated

The bombings are hundreds of kilometres away from here, in Lviv, and yet the war is still visible in all of its tragic proportions, Lorenzo Tondo reports.

At least 200,000 internally displaced people are currently living in Lviv, stretching the capacity of this amazing Unesco world heritage site to its limits.

Lviv’s deputy mayor said:

We’re using all our facilities to shelter them. We will not let our people down.

At the same time, our resources are not infinite and we are close to reaching the limit.

As the Russian bombardments in the east intensified, thousands more displaced have been flowing into Lviv, widely regarded, at least up to now, as one of the safest cities in the country.

A mother with her child seen resting in a room for women and children who fled the Russian invasion in the VIP room at the railway station in Lviv.
A mother with her child seen resting in a room for women and children who fled the Russian invasion in the VIP room at the railway station in Lviv.
Photograph: Mykola Tys/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock
A child seen in a room for women and children who fled the Russian invasion at the railway station in Lviv.
A child in a room for women and children who fled the Russian invasion at the railway station in Lviv.
Photograph: Mykola Tys/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

A Ukranian serviceman walks towards the front line in the city of Irpin, northern Ukraine, on March 12, 2022.
A Ukranian serviceman walks towards the front line in the city of Irpin, northern Ukraine, on March 12, 2022.
Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
A Ukrainian serviceman exits a damaged building after shelling in Kyiv, on March 12, 2022.
A Ukrainian serviceman exits a damaged building after shelling in Kyiv, on March 12, 2022.
Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Belarus denies plans to join Russian invasion

Belarusian armed forces’ chief of general staff, Viktor Gulevich, said Belarus has no plans to join the Russian invasion of Ukraine but is sending five battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to its border on rotation to replace forces already stationed there.

On Friday, a top Ukrainian security official warned Belarus not to send troops to Ukraine amid fears that Belarus was planning to join Russian armed forces within hours.

Gulevich denied plans to invade Ukraine today:

I want to underline that the transfer of troops is in no way connected with (any) preparation, and especially not with the participation of Belarusian soldiers in the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine.

Belarus has served as a staging post for Russian troops, missiles and aircraft, but it has not deployed its own forces in active battle.

Ukraine yesterday accused Russian aircraft of firing at Belarusian border villages from Ukrainian air space to provide an excuse for an offensive.

The alleged attacks took place as the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, was meeting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, according to Ukraine’s state centre for strategic communications.

Updated

BBC News’ Orla Guerin travelled to the town of Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to shed light on the devastating emotional impact on soldiers, older people and fleeing families from the frontline.

Updated

Russian attacks continue in areas where Ukraine is trying to evacuate people and bring aid through “humanitarian corridors”, the governors of two Ukrainian regions, Kyiv and Donetsk, said in separate statements, Reuters reports.

The Donetsk governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told local media:

Humanitarian cargo is moving towards Mariupol, we will inform you how it develops … The situation is complicated, there is constant shelling.

Updated

Children are going missing and cases of human trafficking are being reported by aid groups and volunteers along Ukraine’s borders amid the chaos of the refugee crisis triggered by the Russian invasion, Katy Fallon reports.

Charities and rights groups working in neighbouring countries to receive refugees said they had seen cases of trafficking, missing children, extortion and exploitation as more than 2.5 million people crossed into neighbouring countries to escape the escalating violence.

Karolina Wierzbińska, a coordinator from Homo Faber, a human rights organisation based in Lublin, Poland, said the charity had seen cases of children being sent alone by desperate parents to meet relatives or friends across the Ukrainian border and arriving without anyone to meet them.

This is obviously extremely distressing for a child and can lead to them wandering around the station alone, disoriented and in the worst-case scenario, disappearing altogether. This, unfortunately, is not a hypothetical case – it has happened already.

We are also already getting reports of cases of human trafficking and women being offered work in Poland only to find the workplace is illegitimate, the employer is mistreating them, refusing to pay their salary on time. There are cases of extortion of personal documents or money.

Homo Faber has been working at all four border crossing points to mitigate the risks and has set up a 24-hour helpline, operated by Ukrainian speaking volunteers trained to support women and children crossing the border.

Updated

A handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on 12 March, shows the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking in Kyiv.
A handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on 12 March, shows the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking in Kyiv.
Photograph: Ukraine Presidency/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Russian forces have shelled a mosque in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, where more than 80 adults and children, including Turkish citizens, have taken refuge, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.

The ministry claimed the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent mosque in Mariupol had been shelled by Russian “invaders”. It did not provide details about casualties.

Moscow has denied targeting civilian areas.

A former Nato official said she is “sceptical” Russian forces will gain “much success” in an assault on Kyiv.

A massive convoy of Russian forces massed outside the Ukrainian capital is believed to have dispersed, in preparation for an advance. This morning, the UK’s ministry of defence said “the bulk of Russian ground forces” were around 25km from the centre of Kyiv.

But Rose Gottemoeller, a former deputy secretary general of Nato, told the BBC today that this could be taken as a sign of weakness.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Gottemoeller said:

I’m wondering if they have the ability to regroup at this point, because their logistics are in such bad shape, they don’t really have the fuel supplies they need for a push on to Kyiv.

Updated

More than 2,000 people took part in a protest outside the city hall in the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol after the alleged arrest of its mayor, Ivan Fedorov, by Russian forces, Ukrainian state TV said.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of violating international law by abducting the mayor of Melitopol, a Ukrainian city that fell under Russia’s control during the invasion, after being falsely accused of terrorism.

In a video message late on Friday, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, condemned the abduction, calling Fedorov a “mayor who bravely defends Ukraine and the members of his community”.

Updated

A new wave of Russian attacks is expected to hit the Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donbas regions, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff said.

Speaking today, Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukraine did not expect Belarus to join the Russian invasion force.

Updated

Where have Russian forces been seen around Kyiv?

Map

Sanctions could cause International Space Station to crash, Russia warns

Sanctions against Russia could cause the International Space Station (ISS) to crash and lead to a 500-tonne structure to “fall down into the sea or onto land”, the head of Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said.

Dmitry Rogozin, a vocal supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, called for sanctions to be lifted as they could disrupt the operation of Russian spacecraft servicing the ISS.

As a result, the Russian segment of the station – which helps correct its orbit – could be affected, causing the 500-tonne structure to “fall down into the sea or onto land”, the Roscosmos chief wrote on Telegram.

Publishing a map of the locations where the ISS could possibly come down, he said it was unlikely to be in Russia.

But the populations of other countries, especially those led by the ‘dogs of war’, should think about the price of the sanctions against Roscosmos.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has previously said it was trying to find a solution to keep the ISS in orbit without Russia’s help.

Updated

A frozen goods warehouse caught fire due to Russian shelling in Brovary district, north-east of Kyiv, according to Ukraine’s interior ministry.

The shelling took place in the village of Kvitneve about 5.30am local time (3.30am GMT), the ministry said. Preliminary reports show there were no casualties.

Earlier we reported that two oil depots near Kyiv had also caught fire after Russian attacks.

A warehouse storing frozen products is seen on fire after shelling, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the village of Kvitneve in Kyiv region, Ukraine.
A warehouse storing frozen products is seen on fire after shelling, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the village of Kvitneve in Kyiv region, Ukraine.
Photograph: State Emergency Service/Reuters

Updated

Ukrainian officials have said Kyiv is “ready to fight” as Russian forces renewed their bombardment on the capital and observers warned of “an unimaginable tragedy” unfolding after more than two weeks of war, Tess McClure, Peter Beaumont and Luke Harding report.

Air raid sirens and shelling rang out over Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities on Saturday morning amid warnings from western defence officials that the Russians were beginning to gain ground around the capital.

There were reports of loud explosions in Dnipro in the country’s east on Saturday, as well as Mykolaiv, Nikolaev and Kropyvnytskyi.

But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the capital was “ready to fight”. He called it a “city under siege”, with checkpoints prepared and supply lines in place.

Kyiv will stand until the end.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies on Saturday has shown homes and buildings on fire and Russian artillery battalions appearing to fire on towns surrounding to the north-west of the Ukrainian capital as forces advance. The Guardian has not independently verified the images.

A senior US defence official said at a Pentagon briefing on Friday: “We do assess that the Russians are beginning to make more momentum on the ground towards Kyiv, particularly from the east.”

The UK Ministry of Defence said on Saturday morning that “the bulk of Russian ground forces” were around 25km from the centre of Kyiv, while the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and continued to suffer heavy Russian shelling.

Several humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, including from the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, will be open today for civilians to evacuate, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

In a video address, Vereshchuk said Ukraine plans to evacuate residents of several towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv and Sumy and some other areas where there is ongoing combat.

It follows repeated failed attempts this week to allow a humanitarian convoy to reach Mariupol, where civilians remain trapped without power or mobile phone network, and water and food are running out.

Vereshchuk said today:

I hope that the day will go well, all the planned routes will be open and Russia will fulfil its obligations to guarantee the ceasefire regime.

At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said in an online statement on Friday. The Guardian has not been able to verify casualty figures.

In the embattled northeastern city of Sumy, regional head Dmitry Zhyvytsky said in a post on Telegram that humanitarian corridors have been agreed on Saturday morning.

Evacuation efforts starting at 9am local time (7am GMT) will see vehicles departing from six destinations around the region to the central city of Poltava, he said.

Hello, I’m Léonie Chao-Fong here to take you through the day’s rolling coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. As always, please feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag. You can reach me on Twitter or via email.

Updated

The destroyed main building of school number 25, after being bombed in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, 11 March 2022.
The destroyed main building of school number 25, after being bombed in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, 11 March 2022.
Photograph: Miguel A Lopes/EPA
A woman sits on a cot in a shelter, set up for displaced persons fleeing Ukraine, inside a school gymnasium in Przemysl, Poland.
A woman sits on a cot in a shelter, set up for displaced persons fleeing Ukraine, inside a school gymnasium in Przemyśl, Poland.
Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

Updated

Russian troops have destroyed 3,491 Ukrainian military infrastructure facilities in Ukraine so far, Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying on Saturday, according to Reuters.

Russian forces “continue the offensive in Ukraine on a broad front”, Konashenkov said. Reuters was not immediately able to verify his statement.

Updated

In the week since the Kremlin blocked Facebook, hundreds of thousands of Russians have sought to circumvent the ban using a virtual private network, the Guardian’s global technology editor Dan Milmo reports.

A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your device and a remote server, which can be anywhere in the world, so in theory you can access sites blocked in your country.

Nikolay*, a Russian who now lives in the EU, says his friends back home bought a VPN in order to communicate with him and others amid fears that access to the outside world could become limited. “There is a lot of talk that people should get these VPNs as soon as possible,” says Nikolay.

Over the past week VPNs have been in strong demand in Russia. Internet searches for VPN services in the country almost doubled between 4 March and 10 March compared with the previous week, according to Top10VPN, a UK company that reviews and recommends private network services. There were at least 260,000 searches on 5 March alone, the day after Facebook was banned.

“By replacing their Russian IP address with that of the remote server, which will typically be in another country, using a VPN means Russians can access internet services that are blocking Russian traffic,” says Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN.

Read more here:

In case you missed it earlier, a huge yacht belonging to the Russian oligarch, Andrey Melnichenko, has reportedly been seized by Italian authorities, according to CNN, citing a statement from Italy’s finance police.

The seizure was also reported by the Italian news outlet Tg La7.

A statement by the Guardia di Finanza said the vessel — called SY A — was worth about €530m euros ($578m) and was in storage at the northeastern port of Trieste.

The yacht owned by Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko in Trieste, Italy.
The yacht owned by Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko in Trieste, Italy.
Photograph: Jure Makovec/AFP/Getty Images

Melnichenko made his fortune in coal and fertiliser. The SY A, which stands for “sailing yacht A”, is believed to be one of the largest superyachts in the world.

It follows the seizure last week of a yacht owned by Russia’s richest man, Alexei Mordashov, in the wake of western sanctions against Russian oligarchs regarded as close to Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine will soon be getting a new postage stamp called “Russian warship, go fuck yourself!” according to the country’s first deputy foreign minister, Emine Dzheppar.

The stamp, which refers to the infamous Snake Island incident, features a sketch by the artist Boris Groh and received the most votes in a poll, she said.

Thirteen border guards stationed on Snake Island, a roughly 16-hectare (40-acre) rocky island that sits about 186 miles (300km) west of Crimea, reportedly told a Russian warship, “Russian warship go fuck yourself” when asked to surrender early in the conflict and were then killed.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy then announced he would posthumously award all the soldiers the Hero of Ukraine award although it was later reported that they may in fact still be alive.

Oil depots on fire near Kyiv

Local media in Ukraine report that two oil depots near Kyiv are on fire after Russian attacks.

One depot was hit in the town of Vasylkiv, 36 kilometres south of the capital, and another was hit in the village of Kryachky, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Vasylkiv is also home to a large airbase and has become a major Russian target.

Updated

After an initial honeymoon period with the west, Russian president Vladimir Putin later soured on it. He has clawed back Russian relevance by tearing up global norms, writes the Guardian’s world affairs editor Julian Borger.

When the first McDonald’s in Moscow opened 32 years ago, the line of Russians waiting outside was hundreds of metres long, and there were long queues again this week for a last Happy Meal and a slice of history, as the fast-food giant closes its doors in Russia.

The shuttering of 850 McDonald’s franchises around the country is supposed to be temporary, but nothing about the war in Ukraine and the consequent exodus of western companies suggests the rift will be healed any time soon.

McDonald’s’ departure, like its arrival, is about a lot more than burgers. The golden arches of history, that once seemed to be bounding forward, now appear to be turning full circle and threatening to take Russia back in time.

An urban consumer culture built around Visa and Mastercard, Ikea, Nike, Apple, Zara and Netflix has evaporated in a few days.

Russians queue outside a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Moscow, 1990.
Russians queue outside a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Moscow, 1990.
Photograph: Anonymous/AP

“There’s just this sickening feeling that they’re going to go back, not to the 1990s, but to the 1970s when you didn’t have access to these things, and when you were living isolated from the rest of the world,” said Prof Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer for Russia on the National Intelligence Council, now at Georgetown University.

The looped trajectory of the past three decades has been driven by a lot of disparate forces, inside and outside Russia, economic and political, and ultimately very personal: the ambitions, fears and impulses of Vladimir Putin.

When the first McDonald’s opened in Russia, the Soviet Union still existed. “We didn’t know what fast food was,” wrote Mitya Kushelevich, a photographer, in a recollection in the Guardian. “We thought it probably tasted like freedom and we wanted to sample it.”

To many people, it tasted like the end of the cold war, if not the end of history. But while Russians wanted to consume capitalism, they were careful from the start not to be consumed by it.

“People misunderstood: Russians didn’t want to be Americans, and they didn’t want to be like America, but they wanted the same stuff: the jeans, the cigarettes, the chewing gum, the burgers,” said Fiona Hill, who was an exchange student in Russia in the late 1980s and went on to become an intelligence analyst on Russia and then senior director for Europe and Russia in the White House.

Nautilus Pompilius, a Russian rock group, had a hit song at the time called Goodbye America, with lyrics that reflected that scepticism, about being “taught for so long to love your forbidden fruits” but finding that “your ripped jeans have become too small for me”.

The honeymoon with westernisation was short-lived. The shock transition from communism to a market economy, shepherded by a liberal government with western consultants, was a disaster, producing oligarchs, lawlessness and poverty.

Read on here:

Russian forces about 25km from Kyiv centre, UK says

Fighting north-west of Kyiv is continuing with the bulk of Russian ground forces now about 25 kilometres from the centre of the Ukrainian capital, according to the UK’s latest Defence Intelligence report.

“Elements of the large Russian column north of Kyiv have dispersed,” it continued. “This is likely to support a Russian attempt to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counter attacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces.”

Elsewhere in Ukraine the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained encircled and continued to suffer heavy Russian shelling, the report said.

Updated

In an early morning update on Telegram, Ukraine’s State Emergency Services (SES) said rescuers in Kharkiv had recovered the bodies of five people including two children, who were killed when Russian bombs hit a residential building in the village of Slobozhanske, outside the city.

It also said workers had visited 40 separate addresses to dispose of unexploded ordnance.

In the capital Kyiv the SES said a fire had broken out at frozen food warehouse after shelling early on Saturday and posted images of a building with flames and smoke pouring out. No casualties were reported.

It’s two weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s apparent plan to quickly seize key cities has failed. But there is little sign that anybody around Russian president Vladimir Putin might be able to stop the war, or that elites might remove him from power, writes Pjotr Sauer.

Earlier this week, Russia’s defence ministry acknowledged that young conscripts had been sent into battle and some taken prisoner.

The admission, notable in itself given Russia’s careful attempts to control the narrative about the war, came just a day after President Vladimir Putin assured his nation in a video address that conscripts “are not participating and will not participate” in the conflict. The backtracking prompted some to question whether the Russian leader lied in his statement or was simply provided inaccurate information.

“This incident reveals some of the unrealistic expectations Putin had when starting this military operation,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, the founder of R.Politik.

“It looks likely that Putin genuinely thought Russia would be able to take Ukraine by storm and instructed his military not to use conscripts. But this is just one of the many aspects that have turned out differently in reality.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with government members via video link in Moscow.
Russian president Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with government members via video link in Moscow.
Photograph: SPUTNIK/Reuters

Two weeks into the war, it has become evident that the Russian army has failed in its initial plan to quickly seize major cities – including the capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine. The attack on Odesa, a crucial port city in the south, has also stalled, and Russian land advances have been thwarted repeatedly.

More than a week ago, Russia admitted that almost 500 of its soldiers had been killed, a figure that has not since been updated, while US officials estimate that between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian troops have died.

“The current problems should be traced back to the inception of this war, which was conducted in high secrecy to avoid any leaks,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The Kremlin’s disastrous move to invade was rooted in giant lapses of expertise about Ukraine,” said Gabuev, who added that officials close to Putin who helped plan the invasion sincerely believed that many Ukrainians would welcome Russian soldiers, and that the country’s leadership would offer little resistance.

“Only a very small group of generals were informed about the war, and they didn’t ask difficult questions that could help prepare for any scenarios other than a speedy Russian victory.

“The whole war planning was reduced to a clandestine operation developed by just a handful of people in uniform – and the president himself,” said Gabuev.

Read on here:

Dnipro was one of the cities reported to be enduring Russian bombardment early Saturday, but the city’s mayor Borys Filatov says Ukraine’s air defence systems successfully repelled the attack with no casualties reported, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Updated

The US economy is strong despite the threat of spillovers from sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and inflation, US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, said on Friday.

With the Federal Reserve widely expected to raise US interest rates next week to combat rising prices, Yellen also said that a tighter monetary policy to fight inflation could cause recession, but she had confidence in the Federal Reserve’s ability to balance that.

A trader on Wall Street.
A trader on Wall Street.
Photograph: Allie Joseph/AP

It follows a turbulent week on financial markets as the western allies ramped up their sanctions against Russia, especially in oil and gas, bringing the threat of much higher fuel prices for already-stretched consumers.

  • On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 fell 2.9% for the week, and logged its second straight weekly decline. The Dow was down 0.69% on Friday but fell for a fifth straight week.
  • Europe’s benchmark STOXX 600 index closed 1% up, making this the first weekly gain after three consecutive weeks of losses.
  • The FTSE100 in London ended the week 2.4% higher.
  • MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 1.67% lower On Friday, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 2.05%.
  • Brent crude oil settled up 3.05% at $112.67 a barrel, after touching a 14-year high of more than $139 on Monday.

Russian ground forces attempting to encircle Kyiv began another pause on Friday to resupply and refit after “failed attacks” earlier in the week, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.

“Russian forces also appear to be largely stalemated around Kharkiv,” it said. “Russian advances from Crimea toward Mykolayiv and Zaporizhya and in the east around Donetsk and Luhansk made no progress in the last 24 hours.”

It noted that Russian president Vladimir Putin was reportedly conducting an internal purge of general offers and intelligence personnel, including by firing several generals and arresting FSB intelligence officers.

The ISW said the Kremlin was likely trying to “increase its combat power by drawing Belarus into the war and leveraging Syrian proxies, in addition to ongoing efforts to directly replace Russian combat losses through individual conscripts that are unlikely to be well-enough trained or motivated.”

Russian aircraft had likely conducted an attempted false-flag attack on Belarusian territory on Friday in an effort to draw Belarus into the war but Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko was likely to be resisting that pressure in order to avoid western sanctions and combat losses, the institute said.

Guatemala has received its first arrivals of Ukrainian families fleeing their homeland since Russia’s invasion of its neighbour last month, authorities said.

The eight Ukrainians were the first to arrive in the Central American country “for humanitarian reasons,” an immigration spokesperson told Reuters.

Another flight carrying 10 more Ukrainians is set to arrive later Friday evening, officials said. It is unclear how many may have arrived privately to Guatemala since the Russian attacks on Ukraine began.

The Guatemalan government’s announcement was the first on Ukrainian arrivals from the trio of Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle, which have themselves seen much of their populations emigrate due to violence and poverty.

A rising number of both Ukrainians and Russians have fled to Latin America in recent months, including those who turn up at the United States-Mexico border.

After a day in which the G7 announced it would strip Russia of “most favoured nation” status under WTO rules and the US said it would ban imports of Russian seafood, vodka and diamonds, Joe Biden has said “Democracies are rising to meet this moment, rallying the world to the side of peace and security.”

“The United States and our allies and partners continue to work in lockstep to ramp up the economic pressure on Putin and to further isolate Russia on the global stage,” the US president tweeted.

Updated

China, which has stood by Moscow even as Russia becomes increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, says its first batch of humanitarian assistance has arrived in the western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi.

A second batch is expected to depart from Beijing on Saturday and arrive in Ukraine on Monday, the state-backed Global Times reported.

The shipbuilding city of Mykolaiv, seen as a key stepping stone for Russian troops on the way to the key port city of Odesa, has endured over a week of fighting, with many civilian casualties reported. Russian forces reportedly hit a cancer hospital on Friday.

Here are a selection of images from photographers on the frontline:

Ivanka Plaksin stands in the stairwell of her apartment blockin Mykolaiv, amid shrapnel scars from a Russian rocket strike.
Ivanka Plaksin stands in the stairwell of her apartment block in Mykolaiv, amid shrapnel scars from a Russian rocket strike.
Photograph: Scott Peterson/Getty Images
Journalists walk along a deserted street in Mykolaiv,.
Journalists walk along a deserted street in Mykolaiv,.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier stands beside a burnt out Russian Tigr fighting vehicle.
A Ukrainian soldier stands beside a burnt out Russian Tigr fighting vehicle.
Photograph: Scott Peterson/Getty Images
Armed with anti-tank weapons, Ukraine army troops dig in at frontline trench positions in sub-zero temperatures east of Mykolaiv.
Armed with anti-tank weapons, Ukraine army troops dig in at frontline trench positions in sub-zero temperatures east of Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Scott Peterson/Getty Images
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk amid the wreckage of a house damaged by Russian rockets on the southern outskirts of the city.
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk amid the wreckage of a house damaged by Russian rockets on the southern outskirts of the city.
Photograph: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Key developments

Hello, I’m Helen Livingstone and welcome to our rolling coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Here are some of the major developments in the past few hours:

  • Satellite images show Russian forces are getting closer to Kyiv and appear to be firing artillery toward residential areas, Reuters has reported. Air raid sirens were sounding in Kyiv in the early hours of Saturday morning, and there were reports of heavy shelling.
  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country had reached a “strategic turning point” in the conflict as Russian forces appeared to be regrouping for a possible assault on Kyiv.
  • Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped and under fire in Ukrainian cities, but the situation in Mariupol is especially dire. Ten days into Russia’s siege, its population has no access to electricity or mobile phone networks, and water and food are running out.
  • Ukraine fears Belarus might launch an invasion of Ukraine on Saturday after a meeting in Moscow between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. Ukraine accused Russia of firing at a Belarusian settlement near the border in an attempt to drag Belarus into the war.
  • EU leaders plan to collectively rearm and become autonomous in food, energy and military hardware in a declaration after their meeting at Versailles that described Russia’s war as “a tectonic shift in European history”.
  • The UN security council met on Friday to discuss Moscow’s claims that the US is funding “military biological activities” in Ukraine.The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, invoked the terrifying spectre of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe.
  • The US has warned of the possibility of chemical or biological weapons being used by Russia. Britain and the US have voiced fears Russia could be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon in Ukraine, and using its accusations of bio-labs as pretext.
  • Russian airstrikes hit three cities in Ukraine on Friday – including two in the country’s west – as the scope of its military offensive widened. The raids hit airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, far from the main areas of conflict, and residential buildings in the strategically important city of Dnipro.
  • A third Russian major general has been killed in Ukraine, western officials confirmed. Western intelligence estimates that about 20 major generals would have been committed to the invasion, implying a relatively high casualty rate.
  • Ukraine accused Russia of violating international law today by abducting the mayor of Melitopol, a Ukrainian city that fell under Russia’s control during the invasion, reports Reuters. Ukrainian officials said Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov was kidnapped after being falsely accused of terrorism.
  • Joe Biden announced plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia in retaliation for Putin’s war on Ukraine. Biden said the ban would be part of a move by the US to revoke normal trading relations with Russia. The US has also imposed sanctions on a group of Russia’s elite including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three relatives of Putin’s spokesperson, and lawmakers.
  • Russia has moved to block Instagram after its parent company, Meta, said it would allow calls for violence against Putin and Russian soldiers involved in the invasion of Ukraine to appear on the social media platform. Russian prosecutors demanded that access to Instagram be blocked as authorities moved to recognise Meta as an “extremist organisation.
  • Deutsche Bank and Sony Pictures, have joined the exodus of western businesses from Russia. In a statement posted on its website, Deutsche Bank said it was “in the process of winding down our remaining business in Russia” and that there “won’t be any new business in Russia”.
  • The US has accused Russia of violating nuclear safety principles. US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said the US is concerned about “Russia’s reckless actions and violations of nuclear safety principles” on Friday, including stopping supply to parts to nuclear facilities, concerns over conditions for staff, and damage to nuclear research facilities.

Updated

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