Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russian troop withdrawal designed to ‘mislead’, says Ukrainian military – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russian troop withdrawal designed to ‘mislead’, says Ukrainian military – live” was written by Samantha Lock (now); Maanvi Singh, Joanna Walters, Léonie Chao-Fong and Martin Belam (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th March 2022 03.32 UTC

Summary

Before we close this blog and begin a new one, here is a comprehensive run down of the past 24 hours.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the talks had been “positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells”, adding that Ukraine had no intention of reducing its military efforts. Joe Biden said: “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.” The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he had not seen anything indicating that talks were progressing in a “constructive way” and suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention”. “What Russia says, and what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter.”
  • Zelenskiy said Ukrainians are “not naive people” and he saw “no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction”. He also called for sanctions to be strengthened. “They must be effective. Not just for headlines in the media that sanctions have been imposed, but for real peace. Real.”
  • In Ukraine’s latest intelligence report as of 10pm local time, its military claimed Russian troops continue to withdraw from Kyiv and Chernihiv but the movement is merely “a rotation of individual units” and aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.
  • China’s ambassador to the UN addressed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing a “worrying account of the situation on ground” and called for the protection of civilian lives and respect for international humanitarian law. Dai Bing said increasing sanctions on Russia will “give rise to new humanitarian problems” including hitting global energy, food, economic, trade and financial markets.
  • Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US was seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • The UK has also seen signs of “some reduction” in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, Downing Street said. But it insisted the UK will judge tentative steps towards a possible peace deal by actions rather than words. “We don’t want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory,” the PM’s spokesperson said. The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest updated that “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least 12 people were killed and 33 injured, Ukraine’s emergencies agency said.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.
  • Americans may be ‘singled out’ by Russian forces in Ukraine, the US state department said in its latest travel advisory. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” it said.

Americans may be ‘singled out’ by Russian forces in Ukraine, says state department

The US state department has warned American citizens not to travel to Ukraine or Russia in its latest travel advisory. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” it said. The US embassy has limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, it noted.

China’s ambassador to the UN has addressed the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, describing a “worrying account of the situation on ground” and called for the protection of civilian lives and respect for international humanitarian law.

Dai Bing told the latest UN Security Council, according to a statement released by China’s permanent mission to the UN:

The conflict situation in Ukraine is persisting. Effectively protecting civilian lives and meeting their humanitarian needs is a must. China calls for respect for international humanitarian law to avoid civilian casualties to the maximum extent, protect civilian facilities, provide safe passage for evacuation and humanitarian access, and ensure a continuous supply of basic necessities, such as food, drinking water, and medicines. Protection of vulnerable groups such as women and children must be strengthened.”

Increasing sanctions on Russia will “give rise to new humanitarian problems”, Bing added.

We must also be cognisant that the ever-escalating, sweeping, indiscriminate sanctions have hit global energy, food, economic, trade and financial markets, and will continue to do so, affecting the lives and livelihoods of the general public, and giving rise to new humanitarian problems.”

Addressing global food security, Bing called for an “enhanced international coordination” to stabilise food supply and food prices and a “refrain from unjustified export restrictions”.

Sanctions and economic blockades will only artificially exacerbate food shortages and price distortions, further disrupt food production and food supply chain across the world, push up food prices, and put such burdens on developing countries as they do not deserve. We call for enhanced international coordination to stabilise food supply and food prices, refrain from unjustified export restrictions, keep the market working in a stable manner, and ensure global food security.

Finally, Bing cautioned that further damage is on its way if the crisis continues and escalates, describing such an event as being “not in the interest of any party”.

The most conclusive way towards a ceasefire to end hostilities is dialogue and negotiation. The international community should encourage and support continued direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine until a positive outcome is achieved and peace is restored. Security is indivisible and seeking absolute security by pitting one bloc against another is precisely the most assured way to achieve insecurity. The United States, Nato and EU should also engage in dialogue with Russia, accommodate the legitimate security concerns of all parties, and build a balanced, effective and sustainable regional security architecture through dialogue and negotiation.”

Here are some of the latest photos to come out of Ukraine on Tuesday.

A man walks with his dog near an apartment building damaged by shelling from fighting on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.
A man walks with his dog near an apartment building damaged by shelling from fighting on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexei Alexandrov/AP
A military facility seen destroyed by shelling in the city of Brovary, outside Kyiv.
A military facility seen destroyed by shelling in the city of Brovary, outside Kyiv.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
A solider on the outskirts of Kyiv in a defensive trench preparing for a possible attack by Russian troops.
A solider on the outskirts of Kyiv in a defensive trench preparing for a possible attack by Russian troops.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a deadly Russian attack on Tuesday.
Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a deadly Russian attack on Tuesday.
Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
Julia, 34, cries next to her daughter Veronika, 6, while talking to a group of journalists in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Julia, 34, cries next to her daughter Veronika, 6, while talking to a group of journalists in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Firefighters work to put out a fire after missiles struck a fuel storage facility on the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, on Tuesday.
Firefighters work to put out a fire after missiles struck a fuel storage facility on the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, on Tuesday.
Photograph: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

A Russian hotel owner has taken in Ukrainians fleeing the fighting, saying it was partly the shame he feels over Russia’s invasion that persuaded him and his family to take in 34 Ukrainians so far, and counting.

Mikhail Golubtsov, a Russian former construction engineer, left his home country in 2014 over Moscow’s “unacceptable” annexation of Crimea, and now runs a modest but cosy hotel in the green hills of central Serbia.

Most of Golubtsov’s hotel rooms are now taken up by Ukrainian refugees, who can stay at the hotel free of charge, for as long as they need.

“The first seven people arrived because a friend gave them the address, … now they are simply arriving,” he told Reuters.

“At first (after the invasion started), I was in shock and I was so ashamed. For some time I could not speak Russian, but when guests arrive and they speak Russian to me, I speak Russian as well. I think the only thing I can do now is to help Ukrainians somehow.”

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy will address Australia’s parliament on Thursday evening by video, according to parliament records cited by Reuters.

Employment minister Stuart Robert told parliament on Thursday morning that Zelenskiy would make an address via video link at 5.30pm (7.30am GMT).

Australia has supplied defence equipment and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, as well as imposing a ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia.

It has also imposed a total of 476 sanctions on 443 individuals, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and 33 entities, including most of Russia*s banking sector and all entities responsible for the country’s sovereign debt.

The war in Ukraine will have a global impact “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War Two” and damage global food security because many of the Ukrainian farmers who produce a significant amount of the world’s wheat are now fighting Russians, the UN’s food chief has warned.

David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Program, told the UN Security Council that already high food prices are skyrocketing.

His agency was feeding 125 million people around the world before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Beasley said it has had to start cutting their rations because of rising food, fuel and shipping costs, the Associated Press reports.

He pointed to war-torn Yemen where 8 million people just had their food allotment cut 50%, “and now we’re looking at going to zero rations.”

The war in Ukraine is turning “the breadbasket of the world to breadlines” for millions of its people, while devastating countries like Egypt that normally gets 85% of its grain from Ukraine and Lebanon that got 81% in 2020, Beasley said.

Ukraine and Russia produce 30% of the world’s wheat supply, 20% of its corn and 75%-80% of the sunflower seed oil. The World Food Program buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine, he said.

The war is going to increase the agency’s monthly expenses by $71 million because of rising food, fuel and shipping costs, he said. That will total $850 million for a year and mean that there will be “4 million less people we’ll be able to reach.”

Updated

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it is greatly concerned that Russian and Ukrainian authorities are yet to meet many of their core obligations under international humanitarian law or reach consensus on key issues.

In a statement shared with the Guardian via email, a spokesperson said:

Over the last five weeks, the ICRC has been speaking with Russian and Ukrainian authorities about their obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and what practical steps must be taken to limit the suffering of civilians and those who no longer participate in hostilities, including the wounded, sick, and prisoners of war (POWs).

To the ICRC’s great concern, the parties are yet to meet many of their core obligations under IHL or reach consensus on key issues that only they can concretely deliver.”

Specifically, the ICRC said it made detailed proposals regarding the safe passage and evacuations for civilians in Mariupol, but still “lack the concrete agreements needed to move forward”.

People talk with a Red Cross worker next to an apartment building in Mariupol, Ukraine.
People talk with a Red Cross worker next to an apartment building in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Today, civilians are taking the life-and-death decision to flee when there is no ceasefire or other agreements in place that would allow them to leave safely.

Time is running out for civilians in Mariupol and in other frontline areas who have now gone for weeks with no humanitarian assistance. The militaries on the ground need to give civilians and humanitarian organisations security guarantees and practical agreements to allow aid in and for those who wish to evacuate safely.”

The ICRC added that the parties must inform of any POWs—and other people deprived of their liberty—whom they hold and allow the ICRC to visit them.

The parties need to follow through on concrete proposals for the dignified treatment of the dead so they can be identified, families informed, and bodies returned.

The belligerents are obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, to limit military operations to exclusively military objectives and to take precautionary measures.”

According to the statement, the ICRC’s president travelled first to Kyiv and then Moscow to meet with authorities where his meetings with authorities in Moscow “triggered deep anger for some”.

“We want to be clear that these diplomatic meetings with all sides are anchored in international humanitarian law and passionate advocacy for the best interest of civilians trapped in conflict,” the statement added.

Former US president Donald Trump has called on Russian president Vladimir Putin to release any damaging information he has about the Biden family and Hunter Biden’s dealings with oligarchs in eastern Europe.

“I would think Putin would know the answer to that,” Trump said in an interview with Just the News, referring to Hunter Biden’s potential dealings in Russia. “I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer.”

Trump cited a 2020 Senate report that disclosed Russian oligarch Yelena Baturina, then the wife of Moscow’s mayor, provided $3.5 million a decade ago to a company co-founded by President Joe Biden’s son and unanswered questions about why the money was given.

“How is it that the mayor of Moscow, his wife gave the Biden family three and a half million dollars? I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer,” Trump said. “I’m sure he knows.”

A grand jury has been investigating Hunter Biden’s business dealings for possible tax violations, foreign lobbying issues and money laundering but he has denied any wrongdoing.

There needs to be full peace across Ukraine for any final agreement with Russia to come into force, the head of the Ukrainian delegation said following talks with Moscow in Istanbul on Tuesday.

David Arakhamia told reporters that all troops must retreat from Ukraine and allow the 3.5 million refugees who fled the war to come back home. He added that there was enough material in Ukraine’s proposals to warrant a meeting between Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin.

Watch the video of Arakhamia’s remarks below.

 

Russian withdrawal from north is merely a rotation of troops with aim to ‘mislead’, Ukraine military says

Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces has just released its latest intelligence report as of 10pm local time, claiming Russian troops continue to withdraw from the territory of Kyiv and Chernihiv in the Ukraine’s north but the movement is merely “a rotation of individual units” and aims to “mislead the military leadership” of Ukraine.

The report reads:

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

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

Ukrainian infantry and artillery units on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Ukrainian infantry and artillery units on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Joseph Galanakis/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

US President Joe Biden’s deputy national security adviser for economics, Daleep Singh, will travel to New Delhi and meet government officials to discuss Russia’s war against Ukraine and develop an economic framework for the Indo-Pacific, the White House said on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also planning to visit India, one of the biggest buyers of Russian commodities.

New Delhi has called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine but has refused to explicitly condemn Moscow’s actions. India has also abstained from voting on multiple UN resolutions on the war.

“Singh will consult closely with counterparts on the consequences of Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine and mitigating its impact on the global economy,” the White House said in a statement.

Last week, Biden said only India among the Quad group of countries was “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The South Asian nation has tried to balance its ties with Russia and the west but unlike other members of the Quad countries – United States, Japan, Australia – it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.

Earlier today, the US president said it remains to be seen if Russia will follow through on its pledge to scale down its military operations in northern Ukraine, saying Washington and its allies will maintain sanctions and continue providing aid to Ukraine in the meantime.

“I don’t read anything into it until we see what their actions are,” Biden said of Russia at a White House press conference.

Watch Biden’s remarks in the video below.

 

Guardian reporter based in Kyiv, Shaun Walker, brings us this analysis piece, asking: Why is Abramovich playing peacemaker after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Sanctioned billionaire Roman Abramovich is not officially part of the Russian delegation, but has apparently played a major role behind the scenes, jetting between Moscow, Kyiv and Istanbul since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Further questions about what role Abramovich was playing, and why, were raised on Monday, when the Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat claimed Abramovich and a Ukrainian MP were among three people to fall ill with symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning, during a round of negotiations in Kyiv in early March.

A source confirmed to the Guardian that Abramovich had fallen ill after the meeting, and had lost his sight for several hours. He soon recovered and was able to take part in later rounds of negotiations.

Aside from the poisoning claims, the emergence of the publicity-shy oligarch at the heart of peace negotiations has also surprised many.

Read the full story below.

12 people killed, 33 wounded in Mykolaiv attack

At least 12 people were killed and 33 wounded on Tuesday when a Russian missile hit a regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, emergency officials have said.

A Russian airstrike hit a nine-storey government building before 9am local time on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris.

“The bodies of 12 people have been recovered from the site of the destruction and 33 people have been injured,” Ukraine’s emergencies agency said in a statement on Telegram.

Zelenskiy also provided an update as to the situation in Mykolaiv after a Russian airstrike hit a government building on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris.

During the day the rescue operation was ongoing in Mykolaiv. The debris of the building of the regional administration destroyed by Russian missile strikes was dismantled.

The Russian troops hit Mykolaiv very insidiously. At a time when people came to their workplaces in the morning. Thank God, most of those in the building managed to evacuate when they heard an air alarm.

This one more act of the Russian so-called denazification of Mykolaiv took place in the morning after the anniversary of [the] liberation of the city from Nazi invaders. Mykolaiv residents remember the day of March 28, 1944. And they see who the Russian troops trying to capture their city now look like.”

A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building is seen in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building is seen in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: LOUAI-BARAKAT/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
The building of the regional administration was destroyed by Russian missile strikes.
The building of the regional administration was destroyed by Russian missile strikes.
Photograph: LOUAI-BARAKAT/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
In a photo provided by the Ukrainian Military Defence, the destruction of the city’s main administrative building by a Russian airstrike is seen.
In a photo provided by the Ukrainian Military Defence, the destruction of the city’s main administrative building by a Russian airstrike is seen.
Photograph: Ukrainian Military Defense/ZUMA Press Wire Service/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

No reason to trust representatives who ‘continue to fight for our destruction’ – Zelenskiy cautions

Regarding recent peace negotiations, Zelenskiy called for caution.

Of course, we see all the risks. Of course, we see no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction. Ukrainians are not naive people. Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas that only a concrete result can be trusted. The facts – if they change on our land.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine was willing to negotiate and would continue the negotiation process.

There must be real security for us, for our state, for sovereignty, for our people. Russian troops must leave the occupied territories. Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be guaranteed. There can be no compromise on sovereignty and our territorial integrity. And there will not be any.”

Referring to sanctions, he added:

And certain countries should not even expect that certain negotiations will facilitate the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation. The question of sanctions cannot even be raised until the war is over, until we get back what’s ours and until we restore justice.

On the contrary, sanctions must be strengthened. Intensified weekly. And they must be effective. Not just for headlines in the media that sanctions have been imposed, but for real peace. Real.

Updated

Hello, it’s Samantha Lock with you as my colleague Maanvi Singh signs off for the day.

Here’s a little more from Zelenskiy’s late-night address.

The Ukrainian leader urged his people to “not lose vigilance” despite saying the signals received from peace talks with Russia appeared positive.

The situation has not become easier. The scale of the challenges has not diminished.

The Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state. They still have a lot of equipment and enough people completely deprived of rights whom they can send to the cauldron of war.”

Zelenskiy said Ukraine would not be reducing its defence efforts.

The enemy is still in our territory. The shelling of our cities continues. Mariupol is blocked. Missile and air strikes do not stop. This is the reality. These are the facts.

Yes, we can call positive the signals we hear from the negotiating platform. But these signals do not silence the explosion of Russian shells.”

Updated

Catch up

It is 1.30am in Ukraine. Here’s the latest:

  • Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations did not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there was still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told the Danish parliament in a video address.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov had been released from Russian captivity and was now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “deliberately well hidden”.
  • In his latest address, posted on Telegram, Zelenskiy said that Ukraine wouldn’t be reducing its defensive efforts despite Russian promises to ease off some parts of the country.“We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.
  • According the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest update, “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”. The assessment mirrors that of the Pentagon. “Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv,” a Pentagon spokesman said earlier. “It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.”

– Leonie Chao-Fong, Joanna Walters, Maanvi Singh

Updated

UN official concerned over videos showing apparent abuse of PoWs in Ukraine

A senior UN official has said they have seen videos purporting to show the abuse of prisoners of war on both sides in Ukraine, as Russia raised the mistreatment of its soldiers at the first day of the latest peace talks.

Matilda Bogner, head of the UN’s human rights office in Ukraine, said a number of videos of the abuse of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners were being examined, adding that “on the face of it, it does raise serious concerns”.

“It is important that these types of videos and that any ill treatment that may happen is stopped immediately,” she said, following the broadcast of footage that appeared to show Ukrainian soldiers shooting three captive Russians in their legs.

In the grainy footage, which is being investigated by Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government in Kyiv, three prisoners are seen being brought in from a car. A man with a blue armband then approaches them and says: “Hi” before shooting each of them in the leg.

The Ukrainian government has said it is taking the footage “very seriously” although there is no independent evidence of its veracity yet.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy, said: “if this turns out to be real, this is absolutely unacceptable behaviour”.

One of the biggest promoters of the video was Maria Dubovikova, a political commentator at the Russian International Affairs Council.

The BBC reported that the footage of Ukrainian soldiers being shot took place in a dairy plant in Malaya Rohan’, to the south-east of Kharkiv, which had been recently been re-taken by Ukrainian troops from Russian forces.

Analysis of the weather conditions and troop movements further suggested that the video could have been shot in the early hours of Saturday 26 March.

Read more:

With cats, ferrets and handcarts, life goes on underground in Kharkiv

Dracoa the ferret and the ginger cat named Cat have reached an uneasy truce. And while the dog across the platform still yaps at them both, after more than a month, the humans and their pets living in this corner of Kharkiv’s metro station are used to each other.

On one side of the platform, Tetiana Kapustynska hung up balloons for her 24th birthday on the pillar she sleeps behind. “The day before I cried because I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but in the end people got together and celebrated with me,” she said.

“The biggest problem was champagne, I couldn’t find a bottle anywhere,” she added with a grin, as she made cups of instant coffee for visitors with water in a flask. “Cake wasn’t so much of a problem. You can still get it in the shops.”

Dascha with her ferret Dracoa in Kharkiv metro.
Dascha with her ferret Dracoa in Kharkiv metro.
Photograph: Dmytro Frantsev/The Guardian

Kapustynska, who is a maths and physics teacher, turned the metro station’s operation room into a cross between a childcare facility and a school for the children living in the underground chamber. For her birthday, they made decorations and organised flowers.

Barely a month ago, she had been trying to choose a bar or restaurant for celebrations. But since the war began, bombs, shells and rockets have smashed Kharkiv city centre and residential areas, killing hundreds of civilians, in perhaps the most intense offensives of the war outside the besieged port town of Mariupol.

In response, life has largely moved indoors and underground, with thousands of people taking refuge in Soviet-era stations. These were designed in the cold war era to shelter the city’s residents from a western attack, but now the bunkers are protecting civilians from the Russians.

“I don’t go out much; it’s frightening,” said Denis Kapustynskyi, 19, Tetiana’s brother. He lived with his mother in Saltivka, a northern suburb that has been turned into a burnt-out wasteland by some of the most intense shelling of the war.

He does not even know if they have a house any more, after fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs at the start of the war. “On the first day of the war, the sounds of explosions were really loud. They were already shelling housing blocks. We got dressed, picked up our documents and left,” he said.

Some still risk venturing out in the daytime for light, fresh air, shopping, and Tetiana goes to feed and play with her dog, who is too big to be brought into the metro station – although every trip above ground is potentially deadly.

Read more:

In his latest address, posted on Telegram, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Ukraine wouldn’t be reducing its defensive efforts despite Russian promises to ease off some parts of the country.

Zelenskiy addresses the Danish Parliament via video link.
Zelenskiy addresses the Danish Parliament via video link.
Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

“We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.

“The Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state,” he added. “Therefore we are not reducing our defensive efforts.”

Zelenskiy signaled optimism about talks in Turkey, but noted that any peace deal couldn’t compromise Ukrainian sovereignty.

Updated

According the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest update, “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv.”

“Russian statements regarding a reduction in activity around Kyiv, and reporting indicating the withdrawal of some Russian units from these areas, may indicate Russia’s acceptance that it has now lost the initiative in the region,” said the UK defence attaché Mick Smeath in a statement. “It is highly likely that Russia will seek to divert combat power from the north to their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east.”

The assessment mirrors that of the Pentagon. “Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv,” a Pentagon spokesman said earlier. “It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.”

Updated

Thousands of Ukrainian civilians in Mariupol might have died since Russia began bombing the port city, according to the UN human rights mission.

Reuters reports:

Nearly 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in Mariupol since Russian forces laid siege to it a month ago, a spokesperson for Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on Monday.

His office said 90% of Mariupol’s buildings had been damaged and 40% destroyed, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens and factories.

“We do think that there could be thousands of deaths, of civilian casualties, in Mariupol,” Matilda Bogner, head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine which deploys some 60 monitors, said in a virtual interview.

She said the mission did not have a precise estimate but was working to gather more information.

Local officials, citing witness accounts, last week estimated that 300 people were killed in the March 16 bombing of a Mariupol theatre where people were sheltering.

As of Tuesday, the UN human rights office had confirmed 1,179 civilians killed and 1,860 injured across Ukraine in the five-week old conflict, amid reporting delays due to the hostilities, a statement said.

Updated

“No one should be fooled” by Russia’s pulling back of troops around Kyiv – White House

The White House has warned its allies “no one should be fooled by Russia’s announcements” about reducing its military presence around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and that it was important to be “clear-eyed about the reality of what is happening on the ground”, Agence France-Presse reports.

Any movement of Russian forces around Kyiv is a “redeployment and not a withdrawal”, White House director of communications Kate Bedingfield said in Washington at a briefing moments ago.

The comments echoed those coming from the Pentagon just prior, warning that Kyiv “remains under threat”.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a Russian tank captured after fighting with Russian troops in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, at the weekend.
A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a Russian tank captured after fighting with Russian troops in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, at the weekend.
Photograph: Marko Đurica/Reuters

Russia itself had noted earlier, via Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, that its promise to “drastically reduce” military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine did not represent a ceasefire.

And Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy just said that although signals from the talks in Turkey were positive, they didn’t drown out the explosions of Russian shells raining down on Ukraine.

Now Washington has amplified warnings for caution. AFP further reports:

We’re seeing a small number now that appears to be moving away from Kyiv, this on the same day that the Russians say they’re withdrawing,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said just earlier.

“But we’re not prepared to call this a retreat or even a withdrawal. We think that what they probably have in mind is a repositioning to prioritize elsewhere.”

“We all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine. It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.

“Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kiev,” the Pentagon spokesman said, but “they can still inflict massive brutality on the country including on Kyiv.”

White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield holds a press briefing at the White House moments ago.
White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield holds a press briefing at the White House moments ago.
Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Updated

A dozen members of the US Senate foreign relations committee urged Joe Biden’s administration to push for Russia’s removal from the United Nations human rights council, citing its invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reports.

In a letter dated Monday and made public on Tuesday, the eight Democrats and four Republicans asked the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to introduce a resolution to remove Russia from the rights body, citing widespread casualties in Ukraine and the destruction of residential buildings, hospital and schools.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressing the United Nations Security Council at UN HQ in New York last week.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressing the United Nations Security Council at UN HQ in New York last week.
Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Support for Ukraine is one of the rare areas of bipartisan agreement in the bitterly divided US Congress, which has approved billions of dollars in aid for the government in Kyiv.

“Swift action must be taken to show the world the United States and our allies will not stand for indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks on civilians and democracies. The time has come for Russia to no longer have a seat on the Council,” said the letter, led by the committee’s top Republican, Senator Jim Risch, and its Democratic chairman, Senator Bob Menendez.

In the letter, the senators said states engaging in a pattern of gross and systemic rights abuses can be removed by a two-thirds vote in the UN general assembly.

“We implore you to introduce a resolution in the UN General Assembly to call for the removal of the Russian Federation from the UNHRC immediately,” they wrote.

American officials at the US mission to the United Nations in New York referred a request for comment to the office in Geneva, which did not immediately respond.

The Human Rights Council is based in Geneva.

Russia, which has called its actions since 24 February a “special operation”, has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.

Only one country has been suspended from the 47-member Geneva-based council: Libya. The North African country was suspended in 2011 because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to its then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Some senior officials addressing the council during a meeting earlier this month questioned Russia’s membership, but did not explicitly call for its suspension.

Updated

The White House has provided a read-out of the five way phone call earlier today between the Nato member leaders Joe Biden, the US president, the UK’s Boris Johnson, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi.

“The leaders affirmed their determination to continue raising costs on Russia for its brutal attacks in Ukraine, as well as to continue supplying Ukraine with security assistance to defend itself against this unjustified and unprovoked assault,” the White House statement said.

It continued: “They reviewed their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions affected by the violence, both inside Ukraine and seeking refuge in other countries, and underscored the need for humanitarian access to civilians in Mariupol. They also discussed the importance of supporting stable energy markets in light of current disruptions due to sanctions.”

In the last three days, Biden and Macron essentially disagreed over the US president’s ad lib at the end of a speech in Poland on Saturday where he said that Russian president Vladimir Putin was a butcher who “cannot remain in power”.

On Sunday, as US officials rushed to play down Biden’s remarks and insisted they were not meant to signal a new US policy stance of “regime change” in Russia, Macron warned warned against the use of inflammatory language in an already volatile situation.

Yesterday, Biden said he was not “walking anything back”, made no apologies for his use of language and said the comment had been made from a personal sense of moral outrage after meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House today.
Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House today.
Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

Updated

The death toll from the Russian strike on a regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv has risen from at least seven to at least nine, with 28 people wounded, local authorities said and various wire services reported.

The wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene, the emergencies service said in an online post.

Footage from the state rescue service showed a gaping hole in a side of the building, with firefighters extinguishing a fire where the rocket hit and the wounded being put onto ambulance stretchers.

A woman cries as she waits for news of her relative, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Mykolaiv.
A woman cries as she waits for news of her relative in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

There was blood visible in the debris, and shattered glass and upturned furniture strewn on the floor in the offices inside the building, Reuters reported.

This is just a nightmare. A girl died on my floor. What can I say? Are you kidding? I hugged her, two minutes passed, and she passed,” said a woman who was helped out of the building by rescuers.

They destroyed half of the building, hit my office,” regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.

Russian forces have attacked Ukraine’s southern ports including Kherson, Odesa, Mykolaiv and Mariupol as they try to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and establish a land corridor from Russia to Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized in 2014.

Kim said there was an upside to the strike – it suggested Russia had given up trying to take over the city.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour. It denies targeting civilians and did not comment on the strike on Mykolaiv.

Ukraine and the west say Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion.

It was so noisy, people were very afraid. People all ran into the hallway and some are still sitting there because they’re still scared. After that the [air-raid] sirens went off,” said Natalia Novikova, 57, an employee in the department of health in the local administration

Elizabeth Kaplun, 81, is helped by her grandson, Yuriy Kaplun, 33, and Steve, a security adviser of journalists, as she enters a bomb shelter located near a destroyed Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv.
Elizabeth Kaplun, 81, is helped by her grandson, Yuriy Kaplun, 33, and Steve, a security adviser of journalists, as she enters a bomb shelter located near a destroyed Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

Updated

Catch up

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

  • Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Another US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told the Danish parliament in a video address.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “deliberately well hidden”.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand the blog over to my US colleague, Joanna Walters.

Updated

Biden says ‘we’ll see’ if Russia de-escalates in Ukraine

The US president, Joe Biden, said it remains to be seen whether Russia follows through with any actions to scale down its military operations in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters at the White House following his meeting with Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, Biden said:

We’ll see. I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We’ll see if they follow through with what they’ve suggested.

Updated

Sasha, an 11-year-old boy who was wounded during the shelling of Mariupol, sits with his mother in a bed in children’s ward of the hospital, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
Sasha, an 11-year-old boy who was wounded during the shelling of Mariupol, sits with his mother on a bed in the children’s ward of the hospital in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on 29 March.
Photograph: Marko Đurica/Reuters
A Ukrainian service member walks on the front line near Kyiv.
A Ukrainian service member walks on the front line near Kyiv.
Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Marta, who fled the war in Ukraine comforts one of her dogs as the other rests inside a pet backpack next to a child on March 29, 2022 in Krakow, Poland.
A dog inside a pet backpack in Krakow, Poland. The animal belongs to Marta, who fled the war in Ukraine.
Photograph: Omar Marques/Getty Images

Updated

Western officials ‘very wary’ of Russia’s promises during peace talks

Western officials said they were “very wary” about Russian diplomatic promises made during the peace talks in Istanbul and fear that Vladimir Putin could be seeking to take advantage of the situation.

One official said:

Certainly, in terms of the negotiations, nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious … it’s more of a tactical exercise in playing for time.

Negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations had not yet reached the point where it was possible to talk about a ceasefire, although there is a feeling that at the very least the war is entering a new phase.

One official said:

Clearly, we are at a moment when some of the tactics and strategies are changing. Exactly what that prefigures at the moment, I don’t think we feel particularly confident about.

But there were not yet discussions that amounted to “in any shape or form a cessation of hostilities”, they added.

A five-way phone call between Joe Biden, the US president, plus the UK’s Boris Johnson, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi agreed to ramp up pressure on Russia, added the official, who had knowledge of the call.

Significantly, the five said they wanted to “increase our support for Ukraine”, implying more weapons would be sent to help Kyiv, and to “continue to tighten the economic vice around Russia”. There was “not a cigarette paper between them”, the official added.

Statements from Russia’s deputy defence minister that Moscow was pulling out forces in northern Ukraine also had to be judged sceptically at this stage.

An official added:

I think you will have to wait and see over the next few days whether that’s a seismic shift.

Nevertheless, despite the uncertainty, it is believed the talks in Istanbul remain the only hope for ending the brutal fighting.

It is nevertheless the best way forward in due course. And we would hope that at some stage it would become real and lead to a ceasefire.

Updated

Romania will distribute potassium iodine tablets to residents free of charge to prepare in case of a nuclear emergency, the country’s health minister, Alexandru Rafila, said today.

Describing the likelihood of a nuclear incident as “not probable” but “possible”, Rafila said the government would start distributing the tablets from next week through family doctors.

He told reporters:

They should be taken if there is a nuclear incident in the vicinity. Otherwise, they should not be taken.

Several doctors have warned against taking iodine without proper precautions, pointing at the serious side effects, Reuters reports.

Russia using peace talks as ‘tactical exercise in playing for time’, western official says

Russia has not yet demonstrated it is serious about negotiations with Ukraine, a western official speaking on condition of anonymity said.

Reuters is reporting the official as saying:

In terms of the negotiations, nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that President Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious about that, it’s more of a tactical exercise in playing for time.

The official added that talks were “nevertheless the best way forward in due course”.

We would hope that at some stage it would become real and lead to a ceasefire … we are sceptical that it is real just yet. Nevertheless, we do want to see a ceasefire which will emerge ultimately from a negotiation.

Updated

France says no Mariupol humanitarian mission possible ‘at this stage’

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, discussed the situation in Ukraine in a phone call today.

Macron brought up the subject of carrying out a humanitarian mission for the besieged city of Mariupol with Putin, but conditions are not in place at this stage, a French presidency official said.

Russia’s position on a humanitarian mission for Mariupol remains tough, the official said, adding that Putin told the French president that he would think about it.

In a statement, the Kremlin said the two leaders also discussed Russia’s decision to request payments in roubles for Russian gas supplies to the European Union.

Russian troop movement is a ‘gear shift, not withdrawal’, US official says

A US official said any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv would constitute a “redeployment, not a withdrawal”, Reuters reports.

The official warned:

We believe any movement of Russian forces from around Kyiv is a redeployment, not a withdrawal.

And the world should be prepared for continued major offensives against other areas of Ukraine.

They added:

They are shifting gears … No one should mistake that for Russia ending the conflict.

Separately, a US official told the BBC that some Russian forces are moving away from the Ukrainian capital.

Yes, we have seen the Russians begin to draw away from Kyiv.

But we have little confidence at this stage that it marks some significant shift or a meaningful retreat. The Russians are still pounding Kyiv with airstrikes.

Time will tell.

Updated

Here are some images from the aftermath of a Russian strike on a government building in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning.

At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, Ukraine’s president, Volodmyr Zelenskiy, said. Authorities are still searching for more survivors in the rubble.

Rescue workers look at the rubble of government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Rescue workers look at the rubble of government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on 29 March 2022.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
A firefighter clears the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv, 29 March 2022.
A firefighter clears the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Ruth Michaelson has been following the peace talks for us from Istanbul, and sends this latest dispatch from the Turkish city:

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators arrived in the early morning hours at Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace to conduct talks in a formal setting, shielded from a media scrum assembled at the entrance.

The delegations conducted delicate negotiations facing one another at a long conference table inside a stone-walled room, with pictures of the meeting showing Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich seated at a small nearby table alongside Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın.

The discussions followed a short opening speech by The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who addressed them from a lectern, telling them:

The world is waiting for good news, and good news from you.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to present Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted “unconditional security guarantees for Ukraine, ceasefire, effective decisions on humanitarian corridors and humanitarian convoys, observance by the parties of the rules and customs of war. Difficult negotiations for peace in our country. Istanbul round right now,” with a picture that showed him embracing another member of one of the delegations.

Despite the difficulties of the talks, the results appeared warmer and more productive than previous sessions in Belarus or talks between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in the southern Turkish city of Antalya.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, told a press conference that “we see with satisfaction that both sides are getting closer at every stage,” and expressed hopes that the foreign ministers and later perhaps even Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin would meet.

Ukrainian and Turkish diplomats later said that the Istanbul talks were not scheduled to continue into a second day. Yet after the initial formal meeting, discussions between both Ukrainian and Russian representatives continued apace at the glitzy Shangri-La hotel adjacent to the Dolmabahçe Palace.

Podolyak resisted further questions from journalists and disappeared from view under the crystal chandeliers in the hotel lobby. But out on the sunlit terrace of the Shangri-La’s seafood and burger restaurant, Abramovich sat and talked intently with Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov, with whom he reportedly previously held a series of talks in Istanbul under Kalin’s supervision.

Umerov and Abramovich reportedly suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning during their previous series of unofficial talks. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told Ukraine’s channel 24 television prior to the meeting:

I advise anyone going through negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface.

The restaurant’s long terrace overlooks the Bosphorus and the adjacent bustling Beşiktaş ferry stop, with travellers hurrying past seemingly unaware of their proximity to the group or their furtive negotiations.

Abramovich, drinking a tulip-shaped glass of Turkish black tea under heavy security, sat with his back to the adjacent boardwalk as he leaned in to talk with Umerov, later joined by Ukrainian parliamentary leader and head of the delegation David Arakhamia.

The rest of the Ukrainian delegation, including the defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, wearing military green, were seated at the far end of the terrace, later getting up to reveal a forest of half-empty wine glasses.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (L) leaves the Dolmabahçe palace.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (L) leaves the Dolmabahçe palace.
Photograph: Yasin Akgül/AFP/Getty Images

Abramovich, Umerov and Arakhamia moved into the restaurant’s interior away from public view, soon joined by Reznikov, who strolled inside after them. Once inside, Abramovich peeled off to sit on a plush sofa alone to make a phone call, accompanied only by his glass of tea while Arakhamia joined other members of the Ukrainian delegation at a large table laden with food.

Despite the restaurant’s extensive menu and large fridge advertising its stock of dry-aged meat, Abramovich did not appear to eat during the entire meeting.

He later followed Umerov and other members of the Ukrainian delegation, clutching stuffed blue binders, to another area of the restaurant to continue their discussions well into the late afternoon, hours after the official talks had ended.

Outside under the bright lobby lights, a Ukrainian general strolled across the marble floor next to an accompanying diplomat, who fell asleep in an armchair while clutching a briefcase, exhausted from the day’s events.

Updated

Summary

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

  • A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris. At least seven people were killed and 22 injured, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told the Danish parliament in a video address.
  • However, Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations does not represent a ceasefire. In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to go” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.
  • Following Russia’s announcement, two senior US officials said the US said it is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a “major” change in Russian strategy. Large numbers of military vehicles with Russian flags were reportedly seen retreating from the Kyiv direction. The US officials warned that Russia could always reverse their latest move.
  • Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region. In a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war, Shoigu claimed the “main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed”.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out. “Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.
  • A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said. Roman Hrybov was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February. Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.
  • A £38m superyacht owned by an unnamed Russian businessman has been detained in Canary Wharf in London as part of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The vessel, known as Phi, is subject to the first detention of a superyacht in UK waters, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said, and its owner was “deliberately well hidden”.

Hello, I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll continue to bring you all the latest news from the war in Ukraine. You can reach me on Twitter or via email.

A Ukrainian soldier who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself” while defending an island has been awarded for his services, local authorities said.

Roman Hrybov, a Ukrainian border guard, was serving on Snake Island – known as Zmiinyi Island in Ukrainian – when it came under Russian air and sea bombardment on 24 February.

Initial reports said 13 border guards had died after refusing to surrender the island. When asked to lay down their weapons, the soldiers are said to have responded to an officer on board the Russian warship with a defiant: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.” It later emerged that the soldiers had survived.

The phrase became a rallying cry for Ukraine’s defenders and was commemorated in a postage stamp by the Ukrainian postal service.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Hrybov was released from Russian captivity and is now home in Cherkasy.

Updated

A Ukrainian soldier sits on top of a Russian artillery vehicle marked with the ‘Z’ symbol, which Ukraine captured during fighting outside Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
A Ukrainian soldier sits on top of a Russian artillery vehicle marked with the ‘Z’ symbol, which Ukraine captured during fighting outside Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 29 March.
Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, a top military commander, walks in a trench at a position north of the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, a top Ukrainian military commander, walks in a trench at a position north of the capital, Kyiv, on 29 March.
Photograph: Vadim Ghirdă/AP

Updated

Four Russian officials have been expelled from Ireland for “activities not in accordance with diplomatic behaviour, the Irish department of foreign affairs has said.

It will keep diplomatic relations open and allow the Russian embassy to remain open.

The move comes weeks after an RTÉ documentary raised questions about the function of the expansive embassy site in Dublin.

In a statement, the DFA said:

This afternoon, the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian Ambassador to Iveagh House to advise him that four senior officials have been asked to leave the State. This is because their activities have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour. This action is being taken under Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Government continues to believe that diplomatic channels between Ireland and the Russian Federation should remain open. This is in the interests of our citizens as well as to ensure that we can continue to have a diplomatic channel of communication between Ireland and the Russian Federation in the future. This channel of communication has been important in the context of conveying our strong views on the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which we regard as a serious breach of international law.

Updated

UK sees ‘some reduction’ in Russian bombardment around Kyiv

The UK has seen signs of “some reduction” in Russian bombardment around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Downing Street said.

However, the UK wants to see a full withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine and will judge tentative steps towards a possible peace deal by actions rather than words, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said.

Asked if the PM was encouraged by Russia’s promise to scale down military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine, Johnson’s spokesperson said:

We will judge Putin and his regime by his actions, not by his words.

He told reporters:

There has been some reduction in Russian bombardment around Kyiv, largely because Ukrainian forces have been successfully pushing back the Russian offensives in the northwest of the city.

But fighting continues. There’s heavy bombardment in Mariupol and other areas. So we don’t want to see anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

Russian de-escalation around Kyiv and Chernihiv does not mean ceasefire, Russian negotiator says

Russia’s promise to “drastically reduce” military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine does not represent a ceasefire, Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said.

In an interview with the Russian state-owned Tass news agency, Medinsky said there is still “a long way to do” to reach a mutual agreement with Ukraine.

He said:

This is not a ceasefire but this is our aspiration, gradually to reach a de-escalation of the conflict at least on these fronts.

Updated

Russia beginning to withdraw some forces from around Kyiv, US says

The US is seeing Russia beginning to withdraw some of its forces from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in what it believes is a change in Russian strategy in Ukraine, senior US military officials said.

The US is already observing a major strategy shift after Russia’s defence ministry announced earlier today that it would “drastically reduce” military activity outside Kyiv and Chernihiv, according to two senior US officials.

Russia is beginning to withdraw some forces, including Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) leaving the surrounding areas around the Ukrainian capital, CNN cited the officials as saying.

The Russian forces now pulling back in some areas of the north to focus on gains in the south and east. The officials warned that Russia could always reverse their latest move.

From CNN’s Jim Sciutto:

Large numbers of military vehicles with Russian flags were reportedly seen retreating from the Kyiv direction.

However, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he has not seen “signs of real seriousness” from Russia in pursuing peace, adding that Moscow should “end the aggression now, stop firing, pull its forces back and of course engage in talks”.

Speaking today at a joint press conference with Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, Blinken said he has not seen signs the talks between Ukraine and Russia are “moving forward in an effective way”.

There is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter.

Ukraine’s military said it had noted withdrawals of some forces around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Updated

Boris Johnson told a meeting of senior ministers that a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine would not be enough to trigger the lifting of UK sanctions, Downing Street said.

The PM’s spokesperson suggested a full withdrawal would be a good start but a ceasefire was only the first step towards that, telling reporters:

The prime minister said a ceasefire alone would not be cause for UK sanctions to be removed on Russia.

He said the pressure on (Russian president Vladimir) Putin must be increased both through further economic measures and providing military aid to ensure Russia changes course completely.

He added:

I think as ever, we will judge Putin by his actions.

Updated

A Russian airstrike hit a government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, destroying a large portion of the structure and leaving people trapped under debris.

 

Updated

British cybersecurity agency NCSC has published a special blog advising businesses to review their IT security as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues – although it stressed while there have been “ongoing cyber-attacks” by Russia against Ukraine “we’ve not seen – and don’t expect to see – the massive, global cyber-attacks that some have predicted”.

The agency urged businesses and individuals to remain alert nevertheless and keep software patched and up to date, because the overall cybersecurity environment remains uncertain while the war between the countries continues.

Officials also advised that any British business that relies on Russian software should “reconsider their risk” if they operate in the wider public sector, provide services related to the UK’s critical infrastructure, do business with Ukraine or are in any way high profile, where any hack would represent “a PR win for Russia”.

This was in case the Kremlin tried to force Russian software companies to “cause damage to UK interests”, said Ian Levy, NCSC’s technical director. He said that “we have no evidence the Russian state intends to suborn Russian commercial products and service”, but warned “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

He added:

The war has proven many widely held beliefs wrong and the situation remains highly unpredictable. In our view, it would be prudent to plan for the possibility that this could happen.

Updated

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Benelux. Belgium has just announced that it is expelling 21 Russian diplomats for spying. The Netherlands is doing the same with 17 others.

In the UK, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, told the cabinet that Britain’s support was moving to a “new phase” as the Ukrainians sought to retake territory captured by the Russians.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said they were looking at “all possible options” to ensure the Ukrainians had the equipment they needed while avoiding any “escalatory effects”.

Asked what he meant by this, PA Media reports that the prime minister’s official spokesperson said it reflected “different asks of us as we provide further defensive aid, military capability”.

“Obviously they are in a different phase in their situation. First there was the invasion and now they are seeking to both defend and also regain territory,” he said.

Asked if this meant sending more offensive rather than defensive weaponry, the spokesman said the UK did not want to do anything that had any “escalatory effects”, but he said: “We are considering all possible options when it comes to making sure the Ukrainian government have what they need to defend themselves.”

He added: “Now, we are looking at what further equipment and what capabilities we can provide but I’m not going to get into what that might entail at this stage.”

He said as well as working with Nato, the UK was in conversation directly with the Ukrainian government and was delivering equipment directly to the country.

It should be noted that these quotes pre-date the information that has been coming out of the peace talks in Istanbul, with Russia suggesting it may scale down military activity in the west of Ukraine around Kyiv.

Updated

Here is the video clip of what could prove to be a significant shift in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Speaking on television after talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams in Istanbul, Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said Moscow had decided to “radically reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust” and create the right conditions to sign a peace deal with Ukraine.

 

Updated

Ruth Michaelson has been following the peace talks for us from Istanbul, and sends this latest dispatch from the Turkish city:

Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul signalled the first signs of progress in discussions between the Russian and Ukrainian sides, despite the fact that the three-hour meeting started late and appeared to finish almost an hour ahead of schedule.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, accompanied by the majority leader and head of the Ukrainian delegation David Arakhamia and MP Rustem Umerov, retired immediately following the official talks to a luxury restaurant on a terrace at the adjacent Shangri-La hotel overlooking the Bosphorus, where Abramovich drank tea under heavy security and the group appeared to continue their discussions.

Abramovich and Umerov reportedly previously held a series of meetings in Istanbul as a parallel track to official negotiations under the supervision of Turkish presidential adviser, İbrahim Kalın.

The meeting at the restaurant did not initially appear to include the Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who told journalists following the negotiations that “the results of today’s meeting are sufficient for a meeting at the leaders’ level”.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak gestures as he speaks to the press after the Russia and Ukraine face-to-face talks in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak gestures as he speaks to the press after the Russia and Ukraine face-to-face talks in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Photograph: Yasin Akgül/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian defence minister Olekseii Reznikov, wearing military green, followed Abramovich, Umerov and Arakhamia to a different location in the restaurant interior to continue discussions away from public view.

Ukrainian negotiators stated following the official talks that the sides had discussed their demands for “security guarantees” at length, agreeing that Ukraine could remain “neutral” in exchange for protections equivalent to Nato’s article 5, meaning collective security guaranteed by other nations.

They also discussed the future status of the Crimean peninsula, adding “Donetsk and Lugansk are a slightly different issue, the presidents will resolve it among themselves.”

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a press conference that “we see with satisfaction that both sides are getting closer at every stage”.

Çavuşoğlu added that the Istanbul meeting will hopefully prompt a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers, followed by a potential meeting of both leaders, long a request of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The greatest progress was made during today’s talks,” he said.

Updated

A quick snap from Reuters that in comments broadcast on state media, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said that Kyiv’s proposals to Moscow at talks in Istanbul included one that Russia would not oppose Ukraine joining the European Union.

Here is a selection of some of the latest images of the Ukraine crisis to land on the newswires:

Two young girls look out from a barrier as they wait in a queue at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, after fleeing Ukraine.
Two young girls look out from a barrier as they wait in a queue at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, after fleeing Ukraine.
Photograph: Sergei Grits/AP
Ukrainian policemen check driver’s documents as they patrol in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last night.
Ukrainian policemen check driver’s documents as they patrol in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last night.
Photograph: Aleksey Filippov/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles in the Rivne region of Ukraine.
Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles in the Rivne region of Ukraine.
Photograph: State Emergency Service Of Ukraine/Reuters
Ukrainian soldiers and relatives attend a ceremony at the funeral of the soldier Teodor Osadchyi, killed during the Russian invasion, at Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers and relatives attend a ceremony at the funeral of the soldier Teodor Osadchyi, killed during the Russian invasion, at Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine.
Photograph: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP/Getty Images

Angela Giuffrida reports for us from Italy:

A luxury car worth €600,000 and built to withstand bullets and explosives has been seized in Sardinia as part of EU sanctions against oligarchs with close links to Vladimir Putin.

The black Mercedes Maybach S650 Guard belongs to Alisher Usmanov, an ex-shareholder in Arsenal football club, and was recently seized by police in Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda, Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.

Usmanov is said to own several properties on the island, but it is not clear whether they have been seized too.

Corriere said the “maximum protection” car was bought from a company in Sardinia in 2018.

Usmanov, once said to be the UK’s richest person, last week claimed that millions of pounds of his assets are in an irrevocable trust.

Russian oligarchs have long gravitated to Porto Cervo during the summer and other key hotspots in luxury.

In early March, Italian police seized a yacht owned by Alexei Mordashov, the richest man in Russia before being blacklisted by the European Union, and another owned by Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire with close ties to Putin, in the Ligurian port of Imperia.

Ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, has denounced the invasion of Ukraine as an “atrocious” act that is causing enormous suffering during a visit to Warsaw.

Although he did not denounce Russia by name, he said: “It is simply impossible to imagine how much devastation this atrocious invasion has caused for the Ukrainian people and the entire world,” at a news briefing. He added that solidarity with Ukrainians “is the only thing that can overcome evil and darkness in the world”.

A file photo of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from late last year.
A file photo of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from late last year.
Photograph: Ted Shaffrey/AP

Bartholomew also met with Archbishop Stanisaw Gdecki, the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

Associated Press quote him going further with a condemnation of Russia, saying that Russia’s invasion has resulted in the deaths of “thousands of innocent people” including “hundreds of children, elderly people, women, and men who had nothing to do with the hostilities”.

“Many of the aggressor’s actions bear the hallmarks of genocide,” Gdecki said.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has defended the attack on Ukraine, writing in a letter on 10 March that “This conflict did not start today. It is my firm belief that its initiators are not the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share common historical fate. The origins of the confrontation lie in the relationships between the west and Russia.”

Updated

At least seven killed after strike on building in Mykolaiv, Zelenskiy says

A Russian rocket that struck a regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv today has left at least seven people dead and 22 injured, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

Speaking in a video address to the Danish parliament today, the Ukrainian president said:

As far as we know now seven people were killed, 22 were wounded, and people are still going through the rubble.

He added:

There were no military ambitions in Mykolaiv, the people in Mykolaiv presented no threat to Russia.

And even then, like all the Ukrainians, they became the targets for the Russian troops.

Eighteen of the wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene, the emergencies service said in an online post.

The regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
The regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

Vitaly Kim, the governor of Mykolaiv, said in a series of video posts that dozens of people had managed to flee from the building before it was hit. There were reports of air raid sirens in Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning.

President Zelenskiy told the Danish parliament that the Russian siege of the port city of Mariupol constituted a “crime against humanity”.

What the Russian troops are doing to Mariupol is a crime against humanity, which is happening in front of the eyes of the whole planet in real time.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks in a video broadcast to members of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on March 29, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks in a video broadcast to members of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen on March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

A Ukrainian negotiator said a “security guarantees” treaty with an “enhanced analogue” of Nato’s “article 5” collective defence clause was discussed during today’s talks with Russia in Istanbul.

From Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy and the lead negotiator in talks with Russia:

Updated

Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said Moscow has decided to “radically reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernigiv” in order to “increase mutual trust and create the right conditions for future negotiations and reach the final aim of signing a peace deal with Ukraine”.

Fomin added that the Russian delegation will give more details on the decision to reduce military activity on their return to Moscow.

Speaking alongside Fomin, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medisnky said the talks were “constructive”, adding that Russia was taking “two steps to de-escalate the conflict”.

Medinsky said:

We received proposals from Ukraine to consider their clearly formulated position on inclusion in the peace treaty. These proposals will be looked at in the coming period and delivered to the President, and an answer will be given.

Medinsky also said that a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy was possible in the future.

The meeting between Putin and Zelensky is possible simultaneously with the preliminary signing of a peace treaty.

Updated

Here’s more from Ukrainian negotiators following their first face-to-face talks with the Russian delegation in nearly three weeks. The Ukrainian team said it proposed adopting neutral status in exchange for security guarantees, meaning it would not join military alliances or host military bases.

The proposals would also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of annexed Crimea and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, the negotiators told reporters in Istanbul.

The proposals are the most detailed and concrete that Ukraine has aired publicly, Reuters reports.

Negotiator Oleksander Chaly said in comments broadcast on Ukrainian national television:

If we manage to consolidate these key provisions, and for us this is the most fundamental, then Ukraine will be in a position to actually fix its current status as a non-bloc and non-nuclear state in the form of permanent neutrality.

He added:

We will not host foreign military bases on our territory, as well as deploy military contingents on our territory, and we will not enter into military-political alliances.

Military exercises on our territory will take place with the consent of the guarantor countries.

There was enough material in the current Ukrainian proposals to warrant a meeting between the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainian negotiators said, adding they were awaiting Russia’s response.

Russia says it will ‘drastically reduce military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv’

Russia’s defence ministry said Russia will “drastically reduce” military activity outside Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Speaking on television after talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams in Istanbul, Russia’s deputy defence minister said Moscow has decided to “fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine.”

From the Financial Times’ Max Seddon:

Updated

Ukrainian negotiators have shared some details of what was covered at today’s talks between Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul, the two delegations’ first face-to-face meeting in more than a fortnight.

Ukraine proposed adopting neutral status in exchange for security guarantees, meaning it would not join military alliances or host military bases, Ukrainian negotiators told reporters.

The proposals would also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of annexed Crimea and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, Reuters reports.

A superyacht has been detained in London as part of sanctions against Russia, the UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced.

Officials boarded Phi, owned by a Russian businessman, in Canary Wharf, east London, on Tuesday. The vessel is the first to be detained in the UK under sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.

Phi – named after the mathematical concept – made its maiden voyage last year after being built in the Netherlands. It is 58.5 metres and features what is described as an “infinite wine cellar” and a freshwater swimming pool. The vessel was in London for a superyacht awards ceremony and was due to depart at noon on Tuesday.

The superyacht Phi owned by a Russian businessman in Canary Wharf, east London which has been detained as part of sanctions against Russia.
The superyacht Phi owned by a Russian businessman in Canary Wharf, east London which has been detained as part of sanctions against Russia.
Photograph: James Manning/PA

Shapps said:

Today we’ve detained a £38m superyacht and turned an icon of Russia’s power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to Putin and his cronies. Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from connections to Putin’s regime.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it worked with the National Crime Agency and the Border Force maritime investigation bureau to identify and detain the vessel. It refused to reveal the name of the owner.

The department described Phi’s ownership as “deliberately well-hidden”. The vessel is registered to a company based in Saint Kitts and Nevis and carries a Maltese flag.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called on Russia and Ukraine to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol and other frontline places as vital supplies run out.

“Time is running out” for people in Mariupol, it warned, adding that there was still a lack of “concrete agreements” for the safe passage and evacuations of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city.

In a statement, it said:

Today, civilians are taking the life-and-death decision to flee when there is no ceasefire or other agreements in place that would allow them to leave safely.

Robert Mardini, the aid agency’s director-general, told Reuters that the ICRC would not participate in any forced evacuations of civilians from Ukraine and it had no first-hand information that this is happening.

Our concern is that the very intensity of the fighting is putting civilians in harm’s way, the fact that in places like Mariupol civilians are not able to leave in safe conditions, there were no concrete agreements by parties to the conflict for safe evacuation of civilians, nor has there been a green light to get humanitarian aid in.

The meeting between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in Istanbul has ended, the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey said.

The talks lasted around four hours with occasional breaks. It is unclear if the discussions will continue for a second day, Reuters reports.

Three killed after strike on building in Mykolaiv

A Russian rocket hit the regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv today, killing at least three people and wounding 22, local authorities said.

In an online post, emergency services said 18 of the wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene.

Reuters cited witnesses who saw the destruction from a distance and ambulances and fire engines heading to the scene.

Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Firefighters clear the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images
A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
A destroyed part of a Ukrainian government administration building following a bombing in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters
A Russian strike battered the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, a key port under heavy assault for weeks, the regional governor said on March 29, 2022.
A Russian strike battered the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, a key port under heavy assault for weeks, the regional governor said on March 29, 2022.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said:

They destroyed half of the building, got into my office.

Updated

Ruth Michaelson is in Istanbul to cover the peace talks for us. She sends this report:

“I advise anyone going through negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly told delegates. Pictures from inside the negotiations, expected to stretch into the afternoon, suggest Kuleba’s instructions might be a challenge.

While Abramovich’s presence inside the negotiation room alongside Kalin, who reportedly arranged a series of talks between him and Umerov at five-star hotels across Istanbul, suggested to some that this parallel track of negotiations might have ended in favour of these official talks, others were not convinced.

“A presence in the room doesn’t mean the parallel track has collapsed,” said Sinan Ülgen, of the Istanbul think-tank the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM). “We can read into [Abramovich’s presence] is the receptivity of both Kyiv and Moscow to Turkey’s involvement. Not only is Turkey acting formally as a facilitator but it also has an active role in this second track of diplomacy to defuse the conflict.”

“From a Turkish perspective, what matters is that Turkey remains a central piece of diplomatic efforts going forward, first to agree on a ceasefire and then to reach a political settlement,” he said. “I would pay particular attention if, at the end of the talks, the two sides issue a statement outlining some degree of convergence.”

However Ülgen added that observers should temper their expectations from today’s talks, after previous rounds of negotiations in Belarus and in the southern Turkish city of Antalya yielded few results. “I think we should not harbour any big expectations from this specific round of talks. I think the dynamics on the ground are not very suitable to this type of…more positive expectations,” he added.

Roman Abramovich listens as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Roman Abramovich listens as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Photograph: Turkish Presidency/Reuters

Updated

Here’s more from Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who said relations between Russia and the US would inevitably be affected by “personal insults” by the US President, Joe Biden, directed at his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Personal insults cannot but leave their mark on relations between heads of state.

However, Peskov said:

One way or another, sooner or later, we will have to speak about questions of strategic stability and security and so on.

The Kremlin was referring to unscripted remarks made by Biden at a speech in Poland at the weekend, in which the US president said Putin “cannot remain in power”.

US President Joe Biden outside the Royal Palace, Warsaw, Poland. 26 Mar 2022
US President Joe Biden outside the Royal Palace, Warsaw, Poland. 26 Mar 2022
Photograph: Anna Voitenko/Ukrinform/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

On Monday, Biden defended his remarks and denied that he was seeking “regime change” as a new policy. “I’m not walking anything back,” Biden said.

I was expressing the moral outrage I felt … I had just come from being with those families. But I want to be clear that I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change.

Updated

Kremlin dismisses reports of Abramovich poisoning as ‘part of information war’

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday dismissed reports that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning during an informal round of talks earlier this month, calling the reports “part of the information war”.

Peskov said during his daily call with reporters:

This is part of the information panic, part of the information sabotage, information war. These reports are not true…it is necessary to strongly filter the flow of information.

Peskov further confirmed that Abramovich was part of the talks in Istanbul that will kick off today, but said the Russian billionaire was not an official member of the delegation.

Abramovich is involved in ensuring certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides.

There was photographic evidence to confirm that Abramovich is indeed in the room this morning with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, President Recep Tayyip Érdogan and Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Photograph: RIA Novosti / POOL

Updated

Russia’s main goal is ‘liberation’ of Donbas, Shoigu says

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s “main goal” in Ukraine was now the “liberation” of the Donbas region, a sign that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war.

Russian state news agency Interfax quoted Shoigu as saying on Tuesday:

The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed. The combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has been significantly reduced, which makes it possible to focus our main attention and main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas.

Shoigu further claimed that the Ukrainian air force and the air defence system have been “practically destroyed” and that Russia now controlled the skies.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
Photograph: Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/EPA

Last Friday, a spokesperson of Russia’s defence ministry also said that the first phase of its military operation was “generally” complete, saying the country would focus on the “liberation” of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and Donetsk region, jointly known as the Donbas.

The country’s forces, however, have continued their action on several battlefronts across Ukraine over the weekend, including attacking the western city of Lviv, where a Russian cruise missile slammed into a fuel depot.

Russia has been shifting its objectives in Ukraine throughout the war, as the country failed to secure a quick victory over Ukraine. The Financial Times on Monday reported that the Kremlin no longer requested Ukraine be “denazified” and “demilitarised”, initial core demands that Russian president Vladimir Putin raised to justify the invasion.

The two sides will hold highly anticipated peace talks in Istanbul today, but some Ukrainian officials have warned Russia could be using the talks as an opportunity to regroup and fix its tactical and logistical issues.

Updated

Ukraine’s military capacity seriously degraded, Russia says

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Ukraine’s military capacity had been seriously degraded, adding that the main tasks of the first phase of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine had been completed, Reuters reports.

Speaking to officials in a televised meeting, Shoigu also warned that Russia would respond appropriately if Nato supplied Ukraine with planes and air defence systems.

Interfax news agency reports that Shoigu said Ukraine no longer has a navy, and that the main task of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine now is “liberating” Donbas.

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

Updated

Today so far …

  • Fresh talks between Ukraine and Russia have begun in Istanbul, with Kyiv seeking a ceasefire without compromising on its sovereignty or territorial integrity and both sides playing down hopes of an early breakthrough.
  • Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the talks – the two delegations’ first face-to-face meeting in more than a fortnight – at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, urging both sets of negotiators to “put an end to this tragedy”.
  • The Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was in attendance – and talks started with “a cold welcome and no handshake”.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Ukraine and Russia to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and other places as vital supplies run out.
  • Robert Mardini, ICRC director general, said the neutral aid agency would not participate in any forced evacuations of civilians from Ukraine and it had no first-hand information that this is happening. He also said there was a “disinformation campaign” against the ICRC on social media.
  • Ukraine hopes to open three humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities today, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
  • The main government building in Mykolaiv in Ukraine has been struck and damaged by a missile strike. There are no reports of fatalities but eight people are said to be trapped under the rubble.
  • Russia’s defence ministry has claimed it has destroyed a major fuel depot in Ukraine’s Rivne region.
  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence released its latest intelligence report on the situation unfolding in Ukraine, claiming Ukrainian forces are continuing to conduct localised counterattacks outside Kyiv.
  • Ukraine’s military also released its latest operational report as of 6am this morning and appears to corroborate with British intelligence, claiming its forces carried out successful counterattacks in some directions.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial” and called for countries to keep supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
  • Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has tweeted to call upon states around the world to criminalise the use of the “Z” symbol as a way to publicly support Russia’s war of aggression.
  • Finland’s security service said it expects neighbouring Russia to mount a campaign of disinformation over the coming months to influence the Nordic nation’s debate over joining Nato.
  • The Russian foreign ministry is summoning ambassadors from the Baltic states to announce the expulsion of diplomats.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I will be back a little later on. I am now handing over to Léonie Chao-Fong who will guide you through the next few hours of developments in the war.

Updated

Macron and Putin to have phone call later today

A quick snap from Reuters that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is due to talk to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, later today.

At the weekend, Macron warned against inflammatory remarks after the US president, Joe Biden, said Putin “cannot remain in power”, words that Biden has stood by. Macron is in the middle of a domestic election campaign.

Updated

Here is a round-up of this morning’s latest diplomatic developments from my colleague Jon Henley:

Fresh talks between Ukraine and Russia have begun in Istanbul, with Kyiv seeking a ceasefire without compromising on its sovereignty or territorial integrity and both sides playing down hopes of an early breakthrough.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the talks – the two delegations’ first face-to-face meeting in more than a fortnight – at the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, urging both sets of negotiators to “put an end to this tragedy”.

With Russia’s invasion appearing stalled on the ground, Erdogan said each side had “legitimate concerns” but added: “We have now entered a period where concrete results are needed. It should be “possible to reach a solution acceptable to the international community”, he said, with further conflict “in no one’s interest”.

Ukrainian media said the talks – with the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in attendance – started with “a cold welcome and no handshake”. Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymr Zelenskiy, said delegations were working on “the entire spectrum of contentious issues”.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said the least he was hoping for was an end to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe, and the most was a ceasefire. “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty,” he insisted.

“If we see that the mood has changed and they are ready for a serious, substantive conversation and balanced arrangements, then things will move forward,” Kuleba said. He said if it was a “repetition of their propaganda”, then talks would again fail.

Read more of Jon Henley’s round-up here: Ukraine-Russia peace talks start in Turkey amid warnings they may again fail

Updated

Our correspondent Ruth Michaelson is in Istanbul, and brings us this analysis of the presence of sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich in today’s peace talks:

Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov had reportedly arranged a series of talks between them at five-star hotels across Istanbul. Abramovich’s presence inside the negotiation room alongside Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın suggested to some that this parallel track of negotiations might have ended in favour of these official talks. But others were not convinced.

“A presence in the room doesn’t mean the parallel track has collapsed,” said Sinan Ülgen, of the Istanbul thinktank the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

“We can read into [Abramovich’s presence] the receptivity of both Kyiv and Moscow to Turkey’s involvement. Not only is Turkey acting formally as a facilitator but it also has an active role in this second track of diplomacy to diffuse the conflict.”

“From a Turkish perspective, what matters is that Turkey remains a central piece of diplomatic efforts going forward, first to agree on a ceasefire and then to reach a political settlement,” he said. “I would pay particular attention if, at the end of the talks, the two sides issue a statement outlining some degree of convergence.”

However, Ülgen added that observers should temper their expectations from today’s talks, after previous rounds of negotiations in Belarus and in the southern Turkish city of Antalya yielded few results.

“I think we should not harbour any big expectations from this specific round of talks. I think the dynamics on the ground are not very suitable to this type of … more positive expectations,” he added.

Updated

On the theme of disinformation, Finland expects neighbouring Russia to mount a campaign of disinformation in coming months to influence the Nordic nation’s debate over joining Nato, the Finnish security service Supo said today.

In an updated assessment the agency said that “broad influencing and unlawful intelligence operations” by Russia were among the main threats to Finland’s national security.

“Finnish society as a whole should be prepared for various measures from Russia seeking to influence policymaking in Finland on the Nato issue,” Supo director Antti Pelttari said.

“Public authorities must secure the conditions for a full and frank debate without intimidation, and ensure that outsiders are unable to influence security policy decisions made by Finland.”

Opinion polls show Finnish willingness to join Nato has soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, indicating for the first time a majority in favour of becoming a member.

A taskforce led by Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto is currently reviewing ways for Finland to strengthen its national security, including possible Nato membership.

Supo said it has, however, as yet seen no significant change in Russian operations targeting Finland, the agency added.

Updated

International Committee of the Red Cross director-general warns of ‘disinformation campaign’ against them

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Ukraine and Russia to reach a clear agreement for the safe evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and other places as vital supplies run out.

Robert Mardini, ICRC director general, told Reuters that the neutral aid agency would not participate in any forced evacuations of civilians from Ukraine and it had no first-hand information that this is happening.

He also said there was a “disinformation campaign” against the ICRC on social media.

“Our concern is that the very intensity of the fighting is putting civilians in harm’s way, the fact that in places like Mariupol civilians are not able to leave in safe conditions, there were no concrete agreements by parties to the conflict for safe evacuation of civilians, nor has there been a green light to get humanitarian aid in,” Mardini said.

Ukraine and Russia must allow the ICRC to visit captured prisoners of war, in line with the Geneva conventions, and return the remains of people killed in the conflict, he said in an interview at ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

Updated

We have the very first read-out from talks in Istanbul coming out in brief on Reuters at the moment. The key points to have emerged so far are:

  • Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky has said there will be a statement after the talks, in several hours.
  • Russia say they have protested to the Ukraine delegation over the alleged abuse of Russian prisoners – no doubt a reference to the video circulating purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war.
  • Ukraine’s presidential advisor has said the main issue for Ukraine at the talks is security guarantees, with humanitarian issues second.

Updated

Ruth Michaelson is in Istanbul to cover the peace talks for us. She sends this report:

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators arrived at Istanbul’s opulent Dolmabahçe Palace for talks early this morning, although talks didn’t start until after 11am local time according to the Ukrainian side.

Ukrainian television reported the talks began with “a cold welcome” and no handshake between the delegations as things kicked off.

“The eyes of the world were turned to this meeting, where the ministers of the two warring countries sat at the same table,” reported Turkish daily Hurriyet.

The meeting itself is closed to the press, corralled outside between the aptly named Shangri-La hotel and Istanbul’s naval museum on the bustling street outside, awaiting statements expected to come from the Ukrainian side.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who previously held part of parallel talks with the Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov in Istanbul, had a front row seat as the talks started.

Pictures of Abramovich wearing a translation headset and sitting next to Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın quickly spread across Turkish media, after reports that Abramovich and Umerov were poisoned during previous negotiation efforts.

Updated

Here are some of the latest images to have appeared on the newswires today from Ukraine:

A Ukrainian soldier in Mykolaiv shows a picture of a damaged Ukrainian government administration building on a mobile phone following a bombing.
A Ukrainian soldier in Mykolaiv shows a picture of a damaged government administration building on a mobile phone following a bombing.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters
Members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fight against Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia region.
Members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fight against Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia region.
Photograph: Reuters
A volunteer fighter of the Revanche Battalion takes a rest in the living room of a local villager in the Lukayanivka frontline, east of Kyiv.
A volunteer fighter of the Revanche Battalion takes a rest in the living room of a local villager in the Lukayanivka frontline, east of Kyiv.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A flag flies next to a makeshift barricade in central Odesa.
A flag flies next to a makeshift barricade in central Odesa.
Photograph: Gilles Bader/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock
A woman looks at her phone near soldiers standing guard outside a government building in Mykolaiv.
A woman looks at her phone near soldiers standing guard outside a government building in Mykolaiv.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Reuters has a direct quote from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, addressing the start of peace talks in Istanbul. He told delegates:

It is up to the sides to stop this tragedy. Achieving a ceasefire and peace as soon as possible is to the benefit of everyone. We think we have now entered a period where concrete results are needed from talk. The negotiating process, which you have been carrying out under the orders of your leaders, has raised hopes for peace.

There is also photographic evidence to confirm that sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich is indeed in the room.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and businessman Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and businessman Roman Abramovich before Russian-Ukrainian talks at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
Photograph: RIA Novosti / POOL

Updated

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has posted on Twitter to say he had thanked Czech prime minister Petr Fiala, saying “he noted the significant humanitarian and security assistance, exceptional treatment of Ukrainians who found temporary shelter in the Czech Republic”.

Fiala himself has just announced that he has tested positive for Covid and will be isolating for a week.

Updated

The main government building in Mykolaiv in Ukraine has been struck and damaged by a missile strike this morning, according to a post on Telegram by the regional governor Vitaliy Kim. There are no reports of fatalities but eight people are said to be trapped under the rubble.

Ukrainian journalist Oleh Novikov has pictures from the scene.

Kim has clearly not entirely lost his sense of humour during the war, because he has said on his Telegram video post that it means Russia can’t be trying to take the city any more, as if they were planning to occupy it they would have needed these offices.

Mykolaiv is near the south coast of Ukraine, between Odesa and Kherson, and would be a natural target if the Russian military objective is to seize control of a strip of land along that coast.

Updated

There is another diplomatic development coming along this morning, as the Tass and RIA news agencies in Russia are reporting that the Russian foreign ministry is summoning ambassadors from the Baltic states to announce the expulsion of diplomats. I will bring you more on that when I have it.

‘Cold welcome, no handshake’ at start of peace talks in Istanbul – reports

Ukrainian television is reporting that the peace talks in Istanbul started with “a cold welcome, no handshake”, although it isn’t clear whether reporters witnessed this, or have just been informed this was the case.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymr Zelenskiy, said on Twitter the delegations were discussing “the fundamental provisions of the negotiation process. Delegations are working in parallel on the entire spectrum of contentious issues.”

Updated

As recently as 24 February this year, every time we wrote about Roman Abramovich we tended to have to carry disclaimers like “Abramovich has vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Vladimir Putin and Russia or that he has done anything to merit sanctions being imposed against him” as he had very energetic lawyers.

Reuters is quoting two sources saying that Abramovich is in attendance at the Istanbul peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. That suggests the nature of his relationship with Putin has either changed dramatically in the course of the last month, or that Abramovich’s lawyers were somehow previously mistaken.

Updated

We have some pictures from the opening of the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, hosted by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before their face-to-face talks.
Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdoğan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before their face-to-face talks.
Photograph: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Reuters
President Erdoğan’s view of the room.
President Erdoğan’s view of the room.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A view from the back of the room at the Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul.
A view from the back of the room at the Dolmabahce presidential office in Istanbul.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Two quick snaps from Reuters here – with contrasting implications. Russia’s defence ministry has claimed it has destroyed a major fuel depot in Ukraine’s Rivne region. The Guardian and Reuters have not independently verified this.

At the same time, Gazprom has just announced that gas exports to the rest of Europe via Ukraine remain high. The RIA news agency reported that gas has been flowing at a rate of just over 109m cubic metres per day, which is in line with the Kremlin-owned Gazprom’s contractual obligations.

Updated

Peter Forbes Ricketts, retired senior diplomat and the UK’s former permanent representative to Nato in Brussels, has also been making media appearances in the UK this morning. He told Sky News:

We’d all love to think that negotiations could produce a breakthrough and a ceasefire, and I’ve absolutely no doubt that President’s Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian side are totally sincere. But I’m really wary of the Russians here. I don’t honestly see that the conditions are there for a meaningful ceasefire.

I think it’s brave of President Zelenskiy to face up to the fact that Ukraine is not going to join Nato anytime soon. He’s interested in security guarantees from the major powers and a neutral status for Ukraine, possibly with the right to join the EU. All these are important, but they’re frankly secondary issues. The key thing is what happens to this territory that Russian forces have occupied.

I do not believe that Putin will be willing to give up places like Mariupol, once they do hold it firmly. That’s on the corridor between the east, which Russia already controls, and the south and the Crimean peninsula. I’m afraid his minimum objective is to hold the territory that he’s now occupied.

That requires Ukraine to accept, effectively, the partition of their country. And I just find it very hard to imagine that any Ukrainian government could do that. So I’m pretty sceptical about the outcome of these talks, although it’s a good thing people are talking.

Updated

Ukraine hopes to open three humanitarian corridors for Tuesday

Ukraine hopes to open three humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities today, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Reuters reports she said this would include trying to establish a safe corridor for people to leave the encircled southern port city of Mariupol in private vehicles.

Updated

A few more of the words of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at the start of the peace talks in Istanbul via Reuters. He has said that Turkey sees both President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as “valuable friends”. He has also said that progress in the Istanbul talks can pave the way for a meeting between the two leaders of Ukraine and Russia, which Turkey is also willing to host.

The Ukrainian delegation arrives for the peace talks.
The Ukrainian delegation arrives for the peace talks.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Turkey’s president Erdoğan addresses delegates ahead of peace talks

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is addressing the delegates before the process starts. I will hope to have some fuller quotes in due course but initially Reuters have a quick snap that he has said he hopes the meeting will be beneficial for the countries involved and the whole region, that Turkey has shown a fair stance on the conflict at every stage, and that a fair peace will not have a loser. He has called for an immediate ceasefire.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators.
Photograph: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Reuters

Here is a picture of the press scrum which was greeting delegates outside of the venue for the Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul today.

Press members are seen during peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce office in Istanbul.
Press members are seen during peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce office in Istanbul.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

In the UK, education minister Will Quince has been doing the media round for the government, and has been asked several question about Ukraine on Sky News.

He expressed a wish that any peace talks would be successful, saying “as much as there is scepticism globally about whether these peace talks will be successful, I desperately hope that they are, on any terms that are acceptable to the Ukrainian president and Ukrainian people”.

Regarding the allegation of poisoning at a previous round of talks, Quince would not be drawn on the veracity of the claims. He said it was a “worrying development” and that there was “no doubt [the] UK government will be looking to establish the facts there” but that ultimately it was a matter for local authorities.

On criticism of the low numbers of refugees being processed and accepted into the UK, he was defensive of the UK government’s two schemes saying:

On the family scheme we’ve had about 23,000 people accepted on that scheme and about 8,000 of those are children … I know that number will increase.

And then on the other scheme, which is in relation to the homeless Ukrainians, British people have been absolutely incredible. Over 150,000 have expressed an interest.

He could not give a number of successful placements yet but said “many are in progress” and added: “I want to thank from the bottom of my heart everyone who’s reached out, seeing those terrible scenes in Ukraine, who is offering up their home.”

Updated

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has tweeted to call upon states around the world to criminalise the use of the “Z” symbol as a way to publicly support Russia’s war of aggression:

I call on all states to criminalise the use of the ‘Z’ symbol as a way to publicly support Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. ’Z’ means Russian war crimes, bombed out cities, thousands of murdered Ukrainians. Public support of this barbarism must be forbidden.

Updated

Summary

  • Face-to-face peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are likely to start in Turkey today after negotiators arrived in Istanbul for their first face-to-face talks in more than two weeks. Both sides have played down the chances of a major breakthrough and a senior US official said Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to compromise.
  • The UK’s Ministry of Defence released its latest intelligence report on the situation unfolding in Ukraine, claiming Ukrainian forces are continuing to conduct localised counterattacks outside Kyiv.
  • Ukraine’s military also released its latest operational report as of 6am this morning and appears to corroborate with British intelligence, claiming its forces carried out successful counterattacks in some directions.
  • More than 60 Ukrainian churches and religious buildings have been destroyed and 733 educational institutions damaged by Russian forces since the invasion first began on 24 February, according to Ukraine’s crisis centre (UCMC).
  • A total of 144 children have so far been killed and more than 220 injured as a result of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has said.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial” and called for countries to keep supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia feels it is “amongst war” with the west after an array of sanctions were imposed on Russian businesses and individuals. Referencing Russia’s ongoing tension with Nato, Peskov told broadcaster PBS: “For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective west that we are afraid of your Nato’s moving eastwards. We too are afraid of Nato getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don’t push us into the corner. No.”
  • Peskov added that “no one is thinking about using” or “even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon”.
  • Video footage purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war is being investigated by the Ukrainian government. The film, which has not been verified, appears to show Ukrainian soldiers removing three hooded Russians from a van before shooting them in the legs.
  • Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, accused Putin’s forces of abducting innocent civilians, describing the move as an “abhorrent tactic” after Ukrainian human rights group, ZMINA, claimed to have identified dozens of individuals who had been abducted, with thousands more deported to Russia.
  • The US president, Joe Biden, said he will “make no apologies” after appearing to call for Putin’s removal last week. When asked by a reporter if he regretted saying that Putin should not remain in power, Biden said: “I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt.”

Updated

Peskov added that “no one is thinking about using” or “even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon” in an interview with PBS on Monday evening.

Reporter Ryan Chilcote asked Peskov to clear up the confusion surrounding Russia’s position on a possible nuclear attack after the Russian official previously said that Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its very existence were threatened.

“So could you please clarify for us what exactly would amount to an existential threat to Russia?” Chilcote asked.

Peskov replied:

Well, first of all, we have no doubt that all the objectives of our special military operation in Ukraine will be completed. We have no doubt about that.

But any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon. We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat or the existence of our country.”

Chilcote pressed: “So, why not just clear this up right now? Why can’t you, on behalf of Russia, rule out the use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, right here?”

Dmitry Peskov replied: “No one is thinking about using, about — even about idea of using a nuclear weapon.”

‘Don’t push us into the corner’ Kremlin spokesperson warns

Vladimir Putin’s main spokesman has said that sanctions on trade and oligarchs were akin to “total war” against Russia, and that the west has pushed the Kremlin “into the corner” with Nato expansion, as officials prepare for the resumption of peace talks with Ukraine on Tuesday.

Dmitry Peskov said in an interview on American television PBS that the punitive sanctions levelled against Russia were “quite unfriendly” and made the country feel as it were at war with the US and its western allies.

Unfortunately, those conditions, they are quite unfriendly. And they are enemy, enemy-like for us. We entered the phase, the phase of a total war. And we in Russia, we will feel ourselves amongst war, because Western European countries, United States, Canada, Australia, they actually — they actually — they are leading war against us in trade, in economy, in seizing our properties, in seizing our funds, in blocking our financial relations.

And we have to adapt ourselves to new reality. You have to understand Russia. You have to understand Russia.”

Referencing Russia’s ongoing tension with Nato, Peskov said:

For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective west that we are afraid of your Nato’s moving eastwards. We too are afraid of Nato getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don’t push us into the corner. No.

Now we said, listen, guys, we are not happy with this coup in Ukraine. And you have guarantees by Poland, by France and by Germany. You would probably remember the document with the signatures of the relevant foreign ministers. No reaction.

Then, we said, listen, guys, we’re not happy with the possibility of Ukraine’s getting into Nato, because it will endanger us additionally, and it will ruin the balance of mutual deterrence in Europe. No reaction.

Then we said, listen, guys, we want equal relationship. We want to take into account each other’s concerns. If you don’t into account our concerns, then we will be a little bit nervous. No reaction completely.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that sanctions on trade and oligarchs were akin to “total war” against Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that sanctions on trade and oligarchs were akin to “total war” against Russia.
Photograph: SPUTNIK/Reuters

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has just released its latest intelligence report on the situation unfolding in Ukraine, claiming Ukrainian forces are continuing to conduct localised counterattacks outside Kyiv

The report appears to corroborate earlier operational reports released by Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces.

The British intelligence report reads:

Ukrainian forces have continued to conduct localised counterattacks to the north-west of Kyiv – including at Irpen, Bucha and Hostomel. These attacks have had some success and the Russians have been pushed back from a number of positions.

However, Russia still poses a significant threat to the city through their strike capability.

Russian forces have maintained their offensive on Mariupul with continuous heavy shelling of the city, however the centre of the city remains under Ukrainian control.

Elsewhere, Russian forces are maintaining blocking positions while attempting to reorganise and reset their forces.”

Updated

A total of 144 children have so far been killed and more than 220 injured as a result of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has said adding that the figures are probably much higher as deaths in Mariupol have not yet been confirmed.

Bombing and shelling also damaged 773 educational institutions, 75 of which were completely destroyed, the office said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Updated

More than 60 Ukrainian churches and religious buildings have been destroyed and 733 educational institutions damaged by Russian forces since the invasion first began on 24 February, according to Ukraine’s crisis centre (UCMC).

The spiritual structures – mainly Orthodox temples – were reportedly destroyed across eight regions of Ukraine: Kyiv, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Sumy, Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

“The vast majority of them are Orthodox temples. Mosques, synagogues, Protestant churches, religious educational institutions and important administrative buildings of religious organisations were also destroyed,” the agency said in a statement late on Monday.

A further 733 educational institutions were also damaged as a result of Russian bombing and shelling with 74 completely destroyed as of 28 March, the UCMC added in a separate statement.

Updated

While Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, Ukrainians are trying to preserve the symbols of their cultural heritage.

In Kyiv in particular, statues such as those flanking Mykhailivska Square and the Grand Princess Olga are surrounded by sandbags often thanks to the work of volunteers.

Volunteers cover a monument of the Princess Olga, Apostle Andrew, Cyril and Methodius.
Volunteers cover a monument of the Princess Olga, Apostle Andrew, Cyril and Methodius.
Photograph: Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
The statues in Mykhailivska Square seen protected with sandbags in Kyiv.
The statues in Mykhailivska Square are protected with sandbags in Kyiv.
Photograph: Ty ONeil/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
A man rides a bicycle backdropped by a statue of Grand Princess Olga of Kyiv, in the process of being covered in sandbags to avoid damage from potential shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
A statue of Grand Princess Olga of Kyiv, in the process of being covered in sandbags to avoid damage from potential shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Vadim Ghirdă/AP

Updated

In case you missed Joe Biden’s earlier remarks regarding his comments in Warsaw, you can watch the video from his press conference below.

During an appearance in Poland at the weekend, Biden said that Russian president Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”, which then prompted hurried efforts by other senior figures in the administration to play down the comment in the face of international criticism.

However, Biden on Monday defended the unscripted remarks, saying it reflected his own moral outrage, not an administration policy shift.

“I wasn’t then nor am I now articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt and I make no apologies,” he said. Biden added that he was “not walking anything back” by clarifying the remark. Asked whether the remark would spur a negative response from Putin, Biden said: “I don’t care what he thinks … He’s going to do what he’s going to do”.

 

Ukrainians paying for ‘weak’ sanctions with their lives, Zelenskiy says

Zelenskiy delivered some emphatic lines in his most recent national address regarding what he described as “passive” sanctions imposed by the west on Russia.

Ukraine cannot and will not agree with the passive sanctions position of some entities towards Russia. There should be no ‘suspended’ sanctions packages – that if the Russian troops do something, then there will be some answer…

We went through this story last year when we said that strong preventive sanctions against Russia were needed to prevent an invasion. The preventive package was not made. A full-scale war has begun.

There are now many hints and warnings that sanctions will be tightened, such as an embargo on Russian oil supplies to Europe, if Russia uses chemical weapons. There are simply no words.”

Zelenskiy continued to claim a tightening of sanctions now depends on Russia’s use of chemical weapons.

Just think about what it all came down to. Waiting for chemical weapons… We, living people, have to wait… Doesn’t everything that the Russian military is doing and has already done deserve an oil embargo? Don’t phosphorus bombs deserve that? Do the shelled chemical production or nuclear power plant deserve that?

Zelenskiy urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial”.

If the sanctions packages are weak or do not work enough, if they can be circumvented, it creates a dangerous illusion for the Russian leadership that they can continue to afford what they are doing now. And Ukrainians pay for it with their lives. Thousands of lives.”

 

Wrapping up his late-night address, Zelenskiy urged other countries to act with courage.

Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine.

Fear always makes you an accomplice.

If someone is afraid of Russia, if he or she is afraid to make the necessary decisions that are important to us, in particular for us to get planes, tanks, necessary artillery, shells, it makes these people responsible for the catastrophe created by Russian troops in our cities, too.

Because if you could save, you had to save.”

Ukraine repels 7 Russian attacks, armed forces say

Ukraine’s military has just released its latest operational report as of 6am this this morning, claiming its forces have carried out successful counterattacks in some directions.

Russia continues to carry out out missile-bomb strikes in an attempt to “completely destroy the infrastructure and residential quarters of Ukrainian cities”, Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said.

Such attacks in the temporarily occupied regions of Kyiv, Zaporizhzhya, Chernihiv, Kherson and Kharkiv are in violation of international humanitarian law requirements and have seen Russian troops continue to terrorise civilian populations, officials said.

“Residential houses are shot; robbed, kidnapped and held hostage,” the report read.

A total of seven Russian attacks were thwarted over the past day, with 12 tanks and 10 combat vehicles destroyed, according to officials.

Ukraine’s air force also reportedly hit 17 air targets on Monday, including 8 aircraft, 3 helicopters, 4 UAVs and 2 winged missiles. The Guardian has been unable to verify these claims.

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen near the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday.
Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen near the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

An earlier report claimed Russian troops are “weakened, disoriented” and “cut off from logistics and the main forces”.

“The command of the Russian occupying forces is trying to compensate for the decline in the combat potential of the enemy’s units by indiscriminate artillery fire and rocket-bomb attacks, thus destroying the infrastructure of Ukrainian cities,” officials from the general staff of the armed forces said.

Ukrainian forces “continue to maintain the circular defence of the city of Mariupol and defend and deter the advance of the enemy in the Chernihiv region,” the report added.

Ukrainian forces are also continuing to defend Kyiv and the settlements of Motyzhyn, Lisne, Kapitanivka and Dmytrivka, officials said.

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

Apartment buildings are seen destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.

One woman looks at the destruction caused to her roof after a Russian attack inside her house near Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Women walk past a damaged building that was shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.

Statues and iconic symbols of Ukraine’s cultural heritage stand surrounded by sandbags to protect against shelling.

Women walk past a damaged building that was shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Women walk past a damaged building that was shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
A volunteer cleans rubble from the area next to destroyed buildings shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv.
A volunteer cleans rubble from the area next to destroyed buildings shelled by Russian forces, in Kharkiv.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
The statues in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv are protected with sandbags.
The statues in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv are protected with sandbags.
Photograph: Ty ONeil/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
Halyna Falko, 52, looks at the destruction caused after a Russian attack inside her house near Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Halyna Falko, 52, looks at the destruction caused after a Russian attack inside her house near Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP
A service member of pro-Russian troops walks near an apartment building destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.
A service member of pro-Russian troops walks near an apartment building destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Summary

Hello. Thank you for joining us for today’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

I’m Samantha Lock and I will be bringing you all the latest developments before my colleague, Martin Belam, takes over from London.

It is approaching 7am in Ukraine with peace talks expected to continue.

  • Face-to-face peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are likely to start in Turkey today after negotiators arrived in Istanbul for their first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks. Both sides have played down the chances of a major breakthrough and a senior US official said Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to compromise.
  • Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address that he had had a “very active diplomatic day” after speaking with British prime minister Boris Johnson, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi and the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.
  • Zelenskiy also urged for sanctions packages to be “effective and substantial” and called for countries to keep supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Ukrainians should not die just because someone cannot find enough courage to hand over the necessary weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “Fear always makes you an accomplice.”
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia feels it is “amongst war” with the west after an array of sanctions were imposed on Russian businesses and individuals. Referencing Russia’s ongoing tension with Nato, Peskov told broadcaster PBS: “For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective west that we are afraid of your Nato’s moving eastwards. We too are afraid of Nato getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don’t push us into the corner. No.”
  • Peskov added “no one is thinking about using” or “even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon”.
  • Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and a Ukrainian peace negotiator suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning earlier this month, according to a source with direct knowledge of the incident. Abramovich was taking part in informal peace negotiations in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, early in March when he began to feel ill, the source told the Guardian. Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov was also part of the negotiation.
  • UK military intelligence says that Russia is expected to send more than 1,000 mercenaries into eastern Ukraine as they continue to suffer heavy losses. Russia’s private military company, the Wagner group, has already deployed to eastern Ukraine and is expected to send more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior officials in the organisation, according to the Ministry of Defence.
  • Kyiv sees no signs on the ground that Russia has given up a plan to surround the Ukrainian capital, Ukrainian defence ministry spokesperson Oleksander Motuzyanyk said. “For now we don’t see the movement of enemy forces away from Kyiv,” he said in a televised briefing. Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces claimed Russian troops are “weakened, disoriented” and “cut off from logistics and the main forces”.
  • Ukrainian forces have seized back full control of the town of Irpin, a few miles from Kyiv. The area’s mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn. said Irpin had been “liberated” and that Russian soldiers were “offering to surrender”. The United States cannot confirm who is in control of the city of Irpin, a senior US defence official said.
  • Russian soldiers who seized the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster drove unprotected through a highly toxic zone called the “Red Forest”, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust, Chernobyl workers told Reuters. The two sources said they had witnessed Russian tanks and other armoured vehicles moving through the Red Forest, which is the most radioactively contaminated part of the zone around Chernobyl.
  • Almost 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in the devastated city of Mariupol since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, a spokesperson for the mayor said. Vadym Boichenko said Mariupol was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe and must be completely evacuated, with about 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power.
  • Ukraine’s economy minister, Yulia Svyrydenko, said the war has so far cost the country $564.9bn (£429.3bn) in terms of damage to infrastructure, lost economic growth and other factors. Eight thousand kilometres (4,970 miles) of roads and 10m sq metres of housing have been damaged or destroyed as a result of fighting, she said in an online post.
  • Video footage purporting to show the torture of Russian prisoners of war is being investigated by the Ukrainian government. The film, which has not been verified, appears to show Ukrainian soldiers removing three hooded Russians from a van before shooting them in the legs.
  • US president Joe Biden said he will “make no apologies” after appearing to call for Putin’s removal last week. When asked by a reporter if he regretted saying that Putin should not remain in power, Biden said: “I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt.”
  • Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, accused Putin’s forces of abducting innocent civilians, describing the move as an “abhorrent tactic” after Ukrainian human rights group, ZMINA, claimed to have identified dozens of individuals who had been abducted, with thousands more deported to Russia.

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