Live updates: Russia steps up bombing in Kyiv

An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
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The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

HERE ARE TODAY’S KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia has stepped up its bombardment of Kyiv, as a series of strikes hit a residential neighborhood in the capital city

— The leaders of three European Union countries have planned a bold visit to Kyiv

— Fox News says one of its video journalists was killed in Ukraine when the vehicle he was traveling in was struck by incoming fire

— Mariupol officials say 2,000 civilian cars have managed to leave the besieged Ukrainian port city via a humanitarian corridor leading west

Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

An employee of Russian state television who interrupted a live news program by protesting the war in Ukraine was ordered to pay a fine by a Russian court Tuesday.

Marina Ovsyannikova, an employee of the Russian Channel 1, walked into the studio during Monday’s evening news show with a poster saying “no war” and “Russians against the war.”

In a video recorded before her action, Ovsyannikova said that her father is Ukrainian and her mother Russian. She urged Russians to join anti-war protests and said that “Russia is the aggressor country and one person, Vlaidmir Putin, solely bears responsibility for that aggression.”

Ovsyannikova spent the night in police custody, and Moscow’s Ostankino District Court on Tuesday ordered Ovsyannikova to pay a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $270) on charges of organizing unsanctioned actions for her call to take part in demonstrations against the war.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says that President Vladimir Putin has had another call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to talk about Ukraine.

Bennett told Putin about his contacts with other heads of states, and Putin shared his assessments of talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives via video calls, the Kremlin said in a statement.

A senior Israeli official said Bennett’s conversation with Putin lasted 90 minutes, with discussions focusing on cease-fire talks and humanitarian issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters.

Bennett has visited Moscow for talks and has had numerous phone calls with Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Western leaders as he seeks to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine.

Israel is one of the few countries to have good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine, though in recent days Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has become increasingly outspoken in his condemnations of Russia’s invasion of its western neighbor.

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Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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WASHINGTON — The Russian military was largely stalled in its attempted advance in Ukraine on Monday and made little progress over the weekend, a senior U.S. defense official said.

The official also said the Russians have not taken total control of the airspace. The official said all of the Russian military forces that had been arrayed around the country are now inside, and that the Russians still retain about 90% of their combat capabilities. The official said there are no indications the Russians are trying to bring in reinforcements.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments.

The official also said the U.S. has not done any training of the Ukrainian military in the country since the Florida National Guard forces left as the war was beginning. In that vein, the official said a military training base the Russians hit in western Ukraine on Sunday close to the Polish border hasn’t been used to send security assistance to the Ukrainian military and therefore the attack had no impact on that assistance.

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Associated Press National Security Reporter Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military says it will carry out strikes to knock out Ukrainian military industries.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Monday that the Russian forces will “take measures to incapacitate enterprises of Ukraine’s military-industrial complex involved in production and maintenance and repair of weapons.”

He urged workers of those plants and residents of nearby areas to leave “potentially dangerous zones.”

Konashenkov’s statement came hours after Ukrainian authorities said two people were killed when the Russian forces struck the Antonov aircraft-making plant on the outskirts of Kyiv, sparking a large fire.

The Russian military also said that it will continue to target any foreign fighters who have come to Ukraine.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the Russian forces will show “no mercy for mercenaries wherever they are in the territory of Ukraine.”

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WASHINGTON — The White House is weighing the possibility of President Joe Biden traveling to Europe in the coming weeks for face-to-face talks with European leaders about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the deliberations.

The prospective trip is yet to be finalized. One possible destination for the meetings would be Brussels, which is the headquarters for NATO, one of the officials said Monday. Another official said the White House was looking at Biden visiting NATO headquarters on March 24, with other potential stops in Europe.

All of the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity as none was allowed to comment publicly.

Biden’s potential trip would follow Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the eastern flank NATO countries of Poland and Romania last week to discuss with leaders there the growing refugee crisis in eastern Europe sparked by the Russian invasion. The trip would underscore the Biden administration’s support for NATO allies. NBC News first reported that the discussions for a potential Biden trip are underway.

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Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the port city of Mariupol, which has been encircled by Russian forces and cut off from deliveries of food and medicine.

Mariupol officials said Friday that 1,582 people had been killed in the 12 days since the siege began.

“There is a humanitarian catastrophe in the city and the dead aren’t even being buried,” Mariupol’s mayor’s office said in a statement Friday, calling for Russian forces to lift the siege.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of shelling evacuation routes and preventing civilians from escaping the city of 430,000 people.

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BERLIN — Ukraine told the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday that technicians have started repairing damaged power lines at the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant in an effort to restore power supplies, the U.N. nuclear agency said.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said that Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, was knocked off the power grid, with emergency generators supplying backup power.

The Ukrainian nuclear regulator said Friday that workers repaired one section of the lines, but there still appears to be damage in other places, the IAEA said. Repair efforts would continue despite “the difficult situation” outside the plant, which was taken by Russian forces early in the invasion, it said.

The Ukrainian regulator said additional fuel was delivered for generators, but it remains important to fix the power lines as soon as possible. The IAEA reiterated that the disconnection “will not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site.”

The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog said that it still isn’t receiving data from monitoring systems installed to monitor nuclear material and activities at Chernobyl, but transmission from the Zaporizhzhia plant — Ukraine’s biggest, which Russian forces seized last week — has been restored after being lost earlier this week.

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PARIS — Interpol is restricting Russia’s ability to input information directly into the global police organization’s vast network, deciding that communications must first be checked by the general secretariat in Lyon, France.

The French Foreign Ministry said Friday that the beefed-up surveillance measures follow “multiple suspicions of attempted fraudulent use” of the Interpol system in recent days, but it did not elaborate.

Interpol stressed in a statement Thursday that it is maintaining its pledge of neutrality amid war between two of its members, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it said that “heightened supervision and monitoring measures” of Moscow’s National Central Bureau were needed “to prevent any potential misuse of Interpol’s channels” like targeting individuals in or outside Ukraine.

The ministry noted that Interpol’s decision has multiple impacts from communications, to putting out so-called “red notices” for criminals on the loose or even feeding data on lost or stolen documents — all of which must now get compliance checks from Interpol headquarters.

Interpol, which has 195 members, said it had received calls to suspend Russia from the network, along with calls by law enforcement leaders looking for continued cooperation to better fight crime.

“In addition to the tragic loss of life, conflicts invariably lead to an increase in crime,” as organized crime groups try to exploit desperation, Interpol said. Risks include human trafficking, weapons smuggling and trafficking in illicit goods and medicines.

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BOSTON — YouTube announced Friday that it has begun blocking access globally to channels associated with Russian state-funded media.

It had previously blocked them — specifically RT and Sputnik — across Europe.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced the move in a Twitter post and said that while the change is effective immediately, “we expect our systems to take time to ramp up.”

YouTube also said it was now removing content about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that violates its policy that “minimizes or trivializes well-documented violent events.” The Kremlin refers to the invasion as a “special military operation” and not a war.

YouTube previously paused YouTube ads in Russia. Now, it is extending that to all the ways it makes money on the platform in Russia.

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ANTALYA, Turkey— With the Ukrainian refugee crisis, European countries that had previously been reluctant to share the burden for refugees have found themselves seeking solidarity and burden-sharing, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Friday.

Grandi spoke at a diplomacy forum near the Turkish Mediterranean city of Antalya as the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine passed 2.5 million.

“European countries, including countries that have been rather hesitant in the past to any notion that you should share that responsibility, now find themselves … in the situation to hold hundreds of thousands,” Grandi said. “And what do they do? They ask for that international solidarity and sharing, which means financial assistance.”

Grandi said: “I think that we need to capitalize on what is happening now to restate this notion, that if refugees move, everybody should share responsibility.

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WARSAW, Poland – Ukraine’s president and NATO chief remotely joined Poland’s leaders and lawmakers Friday for a session marking Poland’s 23 years in the defensive military alliance at a time when neighboring Ukraine is fighting Russian invasion.

In a video link to the gathering in Poland’s parliament, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Poland for supporting his nation’s struggle against the aggressor and also for opening its borders to refugees fleeing the war. Over 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion. Over 1.5 million of them have made their way to Poland.

In a veiled way Zelenskyy said he hopes Ukraine will eventually receive Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland. The delivery implications of the jets recently led to an apparent misunderstanding between Warsaw and the U.S. administration.

“I am grateful for the efforts you are taking to allow us to protect Ukraine’s skies,” Zelenskyy said. “I trust that we will be able to arrive at a result that is very important to us.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Poland is safer for being a member of the alliance, and stressed the task is now to make sure the armed conflict does not spread but comes to an end.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda condemned Russia’s bombings of Ukraine’s cities and housing areas as “war crimes.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations human rights office has received “credible reports” that Russian forces are using cluster munitions in Ukraine, including in populated areas which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, the U.N. political chief said Friday.

Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told a U.N. Security Council meeting that residential areas and civilian infrastructure are being shelled in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv and “the utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific.”

Most of the civilian casualties recorded by the U.N. human rights office — 564 killed and 982 injured as of Thursday — “have been caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” she said.

“Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” DiCarlo said. “Directing attacks against civilian and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages, are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”

As of Thursday the U.N. World Health Organization has verified 26 attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances, including the bombing of the Mariupol maternity hospital, which caused 12 deaths and 34 injuries, DiCarlo said.

All alleged violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated and those found responsible must be held accountable, she said.

DiCarlo stressed that “the need for negotiations to stop the war in Ukraine could not be more urgent.”

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The Russian Defense Ministry denied responsibility Thursday for striking a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and claimed that the explosions that hit the building were staged to smear Russia.

Ukrainian officials said that Wednesday’s Russian air strike on the hospital killed three people, including a child, and wounded 17 others.

The attack has caused global outrage.

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov denied that the Russian military struck the hospital. He claimed that the two explosions that ravaged the building were caused by explosive devices planted nearby in what he described as a “staged provocation to incite anti-Russian agitation in the West.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Constant shelling has thwarted attempts to evacuate civilians from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, a senior Ukrainian official said Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 1,300 civilians have been killed in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea during the nine days of siege. The city has been left without power, food and water.

Vereshchuk said in televised remarks that the Russian forces start shelling the city each time a humanitarian convoy makes an attempt to depart for Mariupol to evacuate its residents.

“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol, they want to make them starve,” she said. “It’s a war crime.”

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined other Western officials Thursday in warning that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, and accused the Kremlin of a “cynical, barbaric” attempt to justify such a move.

Johnson said the Kremlin is preparing a “fake story” that chemical weapons are being stored by their opponents or by the Americans as a pretext for deploying the weapons themselves.

“The stuff which you are hearing about chemical weapons is straight out of their playbook,” he told Sky News on Thursday. “You have seen it in Syria, you saw it even in the U.K. I just note that that is what they are already doing. It is a cynical, barbaric government I’m afraid.”

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon slammed the door Wednesday on any plans to provide MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, even through a second country, calling it a “high-risk” venture that would not significantly change the Ukrainian Air Force’s effectiveness.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Polish counterpart on Wednesday and told him the U.S. assessment. He said the U.S. is pursuing other options that would provide more critical military needs to Ukraine such as air defense and anti-armor weapons systems.

Poland had said it was prepared to hand over MiG-29 planes to NATO that could then be delivered to Ukraine, but Kirby said U.S. intelligence concluded that it could trigger a “significant” Russian reaction.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Russian aircraft bombed Zhytomyr on Wednesday evening, while artillery fire continued pounding the suburbs of Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city.

In Zhytomyr, a city of 260,000 to the west of Kyiv, bombs fell on two hospitals, one of them a children’s hospital, Mayor Serhii Sukhomlyn said on Facebook. He said the number of casualties was still being determined.

“Oh, this is a hot night,” he said in a video address to city residents. “Russia understands that it is losing strategically, but we have to hold out.”

Russian artillery shelled Kharkiv, destroying a police headquarters, killing at least four people and wounding 15, prosecutors office representative Serhii Bolvinov said on Facebook. He said since the invasion began nearly two weeks ago, 282 city residents have been killed, including six children.

After darkness fell, Russian artillery again began shelling Kyiv suburbs.

“Russian troops are methodically turning our life into a hell. People day and night have to sit underground without food, water or electricity,” the head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said on Ukrainian television.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has received official notification from Ukraine that it intends to withdraw about 250 troops serving in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo as well as military equipment, including some aircraft.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed the withdrawal on Wednesday stressing that every country has a right to withdraw military forces contributed to peacekeeping operations. He acknowledged “the tremendous role Ukraine has played, especially on issues of transport and helicopters.”

Dujarric said it is up to the Ukrainian government to explain why it asked to pull out the troops and the U.N. will be contacting other countries to replace the troops and equipment in the Congo mission known as MONUSCO which has about 17,800 personnel.

The U.N. spokesman said Ukrainians remain present in smaller numbers in other U.N. peacekeeping missions — 13 in South Sudan, 12 in Mali, five in Cyprus, four in Abyei and three in the U.N. political mission in Kosovo.

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A Russian airstrike has devastated a maternity hospital Wednesday in the besieged port city of Mariupol, with Ukrainian officials saying at least 17 people had been wounded.

The attack comes amid growing warnings from the West that Moscow’s invasion is about to take a more brutal and indiscriminate turn.

Civilians are also trying to escape shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv, streaming toward the capital.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he discussed humanitarian corridors and other issues with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

Zelenskyy tweeted that they agreed on “the need to ensure effective humanitarian corridors for civilians” during the call.

The Ukrainian president noted that he again raised the issue of EU membership for Ukraine and expressed his gratitude for another EU sanctions package against Russia.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. gasoline prices hit another record on Wednesday, with the national average rising to $4.25 a gallon, an overnight increase of eight cents, according to the AAA auto club.

Motorists in California continue to pay the highest prices, with the statewide average at $5.57 a gallon. Prices topped $4.50 in Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii.

Gasoline prices have been rising for nearly two years, following the trend in oil prices. Production fell at the outset of the pandemic, and producers have not pumped enough oil since then to meet rising demand.

The national average for gas has spiked 60 cents in just the past week, which analysts say is almost entirely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led President Joe Biden to announce Tuesday that the U.S. will ban the import of Russian oil.

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Wednesday that two U.S. Army Patriot air defense batteries have been shifted from Germany to Poland as a precautionary defensive move.

It said the decision was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in consultation with the Polish government, which asked for the Patriots.

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TIRANA, Albania — The U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, or SOCEUR, opened its forward-based headquarters in Albania on Wednesday, aiming at enhancing regional stability, its head Maj. Gen. David Tabor said.

A 12- to 15-member Task Force Balkans group will be based in Tirana to coordinate joint and combined exchange training and civil military support element engagements, Tabor said. Tabor said Albania’s central location in the Balkans was behind the decision to open the command there, he said.

It will be the first-ever U.S. permanent military presence in Albania, said U.S. Ambassador in Tirana Yuri Kim.

Albanian senior officials said that opening such a U.S. military office is more important now.

The opening of the command in Tirana “came at the proper moment, at the culmination of the insecurity due to the gloomy situation in the continent after Russian aggression,” said Defense Minister Niko Peleshi.

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WASHINGTON — President Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. is “targeting the main artery of Russia’s economy” by banning imports of Russian oil, the latest sanction intended to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

“We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war,” he said in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

Biden’s announcement came amid rising pressure from Democrats and Republicans, and it reflects a willingness to accept the political risk of rising gas prices to economically retaliate against Russia.

“Defending freedom is going to cost,” Biden said. “It’s going to cost us as well in the United States.”

Although Biden has tried to work in concert with European allies, he acknowledged that many are not announcing a similar ban because they’re more reliant on Moscow for oil and gas.

“So we can take this step when others can not,” he said. “But we’re working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long term strategy to reduce their dependence on Russian energy as well.”

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LONDON — Britain is joining the United States in announcing a ban on imports of Russian oil.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng says oil and oil products from Russia will be phased out by the end of the year. He said the transition period “will give the market, businesses and supply chains more than enough time to replace Russian imports,” which account for 8% of U.K. demand.

Kwarteng said the U.K. would work with its other oil suppliers, including the U.S., the Netherlands and the Gulf states, to secure extra supplies.

President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine. It follows pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to U.S. and Western officials to cut off the imports, which had been a glaring omission in the massive sanctions put in place on Russia over the invasion.

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The Kremlin says that Russian President Vladimir Putin had another phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he also spoke to Bennett on Tuesday and thanked him for his mediation.

Bennett visited Moscow for a meeting with Putin on Saturday, trying to help broker an end to the war with Ukraine. After meeting with Putin, Bennett spoke to Zelenskyy and French President Emmanuel Macron and also visited Berlin on Saturday for talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Bennett also spoke to Putin by phone on Sunday.

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LONDON — Sports apparel and shoe company Adidas is the latest Western brand to halt its operations in Russia because of the Ukraine invasion.

The company said Tuesday that it has suspended the operations of its retail stores and e-commerce website in Russia until further notice, though it continues to pay its employees there.

Adidas, based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, said it will make future business decisions and take action as needed, “prioritizing our employee’s safety and support.”

“As a company, we strongly condemn any form of violence and stand in solidarity with those calling for peace,” the company said in a statement.

It’s also donating 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to refugee and children’s charities and clothing to the Global Aid Network for people in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Last week, Adidas suspended its partnership with the Russian Football Union. Nike has also shut its stores in Russia.

Sales in Russia account for only about 3% of Adidas’s total global revenue, according to company data.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is calling on Russia to honor Ukraine’s proposals “for time-bound humanitarian safe passage in specific, agreed-upon locations” and unequivocally commit to immediate humanitarian access in the country.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting on the escalating humanitarian crisis in the country, Linda Thomas-Greenfield also called for the establishment of a system on the ground to facilitate the safe movement of aid convoys and flights so food, medicine and other supplies can get into Ukraine to reach those most in need.

The U.S. envoy urged countries that have pledged over $1.5 billion in humanitarian support for Ukraine to quickly turn the pledges into funds, saying “as long as Russia pursues its relentless and brutal campaign, the need for assistance will only increase.”

Thomas-Greenfield said Russian President Vladimir Putin “has a plan to brutalize Ukraine” and the last two weeks have shown that “the Ukrainian people are not going to give up.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the United States will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people, “but president Putin is clearly willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers to achieve his personal ambition.”

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WASHINGTON — Top officials in the U.S. Congress reached agreement Monday on legislation that would ban Russian oil imports to the U.S. and end Russia’s permanent normal trade relation status in response to the intensifying war in Ukraine.

That’s according to a Senate aide granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations in Congress.

Voting could come swiftly but no schedule has been set.

The White House has been reluctant to ban Russian oil imports as gas prices at the pump spike for Americans, but has not ruled out the option.

Ending the normal trade relation status could result in steep tariffs on other Russian imports.

— AP congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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UNITED NATIONS — Calling what’s happening to the 7.5 million children of Ukraine “a moral outrage,” the head of the U.N. children’s agency urged the U.N. Security Council to remind all parties of their legal obligation to protect youngsters and spare them from attack.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell told a council meeting Monday that at least 27 children have been killed and 42 injured since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. human rights office, and “countless more have been severely traumatized.”

With the escalation of the conflict, she said, homes, schools, orphanages and hospitals have come under attack as well as water and sanitation facilities, which provide key civilian needs. She also expressed deep concern at the safety and well-being of nearly 100,000 children, half of them with disabilities, who live in Ukrainian institutions and boarding schools.

She called on the parties to refrain from fighting near these facilities and to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Russell said children must be protected from the brutality of war, saying the image of a mother, her two children and a friend trying to flee to safety lying dead on a street after being hit by a mortar “must shock the conscience of the world.”

For children fleeing Ukraine, she said, UNICEF has started operating “Blue Dot” safe places at border crossings where youngsters are first registered and which provide “a one-stop safe space for children and their families.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is unable to meet the needs of millions of civilians caught in conflict in Ukraine today and is urging safe passage for people to go “in the direction they choose” and for humanitarian supplies to get to areas of hostilities, according to the U.N. humanitarian chief.

Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths told a U.N. Security Council meeting Monday that his office has sent a team to Moscow to coordinate with the Russian military to try to scale-up the delivery of humanitarian aid to the level needed. He said this followed a phone call Friday between U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The first U.N.-Russia meeting has been held, he said, welcoming cooperation by both sides and expressing hope of “further progress in the hours ahead.”

Griffiths said the U.N. and its partners have already provided food to hundreds of thousands of people and the World Food Program “is setting up supply chain operations to deliver immediate food and cash assistance to 3-5 million people inside Ukraine,” and the Ukrainian Red Cross has distributed hygiene and food kits, warm clothing and medicine to thousands of people.

The U.N. humanitarian chief also expressed deep worry at the consequences of “this unnecessary conflict” on “vulnerable people living half a world away” affected by spiking food prices and uncertain supplies and record-level prices. “People in the Sahel, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Madagascar, and beyond already face profound food inseucirty,” Griffiths said, and high gas prices means “life becomes harder still in places like Lebanon.”

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that he does not expect a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine for weeks.

He said that he has told the Russian leader that a cease-fire must come before any real dialogue, but that President Vladimir Putin has refused, making their regular talks “difficult.”

“I don’t think that in the days and weeks to come there will be a true negotiated solution,” Macron said at a forum in Poissy, a southwest suburb of Paris, while campaigning for the first time to renew his mandate in April presidential elections.

He said that Putin is making a “historic fault” with his war pitted against Ukrainians, “brothers.” Macron stressed the need to respect the people of all countries … “and ensure that no nation, no people be humiliated.”

Macron said that Russia, too, must be respected as a country and people because “There is no durable peace if Russia is not (part of) a … grand architecture of peace on our continent. Because History and geography are stubborn.”

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ROME — Italy is looking to house those fleeing war in Ukraine in residences confiscated from organized crime syndicates.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Monday said that the national agency which keeps track of hundreds of seized and confiscated properties over the years are quickly checking to determine those suitable for refugees.

Some 14,000 refugees have arrived in Italy from Ukraine. Many of them have relatives or friends living in Italy, and it isn’t immediately clear how many have no one to host them.

Ministry officials will be pinpointing real estate that has been confiscated, but not yet assigned for use by municipalities or charities. After judicial authorities determine that property was bought with illicit revenues from organized crime like drug trafficking or extortion, it is seized and eventually made available for use by charities or other non-profit groups.

Lamorgese said using the properties to house refugees, even on a temporary basis, can give “concrete responses to those fleeing from war and above all to the most fragile persons, such as women and children.”

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TIRANA, Albania — Albania on Monday strongly denounced the shelling of its consulate in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and called on Russia to stop aggression against Ukraine.

The Albanian Foreign Ministry tweeted photos of the building in Kharkiv where its consulate is seen destroyed after being shelled.

“Albania strongly condemns the #Russian aggression which led to the destruction of the Honorary Consulate of Albania in Kharkiv,” it tweeted, adding that, “Perpetrators must be held accountable! #StopRussianAggression #StandWithUkraine️.”

Albania has joined the European Union in the hard-hitting sanctions against Russian top officials and institutions.

Last week Albania and the United States initiated a resolution at the United Nations Security Council denouncing the Russian invasion.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Both Russia and Ukraine say they’ve made a little progress during a third round of talks and Russia’s top negotiator says the corridors are expected to start functioning Tuesday.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said without elaboration Monday that “there were some small positive shifts regarding logistics of humanitarian corridors” to allow civilians to flee some besieged Ukrainian cities. He said that consultations will continue on ways to negotiate an end to hostilities.

Russia’s top negotiator Vladimir Medinsky, said he expects that humanitarian corridors in Ukraine will finally start functioning Tuesday. He said no progress has been made on a political settlement, but voiced hope that the next round could be more productive.

“Our expectations from the talks have failed, but we hope that we would be able to make a more significant step forward next time,” Medinsky said. “The talks will continue.”

Efforts to set up safe passage for civilians over the weekend fell apart amid continued shelling. But the Russian Defense Ministry announced a new push Monday, saying civilians would be allowed to leave the capital of Kyiv, Mariupol and the cities of Kharkiv and Sumy.

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MADRID — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman says that getting military materiel for Ukrainians to fight a Russian invasion is set to become more difficult for the U.S. and its allies.

“I think that the international community has been tremendously responsive and have found ways to get the materiel in. That may become harder in the coming days, and we’ll have to find other ways to manage this,” Sherman said Monday during a visit to the Spanish capital for meetings with officials.

The Biden administration is considering how to fulfill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request for warplanes, the official said, considering that Ukrainians would only be able to operate soviet-era warplanes provided by Poland.

“People are trying to see whether this is possible and doable,” she said, adding that the warplanes should not be regarded by Moscow as direct involvement in the conflict: “We would expect that this delivery would be seen as all the deliveries have been seen as a right for Ukraine to defend itself.”

Sherman met in Madrid with Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares and other officials. She arrived from Turkey and was on her way to Morocco, Algeria and Egypt for a week of intense diplomatic contacts amid the war in Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s state communications watchdog has ordered to completely block access to Facebook in Russia amid the tensions over the war in Ukraine.

The agency, Roskomnadzor, said Friday it decided to cut access to Facebook over its alleged “discrimination” of the Russian media and state information resources. It said the restrictions introduced by Facebook owner Meta on the RT and other state-controlled media violate the Russian law.

A week ago, the watchdog announced “partial restrictions” on access to Facebook that sharply slowed it down, citing the platform’s moves to limit the accounts of several state-controlled Russian media. Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in amplifying dissent in Russia in recent years.

The move against Facebook follows the blocks imposed Friday on the BBC, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza as the government seeks to uproot independent sources of information about the invasion of Ukraine.

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TORONTO. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is heading to several European capitals next week where he will he discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and disinformation coming from the Kremlin.

Trudeau says he will have meetings in London, Berlin, Riga, Latvia and Warsaw, Poland. He says he is joining partners to stand against Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. Trudeau says Russia is reeling from strong and aligned sanctions that democracies around the world have employed.

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BRUSSELS — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major world powers say that those responsible for Russian military attacks on civilians in Ukraine must be held accountable for their crimes, amid reports of the use of cluster bombs and other banned munitions.

In a statement after talks in Brussels on Friday, the G7 ministers said they are “deeply concerned with the catastrophic humanitarian toll taken by Russia’s continuing strikes against the civilian population of Ukraine’s cities.”

They underlined that “indiscriminate attacks are prohibited by international humanitarian law,” and that they “will hold accountable those responsible for war crimes, including indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians.”

The ministers also welcomed the investigations and evidence-gathering being done to establish what war crimes might have been committed in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor has launched an investigation that could target senior officials believed responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide amid a rising civilian death toll and widespread destruction of property.

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ROME — The head of the World Food Program says the U.N. organization is putting in motion systems to feed from 3 million to 5 million people inside Ukraine.

David Beasley told the Associated Press from Warsaw, Poland that they were putting together teams around Ukraine’s borders to reach “those who can’t get out, and those who are going to be needing food support immediately.” He said they were leasing warehouses, trying to figure out how much food they can potentially buy in Ukraine, how much can be brought from outside.

“No one would ever expect anything like this in Europe in this century,” Beasley said, adding that millions of Ukraine’s 43 million-strong population were either refugees or internally displaced.

He praised the response of Poles, who have been meeting fleeing Ukrainians at the border, ’’making certain they’re getting hot meals, taking them to wherever they need to go,” calling it “really, really quite remarkable.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. nuclear agency says a “projectile” hit a building adjacent to a block of six reactors at Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, sparking a fire that didn’t affect its operation, although he stressed there is nothing normal when military forces are in charge of the site.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the IAEA was informed by Russia a few days ago that its military forces were moving to take control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, similar to troops’ seizure last week of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Grossi said the advance of Russian troops toward the perimeter of the nuclear power plant “was met with opposition and some group of civilians attacking the access to the plant.” Early Friday, he said, the IAEA “got information that a projectile had impact (sic) a building adjacent to the block of reactors, six of them.” He did not say who fired the projectile.

Grossi said Ukraine’s nuclear installations and facilities are important — four big sites and 15 reactors and associated facilities, plus the site at Chernobyl, which has a giant metal dome covering the destroyed reactor.

The IAEA chief reiterated his readiness to travel to Chernobyl “as soon as practicable” to consult with Ukrainian nuclear authorities and, when necessary, the Russian authorities in charge to ensure that basic principles of safety and security are maintained.

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UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s U.N. ambassador is rejecting claims that its military forces attacked Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant as “simply untrue” and part of “an unprecedented campaign of lies and disinformation against Russia.” He claimed a “Ukrainian sabotage group” set fire to a training facility just outside the plant.

Vassily Nebenzia told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the Russian military took control of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Enerhodar and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant located there on Monday.

After negotiations with the plant’s management, he said, an agreement was reached for the Russian military to guard the facility to ensure its security “to prevent the Ukrainian nationalist or other terrorist forces from taking advantage of the current situation to organize a nuclear provocation.”

Nebenzia said according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, on Thursday night a Russian mobile patrol in the area adjacent to the plant “was attacked by a Ukrainian sabotage group in order to provoke return fire.”

He said the patrol was attacked with heavy small arms fire from the windows of several floors of a training complex located just outside the nuclear plant and the Russians returned fire “and suppressed their fire.”

ENERHODAR, Ukraine — Russian troops are shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power station in Ukraine.

“We demand that they stop the heavy weapons fire,” Andriy Tuz, spokesperson for the plant in Enerhodar, said in a video posted on Telegram. “There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe.”

The plant accounts for about one-quarter of Ukraine’s power generation.

The fighting at Enerhodar, a city on the Dnieper River that accounts for one-quarter of the country’s power generation, came as another round of talks between the two sides yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors inside Ukraine to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.

The mayor of Enerhodar said Ukrainian forces were battling Russian troops on the city’s outskirts.

Video showed flames and black smoke rising above the city of more than 50,000, with people streaming past wrecked cars, just a day after the U.N. atomic watchdog agency expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors.

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security will grant temporary legal status to Ukrainians living in the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday that Temporary Protected Status would be extended for 18 months.

“Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries,” Mayorkas said in a statement.

Temporary Protected Status is given to citizens of countries devastated by war or natural disasters.

It comes as pressure was mounting on the Biden administration from members of Congress, including the Senate’s top Democrat, to grant the status to Ukrainians following Russia’s invasion of their country.

In order to be eligible for the protection, individuals would have to have been in the U.S. since at least Tuesday.

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ENERHODAR, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say a column of Russian forces is headed toward Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which accounts for about one quarter of Ukraine’s power generation.

Both the Ukrainian state atomic energy company and the mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said Russian troops were approaching the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Officials said loud shots were heard in the city late Thursday.

“Many young men in athletic clothes and armed with Kalashnikov have come into the city. They are breaking down door and trying to get into the apartments of local residents,” the statement from Energoatom said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has joined Ukraine’s president in calling on the West to close the skies over Ukraine’s nuclear plants as fighting intensified around the major energy hub on the left bank of the Dnieper River and the Khakhovka Reservoir.

Shmyhal said he already had appealed to NATO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog.

“Close the skies over Ukraine! It is a question of the security of the whole world!” Shmyhal said in a statement Thursday evening.

The U.S. and NATO allies have ruled out creating a no-fly zone since the move would directly pit Russian and Western militaries.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday asked former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to resign from his posts at Russian state-owned companies.

Schroeder, 77, is considered a longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin — a relationship that has led to much criticism in Germany, especially since Russia invaded Ukraine last week.

Schroeder is chairman of the supervisory board of Russian state energy company Rosneft and also holds leading positions in the controversial Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipeline projects that aim to bring Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. He is also slated to take on a supervisory board post for Gazprom, a Russian majority state-owned multinational energy corporation.

“My advice to Gerhard Schroeder is, after all, to withdraw from these posts,” Scholz said on the ZDF Television, according to the German news agency dpa.

Scholz stressed that Schroeder’s ties to Russian companies were not a private matter since he is a former chancellor.

“This obligation does not end when one no longer holds the office, but it also continues,” he said.

Schroeder, who served as the chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005, has long been criticized for his close ties to Russia.

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NEW YORK — The U.S. fossil fuel industry’s top lobbying group is calling on the Biden administration to create policies that would encourage oil and gas companies to ramp up production.

The American Petroleum Institute says the federal government should create a more favorable climate for drilling and should streamline the permitting process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to expand so that the U.S. can rely less on oil imports and export more natural gas in liquid form to Europe, which relies heavily on Russia for fossil fuels.

“This shift away from Russia will not happen overnight, and we need to be clear about that,” said Dustin Meyer, vice president of natural gas markets at API. “But for it to happen at all, we need clear and consistent energy policy here in the US. Unfortunately, that’s not really what we have right now.”

A number of new LNG export terminals and several export terminal expansions have been proposed but are awaiting approval or permits from the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with no clear timeline for decisions, he said.

Biden has been under pressure to rein in rising energy costs even if those moves run counter to his agenda for addressing climate change. On Tuesday he announced he is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from U.S. strategic reserves as part of a 31-nation effort to help ensure that supplies will not fall short after Russia’s invasion of its European neighbor.

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has established a channel of direct communication with the Russian ministry of defense to avoid unintended conflict related to the war in Ukraine.

A U.S. defense official said the “de-confliction line” was established March 1 “for the purpose of preventing miscalculation, military incidents, and escalation.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the communication line has not been announced.

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Associated Press Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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UNITED NATIONS — More than 4 million refugees may end up fleeing Ukraine due to Russia’s ongoing invasion, the United Nations said.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said that 1 million people have already fled since Russia began invading last week, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.

The United Nations says that “while the scale and scope of displacement is not yet clear, we do expect that more than 10 million people may flee their homes if violence continues, including 4 million people who may cross borders to neighboring countries,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday.

Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, remains the country with the largest refugee outflows — nearly 5.7 million people, according to UNHCR’s figures. But even at the swiftest rate of flight out of that country, in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave Syria.

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BERLIN — The United Nations’ atomic watchdog says Ukraine has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that staff who have been kept at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant since Russian troops took control of the site a week ago are facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion.”

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Thursday that the staff must be allowed to rest and rotate so their crucial work can be carried out safely and securely.

Grossi received “a joint appeal from the Ukraine Government, regulatory authority and the national operator which added that personnel at the Chornobyl site ‘have limited opportunities to communicate, move and carry out full-fledged maintenance and repair work,’” the IAEA said in a statement.

Reactor No. 4 at the power plant exploded and caught fire in 1986, shattering the building and spewing radioactive material high into the sky. Even 36 years later, radioactivity is still leaking from history’s worst nuclear disaster.

Ukraine has lost regulatory control over all the facilities in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to the Russians and asked the IAEA to undertake measures “in order to reestablish legal regulation of safety of nuclear facilities and installations” within the site, the statement added.

Grossi has repeatedly stressed that any military or other action that could threaten the safety or security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants must be avoided.

“I remain gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, especially about the country’s nuclear power plants, which must be able to continue operating without any safety or security threats,” he said. “Any accident caused as a result of the military conflict could have extremely serious consequences for people and the environment, in Ukraine and beyond.”

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CHERNIHIV, Ukraine — Video taken in the aftermath of shelling in the city of Chernihiv shows firefighters standing in rubble dousing flames with hoses as rescue crews carried at least one person on a stretcher and another helper assisted a person down a ladder.

Smoke spewed from a high-rise building just behind what appeared to be a children’s swing set, according to video released Thursday by the Ukrainian government.

Ukraine’s state emergencies agency says at least 33 civilians were killed and another 18 wounded in a Russian strike Thursday on a residential area in Chernihiv, a city of 280,000 in Ukraine’s north.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday announced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs and others in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle as Russian forces continue to pummel Ukraine.

Those targeted by the new sanctions include Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals and a close ally of Putin. The U.S. State Department also announced it was imposing visa bans on 19 Russian oligarchs and dozens of their family members and close associates.

“These individuals and their family members will be cut off from the U.S. financial system; their assets in the United States will be frozen and their property will be blocked from use,” the White House said in a statement announcing the new penalties.

The White House described Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, as a “top purveyor of Putin’s propaganda.”

The property of Usmanov and the others will be blocked from use in the U.S. and by Americans. His assets include his superyacht, one of the world’s largest. Usmanov’s private jet, one of Russia’s largest privately owned aircraft, is also covered by the sanctions.

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MOSCOW — Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, the commanding general of the Russian 7th Airborne Division, was killed in fighting in Ukraine earlier this week.

His death was confirmed by a local officers’ organization in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia. The circumstances of his death were not immediately clear.

Sukhovetsky, who was 47, began his military service as a platoon commander after graduating from a military academy and steadily rose through the ranks to take a series of leadership positions. He took part in Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

He was also a deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army.

A funeral ceremony will be held in Novorossiisk, but further details weren’t immediately announced

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him, salting the proposal with sarcasm.

“Sit down with me to negotiate, just not at 30 meters,” he said Thursday, apparently referring to recent photos of Putin sitting at one end of an extremely long table when he met with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?” Zelenskyy said at a Thursday news conference.

Zelenskyy said it was sensible to have talks: “Any words are more important than shots.”

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KHERSON, Ukraine — Zainish Hussain, a Pakistani citizen who moved to Kherson after marrying a Ukrainian woman, spoke to The Associated Press from his home, showing a nearly empty street outside.

For the past week they have struggled to hide the war from their 3-year-old daughter, trying to have her watch cartoons with headphones on to keep out the sounds of bombs or gunfire, but on Wednesday it became harder.

During what he described as the “scariest day of this life,” Hussain said that Russian tanks rolled down the street in front of his home and soldiers fired into the air to get civilians off the street. The city now has a curfew from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m.

Hussain said he is getting help from his family with cryptocurrency and hopes to hire a driver to escape to Romania.

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BRUSSELS — With close to a million of refugees fleeing Ukraine already in the eastern nations of the European Union, the EU member states decided Thursday to grant them temporary protection and residency permits.

EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Thursday that millions more were expected to move into the 27-nation bloc to seek shelter, employment and education for the young.

Johansson called the quick adoption of the protection rules a “historic result” and said “the EU stands united to save lives.”

The EU Commission has already promised at least 500 million euros ($560 million) in humanitarian aid for the refugees. Johansson pointed to nations like Poland, where the population has gone out of its way to be welcoming to the refugees, as an example for others to follow.

“They need financial support now because they’re going to have to find accommodation for people to have to find schools for the children,” she said.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor opened an investigation Wednesday into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Ukraine dating back to 2013, but also covering the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said he launched the probe after 39 of the court’s member states requested an investigation, a process known as a referral.

“These referrals enable my Office to proceed with opening an investigation into the Situation in Ukraine from 21 November 2013 onwards, thereby encompassing within its scope any past and present allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed on any part of the territory of Ukraine by any person,” Khan said in a statement.

“Our work in the collection of evidence has now commenced,” he added.

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KHERSON, Ukraine — A Russian official says troops have taken the Ukrainian port city of Kherson — a claim that the Ukrainian military denies.

The city is under Russian soldiers’ “complete control,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday.

He said that the city’s civilian infrastructure, essential facilities and transport are operating as usual and that there are no shortages of food or essential goods.

Konashenkov said talks between the Russian commanders, city administrations and regional authorities on how to maintain order in the city were underway Wednesday. The claims could not be immediately verified.

A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that they have seen claims that the Russians have taken Kherson, but that the Ukrainian military is rejecting that claim.

“Our view is that Kherson is very much a contested city at this point,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to make military assessments.

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Associated Press Writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says Russian President Vladimir Putin “chose war,” but that he would continue his contacts with the Russian leader to try to stop the conflict and avoid its spread beyond Ukraine’s borders.

In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Macron hammered home that the consequences of the conflict will reverberate to France and other European countries, thrusting the continent into a new era.

Macron’s 14-minute address was meant to apprise the French of what has happened and what he predicts the fallout will be. It was his second such address and comes days before Macron must by law declare his candidacy in French presidential elections in April.

After enumerating the unsuccessful efforts by Western powers to prevent the invasion, Macron said, “It is, therefore, alone and in a deliberate way that by denying engagements taken before the international community, President Putin chose war.”

The war in Ukraine “marks a rupture,” jolting Europeans into a new era that will force new, costly decisions in all spheres, from defense to energy, Macron warned.

The French president stressed that he won’t abandon contacts with Russia. Macron has traveled to the Kremlin and had multiple telephone conversations with Putin, the latest on Monday, trying to facilitate an end to the Ukraine conflict.

“I chose to stay in contact and will remain in contact as much as I can and as long as it is necessary with President Putin, to convince him to renounce arms, to aid as much as France can … and prevent contagion and enlargement of the conflict as best we can,” Macron said.

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GOTLAND, Sweden — Sweden says four Russian fighter jets violated its airspace over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday.

The four aircraft — two SU-27 and two SU-24 fighters — flew briefly over Swedish airspace east of the island of Gotland, according to a statement from the Swedish Armed Forces.

“In light of the current situation we are very concerned about the incident,” Swedish Air Force chief Carl-Johan Edstrom said. “This is unprofessional and irresponsible behavior from the Russian side.”

Swedish fighter jets were scrambled and took photos of the Russian jets, the statement said.

“This shows that our readiness is good. We were in place to secure the territorial integrity and Swedish borders,” Edstrom said. “We have total control of the situation.”

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced that it is postponing a nuclear missile test launch scheduled for this week to avoid any possible misunderstanding in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to put his nuclear forces on higher alert.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the decision to delay the test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He said the U.S. would like to see Moscow reciprocate by “taking the temperature down” in the crisis over Ukraine.

Kirby said the U.S. did not put its nuclear forces on higher alert in response to Putin’s move, which the spokesman described as dangerous and unnecessary.

Austin is “comfortable that the strategic deterrence posture that we have in place is up to the task of defending the homeland and our allies.”

The United States usually performs about four test launches of Minuteman III missiles per year.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials have reported a powerful explosion in Kyiv, between the Southern Railway station and the Ibis hotel, an area near Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office told The Associated Press on Wednesday night that it was a missile strike.

Officials said it wasn’t immediately clear how damaging the strike was, whether there were any casualties or where exactly the missile hit.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week will visit six European countries, including the Baltic states and Moldova, which are on particular edge as Russia intensifies its war in Ukraine.

The State Department says Blinken will travel Thursday to Belgium for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers before heading to the Polish border with Ukraine to meet refugees, and then Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Poland and the three Baltics are members of NATO and fall under its Article 5 defense provisions, which means the allies are bound to defend them if they are attacked. Given their location immediately adjacent to Russia, they are believed to be at special risk should the Ukraine conflict spread.

Western-leaning Moldova is not a NATO member but has relations with the alliance and has long objected to the presence of Russian troops in the disputed territory of Transnistria.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has picked up steam, most NATO members, including the Baltics, have steadily increased military and financial assistance to Kyiv even as Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of reprisals for any nation that interferes in what he calls a “special military operation.” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has decried Russia’s escalation of attacks on crowded cities as a blatant terror campaign.

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WARSAW, Poland — An international organization made up only of democracies held an emergency meeting on Wednesday following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Warsaw-based Community of Democracies said in a statement that its members at the gathering “condemned Russia’s aggression and backed Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratic aspirations of its people.”

Romania’s Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu, whose country holds the community’s rotating presidency, called for continued support for Ukraine’s right to choose its own foreign policy and for more attention to be given to other places facing Russian pressure, including Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkan region.

“This seems to be the beginning of the most difficult period in generations. And this is the fight of our generation and a real test on our democracies,” Aurescu said.

Thomas Garrett, the organization’s secretary general, “underlined that democracies worldwide must unequivocally show they stand with Ukraine.”

A Ukrainian lawmaker in Kyiv addressed the political representatives. She called on Russia to “stop bombing our towns and cities” and appealed to the U.N., E.U., and other international organizations to help Ukraine obtain a ceasefire for humanitarian relief. The lawmaker was not identified for security reasons.

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WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official says the Russian convoy still appears to be stalled outside the city center of Kyiv, and has made no real progress in the last couple days.

The official on Wednesday said the convoy is still plagued with fuel and food shortages and logistical problems, as well as facing continued fierce resistance from Ukrainians.

He said there has been an increase in the number of missiles and artillery targeting the city, suggesting the Russians are trying to make a more aggressive move to try and take the city.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russians have not been able to achieve air superiority and Ukrainian air defenses remain operable and their aircraft continue to fly.

The official said that about 82% of the Russian troops that had been arrayed around Ukraine are now inside the country — just a slight uptick over the last 24 hours, and that Russia has launched more than 450 missiles at various targets in the country.

In other areas of the country, the U.S. official said that the U.S. is seeing preliminary indications that Russian forces are going to try to move south towards Mariupol from Donetsk, in what appears to be an effort to encircle the city.

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Associated Press Writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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BRUSSELS — European Union finance ministers on Wednesday convened for the second time in less than a week to weigh the likely impact on Europe of the full-scale Russian military assault on Ukraine, a country that borders the bloc’s eastern flank.

Policymakers are scrambling to recalculate economic projections made less than a month ago, when the European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — predicted the bloc’s economic growth would slow from 5.3% last year to 4% this year and 2.8% in 2023.

Top European commissioners said on Wednesday those figures are too optimistic because the conflict in Ukraine will probably stoke rises in energy prices, financial-market turbulence, supply-chain bottlenecks and a weakening of consumer confidence.

“We don’t expect the recovery to be derailed completely but to be weakened,” said European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni.

The gloomier outlook has also raised the prospect of a prolonged period of unrestrained spending by member countries to support their economies.

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