RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE

Live updates: Zelenskyy: 7 dead in southern Ukraine strike

Mar 29, 2022, 5:32 AM | Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 8:43 pm
On the Day of the National Guard of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy awarded NGU servicemen. ...
On the Day of the National Guard of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy awarded NGU servicemen. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says seven people were killed in a missile strike on the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Mykolayiv.

Zelenskyy, who spoke to the Danish parliament through a translator, said Tuesday’s strike also left 22 people injured. The Telegram channel of regional governor Vitaliy Kim showed a gaping hole in the center of the nine-story building.

Kim accused Russian forces of waiting until people had arrived for work in the building before striking it and said he had a lucky escape because he had overslept.

Zelenskyy has made online speeches to lawmakers in several countries, including the United States, Britain, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Israel, Japan and the European Union.

He is set to address Norway’s parliament on Wednesday. He told the Danish parliament that “the brutality is more violent than what we have seen during World War II.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— New round of talks aims to stop the fighting in Ukraine

— Many in Mideast see hypocrisy in Western embrace of Ukraine

— After Russian forces pull back, a shattered town breathes

— Pentagon may need more budget funding to help Ukraine

— UN chief launches effort for Ukraine humanitarian cease-fire

— Ukraine’s other fight: Growing food for itself and the world

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

MOSCOW — Russia has expelled a total of 10 diplomats from the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in retaliation for those countries expelling Russian diplomats earlier this month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was cancelling the accreditation of four Lithuanian diplomats, three Latvians and three Estonians and they would be required to leave the country. That corresponds to the number of Russian diplomats each country previously expelled.

On March 18, the three Baltic countries ordered the expulsion of 10 Russian embassy staff members in a coordinated action taken in solidarity with Ukraine.

Russia said Tuesday that move was “provocative and entirely baseless” and that it had summoned the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian ambassadors in Moscow for an official protest.

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NEW YORK — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has rejected reports that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich may have been poisoned as part of an “information war.”

The investigative news outlet Bellingcat reported Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian delegates suffered symptoms of poisoning after attending talks between Russia and Ukraine on March 3.

Peskov said Tuesday that Abramovich has been “ensuring certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides” but is not an official member of the Russian delegation. He said that Abramovich’s role has been approved by both sides.

He said of the reports that Abramovich may have been poisoned: “It’s part of the information war. These reports obviously do not correspond to reality.”

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — A planned meeting in Hungary of central European defense ministers has been cancelled amid regional disagreements over the response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The meeting was due to be held Wednesday. Hungary’s defense ministry said Tuesday that the meeting of ministers from the Visegrad alliance of Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland would “be held at a later date.”

The cancellation came after the defense ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland indicated they wouldn’t attend.

Leaders from both countries have criticized Hungary’s response to the war in Ukraine, pointing out that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government has refused to supply its embattled neighbor with weapons and lobbied against sanctions on Russian energy imports.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister says that “liberating” the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine is the main goal of Moscow’s military operation, underlining a possible shift in strategy announced last week by another Russian military official.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose few public appearances this month raised questions about his health and whereabouts, held a meeting with top military officials on Tuesday and said that “overall, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed.”

He said that “the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has been significantly reduced, which makes it possible to focus the main attention and main efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas.”

The minister stressed that the Russian military will continue the operation until “the set goals are achieved.”

Shoigu also offered an assurance that Russia will not send conscripts recruited in the upcoming April draft to Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Russian military admitted that a number of conscripts ended up in Ukraine and were even captured there.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The International Monetary Fund’s chief says the global lender “has no problems with Russia” and that its board can only suspend the country if the fund’s membership says it no longer recognizes the government.

“That is a very tall order,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Tuesday in response to a question about consequences against Russia over its war in Ukraine.

She added that “we all know for this war to end there has to be dialogue.” Georgieva spoke at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

The fund approved emergency financing of $1.4 billion for Ukraine on March 10. That’s in addition to a disbursement of $700 million to the country before the war, which was launched by Russia on Feb. 24.

The IMF has said it expects “a bad recession in Russia” and spillover impact on neighboring countries. The IMF says its Moscow office is not actively operating.

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ISTANBUL — An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the talks under way with Russia in Istanbul are focusing on security guarantees for Ukraine and hopes of a cease-fire.

Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukrainian media on Tuesday that there are “intensive consultations going on regarding several important issues, the key among those is an agreement on international security guarantees for Ukraine.” He said that “only with this agreement can we end the war in a way that Ukraine needs.”

He adds that “the second block of issues is a cease-fire so that we could resolve all the humanitarian problems which have piled up and which require urgent resolutions.”

Podolyak added the two sides were also discussing breaches of the rules of war.

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MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry says the United States and its allies are involved in hacking Russian data and infrastructure.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that “the U.S. and its satellites are undertaking a massive cyber-operation against our country.” It also said the U.S. and other NATO members had trained Ukrainian hackers and blamed what it said was an effort by Ukraine to recruit international hackers.

The ministry said that the attacks include stealing Russians’ personal data, putting pressure on the economy and spreading “fake information” about the Russian military.

Russia says it is strengthening its own cyber-security and will seek to bring hackers to justice.

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LONDON — Britain’s Foreign Office says it is concerned about reports that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich may have been poisoned as he participated in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

The investigative news outlet Bellingcat reported Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian delegates suffered symptoms of poisoning after attending talks on March 3. Abramovich, whose exact role in the talks hasn’t been confirmed, has now recovered.

The Foreign Office said in a statement Tuesday that “the allegations are very concerning.”

A Bellingcat investigator said the dosage wasn’t lethal and the “most plausible” explanation for the alleged attack is that it was a warning to Abramovich and any other wealthy Russians who might seek to intervene in the negotiations.

“He volunteered to play … this role of (an) honest broker, but other oligarchs had … declared certain independence from the Kremlin position and criticize the war,” Christo Grozev told Times Radio. “So it could well be seen as a warning sign to them to not join the ranks of those who dissent, and to not be too much of an honest broker.”

Abramovich, owner of London soccer club Chelsea, had his British assets frozen by the U.K. government earlier this month as authorities targeted wealthy Russians with close ties to the Kremlin. Those sanctions also cover Chelsea, limiting ticket sales and spending by the club.

Asked about the alleged poisoning and Abramovich’s role in the negotations, a spokesperson for him declined to comment.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lawmakers in Lithuania are debating a ban on using the ‘Z’ symbol to show support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Russian troops in Ukraine have painted the letter Z on the side of vehicles and it has been adopted by some in Russia as a symbol of support for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation.”

Lithuania, which already has outlawed Soviet and Nazi symbols, also wants to ban the black-and-orange ribbon that was originally a military decoration is now used as a of remembrance of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

Lawmaker Monika Osmianskiene said the symbols “are becoming a symbol not only of propaganda but also of aggression.

A vote in Lithuania’s parliament is expected this week. If it passes, people who violate a ban could face a fine of up to 500 euros ($550).

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HELSINKI — Finland’s main intelligence agency warns that Russia is likely to carry out cyber and information operations against the Nordic country in the coming months as the government and lawmakers debate possible NATO membership.

The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service said in its annual report published Tuesday that it considers “unlawful intelligence operations of Russia” to be among the main current threats to Finland’s national security.

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

Several polls in recent weeks have shown a majority of Finns now supporting NATO membership, up from 25% at most before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland shares the longest border of any European Union member with Russia.

Moscow has said it would consider Finland and neighboring Sweden joining NATO a hostile move that would have serious military and political repercussions.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s defense minister says the country is “on alert” against naval mines after authorities detected and deactivated two explosive devices floating in the Black Sea.

Hulusi Akar told journalists late Monday that authorities were still trying to determine whether the mines had drifted from Ukrainian waters. He had no information on the number of anti-ship devices that may be floating in the sea.

Akar said in comments released by his ministry Tuesday: “Whether the mines that were laid in Ukraine have arrived, or whether other mines were activated — it would not be right to say anything without being certain about it.”

“Our mine-sweeping vessels and maritime patrol planes are on alert,” he said. “Detected mines are immediately destroyed in a safe manner.”

Akar added that Turkey was cooperating with Romania and Bulgaria to detect mines.

Turkish military teams disabled two naval mines in the past four days, including one on Saturday that forced the temporary closure of the Bosporus Strait. The sighting followed warnings that mines laid at the entrances to Ukrainian ports could break free in heavy weather and cross the Black Sea.

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BERLIN — The U.N. nuclear watchdog says its director-general has arrived in Ukraine for talks with senior government officials on delivering “urgent technical assistance” to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday that Rafael Mariano Grossi’s aim is to “to initiate prompt safety and security support” for Ukraine’s nuclear sites. That will include sending IAEA experts to “prioritized facilities” and sending “vital safety and security supplies” including monitoring and emergency equipment.

It said that Grossi will travel to one of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants this week, but didn’t say which one. Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four active power plants, and also is home to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl and of the largest active power plant, at Zaporizhzhia.

Grossi said in a statement that “the military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger.”

He added that “there have already been several close calls. We can’t afford to lose any more time.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s foreign minister, called on countries to ban the use of the letter “Z” as a symbol of the Russian war on Ukraine.

In a tweet Tuesday, Dmytro Kuleba said the letter in some contexts “means Russian war crimes, bombed out cities, thousands of murdered Ukrainians.”

Russian troops in Ukraine have painted the letter Z on the side of vehicles and it has been adopted by some in Russia as a symbol of support for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation” in the neighboring country.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said Monday that security services are aware the symbol is also being used at rallies in Germany. He said the letter can under certain circumstances be considered a sign of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and could make people “criminally liable.” Several German states have said they will open investigations into the use of the symbol.

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BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says her country is working toward a ‘de facto’ embargo of Russian oil because of the war in Ukraine.

Germany has long relied on fossil fuels from Russia and Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that suddenly halting imports could have severe economic consequences for his country.

But Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday that Germany is nevertheless aiming for a “complete national exit from Russian fossil fuel dependence.”

She cited recent efforts to diversify Germany’s imports that aim to end the use of Russian oil and coal this year, and natural gas by mid-2024.

“You can (…) call it a national, step-by-step, de facto embargo particularly of oil,” Baerbock said at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue conference.

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LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government says it is operating three humanitarian corridors Tuesday to move civilians out of the besieged port of Mariupol and two Russian-occupied cities in the south.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says that besides Mariupol, evacuations will run from Enerhodar and Melitopol. Those cities have both been under Russian control for weeks and have seen protests and alleged kidnappings of pro-Ukraine local politicians.

The routes all converge in the Ukraine-controlled southern city of Zaporizhzhia.

Russia operates its own evacuation routes, which Ukraine has alleged are cover for forcibly deporting Ukrainian civilians to Russia. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of obstructing evacuations.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official says an explosion struck a nine-story administration building in the strategic port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning as talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Istanbul began.

The Telegram channel of the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, showed a gaping hole in the center of the building. Kim said most people escaped the building and rescuers were searching for a handful of missing people.

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NEW YORK — Bloomberg News says it has suspended its operations in Russia and Belarus, citing international condemnation and sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The financial news company said customers in both Russia and Belarus will be unable to access any of Bloomberg’s financial products including terminals, data licenses, data feeds and electronic trading platforms.

Trading functions for Russian securities were disabled in line with international sanctions, it said.

Earlier, Bloomberg suspended the work of its journalists in Russia and removed Russian stocks from its global equity indexes. Russian bonds will be removed with the month-end rebalancing, the company said in a statement.

It said Bloomberg Philanthropies had pledged $40 million to the International Rescue Committee and the World Central Kitchen to help Ukrainians and refugees in the region and elsewhere.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a cease-fire as the Russian and Ukrainian delegations resumed their talks in Istanbul.

In a speech at the start Tuesday, Erdogan said progress in the talks could pave the way for a meeting between the two countries’ leaders.

“We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” Erdogan said. “As members of the delegations you have taken on a historic responsibility. The whole world is awaiting the good news that will come from you.”

The delegations are scheduled to hold two days of talks in a government building adjacent to the 19th-century Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, on the shores of the Bosporus.

Earlier talks between the sides, held in person in Belarus or by video, failed to make progress on ending the monthlong war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.

Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country is prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow has demanded, and is open to compromise on the fate of the Donbas, the contested region in the country’s east.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military says Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war.

In a post Tuesday, the military said the Orthodox church — the country’s majority religion — was the most affected but that mosques, synagogues, Protestant churches and religious schools were also destroyed.

In a map provided by the military, the destruction appears concentrated around Kyiv and in the country’s east.

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Live updates: Zelenskyy: 7 dead in southern Ukraine strike