Russia and Ukraine at war: The latest news on the crisis | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

GENEVA — The UN refugee agency says 1 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion less than a week ago, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.

The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population on the move in under a week. The World Bank counted the population at 44 million at the end of 2020.

The UN agency has predicted that up to 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine but cautioned that even that projection could be revised upward.

In an email, UNHCR spokesperson Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams wrote: “Our data indicates we passed the 1M mark” as of midnight in central Europe, based on counts collected by national authorities.

On Twitter, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, wrote: “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries.”

Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, currently remains the country with the largest refugee outflows – at more than 5.6 million people, according to UNHCR figures. But even at the swiftest rate of flight by refugees out of Syria, in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave that country.

UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that “at this rate” the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensyy gave an upbeat assessment of the war and called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance.

“We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,” he said. “They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.”

Zelensky didn’t comment on whether the Russians have seized several cities, including Kherson.

“If they went somewhere, then only temporarily. We’ll drive them out,” he said.

He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.”

“These are not warriors of a superpower,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”

He said the Russian death toll has reached about 9,000.

“Ukraine doesn’t want to be covered in bodies of soldiers,” he said. “Go home.”

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is hailing Wednesday’s vote by the United Nations General Assembly demanding an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops, saying it “demonstrates the extent of global outrage at Russia’s horrific assault on a sovereign neighbour.”

In a statement Wednesday evening, Biden said the UN vote recognizes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “attacking the very foundations of global peace and security — and everything the United Nations stands for.”

The vote on the “Aggression against Ukraine” resolution was 141-5, with 35 abstentions.

Echoing his State of the Union address Tuesday, Biden said: “Together, we must — and we will — hold Russia accountable for its actions. We will demonstrate that freedom always triumphs over tyranny.”

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KHERSON, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office says fighting is still occurring around the port city of Kherson, which Russian officials have said is in their “complete control.”

Zelensky’s office told The Associated Press that it could not comment on the situation there while the battle was still being waged.

But the mayor of Kherson, Igor Kolykhaev, said Russian soldiers were in the city and came to the city administration building. He said he asked them not to shoot civilians and to allow them to gather up the bodies from the streets.

“I simply asked them not to shoot at people,” Mayor Igor Kolykhaev said in a statement. “We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE.”

Kherson, a city of 300,000, is strategically located on the banks of the Dnieper River near where it flows into the Black Sea. If Russian troops take the city, they could unblock a water canal and restore water supplies to the Crimean Peninsula.

The battle in the Kherson region began last Thursday, the first day of the invasion, and by the next day the Russian forces were able to take a bridge that connects the city with territory on the western bank.

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — About 3,800 troops based at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia have been ordered to deploy quickly and bolster U.S. forces in Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s been very hectic and stressful, but overall it’s worked out,” Army Staff Sgt. Ricora Jackson said Wednesday as she waited with dozens of fellow soldiers to board a chartered flight at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah. The soldiers are from the 1st Armored Brigade of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

In all, the Pentagon has ordered about 12,000 service members from various U.S. bases to Europe, with a couple of thousand more already stationed abroad shifting to other European countries.

The soldiers’ mission overseas is to train alongside military units of NATO allies in a display of force aimed at deterring further aggression by Russia.

“I’m a little nervous, but it’s OK,” said Jackson, a 22-year-old tank gunner from Pensacola, Florida.

Asked what was making her nervous, she replied: “Just about the unknown.”

Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, the 3rd Infantry’s commander, said soldiers and their families were told to expect the deployment to last six months, though it could be extended or shortened depending on developments in Ukraine. “There is no intent to have any U.S. service member fight in Ukraine,” Costanza said. “And they know that.”

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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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ROME — Soccer great Andriy Shevchenko says people back in his homeland of Ukraine are helping each other fight for freedom because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

Shevchenko, who used to play for AC Milan and Chelsea, told Italian state TV in an interview aired Wednesday night that “we want to be free, we want to have our land.” His mother and sister are in Kyiv.

“All are afraid,’’ Shevchenko said. “People are organizing themselves. They’re helping each other. They believe they are doing the right thing” in defending the country against Russia’s attack, he said.

At a match Tuesday night in Milan’s San Siro Stadium between AC Milan and Inter, Shevchenko, delivered a video message while draped in a Ukrainian flag.

“What unites us must be stronger than what divides us,’’ the former star forward said in the video. Pleading for peace, Shevchenko said: “Let’s all together stop this war.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials have reported a powerful explosion in central 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.

The Southern Railway station is one of two stations that make up the main passenger rail complex that thousands have used to flee the war over the past week. The two stations are connected by an overhead corridor that crosses over about a dozen tracks.

“Russian terrorists launched an air strike on the South Railway Station in Kyiv, where thousands of Ukrainian women and children are being evacuated,” the national railway company said.

The stations are about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the square that was the site of huge protests in 2014 and 2004.

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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. defence official says the Russian convoy still appears to be stalled outside the city centre 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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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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ZAHONY, Hungary — Some of the nearly 1 million people who have fled Russia’s devastating war in Ukraine in recent days count among society’s most vulnerable, unable to make the decision on their own to flee and requiring careful assistance to make the journey to safety.

At the train station in the Hungarian town of Zahony on Wednesday, more than 200 young Ukrainians with disabilities — residents of two orphanages in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv — disembarked into the cold wind of the train platform after an arduous escape from the violence gripping Ukraine.

The refugees, most of them children with mental and physical disabilities, were evacuated from their care facilities once the Russian assault on the capital intensified.

“It wasn’t safe to stay there, there were rockets, they were shooting at Kyiv,” said Larissa Leonidovna, the director of the Svyatoshinksy orphanage in Kyiv. “We spent more than an hour underground during a bombing.”

The UN refugee agency says more than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week and the figure is “rising exponentially,” putting it on track to cross the 1 million mark on Wednesday.

Moving from the train in groups of 30, the children — also from the Darnytskyy orphanage in Kyiv — were escorted to buses waiting to take them to Opole, Poland, where they would be settled and receive further care

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WASHINGTON — The White House has announced additional sanctions against Russia and its ally Belarus, including extending export controls that target Russian oil refining and entities supporting the Russian and Belarusian military.

Among Wednesday’s new measures are sanctions targeting 22 Russia defence entities that make combat aircraft, infantry fighting vehicles, electronic warfare systems, missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles for Russia’s military.

The U.S. Commerce Department also announced additional export controls on oil and gas extraction equipment that would hurt Russia’s refining capacity over the long term.

The Biden administration, and Western allies, have largely stayed away from hitting the Russian energy sector to avoid causing tremors to the global supply of energy. The White House, however, said in a statement that U.S. and allies “share a strong interest in degrading Russia’s status as a leading energy supplier over time.”

The latest sanctions imposed on Wednesday include the U.S. closing off its air space to all Russian flights. President Joe Biden previewed that he would making the move in his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, shortly after a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Israeil officials said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office confirmed that the calls with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders took place but provided no further details.

Israel has close relations with both countries and has acted as an intermediary between the two countries.

Israeli media reported that that Zelensky repeated Ukraine’s request for Israeli military equipment, but that Bennett said Israel wouldn’t give Ukraine anything that could potentially be used by the military. Bennett’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Earlier in the day, Zelensky’s official Facebook page posted a Hebrew translation of his remarks, in which he called on “all Jews of the world” not to remain silent about Russia’s invasion.

Israel has largely refrained from taking actions to anger Moscow, in part because it relies on Russia for security coordination in neighboring Syria, where Russia maintains a military presence supporting President Bashar Assad, and where Israel frequently carries out airstrikes targeting Iranian forces and their Lebanese proxies.

Israel has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but has also offered to act as broker for cease-fire talks.

In addition, Israel’s Foreign Ministry says it is weighing sending additional humanitarian aid to Ukraine, after having dispatched 100 tons of supplies this week. It says it is also evaluating the possibility of setting up a field hospital in Ukraine.

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LONDON — With the threat of financial sanctions looming, Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich confirmed Wednesday he is trying to sell the Premier League club he turned into an elite trophy-winning machine with his lavish investment.

The speed of Abramovich’s pending exit from Chelsea is striking as he was trying to instigate a plan this past weekend to relinquish some control in order to keep the club under his ownership.

But as Russia’s war on Ukraine entered a seventh day, pressure was growing on the British government to include him among the wealthy Russians to be targeted in sanctions.

“In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners,” Abramovich said in a statement.

Abramovich said he will not be asking to be repaid 1.5 billion pounds (US$2 billion) in loans he has granted the club during 19 years of injecting cash to elevate the team into one of the most successful in Europe.

“I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated,” he said. “The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.”

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A pretrial panel of International Criminal Court judges has been assigned to evaluate an upcoming request to open an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

The court took the procedural step Wednesday to be ready when Prosecutor Karim Khan files the request.

He announced his intention on Monday to launch an investigation dating back to 2013 but also including “any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of my office that are committed by any party to the conflict” that erupted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There have been widespread reports of Russian military strikes killing civilians in Ukraine.

The court says in a statement that the pretrial chamber “will have to consider whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation, upon examination of the Prosecutor’s request and the supporting material.”

Canada and Lithuania have both said they plan to ask him to investigate alleged crimes in Ukraine. If they do, Khan can open an investigation without first seeking approval from judges.

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MOSCOW — A top aide for Russian President Vladimir Putin says Ukrainians are on their way to Belarus for talks that have been scheduled for Thursday.

“As far as I know, the Ukrainian delegation has already departed from Kyiv, is en route … We’re expecting them tomorrow,” Vladimir Medinsky, the head of the Russian delegation, told reporters Wednesday evening

According to Medinsky, the two sides agreed on the Brest region of Belarus, which borders Poland, as the site of the talks.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that the delegation is on its way, but gave no details on the time of the arrival.

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NEW DELHI — India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the second time in the past week as Moscow intensified its invasion of Ukraine.

Putin and Modi on Wednesday reviewed the situation in Ukraine, especially in the city of Kharkiv where many Indian students are stuck, according to a statement from Arindam Bagchi, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson. They discussed the safe evacuation of the Indian nationals from the conflict areas, Bagchi said.

The telephone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Putin came as the UN General Assembly approved a resolution demanding that Russia stop war in Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

India last week had abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Russia cease its invasion of Ukraine. Russia vetoed the resolution while China and the United Arab Emirates also abstained.

Earlier in the day, India asked all its nationals to leave Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv by Wednesday evening based on information received from Russia.

Bagchi also said nearly 17,000 Indian nationals, mostly students, out of an estimated 20,000, have left Ukraine. India is trying to evacuate the rest to nearby countries.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued even at the United Nations Environment Assembly, where some delegates walked out on Wednesday when Russia’s representative began to speak.

The assembly also gave Ukraine’s representative a standing ovation.

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TIRANA, Albania —The Albanian Football Federation has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and will offer shelter to Ukrainian players’ families.

The federation passed a resolution at its assembly on Wednesday in support of the Ukrainian people.

“Stop to military violence and occupation! Stop to the war that brings only destruction and victims! Respect to Ukraine’s sovereignty!” said that resolution.

The federation is in contact with its Ukraine’s counterpart to offer shelter to some players’ families “in a sign of human support and solidarity.”

A few days earlier Albania’s government joined the wave of European opposition to playing any sports games against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Albania is among the few national teams in men’s soccer with games scheduled against Russia in official competitions.

Albania was due to host Russia in Tirana on June 2 in the group stage of the UEFA Nations League competition.

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MOSCOW — The spokesman of the Russian Defence Ministry says 498 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine and 1,597 more sustained wounds.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov on Wednesday rejected reports about “incalculable losses” of the Russians as “disinformation.” It was the first time Russia has addressed the number of military casualties in Ukraine since the start of the invasion last Thursday. He assured that families of those killed are receiving all necessary assistance.

Konashenkov also said that neither conscripts, nor cadets have been involved in the operation in Ukraine, dismissing media reports alleging otherwise.

Konashenkov also said more than 2,870 Ukrainian troops have been killed and some 3,700 more sustained injuries, while 572 others have been captured by the Russians. Ukrainian officials have not yet commented on the claim and it could not be immediately verified.

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PARIS — France’s National Center for Scientific Research, a huge state-run network of scientists across the country, is suspending all new collaboration with Russian counterparts.

In its announcement Wednesday, the CNRS, as it is known, strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It is unacceptable that in the 21st century such a conflict could see the light of day within Europe,” a statement said.

It acknowledged that its own move was exceptional because “science has no borders,” but added that shared scientific values “cannot tolerate this war.”

The CNRS praised the courage of “several hundred” Russian scientists who have spoken out against their country’s aggression. It assured that Russian scientists currently working in its labs can continue their activities.

The CNRS said it is ready to take in Ukrainian researchers under the Pause program which provides emergency funds from the Ministry of Higher Education to help Ukrainian scientists in danger.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s foreign ministry says two Russian diplomats accused of spying by Bulgarian prosecutors will be expelled from the country.

An official note in which Bulgaria declares the two diplomats “persona non grata” was handed to the Russian Embassy. They have been given 48 hours to leave the country.

Earlier on Wednesday, the prosecution announced that a pre-trial investigation established that they allegedly had carried out “unregulated intelligence activities, incompatible with their diplomatic status.” It added that the suspects could not be charged with espionage because of their diplomatic immunity.

The prosecution said also a Bulgarian army retired general has been taken into custody and faces charges of espionage. He is accused that as a Defence Ministry employee he had passed NATO-related classified information to Russian diplomats.

Bulgaria, Moscow’s closest ally during the Cold War, has expelled nine Russian diplomats for suspected spying over the last couple of years.

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UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly voted Wednesday to demand that Russia stop its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all troops, with nations from world powers to tiny island states condemning Moscow’s actions.

The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions. It came after the 193-member assembly convened its first emergency session since 1997.

Assembly resolutions aren’t legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion. A Russian veto sank a similar resolution in the more powerful UN Security Council on Friday, but the assembly allows no vetoes. Under special emergency session rules, a resolution needs approval of two-thirds of those countries voting, and abstentions don’t count.

More than 90 countries co-sponsored the assembly resolution. It deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. The measure also called on Russia to reverse a decision to recognize two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent.

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GENEVA — A top Ukrainian diplomat received a standing ovation from diplomats after a heartfelt speech Wednesday to the UN’s top human rights body, calling on the Human Rights Council to help hold Russia’s government accountable by creating a panel of experts to scrutinize the invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking by video from Kyiv, Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine’s first deputy minister of foreign affairs, described being awoken by the sound of an explosion on Feb. 24 as the invasion began. She said her government was “fully operational” and lashed out at “false claims” by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine was committing “genocide.”

“Do you know how Russia treats and deals with genocide in Ukraine? By airstrikes using cruise and operational tactical missiles, tanks and artillery, reconnaissance groups and sabotage groups,” she said. “Ukrainian babies are born in the bomb shelters in bunkers … As we speak here today, Russian armed forces keep attacking maternity wards, kindergartens, orphanages, hospitals.”

Dzhaparova noted an “urgent debate” at the council about the situation in Ukraine, calling for countries in the 47-member-state body’s to set up a Commission of Inquiry – the council’s most powerful tool to scrutinize human rights violations and abuses.

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GORENKA, Ukraine — Amid the sounds of shelling, Ukrainian reservists — some wearing civilian clothes and carrying rifles — have set up checkpoints in the road to stop vehicles.

Andrey Goncharuk, 68, is a pensioner who said there might be good people among those invading Ukraine but that doesn’t matter to him because they weren’t invited.

“They have come to kill my people,” he said. He said he was prepared to take weapons from enemies killed in combat. “In my old age, I had to take up arms. I have this rifle. We will try to get (more) weapons even if they don’t bring them to us. We’ll do it ourselves. We’ll kill (the) enemy and take their weapons,” he said.

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KHARKIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official says the advance of Russian troops in Kharkiv has been stopped, but that Russians have responded by shelling the city with heavy rocket launchers and air attacks.

“Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” said Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said that over the past 24 hours 21 people were killed and at least 112 were injured by Russians.

Explosions on Wednesday thundered on Constitution Square, near the buildings of the City Council and the Palace of Labor. A missile attack also destroyed the building of the regional police department in Kharkiv and the university building, which is located across the street.

Arestovich said that several Russian planes were shot down over Kharkiv.

The Russians used Iskander missile systems to bombard Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

Arestovich said Iskander missile systems can deviate from their target, making them “a danger to civilian objects.”

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accused President Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

Johnson told lawmakers on Wednesday: “What we have seen already from Vladimir Putin’s regime in the use of the munitions that they have already been dropping on innocent civilians, in my view, already fully qualifies as a war crime.”

When asked about Russian attacks on the Babi Yar holocaust memorial in Kyiv and targeting of apartment blocks, Johnson’s spokesman said that “no one can be in any doubt that what we’re seeing daily, almost hourly now, are horrific acts that would certainly appear to be war crimes.”

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday that he plans to open an investigation “as rapidly as possible” into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union has slapped 22 more Belarus officials with sanctions and is slated to impose additional sanctions on Russia’s ally for its involvement in the invasion of Ukraine.

The EU already punished 20 Belarus officials last week when it imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia itself. Now 22 more have been added.

The EU is set to expand economic sanctions either later Wednesday or Thursday.

The 27 nation bloc has sanctioned some 200 Belarus officials over the past years linked to what it saw were fraudulent elections to keep authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in office two years ago and added more sanctions last June when a passenger jet was diverted to arrest a dissident journalist.

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WASHINGTON — Speaking outside the White House Wednesday, President Joe Biden said that it was up to President Volodymyr Zelensky on whether he should leave Ukraine, and said it was a decision for NATO whether to keep troops permanently stationed in Poland and other nearby countries.

When asked whether he felt Russian President Vladimir Putin was committing war crimes he said: “We are following very closely,” but that the Russians were deliberately targeting civilian areas.

A devout Catholic, Biden had ashes on his forehead to mark Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. And he seconded Pope Francis’ calls for prays for Ukraine.

“I was with the Cardinal this morning — he came over to give me ashes and we both prayed for that, for the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department says it will crack down on Russian oligarchs and anyone else who violates the sweeping sanctions imposed by the Biden administration in response to the war against Ukraine.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday announced the creation of Task Force KleptoCapture, a team of federal agents and prosecutors responsible for investigating and prosecuting any violations of new and future sanctions.

That includes seizing the assets belonging to oligarchs and others who violate the sanctions, and thwarting any efforts to use cryptocurrency to get around sanctions.

Garland said in a statement announcing the sanctions that the Justice Department “will leave no stone unturned” in investigating and prosecuting “those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war.”

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Three boys wounded by apparent Russian shelling while they were playing soccer Wednesday were rushed into a hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

One of the boys had lost his legs, and died soon after arrival, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. The other two were rushed into surgery and then intensive care.

The boys, all born in 2006, had been playing soccer and hanging out near School No. 29 in Mariupol when the shelling hit, family members told the AP. A woman with severe face injuries from the same strike was also brought to the hospital.

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KYIV, Ukraine — In Kyiv’s northwestern outskirts, a bridge reduced to rubble led people to balance on narrow pipes to cross the fast-moving river below.

According to footage, a man carrying a rifle helped a smiling child cross. Others carried bags and used a rope to ford the river.

A woman carrying a cart across stopped to pat a dog on its head. Near the crossing point, a van had flipped upside down, its grill lodged in the river muck and debris.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says its first shipment of medical supplies for invasion-hit Ukraine will arrive in neighboring Poland on Thursday, calling for a humanitarian corridor to ease delivery in the face of a crisis with “ordinary civilians being broken” in the fighting.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the shipment includes 36 metric tons (40 U.S. tons) of supplies for trauma care and emergency surgery to help 1,000 patients as well as other supplies to meet the needs of 150,000 people.

He said WHO’s prepositioned supplies in the capital, Kyiv are currently unavailable. He did not elaborate, but the agency alluded to logistical problems amid the fighting after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.

“There is an urgent need to establish a corridor to ensure humanitarian workers and supplies have safe and continuous access to reach people in need,” Tedros said.

Dr. Jarno Habicht, WHO’s country representative in Ukraine, said it was “difficult to find drivers” to deploy supplies. The agency said some of the supplies include treatment for noncommunicable diseases, insulin, and hypertension medication, as well as things like tetanus antitoxin.

The WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said other supplies included sutures, skin graft equipment, and “equipment for doing amputations, for bone grafting, for bone wiring…”

“I think this gives you the graphic nature of what’s happening,” Ryan said. “These are ordinary civilians being broken and the health system is going to have to put them back together again.”

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PRAGUE — Dozens of craft beer brewers in the Czech Republic are joining forces to help Ukraine.

More than 40 such breweries will participate in the “Drink for Ukraine” beer festival at Prague’s Congress Center on Saturday. All the brewers will contribute some 100 kinds of beer free of charge for the festival.

They will also donate beer rarities that will be auctioned at the festival.

All the money from the sales and auction will be sent to the People In Need humanitarian organization that is providing aid for people in Ukraine.

The organizers said they were not able to watch the aggression against Ukraine without doing something to help.

“We help by doing what we know the best — good beer,” festival co-organizer Karolina Chroustovska.

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ROME — The Venice Biennale art exhibition, which has already seen members of the Russian pavilion quit to protest the invasion of Ukraine, says it’s working to make sure the artist representing Ukraine can show his work.

Pavlo Makov is due to represent Ukraine with “The Fountain of Exhaustion. Acqua Alta” at the Biennale, which runs April 23-Nov. 27.

In a statement Wednesday, Biennale organizers said they were working to make sure Makov could come to Italy and present his work as planned, as a sign of its solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

The festival said it would continue to welcome Russian artists who support freedom of expression and have opposed the invasion, but that official Russian delegations wouldn’t be allowed.

Last week, the curator and members of the official Russian pavilion quit to protest the war. The festival hailed the decision as a “noble act of courage” on the part of the Russian artists

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NEW DELHI — India is asking its nationals to leave Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv by Wednesday evening, based on information that Indian authorities have received from Russia.

External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Indian nationals have been advised to move to three safe zones some 15 kilometres (9 miles) away.

Bagchi declined to give details about what information New Delhi had received from Russia, which is invading Ukraine.

Bagchi also said nearly 17,000 Indian nationals, mostly students, out of an estimated 20,000, have left Ukraine. India is trying to evacuate the rest to nearby countries.

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ROME — European Union member Malta says it is suspending the processing of applications from Russian and Belarusian nationals for its so-called “golden passport” program in the wake of EU sanctions on Russia.

The much-criticized program, which grants citizenship or official residence in Malta, was begun as a lucrative source of income for the tiny island nation in 2014. A government statement on Wednesday also noted that nobody who gained citizenship that way has been found to be on the list of sanctioned individuals.

It said sanctions now make it impossible to perform due diligence on applicants from Russia and Belarus. Under the program, Maltese passports can be obtained with 600,000 euros (US$660,000) and three years of residency or 750,000 euros and 12 months of residency, plus a 700,000-euro purchase of property. But investigative reporting in recent years found that the residency requirement wasn’t always fully enforced.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Israel’s president says his country is helping to push for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine and is offering its services to achieve that.

President Isaac Herzog said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart on Wednesday that Israel is also sending an “unprecedented amount” of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, totaling some 100 tons.

Herzog said the aid is a “moral obligation” and that his country is considering more ways to support the Ukrainian people.

He said a missile attack on the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv “epitomizes the huge pain and suffering of people there” and the “terrible tragedy that we’re seeing unfolding in front of our eyes.”

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TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister says his country will accept refugees from Ukraine, as Russia invades its eastern European neighbor.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Wednesday that the offer includes Ukrainians who have fled to Poland.

“We plan to start first with those with family and friends in Japan, but we will not stop there and will respond from a humanitarian viewpoint,” Kishida told reporters.

The Japanese offer is unusual, though Japan has accepted refugees before, from various nations, albeit in very small numbers.

Japan has often been criticized for providing a relatively narrow door for migrants wanting to get in. Those policies have become even tighter due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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LONDON — Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has received a standing ovation from British lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Legislators from all parties rose to applaud when Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle announced that Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko was in the public gallery for the weekly Prime Minister’s questions session.

Hoyle said applause was usually banned in the chamber, but “the House quite rightly wants to demonstrate our respect and support for your country and its people in the most difficult of times.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “underestimated the extraordinary fortitude of the Ukrainian people and the unity and resolve of the free world in standing up to his barbarism.”

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LONDON — European plane maker Airbus says it has stopped providing support services to Russian airlines and supplying spare parts to the country.

The company said in a statement that the suspension was “in line with international sanctions now in place.”

U.S. rival Boeing has also said it’s putting its operations in Moscow on hold, temporarily shutting its Kyiv office and suspending parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian carriers.

Airbus and Boeing jets account for the vast majority or Russia’s passenger aircraft fleet.

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GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says more than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week and the figure is “rising exponentially,” putting it on track to cross the 1 million mark possibly within hours.

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that people are continuing to stream into Ukraine’s neighboring countries to the west, with more than 200,000 fleeing since Tuesday.

A day earlier, Mantoo had cautioned that the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of the “biggest refugee crisis this century” — eclipsing the one from Syria’s war over the last decade.

She noted that UNHCR had previously projected that as many as 4 million people might flee Ukraine, but noted that the agency will be re-evaluating its forecast.

The latest figures show that more than half — or nearly 454,000 — have gone to Poland, more than 116,300 to Hungary and over 79,300 to Moldova. Another 69,000 have gone to other European countries and 67,000 have fled to Slovakia.

Mantoo noted that the figure of 874,000 was an increase from more than 660,000 only a day earlier — and some 116,000 on Saturday, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union has banned seven Russian banks from the SWIFT global system that underpins cross-border payments.

But it spared two financial institutions in Russia because they are key to transactions for EU energy imports.

The EU left out Gazprombank and Sberbank from its move Wednesday to disconnect parts of the Russian financial industry from the SWIFT secure messaging network.

The exemption of those two banks underscores the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy and the two financial institutions’ central role in managing payments for that business.

The seven banks targeted by the latest EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine are: Bank Otkritie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, Rossiya Bank, Sovcombank, VEB and VTB.

Gazprombank and Sberbank are, however, subject to other sets of EU financial sanctions against Russia that began in 2014 when the Kremlin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

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MOSCOW — Russian and Ukrainian officials say they are standing by to resume talks about their war, though the time and place for negotiations was unknown and hopes for a breakthrough remain low.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that “in the second half of the day, closer to evening, our delegation will be in place to await Ukrainian negotiators.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukrainian officials are ready for new talks but said the venue is undecided and Kyiv won’t accept any Russian ultimatums.

Kuleba said: “Russia’s demands remain the same as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin announced in his address before the war started.”

Peskov said Putin’s culture adviser Vladimir Medinsky remains the main negotiator for Russia.

The first round of talks on resolving the Russia-Ukraine war were held near the Belarus-Ukraine border last Sunday.

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VIENNA — The head of the UN nuclear watchdog is warning about the dangers of a war happening around nuclear power plants, as Russia invades Ukraine.

Rafael Grossi told a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors on Wednesday that he is “gravely concerned” by the situation.

He said it’s “the first time a military conflict is happening amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program.” That includes the decommissioned Chornobyl plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

Grossi noted that any action jeopardizing the safe operation of nuclear facilities or the safety of radioactive material “could have severe consequences, aggravating human suffering and causing environmental harm.”

Grossi added, according to a text of his comments provided by the IAEA: “It is also imperative to ensure that the brave people who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine can continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure.”

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s prime minister says his country has been hit by a wave of refugees from Ukraine after their country was invaded by Russian troops.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala told the lower house of parliament on Wednesday that some 20,000 refugees arrived from Ukraine in last few days. The Czech Republic doesn’t have a border with Ukraine and most refugees are coming though neighbouring Slovakia and Poland.

He said his government is working on legislation that would give the refugees access to the labour market without a work permit.

He said Czechs have been creating assistance centres in every of the country’s 14 regions for the refugees, making it easier for them to get registered, receive medical treatment or receive information about job openings.

Some 200,000 Ukrainians were working in the Czech Republic before the invasion.

Fiala said his government has sent to Ukraine arms worth almost US$30 million and will continue to do so.

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BEIJING — China’s bank regulator says Beijing won’t join the United States and European governments in imposing financial sanctions on Russia.

China is a major buyer of Russian oil and gas and is the only major government that has refrained from criticizing Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

Beijing disapproves of the sanctions, which it believes lack a legal basis and “will not have a good effect,” said Guo Shuqing, the chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

“We will not join such sanctions, and we will keep normal economic, trade and financial exchanges with all the relevant parties,” Guo said at a news conference. “We disapprove of the financial sanctions.”

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Ukrainian embassy in the United Arab Emirates says the Gulf country is re-imposing visa requirements on Ukrainians, in an effort to stop anyone fleeing the war against Russia heading there.

The embassy posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that the suspension went into effect March 1. Any Ukrainian passport holders wanting to visit the United Arab Emirates will now need a visa first.

The energy-rich UAE, which relies on Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports, is home to some 15,000 Ukrainian residents among its roughly 8 million foreign residents and 1 million Emirati citizens. Before the coronavirus pandemic, around a quarter-million Ukrainian tourists visited the UAE.

The UAE, like other Gulf Arab states, does not recognize individuals fleeing war and has not permitted refugees from Syria, Iraq and other wars to seek asylum or seek resettlement.

The UAE, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, abstained in a UN Security Council vote late last week condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is thanking Poland for opening its borders and homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

Francis gave a special shout-out to Poland during his Wednesday general audience. The weekly appointment coincided with Ash Wednesday, which Francis has designated as a day for fasting and prayers for peace in Ukraine.

Speaking to Polish pilgrims, Francis said he was “profoundly grateful” for Poland’s gestures of solidarity.

“You are the first ones who have supported Ukraine opening your borders, your hearts, the doors of your homes to the Ukrainians who are escaping the war,” Francis said. “You are generously offering everything necessary so that they can live in a dignified way despite the dramatic moment.”

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VIENNA — Russia claims its military has taken control of the area around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.

That’s according to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

It said Wednesday it had received a letter from Russia saying personnel at the Zaporizhzhia plant continued their “work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation.”

The letter added: “The radiation levels remain normal.”

Zaporizhzhia is the largest of Ukraine’s nuclear sites, with six out of the country’s 15 reactors.

Already, Russia has seized control of the decommissioned Chornobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

The IAEA says that it has received a request from Ukraine to “provide immediate assistance in coordinating activities in relation to the safety” of Chornobyl and other sites.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says Russia has withdrawn a request to send four warships to the Black Sea through the Turkish straits.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that Moscow had agreed to a “friendly request” by Turkey, a NATO member.

Turkey — which has been trying to balance its close relations with both Ukraine and Russia — announced this week that it will implement an international convention that allows it to shut down the straits to warships belong to warring countries.

The convention provides an exception for warships returning to Black Sea ports they are registered with.

Cavusoglu said three of the Russian ships were not registered with Black Sea naval bases.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norsk Hydro, one of the largest aluminum companies worldwide, says it won’t sign new contracts linked to Russian producers until further notice.

It cited the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union and the international community, for its decision.

The company with operations in more than 40 countries said in a statement Wednesday that it has no “business-critical supplies” from Russia or Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is appealing to Jews around the world to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in which significant Jewish sites have been hit.

Zelensky made the appeal on Wednesday, a day after a Russian missile strike damaged the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial on the outskirts of Kyiv, where Nazi occupiers killed more than 33,000 Jews over two days in 1941.

Zelensky, who is Jewish, said: “I appeal now to all the Jews of the world — don’t you see what is happening? Therefore, it is very important that millions of Jews around the world do not remain silent now.”

Earlier, shelling hit the town of Uman, a significant pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews.

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MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is reversing course, saying his government will also provide offensive military equipment directly to Ukraine.

Those supplies will be in addition to what Spain is already sending through the European Union.

Sánchez told parliament Wednesday he is changing Spanish policy because other parties were demanding it and because he wanted political unity around the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last week, it sent 20 tons of protective military gear and aid to Kyiv.

Spain contributes to NATO contingents in the Baltics and other allies in eastern Europe.

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BEIJING — China says one of its citizens was shot and injured while evacuating from Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the incident occurred on Tuesday while the person was leaving on their own. The Chinese Embassy in Kyiv immediately contacted the person to provide assistance.

Wang told reporters at a daily briefing that the injured person is out of danger. He said the embassy is following the person’s progress and will continue to provide aid.

Details surrounding the shooting are unclear, pointing to the chaotic situation as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and thousands of foreigners seek to escape the fighting.

Beijing has refused to criticize the Russian assault or even describe it as an invasion or war, arguing that NATO and the West had failed to properly address Russia’s “legitimate security concerns.”

As fighting erupted last week, the Foreign Ministry advised its citizens to display a Chinese flag on their vehicles when venturing out. Just two days later, it advised them instead to show no signs of Chinese nationality, apparently reflecting concerns over a hardening of anti-China rhetoric online.

In a phone call Monday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Ukraine to fulfill its “international responsibility” in ensuring the safety of Chinese nationals.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Videos circulated online of an apparent attack on the regional police and intelligence headquarters in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. It shows a building with its roof blown off and its top floor on fire.

Pieces of the five-story building are strewn across adjacent streets.

The Ukrainian government’s centre for strategic communications released images Wednesday of strikes hitting Kharkiv, with balls of fire lighting up the city skyline over populated areas.

Kharkiv resident Marina Boreiko described strikes hitting a neighbouring building Tuesday, and her shock at seeing bodies lying in the rubble.

“Today I survived a bombing,” she told The Associated Press, repeatedly choking back tears.

“A Russian plane dropped a bomb on the house next door. My boyfriend and I were at home. We felt a strong whistle, and I realized it was flying toward us. We were in the corridor then, and we felt the explosion from there.”

As dust rose up, she said, “the first thing I heard was children crying. Our neighbours have three children and the only thing I was thinking about in that moment was, ‘God not them, please, only not them.’”

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BRUSSELS — The European Union is stepping up aid for Ukraine and is moving toward granting temporary protection to those fleeing Russia’s invasion.

The EU Commission announced Wednesday it will give temporary residence permits to the refugees and allow them rights to education and work in the 27-nation bloc.

The move still has to be approved by the member states, but they already expressed broad support over the weekend.

EU Commission President Urusla von der Leyen says “all those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe. We will provide protection to those seeking shelter and we will help those looking for a safe way home.”

On Tuesday, she already committed at least half a billion euros of the bloc’s budget to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed concern that Russian attacks could threaten holy religious sites and said Russian troops are trying to “erase our history.”

In a speech posted on Facebook, Zelensky on Wednesday denounced a Russian strike that hit Holocaust memorial site Babi Yar in Kyiv.

He said: “This is beyond humanity. Such missile strike means that for many Russians our Kyiv is absolute foreign. They know nothing about our capital, about our history. They have orders to erase our history, our country and all of us.”

“What will be next if even Babi Yar (is hit), what other ‘military’ objects, ‘NATO bases’ are threatening Russia? St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Lavra, Andrew’s Church?” he asked, referring to sites in Kyiv held sacred by Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox believers around the world.

Zelensky also claimed almost 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the invasion began last Thursday. Russia has not released overall casualty numbers and the figure could not be confirmed.

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LONDON — Britain’s defence secretary has pushed back against calls for NATO to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine, saying aircraft from both sides would be grounded and that could help Russia’s land forces.

Ben Wallace’s comments came a day after a Ukrainian journalist confronted Prime Minister Boris Johnson with questions about why NATO had failing to enforce a no-fly zone while civilians were being attacked from the air.

Wallace told Sky News: “You can still have fighting with a no-fly zone, it just won’t be in the air.”

He said that would allow Russian armored columns to drive around with impunity and not be struck from the air, where currently Ukrainian aircraft and unmanned air vehicles are causing damage on key parts of their logistical chain.

As Wallace was speaking Wednesday, the U.K. Defence Department released it latest intelligence assessment, saying that Russia continued heavy artillery and airstrikes on the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv in the last 24 hours.

It said Russian forces have reportedly moved into the centre of the southern city of Kherson, but overall gains throughout the country have been limited. It said this is probably due to a combination of ongoing logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.

Wallace also reiterated British opposition to imposing a no-fly zone, saying that it would force NATO pilots to shoot down Russian aircraft, which could spark a wider European war.

He said, “How far does the British public want us to go against a nuclear armed power who may view escalation of all means? So I think we have to realistic here.”

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed Wednesday that Russian aviation disabled the main TV tower in Ukraine’s capital in an airstrike, but said the attack did not hit any residential buildings.

Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov did not address deaths from Tuesday’s strike or damage to the adjacent Babi Yar memorial to Kyiv’s Holocaust victims. He said the attack was aimed at disabling Ukraine’s ability to stage “information attacks.”

Ukraine’s State Service for Emergency Situations said the strikes on the TV tower killed five people and left five more wounded. Ukrainian television stations briefly went down after the strike but were later restored.

Konashenkov also said Russian forces had seized the southern city of Kherson. The claim could not immediately be confirmed.

Russian forces have faced tougher than expected resistance since invading Ukraine from three sides last week.

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MOSCOW — Leading Russian bank Sberbank announced Wednesday it is pulling out of European markets amid tightening Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The bank said its subsidiaries in Europe were facing an “abnormal outflow of funds and a threat to the safety of employees and branches,” according to Russian news agencies. They did not provide details of the threats.

Authorities in Austria and Czech Republic had taken actions in recent days against Sberbank’s activities in Europe.

The move was the latest consequence of Russia’s invasion last week, which has led to warfare across Ukraine and unprecedented Western sanctions aimed at isolating Russia’s economy.

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BOSTON — A firm that tracks cryptocurrency transactions says US$33.8 million in the digital currency has been donated to Ukraine’s government and non-governmental organizations there since the start of Russia’s invasion, nearly a third of it on Tuesday.

Chief Scientist Tom Robinson of Elliptic said most donations to date have been in bitcoin and ether. Some people are sending non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, to the Ukrainian government’s ethereum account.

Ukraine issued a plea for contributions on Twitter last week. To date, it has received 30,000 donations, including US$5.8 million from Gavin Wood, the British programmer who co-founded ethereum. There have been several other donations of more than $1 million.

Elliptic also warned of scammers tricking unsuspecting cryptocurrency holders wanting to donate to Ukrainian causes.

Elliptic is among firms that help law enforcement track cryptocurrency to combat money laundering.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is working on a “focused tactical strategy” to make certain that cryptocurrency doesn’t become a mechanism that Moscow is able to utilize to avert sanctions, according to a senior administration official.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced move, did not detail an exact timeline for when the new steps on cryptocurrency would be unveiled, but said the area is one of several spaces that the Biden administration officials are looking to shore up as it looks to make certain that sanctions on Russia have maximum impact.

The official said past experiences in Iran and Venezuela with sanctions evasion are informing the administration’s efforts. Additional export controls and new sanction targets are also expected to be unveiled in the days and weeks ahead to counter Russian sanction evasion efforts, the official said.

Officials have already been on the lookout for the use and creation of front companies and alternative financial institutions that Moscow might try to employ to get around sanctions.

— Aamer Madhani.

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TOKYO — Sony is donating US$2 million as humanitarian aid to Ukraine though the United Nations Refugee Agency and aid group Save the Children.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment company has already said it will halt theatrical releases in Russia. Upcoming films include Morbius, starring the Marvel comics hero.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been impacted and hope this crisis will be resolved quickly,” Sony Pictures said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Mickey Mikitani, chief executive of Japanese online retailer Rakuten, donated 1 billion yen (US$8.7 million) to the Ukrainian government through the embassy in Japan.

Separately, the Foreign Ministry said the Japanese embassy in Kyiv is closing temporarily, with operations transferred to an office in Lviv, western Ukraine.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden said in his first State of the Union address that the United States is closing its airspace to all Russian flights in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He said the U.S. is working to seize yachts and apartments of Russian oligarchs.

Biden devoted the first 12 minutes of his address to Ukraine. Lawmakers of both parties repeatedly rose to their feet and applauded as he praised the bravery of Ukraine’s people and condemned Russia’s assault.

He warned of costs to the American economy, as well, but said that without consequences, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression wouldn’t be contained to Ukraine.

Biden declared that he and all members of Congress, whatever political differences there may be, were joined “with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.”

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CHICAGO — Airplane manufacturer Boeing says it has suspended major operations in Moscow and temporarily closed its office in Kyiv.

The company said in a statement it is also suspending parts, maintenance and technical support services for Russian airlines.

“As the conflict continues, our teams are focused on ensuring the safety of our teammates in the region,” the statement said.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Defence Ministry says it has evidence that Belarus, a Russian ally, is preparing to send troops into Ukraine.

The ministry statement, posted on Facebook at midnight, said the Belarussian troops have been brought into combat readiness and are concentrated close to Ukraine’s northern border.

“During the past 24 hours, according to intelligence findings, there has been significant aircraft activity. In addition, there has been movement of a column of vehicles with food and ammunition” approaching the border,” the statement said.

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IRVING, Texas — ExxonMobil says it will not invest in new developments in Russia because of Russian military attacks on Ukraine.

The company said in a statement it supports the people of Ukraine as they seek to “defend their freedom and determine their own future as a nation.”

ExxonMobil operates the Sakhalin-1 project on behalf of an international consortium of Japanese, Indian and Russian companies. The company says that in response to recent events, they are beginning the process to discontinue operations and developing steps to exit the Sakhalin-1 venture.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian airstrike hit a residential area near a hospital late Tuesday in Zhytomyr, a city about 140 kilometres west of Ukraine’s capital, Mayor Serih Sukhomlin said in a Facebook video.

Ukraine’s emergency services said the strike killed at least two people, set three homes on fire and broke the windows in the hospital.

Zhytomyr is the home of the elite 95th Air Assault Brigade, which may have been the intended target.

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CHICAGO — United Airlines said Wednesday it has stopped using Russian airspace for flights between the U.S. and Mumbai and Delhi in India.

An airline spokesperson called the move “temporary,” but gave no further details.

American Airlines has avoided Russian airspace for flights between Delhi and New York by flying south of Russia.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says his government will not impose any economic sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The president often cites a guiding principle of nonintervention in foreign affairs.

He said Tuesday that “we want to maintain good relations with all the world’s governments, and we want to be in a position to be able to speak with all parties to the conflict.”

Russian investment in Mexico is estimated at some US$132 million and the bilateral trade at more than US$2.4 billion.

López Obrador also sounded off on the censoring of some Russia media outlets and called on Twitter to answer accusations that it is removing messages favourable to Russia. In his words, “We can’t be speaking of freedom and at the same time limiting freedom of expression.”

—-

OKLAHOMA CITY — Republican politicians across the U.S. are criticizing President Joe Biden over his domestic energy policies and urging his administration to do more to embrace domestic production.

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies on Russia for its war with Ukraine so far do not include oil and gas exports from the country, a step that would have severely hurt Russia’s ability to generate revenue.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio both urged Biden on Tuesday to take steps to stop Russian oil imports to the U.S.

“The recent events in Ukraine are yet another example of why we should be selling energy to our friends and not buying it from our enemies,” Stitt wrote to Biden.

Portman said it doesn’t make sense to import Russian oil at the same time the Biden administration shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have transported tens of thousands of barrels each day from Canada to U.S. refineries.

Cutting off Russian oil and gas imports could drive prices at the pump higher and have even more serious consequences for U.S. allies in Europe, which relies on natural gas from Russia for a third of its fossil fuel consumption.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says that dictators who do not “pay a price for their aggression” cause more chaos.

According to excerpts released Tuesday ahead of his first State of the Union address, Biden says that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was premeditated and unprovoked.

He will also highlight the importance of European allies in the speech before Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday evening. Biden says that the alliance established after World War II to secure “peace and stability” in Europe is just as relevant now.

He said that Putin believed he could divide the NATO alliance, but he was wrong.

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CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple has stopped selling its iPhone and other popular products in Russia as part of an intensifying corporate crackdown spurred by the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The trendsetting Silicon Valley company disclosed its punitive measures in a statement Tuesday amid worldwide outrage over Russian President Vladmir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.

Other major U.S. companies, including prominent tech firms such as Google and Twitter, also have curtailed their business in Russia. But Apple’s actions could sharpen the backlash.

The iPhone and other devices such as the iPad and Mac computer are prized products for work and leisure. In the final three months of last year, for instance, Apple sold more smartphones than any other company in the world, according to the research firm International Data Corp, which didn’t break out sales within Russia.

Apple also doesn’t disclose how much of its roughly US$365 billion in annual revenue comes from Russia either.

Besides halting sales of its devices, Apple said its mobile app store is blocking downloads of RT News and Sputnik News from outside Russia. It also has stopped live traffic updates on Apple Maps in Ukraine as a safety measure, mirroring action Google has already taken.

“We will continue to evaluate the situation and are in communication with relevant governments on the actions we are taking,” Apple said in its statement. “We join all those around the world who are calling for peace.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly will vote Wednesday afternoon on a resolution demanding that Russia immediately stop using force against Ukraine and withdraw all its military forces. The resolution also would condemn Moscow’s decision “to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces.”

So far, the resolution has 92 co-sponsors from all over the world, including Afghanistan and Myanmar, both of which saw their elected governments ousted last year.

After Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution last Friday demanding that Russia immediately stop its use of force and send its forces home, the U.S. and other supporters started the procedural steps to call an emergency special session of the General Assembly where there are no vetoes.

The council approved an emergency special session of the 193-member assembly on Sunday — the first in decades — and it began on Monday.

With 118 speakers signed up, the meeting was continuing Tuesday and is expected to wrap up on Wednesday morning, with the United States one of the last speakers. The resolution will then be put to a vote in the afternoon, General Assembly spokesperson Paulina Kubiak said Tuesday.

Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they do have clout as a reflection of international opinion.

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This item corrects the day the UN Security Council approved an emergency session and the day it began.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. on Tuesday injected a strong note of caution into the persistent reports that Russian military progress — including by the massive convoy outside Kyiv — has slowed, plagued by food and fuel shortages and logistical problems.

One senior defence official said that the U.S. has seen Russian military columns literally run out of gas, and in some places running out of food, and that morale is suffering as a result.

But the official added that it is important to be pragmatic. The Russians still have a significant amount of combat power that has not yet been tapped, and “they will regroup, they will adjust, they will change their tactics.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments. Overall, the U.S. assesses that Russia has launched more than 400 missiles into Ukraine, of various types and sizes. As of Tuesday, the Ukrainian air and missile defence systems remain viable and are being used. Also, weapons from the U.S. and others continues to flow into Ukraine. The official said that the aid is getting to the Ukrainian military and troops are “actively using these systems.”

The official said Russians have made progress in the south, moving along two routes out of Crimea – one to the northeast and one to the northwest. It’s not clear that Russians have taken control of Kherson, but heavy fighting continues. And, the official said Russian forces have not yet advanced into Mariupol, but are close enough to strike into the city with long-range weapons.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday that Russia should stop its bombardment of Ukraine before more talks on ending the war are held.

Ukrainian and Russian officials have held one round of talks since the six-day-long war began and reportedly are planning more.

“As for dialogue, I think yes, but stop bombarding people first and start negotiating afterwards,“ Zelensky said in a joint interview Tuesday with CNN and the Reuters news agency.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has effectively asked that Russia be kicked off the internet.

In a letter sent Monday to the president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Ukraine’s deputy minister for digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, cited the “atrocious crimes” of Russia’s invasion, including it’s alleged breach of the Geneva Conventions in attacking civilian targets.

Federov said the crimes “have been made possible mainly due to the Russian propaganda machinery” and cited cyberattacks “from the Russian side” that have impeded the ability of Ukrainians and their government to communicate.

Federov asked that ICANN revoke, permanently or temporarily, the domains .ru and .su and shut down the root servers in Moscow and St. Petersburg that match domain names and numbers.

“Russian citizens must feel the cost of war,” government spokesperson Oleksandr Ryzhenko said Tuesday.

ICANN had no immediate comment but the regional internet naming authority for Europe and the former Soviet Union, RIPE NCC, rejected the request.

In an email to members, RIPE’s executive board said it believes “the means to communicate should not be affected by domestic political disputes, international conflicts or war.”

Kicking Russia off the internet would be an annoyance to Russian hackers but it wouldn’t stop them since they could still use different top-level internet domains. But it would badly isolate the Russian public from international discourse.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a decree that prohibits taking more than US$10,000 worth of foreign currency in cash and “monetary instruments” out of Russia.

The move comes in response to the crippling sanctions Western nations have imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, which this week tanked the ruble and sent Russians flocking to banks and ATM in fear for the fate of their savings.

Other measures Putin ordered this week included obligating Russian exporters to sell 80 per cent of their revenues in foreign currency, prohibiting Russian residents from providing non-residents with foreign currency under loan agreements and from depositing foreign currency into foreign bank accounts.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The United Nations’ top court has scheduled hearings next week into a request by Ukraine for the court to order Moscow to halt its invasion.

Kyiv filed a case with the International Court of Justice on Saturday accusing Russia of planning genocide in Ukraine and asking for urgent “provisional measures” instructing Moscow to halt hostilities.

Lawyers for Ukraine will present arguments March 7 supporting its request. Russia’s lawyers will be given time to respond on March 8.

Ahead of the hearings, the court’s president, U.S. Judge Joan E. Donoghue, sent an urgent message Tuesday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underscoring the necessity for Russia to “act in such a way as will enable any order the Court may make on the request for provisional measures to have its appropriate effects.”

The International Court of Justice rules in disputes between states. It often takes years to reach decisions, but orders on provisional measures are often delivered quickly.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United States says it is expelling a Russian “intelligence operative” working for the United Nations, in addition to the 12 members of the Russian Mission to the United Nations whose expulsions were ordered Monday for engaging in espionage.

The UN was informed Monday that the U.S. was taking action to expel a staff member working for the UN Secretariat, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed.

“We regret that we find ourselves in this situation but are engaging with the host country,” he said Tuesday.

Dujarric refused to comment further on grounds of privacy and the sensitivity of the issue but did say “what makes this decision a little difficult to understand is that the staff member was scheduled to end his assignment on March 14.”

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said in a statement Monday that the 12 Russian diplomats had “abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Mission said Tuesday: “On Feb. 28, the United States also initiated the process to require the departure of one Russian intelligence operative working at the United Nations who has abused their privileges of residence in the United States.” The spokesperson was not authorized to speak publicly and commented on condition of anonymity.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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GENEVA — Canada’s top diplomat said Tuesday her country will refer Russia to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes over its invasion of Ukraine, a move that will speed up an investigation by the court’s top prosecutor.

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly made the comments after helping lead a walkout of scores of diplomats from the Human Rights Council just as her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, addressed the UN human rights body in recorded video remarks.

“Minister Lavrov was being broadcasted and giving his version, which is false about what is happening in Ukraine. And so that’s why we wanted to show a very strong stance together today,” said Joly, flanked by Ukraine’s ambassador and standing behind that country’s blue-and-yellow flag.

On Monday, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced that he plans to open an investigation “as rapidly as possible” into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

Khan told his team to explore how to preserve evidence of crimes and said the next step is to seek authorization from the court’s judges to open an investigation. However, he added that the process would be speeded up if a member nation of the court were to ask for an investigation in what is known as a referral.

Canada’s announcement will set that acceleration in motion.

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JERUSALEM — Holocaust remembrance organizations in Israel are condemning a Russian attack that inflicted damage to the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement denouncing the incident, and said Israel would help repair any damage. “We are calling for the preservation and respect for this sacred site,” he said in a tweet that did not mention Russia by name.

The memorial is the site of a massacre of more than 33,000 Jews by Nazi Germany in 1941. It is located on the outskirts of Kyiv and adjacent to the city’s TV tower, where Ukrainian authorities said a Russian attack killed five people.

A spokesman for the memorial said that damage was caused to the Jewish cemetery at the site, but that assessing the full extent of the damage would have to wait until daylight.

The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial’s chairman, Natan Sharansky, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “seeks to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent. It is symbolic that he starts attacking Kyiv by bombing the site of the Babyn Yar, the biggest of Nazi massacres.”

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MOSCOW — A top radio station critical of the Kremlin was taken off the airwaves on Tuesday, its chief editor said and the Associated Press confirmed, after the authorities threatened to shut it down over the coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The move against Echo Moskvy, one of Russia’s oldest radio stations that is critical of the authorities, comes amid growing pressure on Russia’s independent media to cover the attack on Ukraine in accordance to the official line.

Officials on Tuesday have also threatened to block Dozhd, Russia’s top independent TV channel. The Prosecutor General’s office claimed the two outlets spread content inciting extremist activities, as well as “false information regarding the actions of Russian military personnel as part of a special operation” in Ukraine.

Shortly after Moscow invaded Ukraine, Russian officials threatened independent media with closure if their coverage of the attack deviates from the official narrative, including describing the assualt as an “invasion” or “a war”.

The website of the Current Time, a Russian TV channel launched by the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that has been critical of the Kremlin, became unavailable Sunday after the channel reported receiving a notification from the authorities.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for an immediate cease-fire between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

“Our call to both Russia and Ukraine is: let the firing stop as soon as possible, let Russia and Ukraine make a beautiful contribution to peace,” Erdogan said Tuesday during a joint news conference with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, on Tuesday.

The Turkish leader said Turkey welcomes overtures by European Union officials toward Ukraine after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an application to join the bloc. He urged the EU to “show the same sensitivity” toward Turkey. The country is a candidate to join the EU but its accession talks have been stalled over a number of issues, including the country’s democratic backtracking.

“Are you going to bring Turkey’s (application) on the agenda when someone declares war on it and attacks?” Erdogan said.

Erdogan reiterated that Turkey, which has the second largest army within the alliance, supports NATO’s expansion.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday the government has readied measures to temporarily restrict foreign investors from divesting Russian assets, saying the step would help them make “a considered decision” rather than succumb to political pressure of sanctions.

Mishustin said a presidential decree had been prepared imposing “temporary restrictions on exiting from Russian assets.” He did not provide details or say if the restrictions would apply to some forms of investment or to all.

Major Western corporations have come under pressure to divest stakes in Russian companies. Oil company BP said Sunday it would seek to dispose of its stake in Russian oil producer Rosneft and Shell said Monday it would exit all its Russian businesses. Other companies with major stakes include France’s TotalEnergies, which holds 19.4 per cent of natural gas company Novatek.

Russian officials have taken steps to cushion the impact of massive economic sanctions, with the central bank raising interest rates to defend the ruble’s exchange rate, requiring companies to sell foreign exchange earnings, and making unlimited short term credit available to banks.

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FRANKFURT, Germany — The International Energy Agency’s 31 member countries have agreed to release 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves — half of that from the United States.

Tuesday’s decision by the board of the Paris-based IEA is meant “to send a strong message to oil markets” that there will be “no shortfall in supplies” after Russia invaded Ukraine.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement that President Joe Biden approved a commitment of 30 million barrels and that the U.S. is ready to “take additional measures” if needed.

Russia plays an outsized role in global energy markets as the third-largest oil producer.

While Western sanctions have not targeted Russia’s energy industry so far, the invasion has still shaken markets worldwide. Oil prices soared Tuesday. with U.S. benchmark crude surpassing US$100 per barrel — the highest price since 2014.





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