Russian and Ukrainian delegations began talks Monday in Belarus aimed at ending the nascent war that has brought ruin to vast areas of Ukraine’s largest cities.
Two previous attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict, now in its 12th day, proved fruitless. The Pentagon estimates that nearly 100% of the Russian combat forces President Vladimir Putin deployed to Ukraine’s borders are now inside the country.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday revealed Russia’s harsh demands: Ukraine halt its military activity, change its Constitution to include neutrality so it can’t join the EU or NATO, recognize Crimea as Russian territory and recognize independence for the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Russia’s military said it would cease fire and open humanitarian corridors in several Ukrainian cities Monday but continued to pound residential areas of the battered cities of Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy. Ukraine Defense Secretary Aleksey Danilov said Russia “violates the agreements reached, blocks the opening of green corridors, does not allow humanitarian supplies – but at the same time tries to create a false picture of a ‘joyful meeting’ of the occupiers by local residents.”
Some of the evacuation routes actually would funnel civilians toward Russia or its ally Belarus, a plan that Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk called unacceptable. U.K. Europe Minister James Cleverly agreed, saying that “evacuation routes into the arms of the country that is currently destroying yours is nonsense.”
►The U.S. is among 48 nations whose governments have committed “unfriendly actions” against Russia, the Kremlin says. Russian citizens, companies and government bodies that owe money to those countries can pay debts in rubles, the decree says.
►Russian banks are looking into issuing cards that operate on a Chinese payment system after American Express, Visa and Mastercard cut off services in Russia citing the invasion.
►Italian Premier Mario Draghi expressed little hope that peace talks will result in an end to the war. Russia will continue to pound Ukraine until “the country has surrendered, probably installs a friendly government and defeats the resistance. That’s what the facts demonstrate.”
►President Joe Biden discussed the latest developments with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a secure video teleconference that lasted about 80 minutes, the White House said.
►The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine surpassed 1.7 million on Monday, and an EU official warned the number could reach 5 million.
GET UKRAINE UPDATES:We’ll email you the latest news once a day
Russia is recruiting Syrian mercenaries to fight its war in Ukraine, a senior Defense Department official said Monday. The Pentagon did not have an estimate on the number of fighters the Russian military is seeking from Syria, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence findings. There are no indications that Syrians had arrived in Ukraine. Russia intervened in Syria’s civil war in 2015, supporting the government of Bashar al Assad.
The recruiting effort is noteworthy given what the official described as Russia’s struggles to overcome significant resistance from Ukrainians. Meanwhile, nearly 100% of the Russian combat forces President Vladimir Putin deployed to Ukraine’s borders are now inside the country. The official said the main force of Russian troops appears stalled outside Kyiv. Ukrainian airspace remains contested, the official said, with Ukraine able to fly the majority of its warplanes.
Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered an additional 500 U.S. troops based in the United States to Greece, Poland and Romania. The group includes air-refuelers, maintenance and other support troops, the official said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
United Airlines on Monday said it will indefinitely suspend two of its four routes between the United States and India because of the war in Ukraine. The Chicago-based airline will no longer fly between San Francisco and New Delhi and between Newark, New Jersey, and Mumbai because of its decision not to overfly Russian airspace during the conflict.
The airline plans to continue operating flights between Newark and New Delhi and Chicago and New Delhi because it can more efficiently reroute those flights, according to United spokesperson Leslie Scott.
American Airlines is still operating its New York-Delhi flights, spokesperson Curtis Blessing said. In late February, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the airline preemptively started rerouting the flight to avoid Ukraine airspace.
– Dawn Gilbertson
Many of the almost 2 million Ukrainians who have fled the war have escaped on packed trains with only the possessions they can carry on their backs. Most are women and children. At Poland’s Przemyśl Główny train station, Italian photojournalist Francesco Malavolta captured a photo of special gifts left by local families for mothers of young children exiting the train – a line of donated strollers. Some of the strollers are packed with blankets and other necessities. Malvolta took a similar picture in Vyšné, Slovakia. He has also photographed many families, some with babies, scrambling to escape the fighting.
“The war is horrendous,” he says on his Facebook page.
Biden, conferred via video teleconference Monday with the leaders of France, Germany and England, has worked for weeks in close consultation with European allies over how to respond to Russia’s aggression. Macron, pressing ahead with diplomatic efforts to end the war, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, their fourth conversation since Russian forces attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Macron’s office said the Putin call focused primarily on the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear plants. Macron told Putin these facilities must not be targeted by a Russian offensive, and Putin said he does not intend to attack the plants, Macron’s office said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will go to Paris on Tuesday to hear from Macron, who holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.
– Maureen Groppe
International Adoption Net told USA TODAY that numerous U.S. families hoping to adopt from Ukraine have seen the process placed on hold because Ukrainian courts are closed. Daniel Nehrbass from Nightlight Christian Adoption said his agency had 11 families waiting to adopt 20 children from Ukraine, but that process has now halted. The State Department says it has asked the Ukrainian government to expedite new birth certificates and passports for all adopted children that require them.
“It’s time to think about allowing these children to have refugee status in other countries,” Nehrbass said.
– Callie Carmichael
A Ukrainian couple exchanged vows Sunday near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kyiv amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Lesia Ivashchenko and Valerii Fylymonov, Ukrainian territorial defense members, said they have been together for more than 20 years. Their 18-year-old daughter watched the ceremony on a video call. The bride carried flowers and wore a white veil during the ceremony.
“We decided – who knows what will happen tomorrow – we should get married in front of the state, in front of God,” said Ivashchenko, the bride.
Fylymonov, the groom, said, in a video translated by The Guardian that they live in “challenging times… that’s why it is better do it sooner than later.” Read more here.
– Marina Pitofsky
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine surpassed 1.7 million on Monday, and an EU official warned the number would likely reach 5 million. More than 1 million have crossed the border into Poland, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
EU foreign affairs policy chief Josep Borrell called on mobilizing “all the resources” of the bloc of 27 nations to help countries welcoming the refugee. “If they continue to bomb Ukrainian cities in an indiscriminate manner, we can expect 5 million migrants,” EU foreign affairs policy chief Josep Borrell said. “Not migrants, we can’t call them migrants. These are exiled people.”
USA TODAY spent 36 hours with a team of overseas nurses, engineers and logistics personnel invited by Ukraine’s authorities to build a field hospital for emergency and specialized trauma care in Lviv. It is being established to serve an expected wave of people – military and civilian – impacted by Russia’s assault on Ukraine as Moscow counters resistance to its invasion with more firepower. The location of the planned hospital is on the fringes of Lviv in western Ukraine – identified as a potential capital if Kyiv falls to the Kremlin.
“I’ve set up hospitals in war zones, and we’ve deliberately marked ones that have been bombed and we’ve left them unmarked and gotten bombed,” said Ken Isaacs, the American who is leading the effort to construct the hospital. “When an airplane wants to bomb you, they bomb you.” Read more here.
– Kim Hjelmgaard and Jessica Koscielniak
Russia has snubbed a hearing at the United Nations’ top court into a legal bid by Kyiv to halt Moscow’s devastating invasion of Ukraine. A row of seats reserved for Russian lawyers at the International Court of Justice was empty Monday morning as the hearing opened. The court’s president, American judge Joan E. Donoghue, said Russia’s ambassador to the Netherlands informed judges that “his government did not intend to participate in the oral proceedings.” The hearing went ahead without the Russian delegation.
The International Court of Justice is opening two days of hearings at its headquarters, the Peace Palace, into Ukraine’s request for its judges to order Russia to halt its invasion. Ukraine is scheduled to present its arguments Monday morning and Russia has the opportunity to respond on Tuesday.
A decision is expected on the request within days, though that does not mean Russia would abide by any order the court might issue.
Blinken has begun a trip to the three Baltic states that are increasingly on edge as Russia presses ahead with its invasion of Ukraine. The former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are all members of NATO and Blinken aims to reassure them of the alliance’s protection. Since the invasion of Ukraine last month, NATO has moved quickly to boost its troop presence in its eastern flank allies.
Blinken’s Baltic tour opened Monday in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where support for Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion government is palpable with signs of solidarity with Ukrainians in many businesses and on public buildings and buses.
New Zealand’s government said Monday that it plans to rush through a new law that will allow it to impose economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Unlike many countries that have already introduced sanctions, New Zealand’s existing laws don’t allow it to apply meaningful measures unless they’re part of a broader United Nations effort. Because Russia has U.N. Security Council veto power, that has left New Zealand hamstrung.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the new legislation would allow it to target people, companies and assets connected to those in Russia associated with the invasion, including oligarchs. It would allow New Zealand to freeze assets and stop superyachts or planes from arriving.
The bill will be specific only to the Ukraine invasion but could allow New Zealand to impose sanctions on countries seen to be helping Russia, such as Belarus.
Australia’s prime minister says Russia and China’s closer relationship is opportunistic rather than strategic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday labeled the alliance an “Arc of Autocracy” and said Russia and China would prefer a new world order to the one that has been in place since World War II.
Morrison has criticized Beijing’s failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s expansion of trade in Russian wheat while other countries are imposing sanctions. Australia last week promised Ukraine $50 million in missiles, ammunition and other military hardware to fight Russian invaders.
“Our missiles are on the ground now,” Morrison said Monday.
GAS PRICES ARE RISING:What can Biden do to lower costs at the pump amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Contributing: The Associated Press
More Ukraine-Russia news
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism