Tuesday, March 28

Ukraine-Russia war live updates: Biden heads to Poland, where millions have sought refuge

UN rights office says evidence growing of Mariupol mass graves

The head of the U.N. human rights team in Ukraine said on Friday that monitors had received more information about mass graves in the besieged port city of Mariupol, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies.

“We have got increasing information on mass graves that are there,” Matilda Bogner told journalists by video link from Ukraine, saying some of the evidence came from satellite images.

The U.N. rights office, which has some 50 staff in the country, has so far counted 1,035 civilian deaths since Russia invaded on Feb. 24. But verification difficulties meant that toll included “very few” from Mariupol, which has been under heavy bombardment for weeks, Bogner said.

Bogner’s team is probing alleged human rights violations, such as reports that Russian forces had shot and killed civilians in their cars as they were fleeing; dozens of cases of disappearances of Ukrainian officials and journalists; and the forced movement of civilians into Russian-held territory. Russia, which has called its actions since Feb. 24 a “special operation”, has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.

Bogdan said her team have also received reports of violations by Ukrainian forces including indiscriminate shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, and two alleged killings of civilians due to their perceived support for Russia. Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly said that they have never targeted civilians, adding that the people who are in Donetsk and Luhansk are Ukrainians.

Four killed after aid center in Kharkiv hit by Russian shelling, local police say

Four people were killed after a facility in Kharkiv being used as a humanitarian aid center was hit by shelling Friday morning, Kharkiv police said.

“Today at about 7:45 a.m., the Russian Federation fired on a city polyclinic in the Osnoviansky district of the city, where the humanitarian aid center is located. There are no military facilities nearby, ” Local police said in a statement. 

“Police are documenting the crime against the Ukrainian people and gathering all the necessary material evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice,” they said.

A child holds a loaf of bread as civilians are evacuated along a humanitarian corridor from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Thursday. 

A child holds a loaf of bread as civilians are evacuated along humanitarian corridors from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Thursday.
Leon Klein / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Evacuation corridors from Mariupol and Melitopol agreed

Ukraine and Russia have agreed upon two humanitarian corridors for today, said Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk in a televised statement Friday.

Vereshchuk said that an evacuation corridor was being established from the besieged city of Mariupol, which has been severely bombarded by Russian troops for weeks, to Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine. Evacuees were expected to arrange their own transport, she said.

A centralized plan has also been approved from the port city Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia by bus for which 48 buses are already stationed at the entrance to Berdyansk, she said.

A second humanitarian corridor links Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia, for which cargoes and buses have already arrived, Vereshchuk said.

Russia has previously been accused of failing to uphold its end of agreements to provide safe corridors in recent weeks. 

Ukraine asks E.U. to block land and sea transport with Russia and Belarus

Ukraine has appealed to the European Union to completely block land and sea transport with Russia and Belarus and to prohibit the movements of goods, Ministry of Infrastructure said on Friday.

In a statement on Facebook, it said that “despite the restrictive measures already in place, Russian businesses are finding workarounds and continuing to operate in other countries.”

It proposed that the European Commission prohibit the provision of custom services for goods delivered to the two countries. “These measures are necessary to stop the supply to the aggressor country of dual-use goods that can be used for military purposes,” it said. 

Earlier, the ministry had called on E.U. to shut its ports for Russian and Belarusian related companies and demanded closure of the road network for their carriers, it said.

Israel tries to leverage Russia ties to try to end war in Ukraine

JERUSALEM — On the surface, it seems like a doomed diplomatic gambit — the untested leader of Israel, which is known for its unresolved conflict with the Palestinians and wars with its neighbors, tries to help end the most serious combat in Europe since the end of World War II.

That’s what happened when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Feb. 26, a Saturday, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, despite being an observant Jew for whom travel on the Sabbath is forbidden unless it’s a matter of life and death.  

Once there, he met with President Vladimir Putin for three hours in a bid to help end the war. Leaders from other top negotiator countries — NATO members France, Germany and Turkey — have spoken with Putin only by phone, according to Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Israel, which has failed to negotiate a two-state resolution with the Palestinians, could seem poorly cast as a diplomatic powerhouse in efforts to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The close ally of Washington has also been criticized for not having taken a stronger stance and joining many of its Western allies in sanctioning Russia.  

Read full story.

Japan increases economic sanctions on Russia

Japan will add 25 more Russian officials and oligarchs to its list of blacklisted individuals as part of its economic sanctions on the country, its Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The ministry said in its regular press livestream that it will freeze the assets of the listed individuals and ban Japanese exports to 81 Russian businesses.

“We need to stop this [Russia’s] aggression as soon as possible,” Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said in the press conference. 

Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda have already suspended imports and halted factory productions in Russia. 

Prime Minister Kishida also announced an additional 100 million dollars of humanitarian assistance to aid Ukraine and neighboring countries. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Dutch marines at a base in Bardufoss in Norway on Friday. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Dutch marines at a base in Bardufoss in the Artic Circle, Norway on Friday.
Yves Herman / Reuters

Australia imposes sanctions on Belarus president, Russian ‘propagandists’

Australia has placed sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and family, as well as on 22 Russian individuals or “propagandists”, its Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

Foreign minister Marise Payne said in a statement that the Belarusian government has provided “strategic support” to Russia by providing grounds to train military forces, fire missiles, facilitate transportation of Russian troops and heavy weapons into Ukraine “in their assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The sanctions placed on Russia will continue to target “propagandists and disinformation operatives” including editors from organizations such as Russia Today, the Strategic Culture Foundation, InfoRos and NewsFront.

Payne said the move reflected “the strategic importance of disinformation in Russia’s attempts to legitimize Putin’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine.” 

Biden says Putin using energy resources to ‘coerce’ neighbors as EU commits to transatlantic data flows

President Joe Biden, in a joint statement with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said Putin has used Russia’s energy resources to “coerce” its neighbors, as the two leaders announced measures to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian fuel.

“I know that eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe. But it’s not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it’s going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” he said in Brussels on Friday, as they announced the establishment of a task force.

Von der Leyen also revealed a new framework for transatlantic data flow, enabling “predictable and trustworthy data flows between the EU and U.S.,” which Biden said will help “companies both small and large compete in the digital economy.”

Mariupol officials: About 300 dead in theater attack, according to eyewitnesses

Around 300 people died after Russian forces bombed a theater where over 1,000 people had taken refuge in the besieged city of Mariupol, local officials said Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

NBC News was not able to independently the claim, which involved an attack on March 16 that has become an emblem of Russia’s indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets.

Mariupol’s city council said that “about 300 people” died in the attack on the theater, according to eyewitnesses, calling it a “horror.”

The council said that it had wanted to “believe” that those inside the theater had all managed to escape, but that testimonies from those who’d been inside the building “say otherwise.”

“The Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol has always been the hallmark of the city,” the council said in a statement. “Now there is no more Drama theatre. In its place, a new point of pain for Mariupol residents appeared, ruins that became the last refuge for hundreds of innocent people.”

Russia has denied targeting civilians in its attacks on Ukraine.

U.S., E.U. announce Task Force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy

The United States and European Union have announced a joint task force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fuels, strengthening the region’s energy security as Russia continues its invasion in Ukraine.

“This Task Force for Energy Security will be chaired by a representative from the White House and a representative of the President of the European Commission,” said the White House on Friday.

The Task Force will focus its efforts on diversifying liquefied natural gas, reducing demand for natural gas altogether and accelerating renewable energy projects, it said.

President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to the media about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday. 

President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to the press about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday.
Evan Vucci / AP

Russia and Ukraine swap prisoners of war

Russia and Ukraine have carried out their first “full-fledged” prisoner swap since the war began, according to Ukraine’s deputy prime minister.

Iryna Vereshchuk said in a Telegram post that 10 Russian prisoners of war were handed over in exchange for 10 Ukrainian servicemen. 

An additional 11 Russian civilian sailors rescued from a sunken ship were being exchanged for 19 Ukrainian sailors who hailed from the Sapphire rescue ship, she added. The Sapphire’s crew was captured in late February when the vessel was trying to get troops off of Snake Island.

Vereshchuk did not say when or where the exchange took place in her Thursday post. 

Russia’s human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova, confirmed the swap, according to the Interfax News Agency. 

“We, too, were involved in establishing contact with Ukraine on this issue. Work continues in the framework of the queries I receive from citizens,” Moskalkova told Interfax.

Ukrainian servicemen attend a funeral for marine Alexandr Khovtun in Kyiv on Sunday. Khovtun died in combat in the town of Huta-Mezhyhirska, north of Kyiv. 

Ukrainian servicemen attend a funeral for marine Alexandr Khovtun in Kyiv on Sunday, March 20, 2022. Khovtun died in combat in the town of Huta-Mezhyhirska, north of Kyiv.
Felipe Dana / AP

Mariupol police general offers his life to save children

Mariupol National Police General Vyacheslav Abroskin has offered his life to Russian forces, asking to let children out of the besieged port city in exchange.

“There are many children left who, if not saved now, will die in the coming days, the clock is ticking,” he said in a Facebook statement on Wednesday. “My life belongs to me alone and I offer it in exchange for the lives of children who still remain in Mariupol,” he said.

Abroskin, who said he was on Russia’s “wanted list,” appealed to the forces to let him organize the removal of children, asking for three days. 

Ukraine reclaims ground, pushes Russians away from Kyiv, U.K. says

Ukrainian forces have reclaimed towns and continue to push Russian Forces away from the Kyiv towards Hostomel Airfield in the north-west, Britain’s defense ministry has said.

In an intelligence update published Friday, it said, “Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian Forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to re-occupy towns and defensive positions” up to just over 20 miles east of Kyiv. 

In the south, Russian forces continued to circumvent Mykolaiv to reach east towards Odesa, it said.

Biden heads to Poland as country grapples with Ukraine refugee influx

President Joe Biden on Friday plans to travel to southeastern Poland, where he intends to meet with U.S. troops and aid workers assisting refugees in a country on the front lines of the humanitarian and military crisis unfolding in Ukraine. 

Biden is scheduled to visit Rzeszow to thank the thousands of U.S. troops who began arriving at a military base there last month. The base in Poland is less than 100 miles from where Russian missiles struck a Ukrainian military post this month. Before he returns to Washington on Saturday, Biden said, he will try to meet with some of the refugees.

“I’ve been to refugee camps, I’ve been in war zones for the last 15 years, and it’s devastating,” Biden said at a news conference Thursday. He said meeting with refugees in Poland would “reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks.”

Read the full story here. 

Humanitarian aid let into Melitopol, mayor says

Humanitarian aid that had been stalled has been let into the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Mayor Ivan Fedorov said on Facebook.

The convoy, carrying food, medicine and hygiene products, was stopped Thursday night at the entrance to the city, Fedorov said. Russians allowed the convoy to enter Friday morning, he said. 

Approximately 350 residents will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhia as the buses exit the city, he said.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian officials said Fedorov had been captured and later released. 

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