The Ukrainian government said Russian forces blocked 45 buses that had been sent to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol, and only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars.
Twelve Ukrainian trucks were able to deliver humanitarian supplies to Mariupol, but the supplies were seized by Russian troops, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said late Thursday.
According to Ukrainian officials, tens of thousands of people have made it out of Mariupol in recent weeks along humanitarian corridors, reducing the prewar population of 430,000 to about 100,000 by last week.
Vereshchuk said about 45,000 Mariupol residents have been forcefully deported to Russia and areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Heavy fighting rages near Kyiv as Russia appears to regroup
— Kremlin decree says foreign currency can still buy natural gas
— As Russia sees tech brain drain, other nations hope to gain
— Ukraine refugees encouraged to find work as exodus slows
— Ukrainians in US mobilize to help expected refugees
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
LVIV, Ukraine — The last Russian troops left the Chernobyl nuclear plant early Friday, according to the Ukrainian government agency responsible for the exclusion zone around the plant.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian troops who dug trenches in the forest were exposed to radiation, but that could not be confirmed.
The Ukrainian nuclear operator company Energoatom said Thursday that Russian troops were headed toward Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
Energoatom said that the Russian military was also preparing to leave Slavutych, a nearby city where power plant workers live.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after Russian troops withdrew from the north and center of the country, the situation has been heating up in the southeast where Russian forces are building up for new powerful attacks.
In his nighttime video address to the nation Thursday, Zelenskyy said it was heartening for all Ukrainians to see Russian troops retreating from north of Kyiv, from around the northern town of Chernihiv and from Sumy in the northeast. By he urged Ukrainians not to let up, saying the withdrawal was just a Russian tactic.
Zelenskyy said he spoke Thursday with European Council President Charles Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while his adviser spoke with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
“We need more support from our partners right now when Russian troops are concentrating additional forces in certain areas,” Zelenskyy said.
WASHINGTON — The top-ranking Ukrainian Catholic cleric in the United States warned Thursday that religious minorities in the Eastern European country stand to be “crushed” if Moscow gains control, as fighting raged on more than a month after the Russian invasion began.
Archbishop Borys Gudziak said groups at risk include Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox who have broken away from the patriarch of Moscow.
Gudziak also cited reports that Russian forces have damaged two Holocaust memorials and Moscow’s false portrayal of Ukraine as a “Nazi” state although Ukraine overwhelmingly elected a Jewish president in Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“What is at stake for the people of faith is their freedom to practice their faith,” Gudziak said during an online panel discussion on the war, hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.
Gudziak is head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and president of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. He also oversees external relations for the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says an initial half-dozen shipments of weapons and other security assistance have reached Ukraine as part of the $800 million package of aid that President Joe Biden approved on March 16.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the shipments included Javelin anti-tank weapons, Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, body armor, medical supplies and other material. He said the 100 Switchblade armed drones that Biden approved as part of the package have not yet been delivered.
Kirby said the $800 million in assistance is likely to be fully delivered within about two weeks. It also includes Mi-17 helicopters, small arms, ammunition, vehicles, secure communications systems, and satellite imagery and analysis capability.
Separately, Kirby said U.S. troops are not training Ukrainian troops in Poland but are acting as liaisons with Ukrainian personnel who cross the border into Poland to take possession of U.S. security assistance. He noted that the standard U.S. military training mission that had existed in Ukraine for years was suspended shortly before Russia invaded.
DOHA, Qatar — A video showing the head of Ukrainian soccer wearing an armored vest on the streets of Kyiv brought the impact of Russia’s war into the FIFA Congress.
Andriy Pavelko used a recorded message to the gathering in Qatar on Thursday to talk about the deaths of footballers even as the sport “has taken a back seat in our country.”
The gathering in Doha featured delegates from Russia, including Alexey Sorokin, the chief executive of Russia’s 2018 World Cup organizing committee.
Russia won’t be in the draw for the World Cup on Friday after being disqualified from playing internationally by FIFA over the war. Ukraine can still qualify but its playoff semifinal against Scotland has been postponed until June with the hope the team will be in a position to return to the field by then.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s ombudsperson says that at least one person has been killed and four others have been wounded in the Russian shelling of a humanitarian convoy.
Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova said those who came under the shelling on Thursday were volunteers accompanying a convoy of buses sent to the northern city of Chernihiv to evacuate residents.
She said that the Russian forces besieging Chernihiv have made it impossible to evacuate civilians from the city that has been cut from food, water and other supplies.
The Russian shelling continued two days after Moscow announced it would scale back military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.
BERLIN — The International Atomic Energy Agency says it has been informed by Ukraine that the Russian forces which were in control of the Chernobyl nuclear plant have “in writing, transferred control” of the facility to Ukrainian personnel.
Ukraine said three convoys of Russian forces have already left the site toward Belarus, while the remaining troops were presumed to be preparing to leave, the agency said Thursday.
The IAEA added that it was in close consultations with Ukrainian authorities on sending a first assistance and support mission to Chernobyl in the next few days.
The agency said it has not been able to confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation while being inside the exclusion zone of the now-closed plant, but is seeking further information in order to provide an independent assessment of the situation.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his offer to host a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders during a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A statement from Erdogan’s office said the Turkish president also told Zelenskyy Thursday that a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators who met in Istanbul earlier this week had given “a meaningful impetus” to efforts to end the fighting.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s delegation laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of nations, including Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with a top Turkish Cypriot official that Erdogan also is expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said there’s “no clear evidence” that Vladimir Putin is scaling back military operations around Kyiv and suggested that the Russian president may have ordered some of his advisers fired or placed under house arrest.
Biden told reporters that “there’s some indication” that Putin has taken those steps against some of his advisers. He added, “But I don’t want to put too much stock in that at this time because we don’t have that much hard evidence.”
The White House on Wednesday released unclassified intelligence findings that Putin is being misinformed by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing.
The president made the comments after formally announcing that the U.S. would release 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve in hopes of easing surging gasoline prices.
Biden also reiterated that his administration remains skeptical that Russia will scale back operations around Kyiv as Moscow announced earlier this week.
Russian forces continued to shell Kyiv suburbs Thursday, two days after the Kremlin announced it would significantly scale back operations near both the capital and the northern city of Chernihiv.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine says the United Nations and its partners have delivered supplies for thousands of people in the country’s northeast but have been unable to reach some encircled cities in the south.
Osnat Lubrani said Thursday that food rations from the humanitarian organization People in Need and the U.N. World Food Program will benefit nearly 6,000 people in Sumy and areas including Trostianets and Okhtyrka.
In addition, she said, basic household items including blankets and kettles from the U.N. refugee agency will support 1,500 people and sanitation kits will help 6,000 people with hygiene and drinking water.
Lubrani said medical supplies and trauma kits from the U.N. World Health Organization will treat 150 patients needing intensive care for serious injuries while other medical supplies will support 10,000 people for three months.
Shei said the U.N.-facilitated humanitarian notification system with Ukraine and Russia enabled safe passage for the convoy to Sumy on Thursday “but this is clearly not enough.” Efforts over the past month to reach Mauripol, Kherson and other encircled cities in the south have been unsuccessful because of safety concerns.
BERLIN — The U.N. nuclear watchdog says its director-general has arrived in Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad for talks with senior Russian officials.
The International Atomic Energy Agency didn’t specify in a tweet whom exactly Rafael Mariano Grossi will meet on Friday or give further details of his agenda.
He arrived in Kaliningrad Thursday following a visit to Ukraine, where he visited a nuclear power plant and conferred with the energy minister and other officials on efforts to ensure the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.
Ukraine has 15 active nuclear reactors at four plants — one of which, at Zaporizhzhia, is under the Russian military’s control.
GENEVA — A team with the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived in a Ukraine-held city where staff are preparing to take civilians out of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol.
Julien Lerisson, deputy director of operations for the ICRC, said Thursday that the team assembling in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, has medicines, food, water, hygiene items and other essentials.
He said the organization has high-level agreement for the mission but is focused on making sure “the order trickles down the chain of command,” allowing the team to enter and leave Mariupol safely.
The Russian military has said it committed to a cease-fire along the route from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian authorities have said 45 buses would be sent to collect citizens and provide resources to those who remain.
Lucile Marbeau, a staff member with the ICRC team hoping to enter Mariupol, said on Thursday: “We’re here because really, we hope to be able to facilitate safe passage for civilians desperately wanting to flee Mariupol.”
LONDON — Britain’s defense minister says Ukraine’s international allies have agreed to send more military equipment, including artillery ammunition and armored vehicles.
U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held a conference call Thursday with defense ministers from more than 35 countries, including the United States, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
Wallace said that as a result “there will be more lethal aid going into Ukraine.” He said that would include “more long-range artillery, ammunition predominantly,” to help counter Russia’s bombardment of Ukraine’s cities.
Wallace said Ukraine was “also looking for armoured vehicles of some types, not tanks necessarily, but certainly protective vehicles.”
He said allies were also “looking to see what more we can do” to help Ukraine defend its coastline.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has sanctioned an employee of a state-affiliated Russian defense firm that developed malicious software that was used to target the energy sector.
The Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh. He was one of four Russians charged in Justice Department indictments unsealed last week that alleged the hacking by Russia of critical infrastructure around the globe, including in the U.S. energy and aviation sectors.
Among the thousands of computers targeted in some 135 countries were of a Saudi petro-chemical plant where the hackers overrode safety controls.
That hack is singled out in a Treasury Department release announcing sanctions against Gladikh and several other employees of the research firm. In total, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced that it was designating 21 entities and 13 individuals, including in the aerospace, marine and electronics sectors.
LVIV, Ukraine — Russian troops were leaving the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and heading towards Ukraine’s border with Belarus, the Ukrainian nuclear operator company said Thursday.
The operator, Energoatom, said that the Russian military was also preparing to leave Slavutych, a nearby city where power plant workers live.
Energoatom also said reports were confirmed that the Russians dug trenches in the Red Forest, the 10-square-kilometer (nearly four-square-mile) area surrounding the Chernobyl plant within the Exclusion Zone, and received “significant doses of radiation.”
The Russian troops “panicked at the first sign of illness,” which “showed up very quickly,” and began to prepare to leave, the operator said. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.
Energoatom said the Russians have signed a document confirming the handover of the Chernobyl plant and stating that the plant’s administration doesn’t have any complaints about the Russian troops who were “guarding” the facility.
LONDON — The head of Britain’s military says Russian President Vladimir Putin has “already lost” in Ukraine and is weaker than he was before the invasion.
Adm. Tony Radakin at a think-tank seminar Thursday in London said Moscow’s aim to “take the whole of Ukraine” fell apart. He added that the coming weeks “will continue to be very difficult” for Ukraine.
“But in many ways, Putin has already lost,” he said. “Far from being the far-sighted manipulator of events that he would have us believe, Putin has damaged himself through a series of catastrophic misjudgements.”
Radakin also said there was “disquiet” at all levels of Russia’s military about the campaign, from troops who were not told they were invading Ukraine up to senior commanders.
Western officials say Putin’s small inner circle is not giving him the true picture of the war, and his isolation may have contributed to miscalculating the strength of resistance Russian troops would meet.
BERLIN — The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed regret Thursday at Russia’s decision to veto the extension of its observer mission in Ukraine.
The OSCE’s special monitoring mission has been present in Ukraine since 2014, when fighting between Ukrainians and Russia-backed separatists broke out in the country’s eastern regions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who holds the OSCE rotating chair, said the observers had played a “crucial role by providing objective information on the security and humanitarian situation on the ground and relentlessly working to ease the effects of the conflict on the civilian population” in Ukraine for the past eight year.
The Vienna-based body’s secretary general, Helga Maria Schmid, expressed gratitude to the mission’s members, several of whom were wounded or killed over the years.
BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says Europe should impose additional sanctions on Russia to prevent what he described as a “barbaric” war in Ukraine.
Robert Habeck said he discussed what further measures could be taken with his French counterpart during a bilateral meeting in Berlin on Thursday.
“The last package (of sanctions) doesn’t need to be the final one, it should not be the final one,” he told reporters, adding that he and French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire had “identified additional points that could be included in a (sanctions) package.”
Habeck declined to elaborate on what those points might be.
Speaking ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on new rules requiring countries to pay for Russia’s natural gas sales in rubles, Habeck insisted that contracts would be adhered to. These stipulate payment in euros or dollars.
BERLIN — The Austrian and German leaders have underlined their rejection of a halt to Russian energy deliveries at this point.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer noted that several central and eastern European countries depend to one extent or another on Russian gas deliveries.
He and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz argued that existing sanctions already are having a significant effect and said they need time to switch to new providers and renewable energy sources.
Nehammer said that “sanctions only make sense … when they hit those they are supposed to hit, and don’t weaken those who carry out sanctions.”
ROME — A Kremlin decree says “unfriendly countries” can continue to pay for natural gas in foreign currency through a Russian bank that will convert the money into rubles.
The decree published Thursday by state media came a day after the leaders of Italy and Germany said they received assurances from President Vladimir Putin.
Putin talked tougher, saying Russia will start accepting ruble payments starting Friday for Western countries that imposed sanctions over its conflict with Ukraine. He said contracts will be stopped if buyers don’t sign up to the new conditions, including opening ruble accounts in Russian banks.
European leaders had rejected paying for deliveries in rubles, saying it would undermine sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.
The decree Putin signed and published by state news agency RIA Novosti says a designated bank will open two accounts for each buyer, one in foreign currency and one in rubles. The buyers will pay in foreign currency and authorize the bank to sell that currency for rubles, which are placed in the second account, where the gas is formally purchased.
ROME — Italy’s leader is urging Europe to “cultivate all available land” as a partial remedy to reductions in agricultural imports, especially of Russian grain, due to the war in Ukraine.
Premier Mario Draghi told reporters on Thursday that under existing agricultural practices in the European Union 10% of land is purposely left fallow, but that must now change as European countries search for ways to reduce dependency on farm imports.
It’s not clear whether Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, maize and sunflower oil, might be able to salvage any of this planting season.
Meanwhile, Draghi noted that Western Europe will be looking to food producers like Canada, the United States and Argentina to help make up the shortfall of imports from Ukraine and Russia.
STOCKHOLM — The deputy director of Sweden’s Military Intelligence and Security agency says Russia has made “a strategic miscalculation when invading Ukraine.”
Daniel Olsson said the invasion of Ukraine “has shown that the Russian leadership is ready to take great risks, larger than previously taken.”
The government agency’s analysis suggested a likely “a western containment of Russia,” including reducing trade in Russian energy.