YouTube announced on Friday that it had begun blocking access globally to channels associated with Russian state-funded media, citing a policy barring content that denies, minimizes or trivializes well-documented violent events.
The video platform had previously blocked the channels, specifically those of Russia Today and Sputnik, across Europe.
YouTube announced the move in a Twitter post and said that while the change was effective immediately, “we expect our systems to take time to ramp up”.
The platform, which is owned by Google, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now fell under its violent events policy and violating material would be removed.
A YouTube spokesman, Farshad Shadloo, said the blocking of the Russian outlets was in line with that policy.
Read more below:
Reports are coming in of air raid sirens sounding across Ukraine now, including in the capital Kyiv, Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Lviv in western Ukraine, and in the north-eastern Sumy region.
Eastern European countries face a huge challenge to integrate the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine, experts have warned, despite them being seen as a useful source of labour in nations with shrinking populations.
Some 2.5 million people have already fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations, which calls it Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since 1945, the Agence France-Presse reports.
More than half are now in Poland but tens of thousands are also staying in Moldova and Bulgaria, which have some of the fastest shrinking populations.
“Those who are now arriving in the territory of the EU are well-qualified and meet the demand for labour,” said Sieglinde Rosenberger of the University of Vienna, though she warned the welcoming attitude could change.
Other experts asked how eastern European countries, which have a lower GDP than their western counterparts, can handle a huge influx.
“How will these large numbers be integrated across Europe? This is going to be a problem,” Brad Blitz of the University College London told AFP.
The “breaking point” was yet to come, he added
A huge yacht belonging to the Russian oligarch, Andrey Melnichenko, has reportedly been seized by Italian authorities, according to CNN, citing a statement from Italy’s finance police.
The seizure was also reported by the Italian news outlet Tg La7.
A statement by the Guardia di Finanza said the vessel — called SY A — was worth about €530m euros ($578m) and was in storage at the northeastern port of Trieste.
Melnichenko made his fortune in coal and fertiliser. The SY A, which stands for “sailing yacht A”, is believed to be one of the largest superyachts in the world.
It follows the seizure last week of a yacht owned by Russia’s richest man, Alexei Mordashov, in the wake of western sanctions against Russian oligarchs regarded as close to Vladimir Putin.
The UK government is intending to further ramp up pressure on the Kremlin with plans to ban exports of luxury goods to Russia in the latest move to isolate Vladimir Putin, Press Association reports.
Details of the plans will be set out in the coming days, Downing Street said. The report comes hours after the US announced it would ban imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia.
More from PA:
Boris Johnson joined with other G7 leaders on Friday to commit to further increase the pressure on the Russian president’s regime.
The group agreed to take steps to deny Russia “most favoured nation” status on key products, which No 10 said would significantly reduce the ability of Russian businesses to export.
Sharing the news on Friday evening, foreign secretary Liz Truss said the UK stood “united with our G7 partners”, and would “continue strengthening our response” to put a halt to Russia’s aggression against its neighbour.
But Labour said the ban on luxury goods “should not have taken this long”.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, said: “Labour has been calling for weeks now for a ban on luxury goods being sent to Russia, so it is welcome that the UK Government have finally listened - but it should not have taken this long.
“We cannot allow Putin, and his cronies in Moscow, to live a Mayfair lifestyle while they kill innocent people in their illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
Technicians have begun repairing damaged power lines to the site of the Russia-controlled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said in a statement citing the Ukrainian regulator.
Earlier this week Ukrainian authorities said the power supply had been cut to the defunct power plant, but the UN’s atomic watchdog said the spent nuclear fuel stored there had cooled down sufficiently for it not to be an imminent safety concern.
The IAEA said Friday that, according to Ukraine’s regulatory authority, work that began a day earlier had succeeded in repairing one section but off-site electrical power was still down.
Emergency diesel generators had been providing back-up power to the site since Wednesday and additional fuel had been delivered.
“Adding to the challenges in managing the Chornobyl NPP, the regulator lost communications with the site on 10 March,” the IAEA said.
“As a result, it cannot provide information to the IAEA about the radiological monitoring at the facility. Despite this, the regulator has continued to receive information about the situation there through senior off-site management of the plant.”
“Staff at the Chornobyl NPP are facing increasingly difficult conditions,” the IAEA added. “The 211 technical personnel and guards have in effect been living at the site for more than two weeks, the regulator said, expressing concern also about the availability of food reserves.”
In Kharkiv, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment, a new nuclear research facility that had been previously hit had “suffered additional damage,” the IAEA said, citing the regulator.
“Because its nuclear material is subcritical and the inventory of radioactive material is very low, the IAEA has assessed that the damage would not have had any radiological consequence,” the statement continued.
“Nevertheless, it highlighted once again the risks facing Ukraine’s nuclear installations during the armed conflict.”
Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, has been on the frontline of the Russia-Ukraine war, enduring days of bombardments from Russian forces. Here’s a selection of the latest images from the city.
If you’re just joining us, here’s a rundown of the main developments on Friday:
- Satellite images show Russian forces are getting closer to Kyiv and appear to be firing artillery toward residential areas, Reuters has reported. Air raid sirens were sounding in Kyiv in the early hours of Saturday morning, and there were reports of heavy shelling. Russian forces bombarded cities across the country on Friday and appeared to be regrouping for a possible assault on Kyiv as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country had reached a “strategic turning point” in the conflict.
- The UN security council met on Friday to discuss Moscow’s claims that the US is funding “military biological activities” in Ukraine. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, invoked the terrifying spectre of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe. Both the US and Ukraine have categorically denied that they are developing any biological weapons inside the country.
- The US has warned of the possibility of chemical or biological weapons being used by Russia. Britain and the US have voiced fears Russia could be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon in Ukraine, and using its accusations of bio-labs as pretext.
- Russian airstrikes hit three cities in Ukraine on Friday – including two in the country’s west – as the scope of its military offensive widened. The raids hit airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, far from the main areas of conflict, and residential buildings in the strategically important city of Dnipro.
- Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped and under fire in Ukrainian cities, but the situation in Mariupol is especially dire. Ten days into Russia’s siege, its population has no access to electricity or mobile phone networks, and water and food are running out.
- Ukraine fears Belarus might launch an invasion of Ukraine on Saturday after a meeting in Moscow between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. Ukraine accused Russia of firing at a Belarusian settlement near the border from Ukrainian airspace in an attempt to drag Belarus into the war.
- A third Russian major general has been killed in Ukraine, western officials confirmed. Western intelligence estimates that about 20 major generals would have been committed to the invasion, implying a relatively high casualty rate.
- Western governments announced plans to impose punitive tariffs on Russian trade to further isolate Moscow from the global economy. The G7 group of wealthy nations said it would strip Russia of “most favoured nation” status under World Trade Organization rules.
- Joe Biden announced plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia in retaliation for Putin’s war on Ukraine. Biden said the ban would be part of a move by the US to revoke normal trading relations with Russia. The US has also imposed sanctions on a group of Russia’s elite including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three relatives of Putin’s spokesperson, and lawmakers.
- Russia has moved to block Instagram after its parent company, Meta, said it would allow calls for violence against Putin and Russian soldiers involved in the invasion of Ukraine to appear on the social media platform. Russian prosecutors demanded that access to Instagram be blocked as authorities moved to recognise Meta as an “extremist organisation.
- Deutsche Bank and Sony Pictures, have joined the exodus of western businesses from Russia. In a statement posted on its website, Deutsche Bank said it was “in the process of winding down our remaining business in Russia” and that there “won’t be any new business in Russia”.
- The US has accused Russia of violating nuclear safety principles. US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the US is concerned about “Russia’s reckless actions and violations of nuclear safety principles” on Friday, including stopping supply to parts to nuclear facilities, concerns over conditions for staff, and damage to nuclear research facilities.
- Western intelligence agencies are investigating a cyber-attack by unidentified hackers. The attack disrupted broadband satellite internet access in Ukraine coinciding with Russia’s invasion, Reuters has reported, citing three people with direct knowledge of the incident.
- Ukraine accused Russia of violating international law today by abducting the mayor of Melitopol, a Ukrainian city that fell under Russia’s control during the invasion, reports Reuters. Ukrainian officials said Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov was kidnapped after being falsely accused of terrorism.
CNN’s team in Kyiv has also reported hearing explosions in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward described “a nonstop volley ... of just heavy booms in the distance,” continuing for several minutes, the broadcaster reported.
It’s not clear whether the explosions were Russian or Ukrainian strikes, Ward said.
Here’s a bit more from the late night address posted to Facebook and Telegram by president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
In it, he confirmed the abduction of the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, and said it showed Russia had switched to a “new stage of terror” in which they were “trying to physically eliminate representatives of the legitimate local Ukrainian authorities”.
He said the actions of Russian soldiers would be “equated with the actions of ISIS terrorists” and demanded the immediate release of the mayor.
He said Russian troops had disrupted most humanitarian corridors on Friday although just over 7,000 people were evacuated.
Mariupol, which has been under siege for almost two weeks, remained blocked by Russia and Ukraine had not been able to deliver any aid to the city, which is without water or energy supplies.
Zelenskiy also appealed to Russian soldiers to just “lay down your weapons and go home” as well as to their mothers: “Do not send your children to war in a foreign land. Do not believe the promises that they will be sent somewhere just for exercises ... Check where your son is .... Do not give your son to death or captivity,” he said.
He talked about the importance of western sanctions on Russia, mentioning his Friday telephone call with US president Joe Biden and the latest moves by the G7 to strip Russia of its “most favoured nation” status.
“The less dollars Russian business earns and the less taxes the Russian state receives, the less opportunity the Russian military will have to kill our people.”
Air raid sirens have reportedly sounded in Kyiv in the past hour.
Here’s more on the reported abduction of Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov from AFP:
The mayor of southern Ukraine’s Melitopol was kidnapped on Friday by Russian soldiers occupying the city, President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian officials said.
“A group of 10 occupiers kidnapped the mayor of Melitopol Ivan Fedorov,” Ukraine’s parliament said on Twitter.
“He refused to cooperate with the enemy,” it added.
It said the mayor was seized when he was at the city’s crisis centre dealing with supply issues.
In a video message late Friday, Zelensky confirmed the abduction, calling Fedorov “a mayor who bravely defends Ukraine and the members of his community”.
“This is obviously a sign of weakness of the invaders... They have moved to a new stage of terror in which they are trying to physically eliminate representatives of legitimate local Ukrainian authorities,” he said.
“The capture of the mayor of Melitopol is therefore a crime, not only against a particular person, against a particular community, and not only against Ukraine. It is a crime against democracy itself... The acts of the Russian invaders will be regarded like those of Islamic State terrorists,” he said.
The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Kirillo Timoshenko, previously posted a video on Telegram showing soldiers coming out of a building holding a man dressed in black, his head apparently covered with a black bag.
According to the Ukrainian parliament, another regional official, the deputy head of the regional council of Zaporizhzhia - 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Melitopol - was abducted and then released a few days ago.
Before the Russian invasion, Melitopol had just over 150,000 inhabitants.
“Staunch resistance” from Ukrainian air defence forces is compelling Russia to rely on “stand-off” munitions to conduct attacks deep inside Ukraine, according to the latest UK Defence Intelligence assessment.
The assessment also said that Russian air and missile forces had targeted the western cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk over the past 24 hours and that tactical aircraft supporting Russian ground forces were relying primarily on unguided “dumb” munitions which are “relatively inaccurate”.
“Their use significantly increases the likelihood of civilian casualties,” the assessment said.
The British press are once again focused on the war in Ukraine. Here are some of them:
The Guardian leads with “Macron savages UK for not making refugees welcome”, and also features a picture of the Ukrainian woman, Mariana Vishegirskaya, with her newborn daughter just two days after she was pictured fleeing the ruins of the Mariupol maternity ward bombed by Russia when heavily pregnant.
The Mirror leads with her styory and the headline “Hope amid the horror”.
The Telegraph leads with “Hunt calls for massive boost in defence spending”
A total of 7,144 people were evacuated from four Ukrainian cities on Friday, president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said in a televised address according to Reuters, a sharply lower number than managed to leave in each of the two previous days.
Zelenskiy accused Russia of refusing to allow people out of the besieged city of Mariupol and said Ukraine would try again to deliver food and medicines there on Saturday.
Almost 40,000 people left a number of cities through humanitarian corridors on Thursday, on top of the 35,000 who fled on Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said.
Zelenskiy said inhabitants of Chernihiv, Energodar, Hostomel and Kozarovichi had managed to escape on Friday.
Germany’s biggest lender, Deutsche Bank, has joined the exodus of western businesses from Russia. In a statement posted on its website, the bank said it was “in the process of winding down our remaining business in Russia” and that there “won’t be any new business in Russia”.
As we have repeatedly said, we condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the strongest possible terms and support the German government and its allies in defending our democracy and freedom,” the bank said.
“To clarify: Deutsche Bank has substantially reduced its Russian exposure since 2014. Like some international peers and in line with our legal and regulatory obligations, we are in the process of winding down our remaining business in Russia while we help our non-Russian multinational clients in reducing their operations”.
According to Reuters the bank has valued its gross exposure to loans in Russia at 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion).
Deutsche Bank also has a technology centre in Russia employing 1,500 computer specialists.
Among other international companies to have announced they are quitting Russia are the US banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.
British rock band Pink Floyd have joined condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, announcing that they will remove all their work from 1987 onwards, as well as the solo work of guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour, from all digital music providers in Russia and Belarus.
In a statement posted on Twitter the band said they “stand with the world in strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.
Hello, this is Helen Livingstone taking over the Guardian’s live coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Western intelligence agencies are investigating a cyberattack by unidentified hackers that disrupted broadband satellite internet access in Ukraine coinciding with Russia’s invasion, Reuters has reported citing three people with direct knowledge of the incident.
More from Reuters:
Analysts for the US National Security Agency, French government cybersecurity organization ANSSI, and Ukrainian intelligence are assessing whether the remote sabotage of a satellite internet provider’s service was the work of Russian-state backed hackers preparing the battlefield by attempting to sever communications.
The digital blitz on the satellite service began on 24 February between 5 am and 9 am, just as Russian forces started going in and firing missiles, striking major Ukrainian cities including the capital, Kyiv.
The consequences are still being investigated but satellite modems belonging to tens of thousands of customers in Europe were knocked offline, according to an official of US telecommunications firm Viasat, which owns the affected network.
The hackers disabled modems that communicate with Viasat Inc’s KA-SAT satellite, which supplies internet access to some customers in Europe, including Ukraine. More than two weeks later some remain offline, resellers told Reuters.
What appears to be one of the most significant wartime cyberattacks publicly disclosed so far has piqued the interest of Western intelligence because Viasat acts as a defence contractor for both the United States and multiple allies.
Government contracts reviewed by Reuters show that KA-SAT has provided internet connectivity to Ukrainian military and police units.
Pablo Breuer, a former technologist for US special operations command, or SOCOM, said knocking out satellite internet connectivity could handicap Ukraine’s ability to combat Russian forces.
“Traditional land-based radios only reach so far. If you’re using modern smart systems, smart weapons, trying to do combined arms manoeuvres, then you must rely on these satellites,” said Breuer.
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Moscow has repeatedly rejected allegations that it participates in cyberattacks.
The US imposed sanctions on a group of Russia’s elite including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three family members of President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson and lawmakers, Reuters reported.
More from Reuters:
Russia has been hit by a slew of measures since launching its Feb. 24 invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, which Moscow says is “a special operation” to disarm its neighbor and dislodge leaders it calls “neo-Nazis.”
Those hit by Friday’s sanctions include 10 people on the board of VTB Bank, the second-largest lender in Russia, and 12 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
“Treasury continues to hold Russian officials to account for enabling Putin’s unjustified and unprovoked war,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was targeted on March 3. Friday’s measures extend to his wife and two adult children.
They lead “ luxurious lifestyles that are incongruous with Peskov*s civil servant salary”, the Treasury said in a release.
The US accused Russia of violating nuclear safety principles
The US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says the US is concerned about “Russia’s reckless actions and violations of nuclear safety principles” on Friday. In a series of tweets, Granholm said while the monitors in Ukraine have not detected any signs of radiological release the US remains “concerned by the lack of data from safeguards monitors at #Chernobyl or #Zaporizhzhia, which hinders the world’s ability to track materials from those sites.”
Satellite images show Russian forces are getting closer to Kyiv and are firing artillery toward residential areas, Reuters reported.
Maxar Technologies said multiple homes and buildings were on fire and widespread damage and impact craters could be seen throughout the town of Moschun, northwest of Kyiv. Reuters could not independently verify the images.
Maxar said one image showed elements of a Russian artillery battalion actively firing in a southeasterly direction, a bright muzzle flash coming from one of the guns. It said it could not confirm the battalion’s targets, but that the damage observed in Moschun was about 7 km (4.3 miles) southeast of the artillery deployment.
Another image showed long lines of cars carrying people trying to flee Kyiv, and another showed that fires continued to burn at Antonov Airport.
Russian forces bombarded cities across the country on Friday and appeared to be regrouping for a possible assault on Kyiv as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country had reached a “strategic turning point” in the conflict.
What happens if Russia can’t pay its debts after western sanctions? The Guardian’s economic correspondent Richard Partington has some answers.
Russia is close to being unable to pay its debts amid sanctions imposed by the west after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The World Bank’s chief economist, Carmen Reinhart, warned on Thursday that Russia and its ally Belarus were “mightily close” to default.
A key test will come on Wednesday next week, when the Russian state has to make a $117m (£89m) payment on some of its debts denominated in US dollars. While Russia has relatively low debts and its financial system is less integrated with the rest of the world than other countries’, some analysts warn an imminent Russian debt default could have unforeseen consequences.
What happens in a default?
A default occurs when a borrower fails to make agreed payments on their debts.
The Bank of Canada and Bank of England, which track global sovereign defaults, estimate the total value of government debt in default around the world was $443.2bn in 2020 – about 0.5% of world public debt.
Recent governments to default include Argentina, Belize, Ecuador and Suriname, with nations typically failing to keep up on payments denominated in foreign currencies. Some have strong track records, including the US and the UK. However, both have defaulted in the past – including Britain in 1672 under the reign of Charles II and the US in 1862 during the American civil war.
Russia must make two coupon, or regular interest, payments on 16 March. However, it will have a 30-day grace period, meaning a default would not formally happen until at least April.
When was the last time Russia defaulted?
Russia has defaulted before, including during the 1917 revolution and in 1998, when the country’s economy remained weak after the collapse of the Soviet union and the costs of war in Chechnya meant it was unable to keep up with its debt payments. However, even then, Russia kept up with dollar payments.
The so-called rouble crisis caused severe damage for neighbouring economies and sent shock waves through the global financial system, including huge losses for the US hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management.
What’s at stake
Russia has strengthened its financial position in recent years in response to western sanctions imposed after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, with the government running budget surpluses and cutting its reliance on the US dollar.
According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), Russia’s external liabilities – money owed to creditors by the government, companies and households – have fallen from about $733bn in 2014 to about $480bn. Of this, $135bn is due to be paid to creditors within one year.
However, the amount owed by the government itself is relatively small. The state has about $40bn in foreign currency bonds denominated in dollars and euros – tiny compared with the size of its economy and with several comparable nations. Overseas investors also hold $28bn of Russian debt denominated in roubles.
However, the scale of the problem is bigger for Russian corporates, with just under $100bn in international bonds outstanding.
Investors in Russian debt include hedge funds, which prefer taking risky bets, and major global asset managers. According to the Financial Times, the US fund manager Pimco, one of the world’s biggest bond market investors, has amassed a $1.5bn position in Russian sovereign debt.
What are Russia’s biological weapons claims and what’s actually happening?
The UN security council met on Friday at Russia’s request to discuss Moscow’s claims that the US is funding “military biological activities” in Ukraine – in other words, secretly developing biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories. The event saw some heated discussion. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, evoked the terrifying specter of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe. His American counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, warned that Russia’s claim could be a pretext for it launching its own biological weapons attack on Ukraine.
So what is the dispute all about, and what is actually happening inside Ukraine?
Russia makes claims of US-backed biological weapon plot at UNRead more
How did “bio labs” become the latest front in the Ukraine information war?
Last Sunday the Russian ministry of foreign affairs posted a tweet accusing the US and Ukrainian governments of running a secret “military-biological programme” inside the stricken country. Moscow claimed that its invading forces had discovered evidence of an “emergency clean-up” to hide the programme.
Moscow went on to claim that it had found documents related to the secret US operation in laboratories in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Poltava.
The allegations were quickly amplified by China, which supported the claims during Friday’s UN security council debate. The theory also took on a life of its own on social media under the hashtag #usbiolabs, and found a welcome home among rightwing outlets in the US including the War Room podcast of Donald Trump’s former White House adviser Steve Bannon and the Fox News primetime show hosted by Tucker Carlson.
How have the US and Ukrainian governments responded?
Both the US and Ukraine have categorically denied that they are developing any biological weapons inside the country. At Friday’s meeting, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “I will say this once: ‘Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program.’” She went on to turn the accusation back on Moscow. “It is Russia that has long maintained a biological weapon program in violation of international law.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the world body, Sergiy Kyslytsya, used more colourful language. He called the idea being advanced by Russia “a bunch of insane delirium”.
What are independent world bodies saying?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is unaware of activity by Ukraine violating any international treaty, including the ban on biological weapons.
The UN high commissioner for disarmament, Izumi Nakamitsu, confirmed that the UN was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. Nakamitsu pointed to the Biological Weapons Convention, which has prohibited the development and use of biological weapons since 1975. The convention was backed by then president Richard Nixon, who in 1969 also put a stop to the US developing its own offensive biological weapons.
So do bio labs exist inside Ukraine, and is the US supporting them?
Yes, and yes. Ukraine does operate biological laboratories which receive US funding. The US undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland affirmed those facts in a Senate foreign relations committee hearing this week in which the Republican senator Marco Rubio asked her directly whether Ukraine had biological weapons.
Nuland did not answer the question head on. “Ukraine has biological research facilities,” she replied, adding that there was concern that Russian forces were trying to gain control of the labs. “We are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.”
In its fight against misinformation about Russia, the White House is tapping into a network of influential TikTokers. On Thursday, 30 top TikTok influencers were briefed on the ongoing invasion of Ukraine over Zoom by White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Matt Miller, a special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, according to The Washington Post.
The goal was to arm the influencers, who command audiences of millions of followers, with the proper knowledge to debunk any misinformation and to help their followers make sense of the Ukraine crisis.
“We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest,” said the White House director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, on a recording of the call The Washington Post obtained. “So we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source.”
This isn’t the first time the Biden administration has recognized the influence the platform has and tried to work with its top content creators. Last year, the administration tapped an “influencer army” to help encourage people to get vaccines.
But it turns out the Kremlin had a similar idea. Vice News found what appears to be a coordinated campaign among Russian TikTok influencers to push pro-Kremlin narratives.
Vice News writes: “Numerous campaigns have been coordinated in a secret Telegram channel that directs these influencers on what to say, where to capture videos, what hashtags to use, and when exactly to post the video.
These campaigns were launched at the beginning of the invasion and have involved a number of the highest-profile influencers on TikTok, some of whom have over a million followers.”
The Central Bank of Russia announced today that Russians receiving transfers from foreign banks can only withdraw cash in roubles, reported Reuters.
Russians receiving money transfers from foreign banks will only be allowed to withdraw the cash in roubles, the central bank said on Friday, the latest move in a bid to cope with western sanctions.
The bank said the new temporary measure would come into effect on Saturday. It did not give an end date.
The bank said on Tuesday that until 9 September, banks could not sell hard currency to Russian citizens.
US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield provides remarks on the ongoing Ukraine invasion, in videos recently tweeted by the US State Department:
The US issued a new round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and elites today as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, reports Reuters.
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on more Russian oligarchs and elites, increasing pressure on those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin in punishment over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Those hit with sanctions on Friday include 10 people comprising VTB Bank’s board, 12 members of the Duma and the family of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
US president Joe Biden tweeted out that he is looking forward to signing a spending bill that includes $13.6bn in aid to Ukraine:
Last night, Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that included an additional $13.6 billion in new assistance for the Ukrainian people. I look forward to signing that immediately.
Russia agreed today to supply Belarus with the latest military equipment in the near future, reported Reuters citing a Belarus news agency.
The leaders of Russia and Belarus agreed on Friday that Moscow would supply its smaller neighbour with the most up-to-date military equipment in the near future, the official Belarus Belta news agency said.
Belta also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko agreed at their Kremlin meeting on joint steps for mutual support in face of Western sanctions, including on energy prices. It did not give details.
More reports are coming in on social media suggesting very heavy bombardment in Mykolayiv.
From Kyle Glen, co-founder of Conflict News:
Heavy Russian shelling reported tonight in the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.
Footage of aftermath of shelling circulating on telegram.
Footage posted to social media from Melitopol’s city hall seems to show Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov being abducted by Russian forces.
From political analyst Mattia Nelles:
The [Ukraine] presidential office reports that the Russian occupiers have kidnapped Ivan Fedoro, the major of Melitopol in southern Ukraine. Security camera of the city hall seem to show the abduction.
Ukraine accused Russia of violating international law today by abducting the mayor of Melitopol, a Ukrainian city that fell under Russia’s control during the Ukraine invasion, reports Reuters.
Ukrainian officials said Melitopol mayor Ivan Fedorov was kidnapped after being falsely accused of terrorism.
“The abduction of the mayor of Melitopol is classified as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocol, which prohibit the taking of civilian hostages during the war,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry in a statement.
Russia has not commented on Fedorov’s fate.
Russian forces are shelling the Ukrainian port of Mykolayiv, according to a regional governor, reports Reuters.
Details are still forthcoming- stay tuned.
Sony Pictures Entertainment announced today that it has suspended business operations in Russia, two weeks after the studio paused theatrical releases in the country, reported Reuters.
In a message to staff, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra wrote that the studio would halt planned home entertainment releases, including “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and any future television distribution deals. Crunchyroll also suspended its anime streaming service in Russia. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with those who have been impacted and it is our hope that a peaceful resolution can be found soon,” Vinciquerra wrote.
Sony Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp.
One of the unanswered questions in Russia’s war against Ukraine is the level of attrition being experienced by the Ukrainian military. Now it appears a US defence official may have given some idea.
According to the unnamed official, the Ukraine air force has around 56 fighters left after almost three weeks of combat.
While Ukraine started the war with just under 100 combat aircraft, a simple subtraction may not tell the whole story with some of those aircraft likely out of service for one reason or another, with maintenance issue being a historic problem for Kyiv.
Even so that would seem to suggest, at first glance, not insignificant loses even if the remaining numbers of aircraft indicate that Russia’s early claim to have “neutralised” Ukraine air force and air defences was wide of the mark.
It would also go some way to explaining the renewed effort to hit Ukraine’s airfields in recent days.
It is 9pm in Ukraine. Here’s where we stand:
- Russian airstrikes hit three cities in Ukraine on Friday – including two in the country’s west – as the scope of its military offensive widened. The raids hit airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, far from the main areas of conflict, and residential buildings in the strategically important city of Dnipro.
- Russian armed forces have made no progress in Ukraine in the last 24 hours, according to the Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also said Ukraine had reached a “strategic turning point” in its war with Russia in his latest address to the Ukrainian people.
- Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped and under fire in Ukrainian cities, but the situation in Mariupol is especially dire. Ten days into Russia’s siege, its population has no access to electricity or mobile phone networks, and water and food are running out.
- Ukraine fears Belarus might launch an invasion of Ukraine today after a meeting in Moscow between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Yevheniy Yenin, earlier said Russia was trying everything possible to drag Belarus into its war against Ukraine.
- In related news, Ukraine accused Russia of firing at a Belarusian settlement near the border from Ukrainian air space in an attempt to drag Belarus into the war. The Ukrainian air force said it had received information that Russian aircraft had taken off from an airfield in Belarus, crossed into Ukrainian air space and then fired at Kopani, a village in Belarus.
- A third Russian major general has been killed in the fighting in Ukraine, western officials confirmed. Western intelligence estimates that around 20 major generals would have been committed to the invasion of Ukraine, implying a relatively high casualty rate during the two-week long invasion.
- Western governments announced plans to impose punitive tariffs on Russian trade to further isolate Moscow from the global economy. In a development aimed at ratcheting up the pressure on Vladimir Putin, the G7 group of wealthy nations said it would strip Russia of “most favoured nation” (MFN) status under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
- Joe Biden announced plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia in retaliation for Putin’s war on Ukraine. Biden said the ban would be part of a move by the US to revoke normal trading relations with Russia.
- Russia has moved to block Instagram after its parent company, Meta, said it would allow calls for violence against Putin and Russian soldiers involved in the invasion of Ukraine to appear on the social media platform. Russian prosecutors demanded that access to Instagram be blocked as authorities moved to recognise Meta as an “extremist organisation.
- One of the pregnant women pictured escaping the ruins of the Mariupol maternity ward bombed by Russia has given birth to a daughter. Mariana Vishegirskaya was photographed on Friday by the Associated Press lying in a hospital bed holding her newborn daughter, Veronika.
That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand over the blog to my colleague Gloria Oladipo. Goodbye for now.
The head of global affairs at Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, clarified the company’s changes on speech today, noting that the altered rules will only apply in Ukraine itself, reported Reuters.
In a statement made today, Nick Clegg said the policies were “focused on protecting people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense in reaction to a military invasion of their country.”
Clegg added that the company had “no quarrel with the Russian people” and that there was not a change on hate speech“as far as the Russian people are concerned.”
Clegg also noted that the changes were temporary and were being kept under review.
Yesterday, Meta announced that they were allowing users on its platforms to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers when speaking about the Ukraine invasion, a change to the company’s hate speech policy.
Earlier today, Russia banned Instagram and Whatsapp, blocking Facebook last week.
The situation in Ukraine’s besieged port city Mariupol is “desperate” and heading towards an “unimaginable tragedy” unless immediate action is taken, Médecins Sans Frontières has warned.
Stephen Cornish, head of the MSF Swiss office and one of those heading the medical charity’s Ukraine operation, told AFP:
Hundreds of thousands of people... are for all intents and purposes besieged.
Sieges are a medieval practice that have been outlawed by the modern rules of war for good reason.
Cornish stressed that under international law, “civilians must be protected, they must be able to have their basic needs, food, water, medicine, and certainly kept outside of the conflict”.
As we can see, not only in Mariupol, but with credible reports coming from Kharkiv and Dnipro and other areas, every effort is not being made to spare civilians.
“We are really heading towards an unimaginable tragedy,” he warned, insisting that “there is still time to avoid it, and we must see it avoided”.
At least 1,582 civilians have been killed in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said.
In an online statement, Mariupol council said:
We will never forget and will never forgive this crime against humanity.
Note: the Guardian has not been able to independently verify these figures.
Russia widened its military offensive in Ukraine on Friday, striking near airports in the west of the country for the first time.
Videos circulating online appeared to show a military airfield in Lutsk being repeatedly hit, followed by large explosions.
YouTube blocks Russian state-funded media channels globally
YouTube is blocking access around the world to channels associated with Russian state-funded media, the company said.
The US ambassador to Nato, Julianne Smith, has been talking at a Washington Post Live event about Russia’s allegations of Ukrainian biological weapons, Julian Borger reports.
She made counterclaims about Russia’s biological weapons, but in mentioning Navalny and Syria, she appears to be referring to chemical weapons rather than biological agents.
This is what she said:
What we’ve seen over the years is that Russia is actually the country that is the one that relies on biological weapons.
We’ve seen them rely on biological weapons as it relates to attempted assassinations. You could think of Navalny, in particular, but others. You could look at what they did and how they operated in Syria, which was horrifying- their reliance on these types of weapons are in direct violation of international law.
So yes, we are worried when we hear them making these accusations. Sometimes what they do is they accuse us of something that they’re about to do themselves- and to use that as a pretext for some sort of other attack on their part.
Western governments have announced plans to impose punitive tariffs on Russian trade to further isolate Moscow from the global economy after the invasion of Ukraine, Richard Partington writes.
In a development aimed at ratcheting up the pressure on Vladimir Putin, the G7 group of wealthy nations said it would strip Russia of “most favoured nation” (MFN) status under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
Setting out tougher measures in response to Putin’s military aggression in a joint statement on Friday, the G7 said a “broad coalition” of WTO members were preparing to revoke important benefits of Russia’s membership. The G7 is formed of the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The group said in a statement:
We are united in our determination to hold President Putin and his regime accountable for this unjustified and unprovoked war that has already isolated Russia in the world.
Such a move would mean imposing tariffs – border taxes paid by importers – on Russian products such as vodka and other goods. Designed to raise the price of goods to discourage trade, tariffs hit exporters but can also add to consumer costs.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, says Russia has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons.
Speaking at the UN security council meeting convened at Russia’s request, Thomas-Greenfield said:
Ukraine does not have a biological weapons programme.
There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States. Not near Russia’s border or anywhere.
It was Russia, instead, that could use chemical or biological agents in Ukraine, she said. Although she did not immediately provide evidence of an imminent threat during the meeting, she said:
Russia has a track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, has been presenting the Kremlin’s allegations that Ukraine and the US had a plot to spread biological weapons with migratory birds, bats and insects.
Nebenzya issued a chilling warning to Eastern Europe that biological agents could spread across Ukraine’s borders:
We call upon you to think about a very real biological danger to the people in European countries, which can result from an uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine. And if there is a such a scenario then all Europe will be covered.
The risk of this is very real given the interests of the radical nationalist groups in Ukraine are showing towards the work with dangerous pathogens conducted together with the ministry of defence of the United States.
After Nebenzya spoke, Albania, the US and France voiced alarm that the allegations may be an advance cover story for Russian plans to unleash chemical or biological weapons.
US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said:
The intent behind these lies seem clear and it is deeply troubling. We believe Russia could use chemical or biological agents for assassinations as part of a false flag incident or to support tactical military operations.
The UN security council is holding a hearing called for by Russia to make its allegations about a Ukrainian biological weapons lab.
The UN high commissioner for disarmament, Izumi Nakamitsu, has been speaking before the Russians:
The United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons programs. That is largely thanks to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons.
Nakamitsu said that unlike chemical weapons, there is no independent verification regime for biological weapons, and monitoring is left to state parties, but she said there was a mechanism for those state parties to raise their concerns.
Belarus could launch invasion of Ukraine tonight, Ukraine warns
Ukraine’s state centre for strategic communications said Belarus might launch an invasion of Ukraine today after a meeting in Moscow between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
In a statement, the centre said:
According to preliminary data, Belarusian troops may be drawn into an invasion on March 11 at 21:00 (1900 GMT).
The US president, Joe Biden, has announced the US plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia in retaliation for Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
Biden said the ban would be part of a move by America to revoke normal trading relations, with Russia, also known as “most favoured nation” status, with a similar move also expected from allies in the Group of Seven (G7) leading nations and the European Union.
Revoking such trading relations will “make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States”, Biden said and noted that the US was “taking the first steps” to ban imports of Russian “seafood, vodka and diamonds”.
Putin is the aggressor and Putin must pay a price.
The UN undersecretary general for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, has been talking about potential war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.
The OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] has received credible reports of Russian forces using cluster munitions including in populated areas.
Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions … are prohibited under international humanitarian law.
Direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as aerial bombardment in towns and villages are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.
Russian officials tried to enter and take full operational control of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to the head of Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom.
Russian forces had told the plant’s Ukrainian staff that the plant now belonged to Russian state nuclear company Rosatom after its capture last week, Energoatom chief Petro Kotin said.
In a televised interview, Kotin said 10 Rosatom officials, including two senior engineers, then unsuccessfully attempted to enter the plant and take control of operations.
On the territory (of the plant) there are around 500 Russian soldiers with automatic weapons. Our staff are in an extremely bad psychological state.
US and allies to deny 'most favoured nation' status to Russia, Biden says
President Joe Biden announced that the US, along with the G7 and European Union, will take steps to revoke the “most favoured nation” status designation to Russia, known as permanent normal trade relations in the US.
Biden said the move would hold the Russian president Vladimir Putin, “even more accountable for his aggression against Ukraine.”
Each of our nations will take steps to deny ‘most favoured nation’ status to Russia.
A most favoured nation status designation means two countries have agreed to trade with each other under the best possible terms: low tariffs, few barriers to trade and the highest possible imports allowed.
The move “is going to make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States and doing it in unison with other nations that make up half of the global economy will be another crushing blow” to Russia and Putin, Biden said.
For more live updates from Biden’s announcement, do please follow our US politics live blog.
A third Russian major general has been killed in the fighting in Ukraine, western officials said.
They did not confirm the name of the deceased, but an hour earlier, Ukraine’s armed forces said that Maj Gen Andriy Kolesnikov had been killed in the fighting.
Western intelligence estimates that around 20 major generals would have been committed to the invasion of Ukraine, implying a relatively high casualty rate during the two-week long invasion, which they suggested was because they were deployed unusually close to front lines.
That could, in the words of one official, indicate that Russian troops in the front line “are unable to make decisions on their own, lack situational awareness or ... are fearful of moving forward”.
Kolesnikov was the commander of Russia’s 29th Combined Arms Army.
Russia is trying everything possible to drag Belarus into its war against Ukraine, Ukraine’s deputy interior minister Yevheniy Yenin said.
In a televised interview, Yenin said:
We also understand that the Belarusian government has been doing everything possible to avoid joining this war.
Belarus has served as a staging post for Russian troops, missiles, and aircraft throughout the war, but Belarusian forces have not had any direct involvement.
Ukrainian officials earlier accused Russia of bombing Belarusian settlements from Kyiv’s airspace on Friday afternoon.
The Ukrainian air force said border guards had received information that Russian aircraft had taken off from an airfield in Belarus, crossed into Ukrainian air space and then fired at the southern village of Kopani.
Ukraine’s air force command said in an online statement:
This is a PROVOCATION! The goal is to involve the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the war with Ukraine!
A woman who survived a Russian air strike on a maternity hospital in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday has given birth to a daughter, Associated Press reports.
An image of a heavily pregnant and wounded Mariana Vishegirskaya was published around the world after the attack in the southern port city that officials say killed at least three people, including a child.
The Russian embassy in London accused Vishegirskaya, a beauty blogger, of faking her injuries in a series of tweets that were taken after Twitter found they “violated the Twitter rules”.
Vishegirskaya has since given birth to a daughter, Veronika, AP reports.
The Ukrainian president has said his country has reached a strategic turning point in its war with Russia, but added that it was not possible to say how long fighting would continue.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy said:
It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it ... we are moving towards our goal, towards our victory.
A third Russian major general has been killed in Ukraine, Western officials have confirmed.
From our defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh:
Russian president Vladimir Putin shows no sign of being willing to engage in “serious diplomacy”, US vice president Kamala Harris said.
Speaking during a visit in Romania, Harris said the US is committed to finding a diplomatic solution and restated her country’s commitment to protecting fellow Nato members.
From the beginning, the United States has been attempting sincerely to engage in diplomacy.
From everything that we know and have witnessed, Putin shows no sign of engaging in serious diplomacy.
Russia is deploying its playbook of lies, misinformation and acts of aggression in Ukraine, Harris said.
Any attack on or targeting of civilians in Ukraine is a war crime, she said.
We are clear that any intentional targeting of civilians is a war crime. Period.
It is painful to watch what is happening to innocent people in Ukraine who just want to live in their own country and have pride in themselves as Ukrainians, who want to be home speaking the language they know, going to the church that they know, raising their children in the community where their families have lived for generations and by the millions now, are having to flee with nothing but a backpack.
Here are some of the latest pictures from Ukraine today:
Ukraine accuses Russia of firing at Belarusian village from Ukrainian air space
Ukraine has accused Russian aircraft of firing at a Belarusian settlement near the border from Ukrainian air space in an attempt to drag Belarus into the war in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian air force said that at 2.30pm local time (12.30pm GMT), the state border service received information that Russian aircraft had taken off from an airfield in Belarus, crossed into Ukrainian air space and then fired at Kopani, a village in Belarus, reports Reuters.
“This is a PROVOCATION! The goal is to involve the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the war with Ukraine!,” Ukraine’s Air Force Command said in an online statement.
The Ukrainian military said that two other Belarusian settlements were also targeted in the operation.
“We officially declare: the Ukrainian military has not planned and does not plan to take any aggressive action against the Republic of Belarus,” the security service said.
Ukrainian government warns that situation in Mariupol is critical
The situation in Mariupol is critical, Ukraine’s interior ministry has warned, and it is not known whether aid will be able to reach the encircled city.
Vadym Denysenko, an interior ministry adviser, said it is unclear whether eight trucks carrying humanitarian aid will be able to reach the southern port today, reports Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian embassy in Ankara said there are 86 Turkish citizens - including 34 children - sheltering in a mosque in the besieged city amid continued Russian shelling.
The embassy said that Russian forces had been shelling the city, including the mosque, since the early hours.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.
Evgeny Lebedev says he is 'not some agent of Russia'
Evgeny Lebedev has said he is “not some agent of Russia” following allegations that a British security services assessment said he posed a national security risk was withdrawn following an intervention by the prime minister.
The Russian-born owner of the Evening Standard and Independent and member of the House of Lords said: “I am not a security risk to this country.”
In a statement on the Evening Standard website he wrote:
I am a British citizen. I first moved here as a child and was educated in the United Kingdom at primary and secondary level. I am proud to be a British citizen and consider Britain my home.
I have publicly made clear my condemnation of the war in Ukraine and called on President Putin to end the invasion of the country in the most public way possible through a letter to him published on the front page of the Evening Standard.
At the moment many with Russian roots are under scrutiny, including myself. I understand the reason for this as it is inevitable when events of such magnitude occur and the world order as we have known it in recent decades suddenly gets torn up.
But I am not a security risk to this country, which I love. My father a long time ago was a foreign intelligence agent of the KGB, but I am not some agent of Russia.
He said that being Russian “doe not automatically make one an enemy of the state”, adding: “It is crucial we do not descend into Russiaphobia, like any other phobia, bigotry or discrimination.”
US to revoke Russia's 'most favoured nation status', says Pelosi
The US is to revoke Russia’s “most favoured nation status” in response to the invasion on Ukraine.
US House speaker Nancy Pelosi made the announcement in a press conference today, reports Reuters.
Meanwhile, citing CNBC, Reuters reports that US president Joe Biden is to revoke normal trade relations.
You can follow the latest US developments on Ukraine in our US politics blog:
Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, has told Vladimir Putin that an immediate ceasefire is needed to safely evacuate civilians in an hour-long call with the Russian president.
The Finnish president’s office said he told Putin that the worsening war in Ukraine was strongly impacting western opinion, reports Reuters.
“President Niinistö emphasised the need to establish an immediate ceasefire and ensure the safe evacuation of civilians along humanitarian corridors,” a statement said.
Earlier in the day Niinistö also spoke with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He tweeted that he was “doing my best for peace”.
WhatsApp will not be affected by Russia’s decision to block services provided by Meta, Russian state-owned outlet RIA Novosti reports.
The power supply to the Chernobyl nuclear plant has not yet been restored despite Russian claims that it was fixed by Belarusian specialists, Ukraine’s state nuclear power regulator said.
In a statement, the state nuclear regulatory inspectorate of Ukraine said:
Attempts to restore the external power supply to the site are in progress.
Ukraine has warned of an increased risk of a radiation leak at Chernobyl, which is occupied by Russian forces, after a high-voltage cable was severed during fighting and electricity to the plant was cut off.
On Thursday, Russia’s energy ministry said Belarusian specialists had restored the electricity supply and Russia’s defence ministry said it had agreed to allow a Ukrainian repair team to access power lines in the area around the plant.
But Ukraine has told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that “all communications” were lost “the day after the Russian-controlled site lost all external power supplies”.
Ukrainian military intelligence said today, without presenting clear evidence, that it was “possible” Russia was preparing an attack on the Chernobyl plant “for which the occupiers will try to shift responsibility to Ukraine”.
Russian armed forces have made no progress in Ukraine in the last 24 hours, according to the Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych.
Russian territorial advances in Ukraine had stalled, Arestovych told a news briefing today.
Our opponent has been halted in practically every direction by airstrikes, rocket fire and ground attacks.
He added that Ukrainian armed forces had staged counter-attacks near the capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.
Igor Gavrylko was at his home in west London when the Russian bombs began to fall on Ukraine, Luke Harding writes.
A British citizen originally from Ukraine, he had lived in the UK since 1996, working most recently for Nissan as a forecourt salesperson. He rang his boss. “I knew a Russian invasion was going to happen,” he said.
My Ukrainian grandfather fought against the Red Army and the Nazis in world war two. Now it’s my turn to help.
Gavrylko set off by car from Ealing and drove across Europe. By the time he arrived in Ukraine his elderly parents had already had a narrow escape. Russian missiles had destroyed the airport in their home town of Ivano-Frankivsk. He said: “My city was bombarded.”
Gavrylko arranged for his mother, sister and four-year-old niece to escape to Poland. His 74-year-old father, Bogdan, refused to leave.
Now based in the western city of Lviv, Gavrylko is one of thousands of volunteers from around the world who have come to Ukraine to defend the country from Russian attack. Some have Ukrainian roots. Others are military veterans with no family ties who have decided to fight with Ukraine’s army. According to Gavrylko, “several hundred” Britons have already arrived, including Ben Grant, the son of a Tory MP.
There are volunteers from Canada – which has a large Ukrainian diaspora community – and the US. A group of Canadians were spotted in Lviv’s Freedom Square this week, with a large Canadian flag on the back of their vehicle. They identified a cafe for breakfast using Google, only to discover it was closed. Others come from the Baltic states and Georgia, itself the victim of Russian aggression and a punitive five-day war in 2008.
Collectively, these recruits amount to the most significant international brigade since the Spanish civil war, when volunteers including leftwing intellectuals fought in communist-organised military units between 1936 and 1938 in support of Spain’s popular front government. Gavrylko said he was aware of these historical echoes. Ukraine, in his view, was now fighting Vladimir Putin and a 21st-century version of fascism.
Food prices around the world could rise by up to 20% as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, the UN food agency has warned.
International food and feed prices could rise by between 8% and 20% as a result of the war, triggering a jump in global malnourishment, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.
In a preliminary assessment of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the FAO said it was not clear if Ukraine would be able to harvest crops during a protracted conflict, while uncertainty also surrounded Russian food exports.
Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat and Ukraine is the fifth largest, the FAO said. Together, they provide 19% of the world’s barley supply, 14% of wheat, and 4% of maize, making up more than one-third of global cereal exports.
FAO’s director general Qu Dongyu said in a statement:
The likely disruptions to agricultural activities of these two major exporters of staple commodities could seriously escalate food insecurity globally.
Some 50 countries, including many of the least developed nations, depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30% or more of their wheat supplies, leaving them especially vulnerable, it added.
The global number of undernourished people could increase by 8 to 13 million people in 2022/23.
For the first time in at least ten days, some military planes are flying over the sky above the city of Lviv, about 50 miles from the border with Poland, and a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Ukrainians, Lorenzo Tondo reports.
It is still unclear whether the aircraft are Russian or Ukrainian. We all just hope they are friendlies.
On Friday, the cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, about 130km from here, have been targeted by Russian forces.
Zelenskiy says Ukraine has reached 'strategic turning point' in war with Russia
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine had reached a “strategic turning point” in its war with Russia in his latest address to the Ukrainian people.
Speaking outdoors in a street with a Ukrainian flag in the background, the Ukrainian leader said:
It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it. For we have already reached a strategic turning point. We are already moving towards our goal, our victory.
Ukrainians are proud people who always defend their land, and will not give the occupier a single piece of this land.
At least 78 children have been killed in Ukraine since the Russian invasion on 24 February, according to Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova.
Denisova said fighting around the besieged city of Mariupol, the eastern town of Volnovakha and the town of Irpin in the Kyiv region meant local authorities had not been able to establish how many people had been killed or wounded in those places.
Note: the Guardian has not been able to independently verify these figures.
Here’s more on the UN human rights office’s claim that it had received “credible reports” of several cases of Russian forces using cluster munitions in populated areas in Ukraine.
UN spokesperson Liz Throssell told journalists in Geneva today that indiscriminate use of cluster munitions may amount to war crimes.
Due to their wide area effects, the use of cluster munitions in populated areas is incompatible with the international humanitarian law principles governing the conduct of hostilities.
We remind the Russian authorities that directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages and other forms of indiscriminate attacks, are prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.
Cluster bombs are distinguished by their capacity to explode and release smaller submunitions that scatter over a wide area. Russia is not a party to a 2008 convention banning cluster munitions although is bound by international humanitarian law.
Russia moves to ban Whatsapp and Instagram
Russia has moved to ban Whatsapp and Instagram, as well as designating Meta an “extremist organisation”.
Prosecutors have asked a Russian court to designate Facebook’s parent organisation Meta Platforms as an “extremist organisation,” Interfax news agency has reported.
The decision comes after the news that Meta Platforms will allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion, according to internal emails seen by Reuters.
The social media company is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to Vladimir Putin or his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, according to internal emails to its content moderators.
Switzerland has advised its citizens to leave Russia, the Swiss foreign ministry said.
In a travel advisory on its website updated today, the ministry said:
The (foreign ministry) recommends that Swiss nationals whose presence in Russia is not urgently required leave the country temporarily and by their own means.
The decision to leave the country is an individual decision.
Putin says some “positive shifts” in Russia-Ukraine talks
Russian president Vladimir Putin said there had been some progress in Moscow’s talks with Ukraine but provided no details, Reuters reports.
In a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said:
There are certain positive shifts, negotiators on our side tell me.
The Russian leader said talks between Ukraine and Russia continued “practically on a daily basis”. He said in the televised remarks that he would go into more detail with Lukashenko.
Residents in Lutsk say they were woken at 6.45am this morning when four Russian rockets hit the city’s military aerodrome, Luke Harding reports.
Galina Padalko - a former member of Lutsk’s city council - took a photo showing thick black smoke billowing from the airport into a dawn sky.
We live 2kms away. The rockets woke us up. We had been living in Kharkiv and left the city last week. The Russians bombard Kharkiv 100 times a day. Compared to that, this wasn’t as bad.
Galina and her husband Dmytro said they did not hear the sound of a Russian plane in the sky - unlike in Kharkiv where Russian war-planes are active. They said they suspected the missile attack on the city in north-west Ukraine came from Belarus, 120kms away, where the Russian army is deployed.
Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko is meeting today with Vladimir Putin. The strike on Lutsk may be a reminder to Lukashenko that the Russian army is still in the region. Lukashenko has been increasingly reluctant to deploy his own forces in Ukraine.
The Russian army hit Lutsk’s airport with one rocket in the first hours of Moscow’s invasion on 24 February.
People here are now scared. A lot of my friends decided to leave Lutsk and to go to villages outside. Others are leaving the country.
Lutsk is normally calm and peaceful. Cafes and shops are open, bank cards work, it has a population of 300,000 people and a castle. I lived here for 25 years before moving to Kharkiv. Conditions there are far worse. It was -18C last night, the bombing is continuous.
Italy is planning to accommodate Ukrainian refugees in property confiscated from the mafia, interior minister Luciana Lamorgese said.
In an interview with Corriere della Sera on Friday, Lamorgese said 28,000 Ukrainian refugees had so far arrived in Italy, the majority women and children who are staying with family and friends. She said 283 properties seized from the criminal organisation had been identified to accommodate people over the longer-term.
Refugees will be given access to healthcare, children will be schooled and adults given permits to work, she added. Italy is managing the process as part of the EU’s temporary protection directive, an instrument drawn up in 2001 but only activated earlier this month, that allows member states to give immediate protection to Ukrainian refugees.
Among the children who have arrived in Italy is Sofia, who was orphaned after her sister, Polina, the first child victim of the invasion, and parents were killed when their car was shot at by Russian forces in Kyiv. Her brother later died in hospital. Sofia, 13, has been admitted to Rome’s San Raffaele hospital in “a serious condition”, doctors said. Her grandmother is also in Italy.
Meanwhile, lorry drivers are planning to strike from Monday due to rising fuel costs. Fishermen in some areas of Italy are also striking due to the high cost of fueling their boats.
The Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo, which owns the Galleria d’Italia museum in Milan, said it would return 23 works currently on loan from four Russian museums by 27 March, when an exhibition entitled ‘Grand Tour. The dream of Italy from Venice to Pompeii’ ends. The move came after Russia demanded Italy return several artworks loaned to museums as the consequences of sanctions start to affect the world of culture.
UK announces sanctions against 386 members of Russian parliament
The UK has announced asset freezes and travel bans on 386 members of the Russian Duma who voted to recognise the independence of two territories in Ukraine.
In a statement, the foreign office said the new sanctions “will ban those listed from travelling to the UK, accessing assets held within the UK and doing business here”.
The Russian State Duma ratified treaties in February which recognised the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions - part of Ukrainian sovereign territory - and authorised the permanent presence of Russian military there, acting as a pretext for Russia’s invasion.
The Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, last month ratified treaties which backed the independence of self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk and authorised the permanent presence of Russian military in them.
The UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said the move targeted “those complicit in Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and those who support this barbaric war”.
We will not let up the pressure and will continue to tighten the screw on the Russian economy through sanctions.
Together with our allies, we stand firmly beside our Ukrainian friends. We will continue to support Ukraine with humanitarian aid, defensive weapons and diplomatic work to isolate Russia internationally.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said establishing humanitarian corridors in Ukraine for evacuations and aid is the “bare minimum” to be done now, Reuters reports.
Stoltenberg was speaking to the news agency on the sidelines of a forum in Turkey:
The bare minimum is to establish humanitarian corridors where people can get out and humanitarian aid can get in.
He described Russian president Vladimir Putin’s nuclear rhetoric as “dangerous” and reckless” and once again said the Nato alliance would not send troops or jets into Ukraine.
A no-fly zone over Ukraine “would most likely...escalate the war to a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia”, he added.
Hello, it’s Léonie Chao-Fong with you again as we unpack all the latest developments on the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. Please feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.
Here's a summary of the latest developments...
- The UK government has urged British veterans not to travel to Ukraine to fight. The veterans minister, Leo Docherty, called on ex-service personnel not to join the war in Ukraine and instead help Ukrainians from home, either through charity and volunteering.
- A total of 48 schools have been destroyed in Kharkiv, its mayor has said, as the city comes under relentless bombardment. “As of today, 48 (of the city’s) schools have been destroyed,” said mayor Ihor Terekhov in a televised address.
- The regional governor of Kharkiv has condemned today’s attack on a psychiatric hospital, saying it was “a war crime against civilians”. Ukraine has accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum.
- Russian forces shelled residential areas of Kharkiv 89 times in one day, the local governor has said. Reuters reports that Oleh Synegubov also said there is no danger to civilians after an institute with a nuclear laboratory was hit.
- Vladimir Putin today approved bringing thousands of fighters from the Middle East to fight for Russia against Ukraine. At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East who were ready to come to fight with Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine in the breakaway Donbass region.
- The EU will double the amount it is spending on providing military support to Ukraine to €1billion, it has been announced at a leaders’ summit on Versailles. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said agreement among the 27 leaders had not been difficult to secure.
- Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nausėda said there was a “flavour of disappointment” to the decision by the EU leaders at a summit in Versailles not to offer Ukraine a fast track to EU candidate status in their response to Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s request.
- The UN migration agency reports that as of today more than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine. Of the total, the International Organisation for Migration said that 116,000 were third-country nationals.
- Russian forces have killed more Ukrainian civilians than soldiers, Ukraine’s defence minister said today. “I want this to be heard not only in Kyiv but all over the world,” Oleksii Reznikov said.
That’s it from me for now, handing over to Leonie Chao-Fong. Thanks for reading.
A UN rights office spokesperson says there have been credible reports of several cases of Russian forces using cluster munitions in Ukraine, including in populated areas, reports Reuters.
Over 100,000 refugees have arrived in Germany from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
A spokesperson for the German interior ministry said that so far more than 109,000 refugees from Ukraine had been registered in the country, reports Reuters.
Reuters reports on latest comments from the Kremlin:
Russians who say they are ashamed of the country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine are not real Russians, the Kremlin said on Friday.
“A real Russian is never ashamed to be Russian,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about a slogan “ashamed to be Russian” that some had repeated both inside and outside Russia.
“If someone says such things then they are just not Russian,” Peskov said.
Peskov said anti-Russian feelings were running dangerously high in the West and said he hoped Western leaders would stop stoking such Russophobia.
Ukrainian emergency services have reported that there were no casualties from an earlier air strike on a psychiatric hospital because patients were in a basement shelter.
“All 30 staff and 330 patients were in a bomb shelter at the time of the strike,” Ukraine’s state emergencies service said in a statement, reports Reuters.
Russian authorities have put the press secretary of jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, on an international wanted list.
Reuters reports that a Russian police database today showed that Kira Yarmysh is on a wanted list and that they are seeking to send her to jail.
Yarmysh left Russia last year after she was put under 18 months of movement restrictions by a court for allegedly breaching Covid safety rules.
It comes as earlier today, Navalny called for anti-war protests in cities including Moscow on Sunday.
UK government calls on British veterans not to join war in Ukraine
The UK government has urged British veterans not to travel to Ukraine to fight.
The veterans minister, Leo Docherty, called on ex-service personnel not to join the war in Ukraine and instead help Ukrainians from home, either through charity and volunteering.
It comes amid reports of veterans from the UK and other countries travelling to Ukraine to fight. The government advises against all travel to Ukraine.
Docherty has written to military charities seeking their support in the effort to keep veterans from going to Ukraine. It also said the government does not support volunteers going to Ukraine, which they said could put them at significant risk.
We know that Russia’s illegal invasion has rightly brought out strong feelings of support for the Ukrainian people.
Veterans always step up in times of need, but they must channel their skills, experience and passion into legal routes of support for Ukraine and not engage in the conflict.
There are many ways that we all can support the people of Ukraine, including through donating money to charity.
Nearly one million people are without electricity supply in Ukraine, the energy firm Energoatom has warned.
More than 954,000 Ukrainians were without electricity as of yesterday due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the state-owned nuclear energy provider said today, reports Reuters.
They also said nearly 228,000 customers had been left without gas.
UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, reacting to today’s announcement that the number of refugees from Ukraine today reached 2.5m.
US vice-president, Kamala Harris, met with Polish troops today before heading to Bucharest for talks with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, reports Reuters.
It comes after she yesterday met Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw and the Polish president Andrzej Duda and prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Harris said yesterday the US was “absolutely prepared” to support those “who understand the moral obligation we should feel to help people who are fleeing harm and seeking refuge; the burden we should all be prepared to take on to support those people who are fleeing their home when they don’t want to leave.”
Duda, in a press conference with Harris, said Polish leaders are “aware that the problem is growing and that this problem is increasing.” “We have to somehow handle it, and we do not have the experience,” he said.
48 schools in Kharkiv destroyed, says mayor, as city comes under relentless bombardment
In more from Kharkiv, the mayor of the eastern city has said that so far 48 of its schools have been destroyed as the city comes under relentless bombardment.
“As of today, 48 (of the city’s) schools have been destroyed,” said mayor Ihor Terekhov in a televised address, reports Reuters.
The city usually has a population of about 1.4 million.
Attack on psychiatric hospital was 'a war crime against civilians', says Kharkiv governor
The regional governor of Kharkiv has condemned today’s attack on a psychiatric hospital, saying it was “a war crime against civilians”.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum.
Oleh Synegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said 330 people had been at the hospital at the time - including some who were in wheelchairs or unable to move and that 73 people had been evacuated, reports Reuters. He said the number of casualties was still being established.
“This is a war crime against civilians, genocide against the Ukrainian nation,” he wrote on Telegram.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify the report. Russia has denied targeting civilians.
Russia reportedly shelled residential areas in Kharkiv 89 times in one day
Russian forces shelled residential areas of Kharkiv 89 times in one day, the local governor has said.
Reuters reports that Oleh Synegubov also said there is no danger to civilians after an institute with a nuclear laboratory was hit.
“There are no threats to the civilian population yet,” he said in a video address.
It comes after an advisor to the Ukrainian interior ministry on Thursday said that Russian planes had bombed the institute, which houses an experimental nuclear reactor.
Putin has approved 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East to fight in Ukraine
With more details of Vladimir Putin’s comments on welcoming volunteers to fight in Ukraine, Reuters reports that the Russian president today approved bringing thousands of fighters from the Middle East to fight against Ukraine.
At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East who were ready to come to fight with Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine in the breakaway Donbass region.
If you see that there are these people who want of their own accord, not for money, to come to help the people living in Donbass, then we need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone.
He also told Shoigu that he approved Javelin and Stinger missles captured by the Russian army in Ukraine being handed to Donbass forces.
“As to the delivery of arms, especially Western-made ones which have fallen into the hands of the Russian army - of course I support the possibility of giving these to the military units of the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics,” Putin said.
“Please do this.”
EU to double spending on military support for Ukraine to €1billion
The EU will double the amount it is spending on providing military support to Ukraine to €1billion, it has been announced at a leaders’ summit on Versailles.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said agreement among the 27 leaders had not been difficult to secure.
Everyone was completely aware that we have to increase our military support to Ukraine to increase the pressure on Russia.
New video footage released by Ukrainian emergency services shows the aftermath of today’s airstrikes in Dnipro. Three airstrikes reportedly hit near a kindergarten, an apartment building and a shoe factory.
Lithuanian president says 'flavour of disappointment' over EU not fast tracking Ukraine's membership
Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nausėda said there was a “flavour of disappointment” to the decision by the EU leaders at a summit in Versailles not to offer Ukraine a fast track to EU candidate status in their response to Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s request.
Speaking as he arrived at the second day of the meeting, Nausėda said he believed that “more could be done” but that other member states had different concerns among their electorates to which they needed to answer. He said that he expected the EU to come back to the issue.
I wish Ukraine gets candidate status now. But it was not possible to get it today. But probably it will come back to this issue later on. Some countries have domestic agendas, opinion of society, and they have to care about it. But more could be done. Very slight flavour of disappointment but we made also a very important step and we go forward.
In a statement published in the early hours of Friday the leaders had said:
On 28 February 2022, exercising the right of Ukraine to choose its own destiny, the President of Ukraine submitted the application of Ukraine to become a member of the European Union.
The Council has acted swiftly and invited the Commission to submit its opinion on this application in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties. Pending this and without delay, we will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. Ukraine belongs to our European family.
What do latest movements of Russian convoy near Kyiv mean?
Analysis from the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont, reporting from Lviv, of the latest movements of the Russian convoy near Kyiv:
With evidence from the latest satellite images from Maxar Technologies that the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Russian convoy that had been approaching the capital Kyiv - including tanks, trucks and artillery – has now been dispersed and redeployed, what does it mean?
In the last few days we’ve seen Russian tanks attempting to move forward towards Brovary from the north east and the redeployment of the 40 mile convoy to the west with Russian forces operating some 60k to the west of Kyiv on the main E40 east west motorway.
The question with the convoy to the north west was whether it was “stalled” as western defence analysts have claimed – suggesting they had expected it to assault Kyiv – or was regrouping to take up positions and besiege the Ukrainian capital.
With armoured units seen in towns near the Antonov airport in Hostomel to north of the cit, and with vehicles moving into forests, with towed howitzers positioned ready to fire, it looks increasingly likely that Russian forces are preparing a siege from both sides of the river Dnieper.
What is not yet clear is whether the Russian ambition is to close the encirclement of Kyiv to the south or leave that exit open.
Still, the immediacy of the threat to Kyiv is still unclear. A US defence official speaking on condition of anonymity said Russian forces moving toward Kyiv had advanced about 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) in the past 24 hours, with some elements as close as 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) from the city.
A more intense bombardment of Kyiv from the armour gathered outside would be in keeping with recent Russian tactics around Mariupol and Kharkiv.
While the Russian military may view a siege as a less risky option, given the effectiveness of the Ukrainian resistance, it is not risk free. Ukrainian use of Turkish supplied combat drones has been effective and Russian positions taken outside the city for shelling would be vulnerable to drones and other attacks.
More than 2.5m people have fled Ukraine, says UN
The UN migration agency reports that as of today more than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine.
Of the total, the International Organisation for Migration said that 116,000 were third-country nationals.
The majority of refugees, around 1.5 million people, have fled to Poland.
Officials in Warsaw, where around 300,000 refugees have arrived, have called on all countries to do more to help Ukrainians.
Monika Beuth-Lutyk, a spokesperson for the mayor of Warsaw, told Sky News: “I think we should all do more. The real problem is before us.”
Asked whether the UK should be doing more, she said: “I am afraid that this is just the beginning - so I think you could today think about your offer for them if you can provide something for them that would be really welcome.”
Jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has called for anti-war protests in cities including Moscow on Sunday.
“Mad maniac Putin will most quickly be stopped by the people of Russia now if they oppose the war,” he wrote on Instagram, reports Reuters.
“You need to go to anti-war rallies every weekend, even if it seems that everyone has either left or got scared...You are the backbone of the movement against war and death.”
According to protest monitoring group OVD Info, 13,908 people have been detained at anti-war demonstrations in Russia since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
Navalny, who posts on social media through his lawyers and allies, was jailed last year after returning to Russia having been treated in Germany for a poison attack with a nerve agent during a visit to Siberia in 2020. Russian authorities said they did not carry out the attack.
Russian forces reportedly hit psychiatric hospital in Kharkiv region
The Kharkiv regional governor has said that Russian forces have hit a psychiatric hospital in the region, Reuters reports.
The regional governor said the number of casualties is unknown, but that there had been 330 people at the hospital at the time of the attack.
Putin says Russia will welcome volunteers to fight in Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has said Russia must welcome volunteers who want to fight Ukrainian forces and help them to get to combat areas.
Speaking to the Russian security council, Reuters reports that the Russian president said he supports giving arms deliveries captured from Ukraine to Russian-backed rebel regions.
Hospital staff are reportedly digging mass graves in Bucha as civilian deaths continue to rise.
Russian forces have killed more Ukrainian civilians than soldiers, says Ukraine's defence minister
Russian forces have killed more Ukrainian civilians than soldiers, Ukraine’s defence minister said today.
“I want this to be heard not only in Kyiv but all over the world,” Oleksii Reznikov said, reports Reuters.
According to the latest figures from the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, from 4am on 24 February to midnight on 9 March, 549 civilians had been killed and 957 injured.
Here are some of the latest images coming out of Ukraine this morning, starting with the scene of an airstrike in Dnipro after it was shelled today:
UK technology minister, Chris Philp, warns there will be a “dramatic increased response” if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine, which he said would be “an outrage against humanity”.
Describing it as “a line that Russian governments should not cross”, he told Times Radio:
Clearly, the use of chemical weapons, especially in an invasion where there are a very large number of civilians, would be an outrage against humanity.
I would say to anybody in Russia thinking about this: do not cross that line, do not inflict any more misery and suffering on the Ukrainian people.
They’ve already been shooting civilians who are fleeing down humanitarian escape corridors, they’ve been bombing and shelling hospitals including a children’s/maternity hospital, do not go any further in inflicting misery on the Ukrainian people.
It will trigger an increased response from the West, there’s a dramatic increased response, there’s no question about that. I’m not going to speculate about the form that’s going to take or pre-empt it, but that’s a line that Russian governments should not cross.
Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry says people who left Kyiv to be safe have now been killed in the village of Marhalivka.
One man, the MFA reports, lost his entire family of 11 after a rocket hit the house.
The British technology minister, Chris Philp, has said the UK government will announce details of a new scheme to allow Ukrainian refugees to stay with families in the UK in the next few days.
He told Sky News:
We’re going to be making announcements in the very near future about a scheme for UK local authorities, and indeed UK families, to welcome Ukrainian refugees, we’ve announced that principle and the details of how that scheme works will be laid out in the very near future.
Update from journalist Neil Hauer in Mykolaiv:
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has said she hopes a humanitarian corridor will be opened successfully from Mariupol today after multiple failed attempts this week, reports Reuters.
Iryna Vereshchuk said she hopes trapped civilians will finally be able to leave the besieged port city.
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Ukrainian state nuclear power firm Energoatom will no longer buy Russian nuclear fuel, the company said on Friday, according to a Reuters report.
Ukraine currently operates Soviet-era nuclear reactors, importing its fuel from Russia and the United States.
Guardian reporter Peter Beaumont brings us this morning run-down from Lviv.
Russian jets bombed cities in the west of Ukraine in the early hours of Friday morning hitting Lviv, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, as the Kremlin’s war continued to creep further into Ukraine.
The intended targets of the raids appeared to be primarily airfields.
With the advent of a period of clearer weather, Ukrainian officials had predicted an uptick in Russian atrocities.
According to eyewitness accounts from Lutsk, the nearby airfield was hit by three strikes, with a plume of smoke still visible above the city as dawn broke.
In the east of the country, Dnipro, a strategic city on the Dnieper river, was also hit by three strikes with at least one hitting a residential area killing one person according to Ukraine’s emergency services.
Images from Dnipro showed emergency workers putting out a fire shattered building in the city.
In the last week there has been an increase in attacks to the west of the Dnieper river with Zhitomyr, the closest to the west of the capital Kyiv being attacked now on a regular basis.
The target of Russian strikes on cities away from the main front lines in the last week has been airfields and air defence facilities with the airfield at Vinnytsia, where the Ukrainian air forces are headquarters, hit with eight cruise missiles.
Listen to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s response to Russia’s accusation Ukraine is preparing to use chemical or biological weapons below.
Zelenskiy warns the accusation itself is a bad sign. “Allegedly, we are preparing a chemical attack,” he said. “This makes me really worried, because we’ve been repeatedly convinced: if you want to know Russia’s plans, look at what Russia accuses others of.”
The United Nations security council will convene later today at Russia’s request, diplomats said, to discuss Moscow’s claims, presented without evidence, of US biological activities in Ukraine.
The United States has dismissed Russian claims as “laughable”, warning Moscow may be preparing to use chemical or biological weapons.
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba responded:
The manic obsession with which various Russian officials fantasise about non-existent biological or chemical weapons or hazards in Ukraine is deeply troubling and may actually point at Russia preparing another horrific false flag operation.”
US Congress passes $13.6bn in aid for Ukraine
In case you missed the annoucement earlier, the US Congress passed a spending bill of $13.6bn in emergency aid for Ukraine late Thursday evening.
Senators in the legislative body’s upper chamber followed their House of Representatives colleagues, who green-lit the $1.5-trillion package on Wednesday.
Senate democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said:
We’re keeping our promise to support Ukraine as they fight for their lives against the evil Vladimir Putin.
With nearly $14bn in emergency aid, Congress will approve more than double what the administration originally requested.”
Senate approved the overall $1.5 trillion overall legislation by a 68-31 bipartisan margin, the Associated Press reported.
Further Russian airstrikes are being reported in the south-western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk.
The city sits near the border of Romania, Slovakia and Hungary and lies south of Lutsk.
Advisor to the Ukrainian ministry of internal affairs, Anton Herashchenko, said three explosions were reported while the city’s mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv said the blasts were seen near the airport.
City mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk confirmed the shelling of his city in a Facebook message, urging people not to share photos and videos of the explosions and suggesting a missile strike alarm system did not work.
“Keep at home for your safety! When the danger passes - I will let you know,” he added.
'Highly unlikely' Russia achieved its pre-invasion objectives - UK intelligence
The UK’s defence ministry has just released its latest intelligence report on the situation in Ukraine this morning, noting it remains “highly unlikely” that Russia achieved its objectives pre-invasion plan objectives.
The report reads:
It remains highly unlikely that Russia has successfully achieved the objectives outlined in its pre-invasion plan.
Russian ground forces continue to make limited progress. Logistical issues that have hampered the Russian advance persist, as does strong Ukrainian resistance.
Russia is likely seeking to reset and re-posture its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days. This will probably include operations against the capital Kyiv.”
Biden plans fresh Russian trade crackdown
US president Joe Biden will ratchet up the economic pressure on Vladimir Putin on Friday by calling for the end of normal trade relations with Russia, according to reports.
The move, reported by Reuters and Bloomberg citing anonymous Biden administration sources, would clear the way for increased tariffs on Russian imports and comes on top of widespread sanctions and the decision this week to ban oil imports from Russia by the US and UK.
Removing Russia’s status of “permanent normal trade relations” will require an act of Congress, one senior administration official told Reuters. But lawmakers in both houses of Congress have expressed support for such a move.
Outlawing all US trade with Russia would deepen the already serious economic problems facing Putin’s regime.
Earlier on Thursday, the head of the International Monetary Fund said it expected to cut its global growth estimate due to the economic damage caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In addition to the damage to Ukraine, western sanctions will lead to a “sharp contraction” of the Russian economy, Kristalina Georgieva said.
Russia is “moving into a deep recession” with massive depreciation of the ruble and sinking purchasing power for its citizens, she said, adding that a debt default is no longer “an improbable event.”
The White House also confirmed reports that US president Joe Biden will announce new actions on Friday to continue to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine.
Lutsk and Dnipro attacked this morning
Early morning shelling has hit two Ukrainian cities early this morning, according to regional authorities.
Explosions were reported in Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine, near the Polish border, as well as in Dnipro, a major stronghold in central-eastern Ukraine.
The strike in Lutsk targeted an airfield according to city’s mayor.
Igor Polishchuk urged for his citizens to take cover in a Facebook post early this morning.
Meanwhile, in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, three air strikes early on Friday killed at least one person, Ukraine’s state emergency services said, adding that the strikes were close to a kindergarten and an apartment building.
The attack is believed to have occurred at 6.10am in the Novokodatskyi district.
A two-story shoe factory reportedly caught fire with footage of the aftermath of the airstrike published by state emergency services.
Neither of the cities have seen direct shelling before.
Facebook and Instagram users in some countries will be allowed to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion, after parent company Meta made a temporary change to its hate speech policy.
The company is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland, according to internal emails to its content moderators.
“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules, like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’. We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,” Meta said in a statement.
The calls for the leaders’ deaths will be allowed unless they contain other targets or have two indicators of credibility, such as the location or method, in a recent change to the company’s rules on violence and incitement.
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments.
Russia’s war on its neighbour in now in its third week. Hundreds have been reported to be dead or wounded while more than two million Ukrainian refugees have so far fled their homeland, according to UN estimates.
It is 7.30am in Ukraine and here is where the crisis currently stands:
- Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia was a “terrorist state” in his latest video address. “The world must know it. The world must acknowledge it,” he said, and also accused Russian forces of attacking a convoy of humanitarian aid for the besieged city of Mariupol.
- Zelenskiy said Ukrainian authorities managed to evacuate almost 40,000 people on Thursday from five other cities.
- The Russian defence ministry said that it would open up humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv and Mariupol. It also accused Ukraine of using security service personnel to drive aid trucks and spy on Russian military positions.
- European Union leaders “acknowledged the European aspirations” of Ukraine and agreed to support Ukraine in “pursuing its European path”. After a meeting in Versailles, a statement also called for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces, and praised Ukraine’s courageous resistance.
- The US Congress passed a spending bill late Thursday evening, including $13.6bn in emergency aid for Ukraine.
- US president Joe Biden will ratchet up the economic pressure on Vladimir Putin on Friday by calling for the end of normal trade relations with Russia, according to reports. The White House has just confirmed reports that US president Joe Biden will announce new actions on Friday to continue to hold Russia accountable.
- US press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States has seen reports that Russia may be considering seizing the assets of US and international companies suspending operations in Russia. Psaki said any “lawless decision by Russia to seize the assets of these companies” will “ultimately result in even more economic pain for Russia”.
- There are conflicting reports about the state of Russian forces around Kyiv. A large Russian military convoy last seen north-west of Kyiv has largely dispersed and redeployed, according to US company Maxar Technologies, based on satellite photographs. But a US defence official said on Thursday that Russian forces have moved 5km (or about 3 miles) closer to the Ukraine capital, despite Ukrainians fighting back “very, very well”.
- A recently released report from the UK’s Ministry of Defence says Russian forces are “committing an increased number of their deployed forces to encircle key cities” due to strong Ukrainian resistance.
- The Ukrainian military also confirmed reports suggesting Russian troops had dispersed to regroup and replenish supplies in its daily operational report. According to the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine, Russian forces have slowed in their advance while some have retreated back to Russian territory.
- The United Nations security council will convene on Friday at Russia’s request, diplomats said, to discuss Moscow’s claims of US biological activities in Ukraine.
- High-level talks between Russia and Ukraine – the first of their kind since Moscow invaded its neighbour two weeks ago – ended without a ceasefire. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said there had been no progress towards achieving a ceasefire with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
- Hundreds of thousands of people in Mariupol face an “increasingly dire and desperate” humanitarian situation, the International Red Cross has said. A delegation leader said people in Mariupol had “started to attack each other for food” and many people report having no food for their children.
- Ukraine opened seven humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate on Thursday, but no one was able to leave the besieged port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian deputy prime minister said. In the north-eastern Sumy region, more than 12,000 civilians were evacuated by car or bus, the state emergency services said.
- The British public will be able to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees as the government announces a new route to the UK for those fleeing the Russian invasion.
- Boris Johnson has expressed fears that Vladimir Putin may use chemical weapons in Ukraine. Echoing language used by the White House, the UK prime minister said Russian claims about its enemies getting ready to use chemical weapons were “straight out of their playbook”.
- Germany’s former chancellor Gerhard Schröder has reportedly met Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow for talks on ending the war in Ukraine, Politico reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
- The Chelsea football club owner, Roman Abramovich, is among seven of Russia’s wealthiest and most influential oligarchs to have been hit with sanctions by the UK, in an effort to further punish allies of Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.
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