Saturday, February 24, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 48

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

About 21,000 civilians killed in Mariupol: Mayor

Mariupol’s mayor claims the latest estimate of civilian casualties there stands at about 21,000 people.

In televised comments, Vadym Boichenko stated it had been difficult to calculate the exact number due to fighting in the city.

Ukraine says negotiations with Russia ‘extremely difficult’

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has described talks with Russia over ending the conflict as “extremely difficult” after President Vladimir Putin accused Kyiv of derailing the discussions by shifting its demands.

“The Russian side adheres to its traditional tactics of public pressure on the negotiation process, including through certain public statements,” Podolyak said in written comments to reporters.

Talks over ending Russia’s nearly two-month assault on Ukraine have continued since early in the fighting but offered no concrete results as of yet.

US willing to send Ukraine more weapons systems that require training: Defense official

The United States is willing to consider sending more weapons systems that require additional training to Ukraine, according to a senior defense official, based on ongoing conversations between the two militaries.

“If we determine in concert with the Ukrainians that there (are) additional systems that they need that we can provide but that might require some training, then we’re certainly willing to talk to them about that,” the official said at a briefing with reporters Tuesday.

The official added the fact that the systems may require more training is “not prohibitive.”

The official used the example of Switchblade drones. Ukrainian forces were not trained on the suicide drones, but the US determined that the system might help the Ukrainian military and found a way to train a small number of Ukrainian forces on it in 24 to 48 hours.

“Other systems we’ll just have to see, but it’s not prohibitive in our mind that, just because something might need some additional training, that we shouldn’t provide it,” the official stated.

Downing Street: Johnson and Biden discussed boosting support for Ukraine

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden discussed boosting military and economic support to Ukraine today as well as the need to end Western reliance on Russian oil and gas, a Downing Street spokesman said.

“The leaders discussed the need to accelerate assistance to Ukraine, including bolstering military and economic support, as the Ukrainian forces prepare for another Russian onslaught in the east of the country,” he added.

“The pair also agreed to continue joint efforts to ratchet up the economic pressure on Putin and decisively end Western reliance on Russian oil and gas,” the spokesperson noted.

French forensic experts in Bucha to help investigate possible war crimes

French forensic experts have arrived in Bucha near Kyiv to help Ukraine authorities establish what happened in the town where hundreds of bodies have been discovered since Russian forces withdrew.

Ukraine says the people were killed by Russian forces during their occupation of the area. Moscow has denied responsibility and dismissed allegations its troops committed war crimes as fake news.

The discovery of so many slain civilians in Bucha after the Russian withdrawal has provoked a global outcry.

Russia in final stage of regrouping its forces: Ukrainian governor

Russia is shelling Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk round the clock and Moscow is now in the final stages of regrouping its forces in the area, Donetsk’s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

He also added that Russian forces were not allowing residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol in the south of the region to leave even in their own cars.

400 bodies buried in Severodonetsk since start of war

Around 400 civilians have been buried in the town of Severodonetsk near the frontline in eastern Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, the area’s regional governor said.

“In Severodonetsk, pits are dug with a tractor and graves are systematised in the register… During the 48 days of the war about 400 burials,” Sergiy Gaiday stated, referring to civilians.

Russia has just over 80% of preassembled combat power available: Senior US defense official

Russia has “just above 80%” of the combat power that it amassed before its invasion of Ukraine still available, according to a senior US defense official.

The official also said Tuesday during an off-camera briefing with reporters that Russia has now launched more than 1,540 missiles against Ukraine.

“We would assess that Russian assessed available combat power — and again I want to remind you guys that that’s of the combat power that they’ve preassembled before their invasion — we estimate that they’re just above 80% in terms of what’s left of them,” the official added.

UN agency warns of ‘multi-year problem’ for global food supplies due to war

The world is facing “a multi-year problem” in food supply as the war in Ukraine drives global prices higher and disrupts the production of staple crops, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

David Beasley, WFP’s executive director, issued his warning at a news conference in Rome after French and European Union officials met there to discuss a food security initiative in response to the conflict.

US says it cannot confirm whether chemical weapons were used in Mariupol

The United States cannot currently confirm whether Russian forces used chemical weapons in Mariupol, a senior US defence official has said.

The official told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on condition of anonymity that Washington did not have information to confirm any movement of chemical agents by Russia in or near Ukraine.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said earlier on Tuesday that Kyiv was checking unverified information that Russia may have used such weapons while besieging Mariupol.

Russia: West needs to admit it wants to open corridors in Ukraine for militants

The West needs to honestly and openly state that it wants to open humanitarian corridors in Ukraine to rescue militants, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“If there is a desire to save precisely these militants, then, probably, the West should honestly and openly say whom they placed their bets on and not hide, as usual, behind the issues of humanity, talk about humanitarian issues in the interests of civilians. We see whose side they are on,” she told the Russia-24 TV channel on Tuesday.

In her opinion, if the West indeed wants to open humanitarian corridors in Ukraine not for the civilians, then it should be called “the rescue of those they trained.”

“If now the collective West, individually, as envoys, wants to get involved in shielding neo-Nazis then it should be called not the opening of humanitarian corridors tied to the civilian population but the rescue of those they trained,” the diplomat added.

That said, according to the spokeswoman, the Russian side did provide humanitarian corridors “yet the armed forces on the Ukrainian side were not letting [the civilians] use these humanitarian corridors.”

“Russia repeatedly raised the issue that the Ukrainian militants that are commanded by the Kiev regime or do not obey it at all are acting in some space of their own, not letting the people use those humanitarian corridors that were opened by the Russian side,” the diplomat noted.

German president says offer to visit Ukraine ‘not wanted’ by Kyiv

Germany’s president stated his offer to visit Ukraine with other European Union leaders has been rejected by Kyiv.

“I was prepared to do this, but apparently, and I must take note of this, this was not wanted in Kyiv,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters during a visit to Warsaw.

Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, was long an advocate of Western rapprochement with Russia prior to its invasion. He has since expressed regret over taking such a position.

Putin: West’s sanctions failed to cripple Russia

The West’s sanctions have failed to cripple Russia, said Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday.

“The “blitzkrieg”, on which our opponents counted has failed, this is quite obvious. Our financial system and industry are working rhythmically,” stated Putin, noting the Russian economy’s resilience and stability in light of the sanctions and highlighting the importance of adapting the economy to new realities and limitations.

He added that he believes that the best course of action is to de-bureaucratize the economic sphere, and expressed hope that common sense will ultimately prevail in the West in light of the consequences they face due to the imposed sanctions.

Putin said Moscow will press ahead with its plan for what it refers to as its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“Our task is to fulfil and achieve all the goals set, minimising losses. And we will act rhythmically, calmly, according to the plan originally proposed by the General Staff,” Putin added.

The Russian economy will definitely get accustomed to the new situation in conditions of sanctions, he continued.

Mayor of Ukraine’s Bucha claims 403 bodies found so far

The mayor of Bucha claims authorities in the Ukrainian town, near Kyiv, have so far found 403 bodies of people they believed were killed by Russian forces during their occupation of the area.

Anatoliy Fedoruk stated during a news briefing that the number was growing and warned it was too early for residents to return to the town, from which Russian forces retreated late last month.

Officials claim Russian hackers tried to sabotage Ukrainian power grid

Russian hackers attempted to launch a destructive cyberattack on Ukraine’s electricity grid last week, Ukrainian officials and cybersecurity researchers claimed on Tuesday.

The group, dubbed “Sandworm” by security researchers and previously tied to destructive cyberattacks attributed to Russia, deployed destructive and data-wiping malware on computers controlling high voltage substations in Ukraine, the Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine (CERT-UA) said in a statement on its website.

“The victim organisation suffered two waves of attacks. The initial compromise took place no later than February 2022. The disconnection of electrical substations and the decommissioning of the company’s infrastructure was scheduled for Friday evening, April 8, 2022,” the CERT-UA added.

Officials managed to prevent the attack from taking place, it announced. The statement did not say which Ukrainian energy provider was targeted. Russia has consistently denied accusations it has launched cyberattacks on Ukraine.

Slovakian cybersecurity firm ESET, which said it worked with CERT-UA to foil the attack, described the malware as an upgraded version of a malicious program which caused power blackouts in Kyiv in 2016.

Six people found killed in basement near Kyiv: Ukraine’s prosecutor general

Six people have been found shot dead in the basement of a building on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine’s prosecutor general says.

The prosecutor general’s office announced in a statement that the killings took place in the city of Brovary, 25km (15.5 miles) northeast of the capital, and alleged they were carried out by Russian forces who took control of the area at the beginning of Moscow’s invasion.

Ukraine’s military says Russian forces ‘likely’ to try and capture Mariupol soon

Ukraine’s military has announced Moscow’s forces are regrouping in western Russia near the border with Ukraine.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a post on Facebook that it was “likely” that Russian troops would soon move to try and seize full control of Mariupol.

It added that Ukrainian forces had repelled six “enemy attacks” in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known collectively as the Donbas, where Moscow is expected to launch a new offensive soon.

186 children killed amid Russia’s invasion: Ukrainian prosecutors

At least 186 children have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s attack, according to Ukrainian officials.

A further 344 have been wounded, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office announced.

Russia limited sanctions damage by ditching dollar: Central bank

Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina says Russia holds enough yuan and gold in its reserves to limit the impact of Western sanctions – even after Washington and its allies froze half the country’s holdings in dollars and other currencies.

The regulator cut the share of dollars in reserves to 10.9% as of January 1 from 21.2% a year earlier. Meanwhile, euro holdings reportedly rose to 33.9% from 29.2%. At the same time, yuan holdings grew to 17.1% from 12.8% a year earlier, while the share of gold held steady at 21.5%.

Ukraine-related sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and its allies include the freezing of up to half of the nation’s $642 billion in foreign currency reserves.

“This extraordinary, shock situation will lead to large-scale changes,” Nabiullina stated in her annual report to parliament.

“The difficult process of adapting to the new conditions will inevitably lead to a contraction in GDP but the Russian economy will be able to return to a growth trajectory,” Nabiullina added.

Russia preparing new cases against UEFA & FIFA

The Russian football authorities will seek compensation in new cases against governing bodies UEFA and FIFA at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a Russian media report has claimed.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) will ask for financial damages incurred based on sponsorship losses, as well as compensation for the suspension of payments for youth projects which were launched under FIFA and UEFA initiatives and are based on previously concluded contracts, Championat reports, citing a source with knowledge of the situation.

CAS has already rejected Russian appeals against the suspension of a ban on its teams by UEFA and FIFA, which was imposed after Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.

The RFU had also asked for its 2022 World Cup playoff matches to be postponed, but CAS later announced that request had been withdrawn after the matches went ahead in March without Russia, rendering the appeal irrelevant.

Zelensky urges EU sanctions on Russian oil and banks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on the European Union to slap sanctions on all Russian banks and Russian oil and to set a deadline for ending imports of Russian gas.

He was speaking in a video address to the Lithuanian parliament.

Ukrainian troops to be given training on UK soil

Ukrainian soldiers will be given training on UK soil,  James Heappey, the Armed Forces minister, has said.

Speaking on LBC, he stated that Ukrainian servicemen will be shown how to use armoured vehicles provided by the UK.

“120 armoured vehicles are in the process of being made ready and the Ukrainian troops that will operate those will arrive in the UK in the next few days to learn how to drive and command those vehicles,” he added.

“There’s more anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons systems we’re sending. There are precision guided weapons,” he continued.

LBC presenter Nick Ferrari replied: “That’s tremendous, so we’re going to be training Ukrainian blokes and women on our kit here in the UK?”

Mr Heappey responded: “Yes”.

Russian forces destroy 443 drones, 2,139 tanks in Ukraine special operation

Russian troops have eliminated 130 Ukrainian aircraft, 443 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and 2,139 tanks and other armored vehicles since the beginning of their special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Tuesday.

“Overall, the following targets have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation: 130 aircraft, 99 helicopters, 244 surface-to-air missile systems, 443 unmanned aerial vehicles, 2,139 tanks and other combat armored vehicles, 241 multiple rocket launchers, 917 field artillery guns and mortars, and also 2,046 special military motor vehicles,” the spokesman added.

Putin: Russia will achieve ‘noble’ aims of its Ukraine military campaign

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on Tuesday that Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine would undoubtedly achieve what he noted were its “noble” objectives.

Speaking at an awards ceremony at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, Putin noted Moscow had no other choice but to launch a military operation to protect Russia and that a clash with Ukraine’s anti-Russian forces had been inevitable.

The Russian president added Russian forces carrying out Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine were acting bravely and efficiently and using the most modern weapons.

Putin warned the West that attempts to isolate Moscow would fail, citing the success of the Soviet space programme as evidence that Russia could achieve spectacular leaps forward in tough conditions.

“We don’t intend to be isolated,” Putin said, adding, “It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world – especially such a vast country as Russia.”

Kiev has gone back on the tentative agreements made between the Ukrainian and Russian negotiating teams in Istanbul in late March, Putin stated. According to Putin, the peace talks have now “returned to a deadlock”.

Mariupol mayor says Russian forces incinerating bodies of thousands of civilians killed by shelling

Russian forces are collecting “thousands” of bodies of civilians killed by shelling in Mariupol to bury or incinerate them to hide their war crimes, the city’s mayor has alleged.

“They got a mobile crematorium, its [reassembled parts are] in many trucks, there is a tall pipe where they plan to put and burn the bodies, to hide their cynical crimes,” Vadim Boychenko said in televised remarks.

Russian-backed forces deny using chemical weapons in Mariupol

Russian-backed separatist forces did not use chemical weapons in their attempts to take full control of Mariupol despite Ukrainian allegations to the contrary, Eduard Basurin, a separatist commander, has told the Interfax news agency.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar stated earlier on Tuesday that Kyiv was checking unverified information that phosphorus munitions may have been used during the siege on the southeastern Ukrainian port city.

Basurin on Monday publicly called for Moscow to deploy its chemical, biological and radiological defence unit to “smoke out” Mariupol.

NATO military chief: Up to Sweden, Finland to decide whether to join alliance

The chair of NATO’s military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, says it is the sovereign right of countries such as Sweden and Finland to decide if they want to join the alliance.

Speaking to reporters in Seoul, Bauer said NATO was not a demanding association, and had not pressured any state to join, or for any countries to provide weapons to Ukraine.

EU goes after sanctioned Russian assets

Europol and other EU agencies have teamed up with the bloc’s countries to facilitate criminal investigations into assets of individuals and entities sanctioned over Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

Operation Oscar will also support probes by EU nations into alleged violations of economic and trade restrictions placed on Moscow, Europol announced on Tuesday.

The “umbrella operation” is going to last for at least a year and include a number of parallel investigations. In many ways it’s similar to Operation Sentinel, which had been underway during the pandemic to tackle fraud against the EU’s Covid-19 recovery funds.

As part of Operation Oscar, Europol is going to centralize and analyze the data coming from member states “to identify international links, criminal groups and suspects, as well as new criminal trends and patterns.”

The EU law enforcement agency will also support probes into sanctioned assets financially and through offering operational coordination, forensics and technical expertise.

The bloc’s criminal justice cooperation agency Eurojust will provide legal assistance to EU nations during the operation, while border control agency Frontex is going to contribute by “enhancing the scrutiny” of sanctioned individuals, trying to get into the EU by air, land or sea.

Ukraine claims 19,600 Russian troops killed in war

At least 19,600 Russian soldiers have so far been killed in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military claimed on Tuesday.

Ukrainian forces have destroyed 157 Russian aircraft, 140 helicopters, 124 unmanned aerial vehicles, 732 tanks, 1,946 armored vehicles and 349 artillery systems, according to the Ukrainian General Staff’s latest update.

The Russians have also lost 111 multiple rocket launcher systems, 1,406 vehicles, 76 fuel tanks, 63 anti-aircraft systems and seven boats, it added.

Russia’s Gazprom continues gas exports to Europe via Ukraine: Interfax

Russian state-owned gas producer Gazprom continues to supply natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers, the Interfax news agency reports.

Requests stood at 74.5 million cubic metres for April 12, Interfax reported, citing Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator.

Russian forces continue redeploying from Belarus to fight in Ukraine’s east: UK defence ministry

Russian forces continue to withdraw from Belarus to redeploy in support of operations in eastern Ukraine, according to the latest intelligence briefing from the UK Ministry of Defence.

“Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push towards Kramatorsk,” the ministry added.

It says fighting in the east will intensity over the next two to three weeks.

One person dead, three injured in Lysychansk

Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, says one person has died and three have been injured in the city of Lysychansk after shelling hit the Luhansk area in Ukraine’s east, Interfax news agency in Ukraine has reported.

Haidai added that residential areas in the cities of Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk and Novodruzhesk suffered the most, adding that 12 residential buildings and four infrastructure facilities were damaged.

Japan OKs asset freezes on Putin’s daughters, 396 other Russians

Japan’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved additional sanctions against Russia, freezing assets of 398 Russian individuals including President Vladimir Putin’s two daughters and the wife of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The fresh sanctions that are in step with punitive measures taken by the United States and the European Union include freezing assets of 28 more Russian organizations such as those related to military business and two more lenders Sberbank and Alfa Bank. The measure for the banks will be implemented on May 12.

The Japanese government will also prohibit Japanese individuals and companies to make any new investments to the country.

With Putin’s daughters — Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova — added to the sanction list, the total number of Russian individuals including military personnel and lawmakers subject to asset freezes by Japanese authorities reached 499.

No confirmation of chemical attack in Mariupol

Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote on his Telegram channel that reports of a chemical attack in the city had not been confirmed. He added that he expected to provide details and clarifications later.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby earlier said the United States also was aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

“These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN the United States has not confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol, but had previously warned the Ukrainians that Russia could use chemical agents in the southeastern Ukrainian city.

“Before today, there was credible information available to us that the Russians may have been preparing to use agents, chemical agents, potentially tear gas mixed with other agents, as part of an effort to weaken, to incapacitate the Ukrainian military and civilian elements that are entrenched in Mariupol, using these agents as part of an effort to weaken those defenses,” Price said.

“We shared that information with our Ukrainian partners. We are going to be in direct conversations with them to try and determine what exactly has transpired here, and as soon as we gain additional fidelity, we’ll be in a better position to say what this was or what this may have been,” he added.

Britain’s junior Armed Forces minister stated Tuesday “all options are on the table” for how the West will respond if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine.

It comes as unconfirmed reports of a possible strike involving a chemical substance in the Ukrainian port city if Mariupol emerged Monday, which the UK has been unable to verify, James Heappey told Sky News.

“I think it’s useful to maintain some ambiguity […] over exactly what the response would be, but let’s be clear, if they are used at all, then [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin should know that all possible options are on the table in terms of how the West might respond,” Heappey said.

It would be an “effective” and “well considered” response, he added.

Nokia to stop doing business in Russia

Telecoms equipment maker Nokia is pulling out of the Russian market, its CEO told Reuters, going a step further than rival Ericsson, which said on Monday it was indefinitely suspending its business in the country.

Hundreds of foreign companies are cutting ties with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine and after unprecedented Western sanctions against Moscow.

While several sectors, including telecoms, have been exempted from some sanctions on humanitarian or related grounds, Nokia announced it had decided quitting Russia was the only option.

“We just simply do not see any possibilities to continue in the country under the current circumstances,” Chief Executive Pekka Lundmark stated in an interview.

He added Nokia would continue to support customers during the exit process, and it was not possible to say at this stage how long the withdrawal would take.

Ban on Russian culture a ‘medical problem’: Medvedev

Russia’s former President and Deputy Chairman of its Security Council has has hit out against global bans on Russia’s cultural products.

“The ban on Russian culture is a current Western trend,” he wrote in a post on his Telegram channel, labelling it a “medical problem”.

“Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Shostakovich and Pushkin are anathematised by many Europeans with clinical pleasure,” he said.

But he added that “Russia will not close itself from the world in retaliation for idiots”.

“We have a busy agenda with the countries of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, including Georgia and Belarus], BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], Latin America and Africa. These states are home to billions of well-adjusted people who value, love and wait for us,” he continued.

Russia will not change its position on Ukraine because of expulsion of diplomats

Ongoing expulsions of Russian diplomats will not make Moscow change its position on Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Monday.

“Why not declare all [Russian diplomats personae non grata] in a bid to make us change our position? No, we will not change it. And I would tell the French foreign ministry the following: if you had threatened Kiev with sanctions for non-implementation of the Minsk agreement at least once, you would have achieved peace and stability in Europe,” she wrote on her Telegram channel.

Ukraine needs jets and more armoured vehicles: Zelensky

President Zelenskyy said he spoke to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, about punishing those guilty of war crimes in his country and discussed “cooperation in the energy sphere” with the Prime Minister of Norway.

But he added that his main objective is “a concrete increase in our ability to repel any attacks by Russian troops”.

“When it comes to the necessary weapons, we still depend on the supply, on our partners. Unfortunately, we are not getting as much as we need to end this war sooner,” he said in a speech to the nation.

“If we got jets and enough heavy armoured vehicles, the necessary artillery, we would be able to do it,” he added.

Ukraine investigates 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes

The prosecutor general of Ukraine told CNN her office is investigating 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes with “more and more” proceedings every day.

Iryna Venediktova said Ukraine has identified more than 500 suspects in the probe, including Russian politicians, military personnel and propaganda agents.

“We want to prosecute these war criminals in our Ukrainian courts, named by Ukraine,” Venediktova added.

Seven bodies found buried in rubble in Borodyanka

Ukraine has recovered the bodies of seven people buried in the rubble of two destroyed high-rise housing blocks in the town of Borodyanka near Kyiv on Monday, the state emergencies service said.

More than 200 rescue workers have been scrambling to find missing residents since Ukraine retook the city west of Kyiv after Russian troops began pulling back from the region late last month.

So far, the bodies of 19 people have been found in the destroyed buildings, the state emergencies service announced.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated the situation in the town of Borodyanka is “significantly more dreadful” than in nearby Bucha, where Ukraine has accused Russia of war crimes.

Pandora Papers Russia: new details about 800 Russians behind secret companies

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has made public a trove of new information about shell companies linked to more than 800 Russians as part of a broader effort to spotlight the offshore, hidden wealth of Kremlin-linked figures in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dubbed Pandora Papers Russia, the new publication includes details about companies tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies and other Russian political figures who shelter assets behind opaque businesses that can be used to escape global sanctions.

“Putin’s former communications minister, a high-ranking regional political leader, an imprisoned cryptocurrency specialist and an oligarch are among the Russians whose names appear in the data,” the ICIJ writes.

The new data can be accessed via the ICIJ’s public Offshore Leaks Database.

Rape being used as a weapon of war: Ukraine rights group

Kateryna Cherepakha, president of Ukrainian rights group La Strada-Ukraine, has accused Russian troops of using rape as a weapon of war.

She said her organisation’s emergency hotlines had received calls accusing Russian soldiers of nine cases of rape involving 12 women and girls.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she told the UN’s Security Council via video. “We know and see – and we want you to hear our voices – that violence and rape is used now as a weapon of war by Russian invaders in Ukraine,” she added.

Russia has repeatedly denied attacking civilians.

Russian forces could use chemical weapons: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine after unconfirmed reports suggested that chemical weapons were used in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

“We treat this with the utmost seriousness,” Zelensky stated in his daily address.

He did not say chemical weapons had already been used.

“I would like to remind world leaders that the possible use of chemical weapons by the Russian military has already been discussed. And already at that time it meant that it was necessary to react to the Russian aggression much harsher and faster,” he added.

Ukrainian forces could end the Russian siege of Mariupol if supplied with heavy weapons, Zelensky said.

“When it comes to the necessary weapons, we still depend on the supply, on our partners. Unfortunately, we are not getting as much as we need to end this war sooner. To completely destroy the enemy on our land. And to fulfill those tasks that are obvious to each of our people. In particular, to unblock Mariupol,” Zelensky added.

“If we got jets and enough heavy armored vehicles, the necessary artillery, we would be able to do it,” he said, “But we still have to agree on this. We still have to persuade. We still have to squeeze out the necessary decisions. I am sure that we will get almost everything we need. But not only time is being lost. The lives of Ukrainians are being lost. Lives that can no longer be returned,” he continued.

Experts on missing persons heading to Ukraine next week

International experts will travel to Ukraine next week to help authorities investigate reports of people that have gone missing during the war, the head of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Kathryne Bomberger, the group’s director-general, told Al Jazeera, explaining that the ICMP team has been invited by Ukraine’s government.

Among other tasks, Bomberger stated the experts would try to see whether it is possible to identify remains and would also work with families that have reported missing loved ones.

“Evidence will be collected. Hopefully that evidence can be provided to the [International Criminal Court] or other courts that will be conducting investigations into what’s happened and be used for criminal trial purposes,” she added.

Ukraine’s top commander: “Defense of Mariupol continues”

Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said the “defense of Mariupol continues” amid heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces inside the besieged city and Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

“The connection with the units of the defense forces that heroically hold the city is stable and maintained,” Zaluzhny stated.

“I emphasize that conducting defense operations is not a topic for public discussion. We are doing the possible and impossible to win and save the lives of personnel and civilians in all directions,” Zaluzhny added.

Denis Pushilin, the head of the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed Monday the city’s port had fallen to Russian and Russian-backed forces, Russian state news agencies reported.

Ukrainian officials have stated around 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which has come under heavy bombardment. Ukraine’s defense of Mariupol has tied down Russian units and hampered their efforts to solidify a land corridor from the Russian border to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Ukrainian official alleges Russia took children out of country

Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, has claimed Russia has taken more than 121,000 children out of Ukraine and reportedly drafted a bill to simplify and accelerate adoption procedures for orphans and even those who have parents and other relatives.

He announced most of the children were removed from Mariupol and taken to eastern Donetsk and then to the Russian city of Taganrog.

‘Our area is one of most contaminated by mines in world’: Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky has said “Russian troops left behind tens if not hundreds of thousands of dangerous objects”.

“These are shells that did not explode, mines, tripwire mines. At least several thousand such items are disposed of daily,” Zelensky stated in his nighttime address.

He added the mines are “everywhere”.

“In the houses they seized. Just on the streets, in the fields. They mined people’s property, mined cars, doors. They consciously did everything to make the return to these areas after de-occupation as dangerous as possible. Due to the actions of the Russian army, our territory is currently one of the most contaminated by mines in the world,” he continued.

Ukraine claims Russia holding many civilians in prisons

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has accused Russia of holding civilians, including journalists, activists and elected officials, in prisons on Russian territory.

“We have many priests, journalists, activists, mayors, and in general civilians who are in prisons, not, for example, even on the territory of Ukraine, but in [the] Kursk, Bryansk, Rostov [regions of Russia] … They are forcibly held” there, Iryna Vereshchuk stated in televised comments.

France declares six Russian spies persona non grata over clandestine operation

France has declared six Russian agents posing as diplomats as persona non grata after an investigation by the domestic intelligence services concluded they were working against French national interests, the foreign ministry said.

“Following a very long investigation, the General Directorate of Internal Security [DGSI] revealed on Sunday April 10 a clandestine operation carried out by the Russian intelligence services on our territory,” the foreign ministry announced in a statement without elaborating.

“Six Russian agents operating under diplomatic cover and whose activities proved contrary to our national interests have been declared persona non grata,” the ministry added.

Macron says will travel to Ukraine only if trip is ‘useful’

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he was prepared to travel to Kyiv or any other city in Ukraine only if he felt his visit would help in the current crisis.

“I am ready to go anywhere and even to Kyiv if it could be useful, if it would help start a dialogue,” Macron told BFM television.

Mariupol mayor claims over 10,000 civilians have died in besieged city

The mayor of Mariupol has said that more than 10,000 civilians have died in the besieged Ukrainian port city since the start of the Russian invasion.

Mayor Vadym Boychenko told The Associated Press news agency that corpses were “carpeted through the streets of our city” and that the death toll could be more than 20,000.

Boychenko also added Russian forces have brought mobile crematoriums to the city to dispose of the bodies and accused Russian forces of refusing to allow humanitarian convoys into the city in an attempt to disguise the carnage.

No alternative to Russian oil: OPEC tells EU

Current and future sanctions on Russia could spawn one of the worst oil supply shocks in history, OPEC secretary general Mohammed Barkindo warned EU officials on Monday, adding that it would be impossible to replace the volume of oil lost in such an event.

Some seven million barrels of Russian oil per day are leaving the world market as a result of sanctions and other restrictions on Russian trading, Barkindo claimed.

The OPEC official also told the EU that the current volatility in the market is due to “non-fundamental factors” beyond OPEC’s control and that it is the responsibility of the EU to promote a “realistic” approach to energy transition.

Evidence of staged events in Bucha is multiplying: Russian deputy envoy to UN

Irrefutable evidence that the events in Ukraine’s Bucha were a staging of the West and Kiev is only multiplying, Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky said Monday.

“Everyone is still talking about the provocation in the town of Bucha, unprecedented both in its brutality and in the clumsiness of execution. It is still being promoted as a crime, allegedly carried out by the Russian army, despite the irrefutable proofs of the staged nature of the event, which are only multiplying,” he stated during a UN Security Council meeting.

Polyansky added that “recently, the joint Western-Ukrainian fake news factory has entered a new level and began fabrications and stagings in the best traditions of the notorious British-Syrian ‘White Helmets’.”

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