Live updates: Russians destroy Chernobyl laboratory
LVIV, Ukraine -- Russian military forces have destroyed a new laboratory at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that among other things works to improve management of radioactive waste, the Ukrainian state agency responsible for the Chernobyl exclusion zone said Tuesday.
The Russian military seized the decommissioned plant at the beginning of the war. The exclusion zone is the contaminated area around the plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown in 1986.
The state agency said the laboratory, built at a cost of 6 million euros with support from the European Commission, opened in 2015.
The laboratory contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world,” the agency said in its statement.
Radionuclides are unstable atoms of chemical elements that release radiation..
In another worrying development, Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said Monday that radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.
WASHINGTON -- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Russia’s invasion has stalled.
Asked on CNN what Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved in Ukraine, he said: “Well, first of all not yet. He hasn’t achieved yet.” But he insisted the military operation was going “strictly in accordance with the plans and purposes that were established beforehand.”
Peskov reiterated that Putin’s main goals were to “get rid of the military potential of Ukraine” and “ensure that Ukraine changes from an anti-Russian center to a neutral country.”
LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces not only blocked a humanitarian convoy trying to reach besieged Mariupol with desperately needed supplies on Tuesday but took captive some of the rescue workers and bus drivers.
He said the Russians had agreed to the route ahead of time.
“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling, or deliberate terror,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians seized 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles. She said their fate was unknown. The figures couldn’t immediately be confirmed.
More than 7,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday, but about 100,000 remain in the city “in inhuman conditions, under a full blockade, without food, without water, without medicine and under constant shelling, under constant bombardment,” Zelenskyy said.
Before the war, 430,000 people lived in the port city on the Sea of Azov.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— A pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper briefly reported that almost 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed.
— Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to nine year in prison
— Ukrainian orphans who are headed to refuge in the UK are stuck in Poland due to missing paperwork
— An Associated Press journalist recounts his team’s harrowing escape from Mariupol
Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
LVIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said negotiations with Russia are going “step by step, but they are going forward.” The talks are being held by video between delegations from both sides.
“Its very difficult. Sometimes it’s scandalous,” he said, without giving details.
Zelenskyy has been having a series of conversations with Western leaders in the days before the leaders of NATO countries gather in Brussels to discuss the response to the war in Ukraine.
He said he spoke on Tuesday to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “who supports us.”
Zelenskyy said he expects the Western leaders to approve more sanctions to punish Russia and more help for Ukraine.
“We will work, we will fight, as hard as we can, to the last, bravely and openly,” he said.
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations on Wednesday will now face three resolutions on the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine after Russia decided to call for a vote on its Security Council resolution which makes no mention of Russian aggression against its smaller neighbor.
The General Assembly is also scheduled to consider two rival resolutions — one that makes clear Russia is responsible for the humanitarian crisis, one that doesn’t.
France and Mexico decided to seek a humanitarian resolution in the 193-member General Assembly after Russia signaled it would veto the measure in the Security Council. The measure makes clear the aid crisis is a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A letter sent to the assembly president Monday from the two countries and 20 others, including Ukraine and the U.S., asked for a resumption of its special session on Wednesday to put the resolution to a vote.
A rival South African draft resolution which makes no mention of Russia’s aggression circulated Monday. It was sent to the assembly Tuesday, and could also be put to a vote on Wednesday.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said supporters of the France-Mexico resolution are working with South Africa and assembly members to address any concerns in their resolution in order to try to have only one resolution put to a vote in the assembly.
Thomas-Greenfield said the supporters are hoping to get the same vote for the France-Mexico resolution as for the March 2 General Assembly resolution that demanded an immediate halt to Russia’s military action and withdrawal of all its forces. That vote was 141-5, with 35 abstentions, and was hailed by its supporters as a demonstration of Russia’s global isolation.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s defense ministry said late Tuesday that the country’s air force intercepted and escorted a civilian Turkish Airline flight that was travelling from Moscow to Istanbul after a bomb scare had been received by aviation traffic authorities.
“Romanian aircraft took off at 17:58 local time and, after interception, they escorted the civilian aircraft … until 18:24, when it left the national airspace,” the defense ministry wrote online.
The mission was ordered by the NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centres in Torrejon and coordinated with the Romanian Air Force and civil air traffic authorities, the ministry said. No further details were given.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday talked with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the terms of a potential cease-fire, according to the French presidency.
They reached “no agreement,” the statement said, but Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”
The Kremlin confirmed that Putin and Macron had a call in which they exchanged views about the situation in Ukraine, including the talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators. It didn’t give further details.
UNITED NATIONS — For the third time, Russia has accused Ukraine of preparing chemical attacks with Western help and of pursuing biological and even nuclear weapons — accusations vehemently denied by the United States and the United Kingdom.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed concern Tuesday that Russia’s “ludicrous accusations” that Ukraine plans to use chemical weapons are “a precursor for Russia’s plans to use chemical weapons -- and we have to make sure that the world hears this and understands what is taking place.”
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told reporters that Russia raised “the threat of chemical provocations in Ukraine” in closed consultations at the end of a U.N. Security Council meeting on the Mideast Tuesday, claiming Ukrainian nationalists were responsible for a recent ammonia leak at a chemical plant in the northern city of Sumy. Sumy’s regional governor said the leak at the plant, which produces fertilizers, was caused by Russian shelling.
Polyansky claimed this was one of several scenarios of “false flag chemical provocations by the Ukrainian radicals that they are preparing to stage with the assistance of Western intelligence and private military companies in order to accuse Russia of allegedly using chemical weapons.” He also again accused “the Kyiv regime” of developing “a military biological program with the help of the USA, as well as its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
President Joe Biden has said Russia’s suggestion that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons is a clear sign that President Vladimir Putin is considering using them, and he has warned of severe consequences if they are used.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to announce new sanctions against Russia on Thursday while in Brussels for meetings with NATO and European allies, according to a top national security aide.
Biden, who will take part in a special meeting of NATO and address the European Council summit, is also expected to underscore efforts to enforce the avalanche of existing list of sanctions already announced by the U.S. and allies.
“He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who declined to further preview the new sanctions the president will announce.
Biden is travelling to Brussels and Poland — which has received more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled since the Feb. 24 invasion — looking to press for continued unity among western allies as Russia presses on with its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s state TV says another flight from Belgrade to Moscow had to turn back after receiving a bomb threat.
The RTS said Tuesday police are investigating the 8th anonymous bomb alert at the Belgrade airport in 10 days. All previous alarms turned out to be false.
Serbian state media say all the threatening emails came either from Ukraine or Poland.
Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic has blamed the previous threats on unidentified foreign secret services that want to harm Serbia.
Besides Turkish carriers, Serbia’s national airline AirSerbia is the only airline in Europe still flying to and from Russia.
Serbia, which formally seeks European Union membership but has maintained close relations with ally Russia, has refused to join an international flight ban against Moscow in response to the war in Ukraine.
PARIS — French energy giant TotalEnergies said it has decided to halt all its purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of 2022 at the latest.
The French company said in a statement it will “gradually suspend its activities in Russia” amid the “worsening situation” in Ukraine.
Russia represented 17% of the company’s oil and gas production in 2020.
TotalEnergies holds a 19.4% stake in Russia’s natural gas producer Novatek.
It also has a 20% stake in the Yamal LNG project in northern Russia. The group said it continues to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas from the Yamal LNG plant “as long as Europe’s governments consider that Russian gas is necessary.”
“Contrary to oil, it is apparent that Europe’s gas logistics capacities make it difficult to refrain from importing Russian gas in the next two to three years without impacting the continent’s energy supply,” the statement said.
TotalEnergies has also decided to put on hold its business developments for batteries and lubricants in Russia. It will provide no further capital for the development of projects in Russia, the statement said.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian President Klaus Iohannis held a meeting with his Polish counterpart in Bucharest on Tuesday in which the two leaders discussed security issues amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda met with Iohannis at the presidential Cotroceni Palace in Romania’s capital. The leaders agreed to organize a Bucharest Nine meeting ahead of a NATO summit scheduled for June in Madrid, Iohannis told the media.
“We urgently need a consistent and balanced consolidation of the Eastern Flank, a united and strengthened Forward Presence,” Iohannis said. “An increased allied military presence is needed in our country and in the Black Sea region, in response to a strictly defensive response to Russia’s aggression.”
The so-called Bucharest Nine is a group of the easternmost NATO members, which Romania and Poland launched in 2015 to give Eastern alliance members a platform to discuss regional issues and forge a united voice within the 30-country alliance.
Iohannis also said that he discussed with Duda the “deep humanitarian crisis” caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has so far forced more than 3.5 million refugees to flee the conflict into neighboring European countries. More than 2.1 million have already sought safety in Poland, and more than half a million in Romania.
Duda’s visit to Romania comes just two days ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit set to be held in Brussels on Thursday, which U.S. President Joe Biden will attend. Biden is scheduled to visit Warsaw for a bilateral meeting with Duda on Saturday.
WASHINGTON — Russian ships in the Sea of Azov have been shelling Mariupol from offshore over the last 24 hours, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday.
The official said that there are about seven Russian ships in that area, including several warships, a minesweeper and a couple landing ships.
By contrast, the official said the U.S. did not see indications that ships in the Black Sea were firing on Odesa, as they had done days ago. The officials said the U.S. assesses that the Russians have about 21 ships in the Black Sea, including about a dozen surface combatant warships and some landing ships that carry troops.
According to the official, Russian ground forces are still largely stalled outside Kyiv – with troops still about 30 kilometers (19 miles) northeast of the city, and 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the city. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide the U.S. military assessment.
More broadly, the defense official said the U.S. continues to see Russia struggling to get food and fuel to its force, and has been seeing indications that some troops don’t have proper cold weather gear and are suffering frostbite. The food and fuel shortages have been persistent logistical and supply problems since the early days of the war.
The official said there also are indications that Russia is exploring ways to resupply troops and is considering bringing in reinforcements, but so far there has been no active moves seen to do either. There also are indications that Russian has used a significant number of its precision guided munitions, particularly its air-launched cruise missiles, and is exploring ways to resupply those weapons, the official said.
Associated Press Writer Lolita Bandor in Washington contributed to this report.
LVIV, Ukraine -- Thousands of Ukrainians arrived by train in the western Ukraine city of Lviv on Tuesday as others departed.
Families exchanged tearful farewells as women and children boarded trains to Poland while men of fighting age stayed behind, barred from leaving the country.
Julia Krytska, her husband and and her son left Mariupol on Saturday, arriving in Lviv on an overcrowded train.
She said they were lucky to get out after volunteers found them in the besieged city that has lost nearly all connection with the outside world.
“The people in Mariupol, they don’t have a chance to be heard,” she told journalists at the train station. “There is no one you can ask for help.”
An air raid siren could be heard blaring over the city.
CHISINAU, Moldova -- The war in Ukraine is severely impacting the physical and mental health of millions of people, World Health Organization regional director Hans Kluge said Tuesday at a refugee center in Moldova.
Since the beginning of the war, more than 367,000 refugees from Ukraine have passed through Moldova, and more than 100,000 people, including 50,000 children, remain in the country.
“Our priority is to help ensure Moldova and all countries involved in the humanitarian response have the infrastructure and expertise in place to face this challenge which is placing a huge strain on resources, both human and financially,” Kluge said at a joint news conference with Moldovan Health Minister Ala Nemerenco.
Around 1,300 refugees in Moldova have requested medical assistance with 400 having been hospitalized since the beginning of the war. Around 100 are cancer and dialysis patients, Nemerenco said.
Nemerenco spoke of Moldova’s challenges in dealing with the influx of refugees, especially those with health problems.
“We must face it, our resources are limited, and we wouldn’t like to see that the burden of this crisis is affecting our citizens,″ Nemerenco said.
LONDON — A Western official says Ukrainian resistance has slowed Russia’s advance almost to a halt, and Ukraine has repulsed Russia’s attempts to take the strategic southern port of Mariupol despite weeks of bombardment.
But the official said Russian troops have not been pushed back from established positions, and had the capability to keep up a grinding war of attrition for some time — making a rapid breakthrough in negotiations aimed at ending the violence unlikely.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said Odesa, another strategic port on the Black Sea, was a key objective for Russia but there are no indications of an imminent siege.
Odesa has been spared major attack, though Russia has ships operating off the Black Sea coast. The U.S. also says Russia has increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea, but there are no indications at this point of an imminent amphibious assault on Odesa.
Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
ANKARA, Turkey — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says his government would like to see Turkey join sanctions against Russia but said the country, which is talking to both Ukraine and Russia, is playing an invaluable role in trying to end the conflict.
Rutte made the comments during a visit to Ankara Tuesday ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels that is scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
“We would very much favor Turkey to implement all (of) the sanctions,” Rutte said during a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “But I think we also have to be happy with the fact that Turkey is playing now its diplomatic role and its leadership role in trying to end the conflict.”
Turkey has criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as unacceptable but has also pledged to maintain its close relations with both Moscow and Kyiv, while trying to mediate between the two sides. It has closed the Turkish Straits at the entrance of the Black Sea to some Russian warships but is not imposing sanctions on Russia.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has again dismissed calls to boycott Russian energy supplies in the wake of the attack on Ukraine.
Scholz said Tuesday that the sanctions already imposed on Russia were already hitting its economy “and this will only get more dramatic every day.”
At the same time, the sanctions were designed to be “tolerable” for those imposing them, including in the long term, he said.
“That is why Germany’s position on this question (of an energy boycott) remains unchanged,” said Scholz.
He added that other countries in Europe are even more dependent on Russian oil, coal and gas than Germany “and nobody must be left standing out in the rain in this regard.”
Scholz said Germany is working to diversify its energy supply and that, while this will take time, it will eventually have the same effect as a boycott.
European countries pay Russia hundreds of millions of dollars each day for fossil fuels. Ukrainian officials say this trade effectively finances Russia’s war against their country.
BERLIN — Germany has condemned the latest verdict against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
In a statement, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the new prison sentence “is part of the systematic instrumentalization of the Russian judicial system against dissidents and the political opposition.”
The ministry noted that the latest trial took place largely behind closed doors and accused Russian authorities of breaching fundamental principles of rule of law while failing to present any credible evidence against Navalny.
“The German government renews its demand for Navalny’s immediate release,” it said.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian photojournalist has gone missing in a combat zone near the capital, raising fears he could have been injured, killed or taken captive by Russian forces.
The UNIAN news agency reported Tuesday that Maksym Levin has been unaccounted since March 13 when he contacted his friend from Vyshhorod near Kyiv. His friend, Markiyan Lyseiko, said Levin went to the area in his car to report on fighting there.
Lyseiko said Levin left his car near the village of Huta Mezhyhirska and was going to head to the village of Moshchun. Levin hasn’t contacted him ever since and hasn’t been seen online, Lyseiko said.
Levin has worked as a photojournalist and videographer for many Ukrainian and international publications.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Tuesday that Ukrainian refugees should not be integrated into the Danish society but must instead return to Ukraine and help rebuild their homeland as soon as possible.
“Being a refugee is temporary, so you have to return and help build up your homeland when you get the opportunity. It gives us the opportunity to help other refugees,” Frederiksen said in Parliament during a debate.
Under a newly adopted law in Denmark, Ukrainian refugees can stay in the Scandinavian country for two years and can work, get an education and have access to health services.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says his discussions with officials indicate “there is enough on the table to cease hostilities now” and seriously negotiate peace between Russia and Ukraine.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Tuesday that the war is “unwinnable,” and the only question is how many more lives will be lost and how many more cities like Mariupol will be destroyed before the war moves from the battlefield to the peace table.
“From my outreach with various actors, elements of diplomatic progress are coming into view on several key issues,” he said, enough to end hostilities now.
Guterres did not state what those elements are or answer any questions.
He said the war is intensifying and “getting more destructive and more unpredictable by the hour.” Ten million Ukrainians have already been forced to flee their homes.
“Even if Mariupol falls, Ukraine cannot be conquered city by city, street by street, house by house,” the secretary-general said.
Guterres said “the Ukrainian people are enduring a living hell,” and the war’s reverberations “are being felt worldwide with skyrocketing food, energy and fertilizer prices threatening to spiral into a global hunger crisis.”
PRZEMYSL, Poland — The flow of refugees from Ukraine into a primary entry point in Poland has slowed to fewer than 8,000 people a day, the city’s mayor said.
That number is six to seven times lower than during the height of the Ukrainian exodus into Poland, Przemyśl Mayor Wojciech Bakun said Tuesday outside the city’s train station. He compared the Polish effort to provide safe harbor for refugees to a marathon.
“After one month, a lot of people are very tired, so we have to think about next month, or maybe, hopefully not, but maybe about years,” Bakun said. “So that’s the main thing at this moment. Not only for Poland, but also for EU countries.”
Poland has established a system to help new arrivals, providing them with immediate assistance and helping arrange travel to other parts of Poland and other European countries.