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Live updates: Ukraine, Russia continue talks over video

March 17, 2022 GMT
Ukrainian firefighters work by a destroyed apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Both Russia and Ukraine projected optimism ahead of another scheduled round of talks Wednesday, even as Moscow's forces rained fire on Kyiv and other major cities in a bid to crush the resistance that has frustrated Kremlin hopes for a lightning victory. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)
Ukrainian firefighters work by a destroyed apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Both Russia and Ukraine projected optimism ahead of another scheduled round of talks Wednesday, even as Moscow's forces rained fire on Kyiv and other major cities in a bid to crush the resistance that has frustrated Kremlin hopes for a lightning victory. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)
Ukrainian firefighters work by a destroyed apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Both Russia and Ukraine projected optimism ahead of another scheduled round of talks Wednesday, even as Moscow's forces rained fire on Kyiv and other major cities in a bid to crush the resistance that has frustrated Kremlin hopes for a lightning victory. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)
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Ukrainian firefighters work by a destroyed apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Both Russia and Ukraine projected optimism ahead of another scheduled round of talks Wednesday, even as Moscow's forces rained fire on Kyiv and other major cities in a bid to crush the resistance that has frustrated Kremlin hopes for a lightning victory. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)
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Ukrainian firefighters work by a destroyed apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Both Russia and Ukraine projected optimism ahead of another scheduled round of talks Wednesday, even as Moscow's forces rained fire on Kyiv and other major cities in a bid to crush the resistance that has frustrated Kremlin hopes for a lightning victory. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)

LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian and Russian delegations held talks again Wednesday by video.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said Ukraine demanded a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and legal security guarantees for Ukraine from a number of countries.

“This is possible only through direct dialogue” between Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said on Twitter.

An official in Zelenskyy’s office told The Associated Press the main subject under discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.

Just before the war, Russia recognized the independence of two regions controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. It also extended the borders of those regions to areas Ukraine had continued to hold, including Mariupol, a port city now under siege.

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The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Ukraine was insisting on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on the signing of a legally binding document with security guarantees for Ukraine. In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral status.

Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine to the alliance or station forces there.

After Tuesday’s negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a neutral military status for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” by the two sides, while Zelenskyy said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic.”

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Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv contributed to this report.

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HERE ARE TODAY’S KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia says Ukraine talks are progressing but the military onslaught continues

— Ukraine’s president cites Sept. 11, urges U.S. Congress to help his country

— U.S. President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”

— The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has descended into despair

— U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to discuss a possible transfer of Soviet-era S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine

Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

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PANAMA CITY — Three Panama-flagged ships have been hit by Russian missiles in the Black Sea since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and one sank, Panamanian authorities said Wednesday.

The crews of the ships “are safe,” said Panama Maritime Authority Director Noriel Araúz.

The ship that sank was the Helt, but Araúz did not provide details on when that occurred. The other two hit were the Lord Nelson and the Namura Queen. Panamanian officials had previously said the Namura Queen, owned by a Japanese company and operated by a firm in the Philippines, was hit in February.

Araúz said that there were 10 Panama-flagged ships in the Black Sea, including the three hit. Combined they have about 150 crew members of various nationalities who have not been allowed to leave, he said.

“We are in constant communication with the ships ... because we know that the Russian navy is not letting them leave the Black Sea,”Araúz said.

Home to the Panama canal, the country is the world leader in registered merchant ships. Since the start of the invasion, Panama has advised its merchant fleet to be on high alert in Ukrainian and Russian waters.

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LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian military forces have dealt a punishing blow to the airport in Kherson, which Russian troops had seized early in the war, the General Staff said late Wednesday. It said the Russians were trying to remove any surviving military equipment.

Ukraine’s military said it hit the airport on Tuesday. Satellite photos taken afterward by Planet Labs PBC and analyzed by The Associated Press show helicopters and vehicles on fire at the air base.

Russia seized the southern port city without a fight in the first days of the war. Control over Kherson allows Russia to restore fresh water supplies to Crimea; Ukraine cut off the water after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

The General Staff said Russia’s ground offensive on major Ukrainian cities has largely stalled.

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UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council has scheduled a meeting on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, one day before an expected vote Friday on a Russian humanitarian resolution that makes no mention of its responsibility for the war against its smaller neighbor.

“Russia is committing war crimes and targeting civilians. Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine is a threat to us all,” tweeted the U.N. mission of the United Kingdom, one of the six countries that asked for the meeting of the U.N’s most powerful body.

The tweet said the U.S., France, Ireland, Norway and Albania also requested the meeting. All six countries are Security Council members.

Russia circulated a proposed Security Council resolution Tuesday demanding protection for civilians “in vulnerable situations” in Ukraine and safe passage for humanitarian aid and people seeking to leave the country but never mentioning the war. The draft resolution underscores the need for “the parties concerned” to agree on humanitarian pauses to rapidly evacuate “all civilians” but never identifies the parties.

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LVIV, Ukraine -- Residents in at least seven cities in Belarus just north of Ukraine said they heard explosions late Wednesday. They reported the explosions at about the same time on social media.

One city is Hantsavichy, where Russia has an early warning radar station capable of detecting launches of ballistic missiles from Europe.

There was no comment from the government of Belarus, a Russian ally. Belarus has allowed Russia to use its territory for staging its invasion of Ukraine and for shelling Ukraine, but Belarusian troops have not taken part in the ground offensive.

The head of the Brest region in southwest Belarus, Alexander Rogachuk, had earlier announced that several Belarusian army units were holding exercises on Wednesday with live fire.

The independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva suggested the explosions could have been related to shelling by Russian forces of an important Ukrainian railway junction at Sarny along the border with Belarus. The mayor of Sarny reported that Russian missiles destroyed a military facility in the town late Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that the Russians continue to make little tangible progress across most of Ukraine. The official said Russian forces are still stalled outside Kyiv while continuing to bombard the capital city with missiles.

One key development, said the official, has been increased Russian naval activity in the northern Black Sea, where ships were shelling suburbs of Odesa. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. military assessments, said it’s not clear what the Russians intend to do, but the shelling could be the start of preparations to launch a ground assault on Odesa. Russia has warships and landing ships that carry troops and tanks in the Black Sea.

The official said the Russians have launched more than 980 missiles in Ukraine, and they are still flying around 200 sorties per day, although the total goes up and down. Ukrainians are still flying between five and 10 sorties a day.

The official said Ukraine continues to control Brovary and Mykolaiv, but the Russians have largely isolated Chernihiv and Mariupol. Roughly 75% of all of Russia’s battalion tactical groups – which make up their ground forces – are committed to the fight in Ukraine, the official said.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say Russian forces destroyed a theater in the city of Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering.

There was no immediate word on deaths or injuries in what the Mariupol city council said was an airstrike on the theater Wednesday.

The Maxar satellite imagery firm said images from Monday showed the word “children” had been written in large white letters in Russian in front of and behind the building.

The Russian defense ministry denied bombing the theater, or anywhere else in Mariupol on Wednesday.

Nowhere has suffered more than the encircled city of Mariupol, where local officials say missile strikes and shelling have killed more than 2,300 people. The southern seaport of 430,000 has been under attack for almost all of the three-week war in a siege that has left people struggling for food, water, heat and medicine.

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MADRID — The Spanish Football Association and a firefighters’ union welcomed a group of Ukrainian refugees they helped bring to Madrid from Kracow, Poland.

The group of 45 refugees, including 22 children, first stopped at a pandemic hospital on Wednesday where they were greeted warmly. They’ll be living with foster families and relatives in Spain.

Sandra Martin is providing a place to stay for Natalie Usova and her daughter at a rural hotel owned by Martin’s family in southwest Spain.

“I’m an empathetic person, and I can’t help but see myself sitting there in each of these chairs,” Martin said. “I’m glad I did this, and hopefully it will do some good, and hopefully a lot of people will get involved and help, but real help.”

Usova, a beautician from a town near Odesa, said in English: “I left my parents, I left my whole life, my quiet normal life, my house, you know all my life. I don’t know what will be here, what will wait for me and my daughter, but people here in Spain and the family that has invited us are so warm and they are so friendly and so, you know, with a big big heart.”

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to discuss a possible transfer of Soviet-era S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine this week when he visits Bulgaria and Slovakia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned the S-300s by name when he spoke to U.S. lawmakers by video Wednesday, appealing for anti-air systems that would allow Ukraine to “close the skies” to Russian warplanes and missiles.

NATO members Bulgaria, Slovakia and Greece have the S-300s, which are able to fly hundreds of miles and knock out cruise missiles as well as warplanes.

Any such transfer could be a three-country swap, with the U.S. or other NATO country providing Patriots or other air defense systems to make up for any S-300s passed on to Ukraine.

Slovakia has no objections to providing its S-300s to Ukraine, Slovak Defense Ministry spokesperson Martina Koval Kakascikova told The Associated Press. “But we can’t get rid of a system that protects our airspace if we don’t have any replacement.”

The anti-air defense systems could be valuable in thwarting Russian air attacks. Ukraine already has a few S-300s, but wants more.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the U.S. would help provide long-range air defense systems to Ukraine, but gave no details. U.S. officials had no comment on any S-300 swap.

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BERLIN — A group representing dozens of European electricity grid operators says Ukraine and Moldova have been successfully synchronized with the transmission systems of continental Europe, allowing them to decouple from Russia.

Belgium-based ENTSO-E said Wednesday that the grids of Ukraine and Moldova were linked to the Continental European Power System on a trial basis following an emergency request by those countries last month.

ENTSO-E, whose 39 members operate the world’s largest interconnected electrical grid, said the move means it will be able to support the countries in maintaining the stability of the Ukrainian and Moldovan power systems.

The two countries were previously part of the Integrated Power System that also includes Russia and Belarus. This made Ukraine technically dependent on Russia’s grid operator despite there having been no electricity trade between the two countries even before the Russian military assault last month.

Experts say the switch will allow energy suppliers in continental Europe to supply electricity to the Ukrainian market.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal as the atrocities in Ukraine mount and the president there begged the U.S. Congress for more help.

“He’s a war criminal,” the president said of Putin as he left an unrelated event. It’s the sharpest condemnation yet of Putin and Russian actions by a U.S. official since the invasion of Ukraine.

While other world leaders have used the words, the White House had been hesitant to declare Putin’s actions those of a war criminal, saying it was a legal term that required research.

But in a speech Wednesday, Biden said Russian troops had bombed hospitals and held doctors hostage. He pledged more aid to help Ukraine fight Russia.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko says Russian shelling damaged several residences in the city’s Podil neighborhood, just north of the city center and about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the so-called “government quarter” that holds the presidential palace, president’s office and other significant offices.

Officials did not immediately release additional details about the attack, including whether there were any casualties.

Kyiv residents have been huddled in homes and shelters amid a citywide curfew that runs until Thursday morning, as Russia shelled areas in and around the city. Earlier, a 12-story apartment building in central Kyiv erupted in flames after being hit by shrapnel.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol has been freed after he was seized by Russian forces five days ago, a Ukrainian official said Wednesday.

Andriy Yermak, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, announced the news but did not share details about how Ivan Fedorov became free.

Surveillance video last week showed Fedorov being marched out of city hall apparently surrounded by Russian soldiers.

Prior to the start of the invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration had warned of Russian plans to detain and kill targeted people in Ukraine, with Zelenskyy himself likely top target.

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SIRET, Romania — Refugees fleeing the Russian invasion continued to arrive at the Romanian border town of Siret on Wednesday.

A nearby sports hall has been turned into a shelter for families that includes numerous children.

Mihaita Musteata, a social worker and volunteer at the center, said many of those arriving have been twice displaced.

“We’ve had some people who’ve lost their home a second time,” Musteata said. “They first lost their home in Donbas, then moved to Kyiv, and now they lost that home too.”

Musteata said most of the refugees are headed elsewhere, but more Ukrainians have decided to remain in Romania and plan to return to Ukraine “if the war ever stops.”

Alexandra Stoleriu, a 19-year-old volunteer, said the children at the shelter do not fully understand what has happened to their country.

“I think they are better here,” Stoleriu said. “We are trying to calm them, to play with them, to give them food or anything, if they want something. We are here to support them.”

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WINONA, Minn. — A Minnesota mother and father fear for the safety of their adult son in Ukraine who they say was taken by the Russian military.

Tina Hauser, of Winona, told KAAL-TV the last time she spoke with her son, Tyler Jacob, was Saturday when he told her he was being forced by the Russian military to board a bus out of Kherson and leave his Ukrainian wife and daughter behind.

“My worst nightmare is coming true, and I’m fearful that they are going to torture him and kill him and I’m not ever going to see my son again,” said Hauser through tears.

Hauser said she has called the U.S. Embassy but has not heard back. She has also reached out to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office for help.

“My heart goes out to Tyler’s family and we will do everything we can to locate him. My office is working with the State Department and the embassy to find him and resolve this situation as quickly as possible,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

Jacob, 28, was teaching English in Kherson when Russian troops invaded the country, according to his father, John Quinn, of Cannon Falls.

He said Jacob got on an evacuation bus for foreigners headed to Turkey on Saturday. But at a checkpoint in Crimea, the bus was stopped by Russian soldiers and Jacob was detained, WCCO-TV reported.

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Russian law enforcement has announced the first known criminal cases against people posting what is deemed to be “false information” about the war in Ukraine.

The Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency, listed three suspects, including Veronika Belotserkovskaya, who is a Russian-language cookbook author and popular blogger living abroad.

It said Belotserkovskaya made posts on Instagram containing “deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to destroy cities and the civilian population of Ukraine, including children.”

Belotserkovskaya, whose Instagram profile says she was born in Ukraine, responded to the announcement by writing that “I have been officially declared to be a decent person!”

The other suspects were identified only as a man and a woman in the Tomsk Region of Siberia. The Investigative Committee said they had posted false messages about Russian military operations and casualties and that their homes had been searched.

The invasion of Ukraine is being characterized in Russia as a “special military operation,” not a war. President Vladimir Putin on March 4 signed legislation allowing for jail terms of up to 15 years for posting false information about the military.

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BRUSSELS – Poland’s defense minister says that at Wednesday’s NATO meeting he presented his country’s proposal to have the alliance establish a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, similar to the one in Kosovo.

Minister Mariusz Blaszczak spoke in Brussels following talks among the 30-member alliance’s defense ministers regarding the war in Ukraine.

Blaszczak said he presented a peace mission proposal that Poland’s deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, made Tuesday in Kyiv. The proposal will be discussed further, he said.

NATO has been leading a peace-support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area.

During a visit of support to Kyiv, along with Poland’s, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers, Kaczynski said he thinks a NATO peacekeeping mission is needed in Ukraine, or “possibly some wider international structure, but a mission that will also be able to defend itself and that will operate in Ukraine.”

He maintained it would be in line with international law and would not have any hostile character.

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PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo president awarded a medal to the Ukrainian contingent, part of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, before they left to join fighting in their homeland.

President Vjosa Osmani awarded the Presidential Military Medal to the Ukrainian contingent who have sent 1,400 troops on a rotational basis in the last three years.

“Today’s Medal is an embodiment of our gratitude to your army, and our way of paying respect to the professionalism they have displayed in Kosovo, and the bravery they are displaying during this dark time for the Ukrainian nation,” said Osmani.

The last contingent of 40 Ukrainian officers of the Armed Forces Engineering Regiments will return to Ukraine.

Kosovo has condemned Ukraine’s invasion by Russia and has joined the European Union and the U.S. with sanctions on Russia “over the unjustified and unprovoked aggression toward Ukraine.”

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TIRANA, Albania — Albania has sheltered the first group of Ukrainians who have left the country after Russia’s invasion.

Interior Minister Bledi Cuci said 351 Ukrainians are being housed in Albania.

Albania has offered to shelter thousands of Ukrainians. The country housed Afghans last year and Kosovar brethren in their 1999 war.

Ukrainians may enter Albania without visas and stay for a year without being issued a residents’ permission, the ministry said.

Albania has joined the European Union in the hard-hitting sanctions against Russian top officials and institutions.

Tirana also joined the U.S. as a “co-pen holder” in initiating resolutions at the United Nations Security Council against Ukraine’s Russian invasion.

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has categorically ruled out any role for the military organization in setting up and policing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect against Russian airstrikes.

Stoltenberg says “NATO should not deploy forces on the ground or in the air space over Ukraine because we have a responsibility to ensure that this conflict, this war, doesn’t escalate beyond Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly appealed for NATO to set up a no-fly zone given Russia’s air superiority, as civilian casualties mount three weeks into the war.

Speaking Wednesday after chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg conceded that “we see human suffering in Ukraine, but this can become even worse if NATO (takes) actions that actually turned this into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”

He says the decision not to send air or ground forces into Ukraine is “the united position from NATO allies.” Earlier Wednesday, Estonia urged its 29 NATO partners to consider setting up a no-fly zone.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration on Wednesday urged Ukrainians arriving in Denmark with their pets to have them registered with the government agency because of fear that they might carry rabies

”It is important to have a special focus on dogs, cats and ferrets, which can be carriers of the rabies virus which occurs in Ukraine,” the agency said.

People are asked to fill in a form that is available on the agency’s website and pet owners will be contacted and an inspection will take place. That includes visits by an official veterinarian, isolation and various measures, such as rabies vaccination and antibody titration test of the animal, the administration said.

Rabies is usually a fatal disease in animals and humans, caused by a virus that invades the central nervous system. It’s most commonly spread through a bite from an infected animal.

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MADRID — Real Madrid says it will donate 1 million euros ($1.1 million) for humanitarian aid for the war victims in Ukraine.

The Spanish soccer club said Wednesday that the money will be used by its own charity foundation which “works alongside the main international NGOs” including the Red Cross and UNHCR, among others. The aid will go to fund relief projects both inside Ukraine and in neighboring countries to help refugees.

The club added that it will also donate 13,000 items of clothing and sporting goods to the Spanish Red Cross and other charity-run centers in Madrid for refugees coming to Spain.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The United Nations’ top court ordered Russia to stop hostilities in Ukraine on Wednesday, granting measures requested by Kyiv, but many are skeptical that Russia will comply.

Ukraine asked the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, to intervene two weeks ago, arguing Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the ongoing invasion.

The court’s president, U.S. judge Joan E. Donoghue, demanded that “the Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the special military operations it commenced on Feb. 24.”

Following the news, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted: “Ukraine gained a complete victory in its case against Russia at the International Court of Justice. The ICJ ordered to immediately stop the invasion. The order is binding under international law. Russia must comply immediately. Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further.”

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine — An Associated Press video captured graphic images of the badly wounded and the dead in and around a hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol on Tuesday.

Medical workers wheeled an injured man into the hospital, the incessant sounds of warfare pounding in the distance. Badly injured and bloodied civilians lay on stretchers in a hallway, some moaning in pain. Dead bodies were scattered alongside a wall outside the hospital.

In the hospital’s basement, Dr. Valeriy Drengar used the flashlight on his cellphone to illuminate the bodies of the dead. He pulled back a blanket to show one of two infants lying across from each other in a hallway. The infant died after being brought to the hospital for injuries caused by Russian shelling. The baby was just 22 days old, Drengar said.

He cast his cellphone light on at least seven wrapped bodies, some likely children given their size, that had been placed in a basement room. “These are the people we could not save,” Drengar said.

Drengar said his hospital is the only one left in Mariupol that treats the injured because of bomb damage to other medical facilities. The city morgue no longer accepts the dead, he said.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria is beefing up its refugee registration system by opening additional border points where documents are issued to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion.

According to latest government figures, more than 81,000 Ukrainian citizens have entered Bulgaria trough the border crossings since the war broke out, and almost half of them have said that they want to stay in the Balkan country.

After initial registration, refugees are accommodated with families or in apartments provided by NGOs and local communities.

Bulgaria, which is the European Union’s poorest member, is facing a serious demographic crisis as its population has shrunk from almost nine million in 1989 to 6.5 million now, mainly due to a massive west-bound emigration.

In the wake of the current refugee influx, Bulgarian employers in the IT, tourism and construction sectors have offered to hire tens of thousands of Ukrainians.

Bulgaria is also concerned over the safety of some 200,000 ethnic Bulgarians, most of whom have been living for over a century mainly in the southern Ukrainian region of Odesa.

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NEW YORK — Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall, who was seriously injured in the wartime incident that killed two colleagues on Monday, is out of Ukraine, the network said on Wednesday.

“Ben is alert and in good spirits,” said Suzanne Scott, Fox News Media CEO, in a memo to staff. “He is being treated with the best possible care in the world and we are in close contact with his wife and family.”

Fox video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian journalist working with the Fox crew, were both killed when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire in Horenka, outside of Kyiv. Hall survived the blast.

The network offered no other details of Hall’s whereabouts or his condition.

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NEW YORK — The Russian Orthodox Church says Pope Francis discussed the war in Ukraine with its leader, Patriarch Kirill, in a call on Wednesday.

The Russian Orthodox Church said the call, which included other senior figures from both churches, included expressions from both sides “that a just peace is achieved soon” and the importance of negotiations, as well as “humanitarian aspects of the current crisis.”

The Vatican didn’t immediately respond when asked to confirm the call or comment on its contents.

Earlier Wednesday, during his weekly general audience, Francis made reference to a “final catastrophe” of an atomic war that would extinguish humanity. While he didn’t reference Ukraine explicitly in that part of his speech, he did elsewhere call for prayers for Ukraine and for God to protect its children and to forgive those who make war.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Three Romanian citizens are being investigated by prosecutors after a car was discovered by security officials carrying six Ukrainian men in a city near the Ukraine border, Romanian border police said.

“Upon entering the city … the driver abandoned the car and fled to the nearby houses, and inside the car was discovered six men of Ukrainian citizenship,” border police said in a statement Wednesday. “They had not completed the entry formalities in Romania through the border point.”

More than 3 million refugees from war-torn Ukraine, mostly women and children, have fled into neighboring countries since Russia’s invasion started on Feb. 24. Men in Ukraine aged between 18 and 60 years old are not allowed to legally leave, unless they have three or more children.

The car carrying the Ukrainian nationals failed to stop when signaled Monday by police, resulting in a car chase that ended in the town of Radauti, border police said.

The town of Radauti in Suceava County is situated about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Romania’s northern Siret border crossing with Ukraine, where tens of thousands of refugees have entered since Russia began its attacks.

The men have asked for protection from the Romanian state and have applied for asylum, authorities said.