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Live updates: Nearly 4 million fled Ukraine, but pace slows

MEDYKA, Poland — The number of refugees who have flooded out of Ukraine is nearing 4 million, but data shows fewer people have crossed the border in recent days.

Border guards, aid agencies and refugees say Russia’s unpredictable war on Ukraine offers few signs as to whether it’s just a pause or a permanent drop-off.

In the first two weeks after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, about 2.5 million people in Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million left the country to avoid the bombs and bloodshed. In the second two weeks, the number of refugees was roughly half that.

The total exodus through Sunday now stands at 3.87 million, according to the latest tally announced Monday from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. In the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 people crossed Ukraine’s borders to seek safety, the slowest one-day count yet.

“People who were determined to leave when war breaks out fled in the first days,” said Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

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UNHCR says the war has triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the speed and breadth of refugees fleeing to countries including Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia — as well as Russia — is unprecedented in recent times. Poland alone has taken in 2.3 million refugees and Romania nearly 600,000. The United States has vowed to take in 100,000.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR
Zelenskyy hints at openness to compromise on eastern Ukraine
Ukraine refugees near 4 million. Will exodus slowdown last?
Ukraine war threatens food supplies in fragile Arab world
Russia shifts focus to try to grind Ukraine’s army in east
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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine could declare neutrality to secure peace, Zelenskyy says

— Russia is shifting its focus to grinding down Ukrainian forces in the east

— As number of Ukrainian refugees near 4 million, pace of exodus has slowed

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— Holocaust survivors flee from Ukraine to Germany for safety

— Ukrainian welders turn donated vehicles into army transport

— Ukraine war threatens food supplies in fragile Arab world

— ‘My personal tragedy’: Ukrainians brace for an attack on Odesa

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage


OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says he is launching an immediate effort to explore possible arrangements for “a humanitarian cease-fire in Ukraine.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he used his “good offices” to ask Martin Griffiths, the head of the U.N.’s worldwide humanitarian operations, to explore the possibility of a cease-fire with Russia and Ukraine.

He told reporters he is appealing for “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to allow for progress in serious political negotiations, aimed at reaching a peace agreement.”

Guterres said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, there has been a “senseless loss of thousands of lives,” displacement of 10 million people, systematic destruction homes, schools and hospitals and other essential infrastructure, “and skyrocketing food and energy prices worldwide.”

A cessation of hostilities will allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and people to move safely, the secretary-general said, and “it will save lives, prevent suffering, and protect civilians.”

“I strongly appeal to the parties to this conflict, and to the international community as a whole, to work with us for peace in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and across the world,” the U.N. chief said.


PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has donated personal protective equipment to Ukraine to be used in the case of a chemical attack by the invading Russian troops.

The Czech move announced on Monday came after Ukraine asked the member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for such help.

The Biden administration publicly warned earlier in March that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine as the White House rejected Russian claims of illegal chemical weapons development in the country it has invaded.

The warning came after Russia, without evidence, accused Ukraine of running chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support.

The White House rejected that, saying it could be part of an attempt by Russia to lay the groundwork for its own use of such weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine.

The Czech Republic’s Office for Nuclear Safety said it joined forces with the National Institute for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Protection to hand over protective masks, chemical suits, detection and decontamination systems and other materials to the Ukrainian authorities.


BERLIN — Sweden’s prime minister says her country will help refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine but won’t take in the kind of share it did during the influx of 2015.

Magdalena Andersson told reporters in Berlin on Monday that “we will do our part in helping Ukrainian refugees, but we cannot come back to the situation we had in 2015 when Sweden took a disproportionate part of the asylum seekers.”

Andersson, a member of the Social Democratic Party, said Sweden accepted about 12% of the total number of refugees coming to the European Union in 2015, despite having only 2% of the bloc’s population.

“We cannot come back to that kind of solution, but of course we will do our part and we are right now , of course, also welcoming Ukrainians that are coming to Sweden today, yesterday and during the last weeks,” she said after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Since the war began on Feb. 24, more than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.


ROME — The Italian premier’s office says that in a phone conversation on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “lamented the blocking of humanitarian corridors” by Russians.

Premier Mario Draghi’s office says Zelenskyy also expressed sorrow over the continued siege and “bombings of cities, including schools, with the resulting loss of civilian lives, among them, children.”

In a statement, Draghi’s office says he reiterated the Italian government’s staunch support for Ukrainian authorities and people as well as “the full availability of Italy to contribute to the international action to put an end to the war and to promote a lasting solution to the crisis in Ukraine.”


BELGRADE, Serbia — Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has praised Serbia for refusing to impose sanctions against Moscow over its aggression in Ukraine, saying the Balkan ally has made “a smart choice.”

“We deeply respect the Serbian people, Serbian culture, Serbian history and commitment to traditional friends,” Lavrov told a group of Serbian journalists in a video conference. “We are sure that they will continue to make smart choices in this situation.”

Although Serbia voted in favor of a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, Belgrade has refused to join the United States and the European Union in imposing wide ranging sanctions against Moscow.

Lavrov said the sanctions are “an attempt by the United States to impose its hegemony” in the Balkans and added that the West “is trying to isolate Russia” in the region that has seen a devastating war in the 1990s.

Although formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been forging close political, economic and military ties to Russia.


ANKARA, Turkey —A plane carrying members of a Russian delegation has landed in Istanbul ahead of talks with Ukrainian negotiators aimed at ending the month-long war.

Turkey’s private DHA news agency said the Russian government plane landed at Istanbul Airport on Monday. The face-to-face talks between the two sides are scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine could declare neutrality, potentially accept a compromise on contested areas in the country’s east, and offer security guarantees to Russia to secure peace “without delay.” He said only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader could end the war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet, but only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.

Earlier talks have failed to make progress on ending the war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.

NATO-member Turkey has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia. Earlier this month, it hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers.


MOSCOW — Russian shares have slumped as its stock market resumed trading of all companies after a monthlong halt following the invasion of Ukraine.

The benchmark MOEX index slid 2.2% Monday after the Moscow Exchange reopened for all of its several hundred listed companies, but with restrictions still in place to limit volatility.

The last full trading session in Moscow was on Feb. 25, a day after the index tumbled by a third after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Prices whipsawed last week when the exchange tentatively reopened for two days of limited trading, with investors allowed to trade only 33 of the MOEX index’s 50 companies.

Some restrictions remained in place Monday to prevent another big selloff. The daily session is shortened to four hours and there is a ban on short-selling, which essentially involves betting on stock prices to go down. Foreigners also are unable to sell shares until Friday.


SOFIA, Bulgaria — Russia uses local level corruption as a tool of influence in the Balkan region, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said after a meeting of leaders from southeast Europe NATO members.

The prime ministers of Bulgaria, Romania, the Republic of North Macedonia, and Montenegro condemned Russia’s military aggression and voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Petkov said the leaders discussed “eradicating money laundering and helping each other fight corruption,” which he said was “used by Russia to influence the region.”

Talks also focused on strengthening the cooperation as NATO allies on the bloc’s eastern flank, as well as on reducing the dependence on Russian energy supplies, countering Russia’s fake news, improving cyber protection and widening mutual trade.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish brewery group Carlsberg says it has decided to pull out of Russia, saying it’s “the right thing to do in the current environment.”

The announcement came hours after its competitor, Dutch brewing giant Heineken, said it was doing the same.

The Copenhagen-based Carlsberg said Monday it “will have no presence in Russia.” Its business in Russia will no longer be included in the Danish brewer’s revenue and operating profit, and the business “will be treated as an asset held for sale until completion of the disposal.”

In 2021, Carlsberg reported revenue and operating profit in Russia of 6.5 billion kroner ($959 million) and 682 million kroner ($101 million) respectively. The Danish brewer generates around 10% of its sales in Russia, where it operates several breweries and has about 8,400 staff which would be laid off.

Heineken said earlier Monday that it was seeking an “orderly transfer of our business to a new owner in full compliance with international and local laws.”

Heineken will continue to pay its 1,800 staff in Russia through the end of the year. The company says it will not profit from the sale of its Russian operations and expects to take a 400 million-euro ($438 million) charge as a result.


MOSCOW — Leading independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is edited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, says it is suspending operations after receiving warnings from Russian authorities.

The newspaper reported being warned by Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator.

“After this we are stopping the release of the newspaper on the website, on (social) networks and on paper — until the end of the ‘special operation on the territory of Ukraine,’” the newspaper said in a statement Monday.

Russia strictly limits how media can describe events in Ukraine, which it labels a “special military operation.” Several other Russian media outlets have already opted for suspending operations rather than face heavy restrictions on what they can report, and the Kremlin has also blocked multiple foreign news outlets.


BERLIN — Germany’s energy minister says the Group of Seven major economies have agreed to reject Russia’s demand to pay for Russian energy imports in rubles.

Robert Habeck told reporters Monday that “all G-7 ministers agreed completely that this (would be) a one-sided and clear breach of the existing contracts.”

Habeck said after an online meeting with G-7 energy ministers that “payment in ruble is not acceptable and we will urge the companies affected not to follow (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s demand.”

Asked by reporters earlier Monday if Russia could cut gas supplies to European customers if they reject the demand to pay for the Russian gas in rubles, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “we clearly aren’t going to supply gas for free.”


BERLIN — German authorities are considering whether to prosecute people who use the “Z” symbol to show support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Russian troops in Ukraine have painted the letter Z on the side of vehicles and it has been adopted by some in Russia as a symbol of support for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation” in the neighboring country.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said Monday that security services are aware the symbol is also being used at rallies in Germany.

The spokesman, Marek Wede, told reporters in Berlin that the letter can under certain circumstances be considered a sign of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine is a crime and whoever publicly approves of this war can thereby become criminally liable,” Wede said.

He added that federal authorities welcomed announcements by some German states to investigate whether individual instances of the “Z” use constitute criminal acts.


LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia says it has reinstated a diplomatic representative in Kyiv and reopened the country’s embassy in Ukraine.

The ministry says Slovenia’s embassy in Kyiv reopened on Monday after the arrival of the interim charge d’affaires Bostjan Lesjak. Slovenia’s ambassador to Ukraine remains in Rzeszow, a town on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Slovenia’s move comes after Prime Minister Janez Jansa urged European Union countries to restore their presence in Kyiv in support for Ukraine. Jansa visited Kyiv this month along with the prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic.

He said on Twitter on Monday that “we are back.” Jansa adds that “the Slovenian and European flags flutter again in front of the Slovenian Embassy in Kyiv.”

Slovenia’s Foreign Ministry said that Lesjak said upon arrival that the city was deserted, and that alarms and detonations could be heard in the distance.


LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne has quoted the mayor of Mariupol as saying that around 160,000 people remain in the besieged port city, and that a “humanitarian catastrophe” would ensue if more evacuations are not possible.

Vadym Boychenko said Monday that Russian forces were preventing civilians from evacuating from the city and had been turning back some who tried to make it out.

The city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000, has seen some of the worst conditions since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb.24. Russian forces have pounded the city, and scores of civilians have been unable to escape, with no access to essentials and cut off from communication with the shelling of cell, radio and TV towers.


MOSCOW — The Kremlin has voiced concern about U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment about the Russian President Vladimir Putin and said it will carefully follow his rhetoric.

Capping a four-day trip to Europe Saturday, Biden said of Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” words the White House immediately sought to downplay.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Biden’s statement “undoubtedly causes alarm.” He added that the Kremlin will carefully monitor the U.S. president’s statements.

Peskov said previously that “it’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”


MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister says the presidents of Russia and Ukraine could meet for talks only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.

Sergey Lavrov said Monday that “the meeting is necessary once we have clarity regarding solutions on all key issues.”

Lavrov’s comments follow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s statement that he’s ready to discuss Ukraine’s neutrality and security guarantees with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure peace “without delay.” Zelenskyy added that only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader could end the war.

Russian and Turkish negotiators are set to hold another round of talks in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday to try to draft an agreement.

Speaking in an online interview with Serbian media, Lavrov alleged that Ukraine only want to “imitate talks” while Russia needs specific results that would be secured by the countries’ leaders.


BEIJING — China says the U.S. should take seriously Beijing’s concerns about punishing economic sanctions against Russia.

China, which has what it calls a “no limits” partnership with Moscow, has strongly objected to the sanctions, saying they will worsen the global economic outlook without bringing an end to the conflict.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Monday that China and other nations believe “people of all countries have no responsibility to pay for geopolitical conflicts and great power games.”

“The problem now is not about who wants to help Russia bypass sanctions, but about the normal economic and trade relations between countries, including China, and Russia have been unnecessarily damaged,” Wang said.

“We urge the U.S. to take China’s concerns seriously when dealing with the Ukraine issue and relations with Russia, and not to damage China’s legitimate rights and interests in any way,” Wang said.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — European Union judicial coordination agency Eurojust says it has helped Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine to establish a joint investigation team to probe war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes committed in Ukraine.

The Hague-based agency said Monday that the three nations signed an agreement on Friday establishing the team. Eurojust says it provided legal and technical support.

Eurojust says the main aim of the team is to “support the gathering of evidence and its swift and secure exchange between partners, as well as the transmission of information and evidence.”

Eurojust adds that the team will help the three nations cooperate with International Criminal Court prosecution office, which also has opened an investigation in Ukraine.

Within the first month of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Polish prosecutors said they had collected some 300 witness testimonies from refugees pouring over the border.

Joint investigation teams help nations pool resources and knowledge during complex international investigations. The Netherlands and other countries set up such a team to investigate the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s defense ministry says military teams are working to disable a second naval mine that was detected floating off Turkey’s Black Sea coast.

On Monday, the ministry said Underwater Defence Teams that were dispatched to the site off the coast of Igneada, near the border with Bulgaria, had managed to secure the mine and were now working to “neutralize” it.

On Saturday, authorities closed the Bosporus — the landmark waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara — to traffic as a precaution as the Turkish coast guard responded to reports of a drifting mine-like object which was later “neutralized.”

The sighting of the explosive devices follows warnings that mines laid at the entrances to Ukrainian ports could break free in heavy weather and cross the Black Sea.

On March 18, Turkey issued a Navtex alert advising ships to keep a “sharp look out” and report any possible mines that had drifted from ports such as Odesa.


GENEVA — The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says it has recorded 1,119 civilian deaths and 1,790 people injured since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The UN agency said Sunday most casualties were caused by use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes. It said it believes actual figures are “considerably higher,” given delays in obtaining information and in corroborating the reports.

Of those killed, 224 were men, 168 women, 15 girls and 32 boys. The sex of another 52 children and 628 adults has not yet been determined.

The report said allegations of many civilian casualties in the besieged southern city of Mariupol and in Volnovakha, Izium, Popasna, Rubizhne and Trostianets were still being corroborated and are not included in the latest totals.


LONDON — Russian forces have made no significant progress in the past 24 hours amid continuing supply problems and aggressive resistance from Ukrainian fighters, U.K. defense officials say.

Poor morale and a lack of momentum have compounded the problems facing Russian forces, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence briefing.

Heavy fighting continues around Mariupol as Russian forces try to capture the port on the Sea of Azov, which connects to the Black Sea, the ministry said in a briefing posted on Twitter.

Earlier, the ministry said Russia was maintaining a blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, cutting off maritime trade with the country. The Russian navy is also launching “sporadic” missile strikes against targets in Ukraine, the ministry said.

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