The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it has documented 18 attacks on health facilities, workers and ambulances since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. health agency has delivered 81 metric tons of supplies to Ukraine and is now establishing a pipeline to send further equipment. To date, Tedros said WHO had sent enough surgical supplies to treat 150 trauma patients and other supplies for a range of health conditions to treat 45,000 people.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, acknowledged that sending medical supplies to Ukraine was unlikely to make a big difference.
“This is putting bandages on mortal wounds right now,” he said.
WHO chief Tedros said some of the main health challenges officials were facing in Ukraine were hypothermia and frostbite, respiratory disease, heart disease, cancer and mental health issues. He added that WHO staffers have been sent to countries neighbouring Ukraine to provide mental health support to fleeing refugees, mostly women and children.
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LONDON — The European Union is working on sending communications equipment to Ukraine after the country asked Brussels for help to keep telecom networks running.
The EU “received a request from our Ukrainian friends and we’re in the process of coordinating on that,” French digital minister Cedric O said Wednesday.
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The minister said EU officials discussed aid in the form of electronic and computer equipment that they could offer Ukraine to ensure the country’s telecom and administrative networks “continue as normally possible.”
He did not go into details but said it was all civilian equipment “necessary to keep an administration up and running.”
As the Russian offensive grinds on, Ukraine’s ability to maintain telecommunications in some areas is in question as cellphone networks went down in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is indicating that he doesn’t favor supplying old MiG fighter jets to Ukraine.
Poland late Tuesday offered to give the U.S. 28 MiG-29 fighter planes for Ukraine’s use. U.S. officials said the proposal was “untenable,” but they would continue to consult with Poland and other NATO allies.
Scholz was asked Wednesday whether Germany would be prepared to allow such a delivery, and whether he feared being drawn into the conflict by a jet delivery via the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany — which Poland had proposed.
Scholz noted that Germany has given Ukraine financial and humanitarian aid, as well as some weapons. He added: “otherwise, we must consider very carefully what we do in concrete terms, and that most certainly doesn’t include fighter planes.”
LONDON — Britain’s defense minister says Russia’s military assault on Ukraine will get “more brutal and more indiscriminate” as President Vladimir Putin tries to regain momentum against fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told British lawmakers that Russia was seeking to use mercenaries from the Wagner Group in Ukraine, calling that a sign of “desperation.”
The Wagner Group, owned by a confidant of Putin, has been accused by Western governments and U.N. experts of human rights abuses in Africa and involvement in the conflict in Libya.
Wallace said the group was “responsible for all sorts of atrocities in Africa and the Middle East. And the fact that Russia is now trying to encourage them to take part in Ukraine, I think, is a telling sign.”
Western intelligence officials are concerned that Russia plans to use violence to terrorize the population and deter protests in areas of Ukraine under its control. A European official told the AP that Russia was considering “aggressive measures” including “violent crowd control, repressive detention of protest organizers” and even public executions.
BERLIN — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Canada will soon send Ukraine “highly specialized equipment.”
Trudeau said during a visit to Berlin that Zelenskyy also accepted an invitation to address the Canadian Parliament during Wednesday’s conversation. Zelenskyy spoke to the British Parliament on Tuesday.
Trudeau said Canada will be able to start sending “in the coming days” equipment including cameras used in drones. He acknowledged that “there are challenges at the borders in terms of getting equipment securely across and into Ukrainian hands, but we are working through that.”
ROME — Luxury Italian car maker Ferrari says it has decided to suspend production of vehicles for the Russian market for now.
Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna said the company “stands alongside everyone in Ukraine affected by this ongoing humanitarian crisis.” He said “we cannot remain indifferent to the suffering,” adding that Ferrari is “playing our small part alongside the institutions that are bringing immediate relief to this situation.”
The company is donating 1 million euros to support Ukrainians in need.
BERLIN — The International Atomic Energy Agency says it sees “no critical impact on safety” from the power cut at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.
The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that Ukraine had informed it of the loss of electricity and that the development violates a “key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply.” But it tweeted that “in this case IAEA sees no critical impact on safety.”
The IAEA said that there could be “effective heat removal without need for electrical supply” from spent nuclear fuel at the site.
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — City authorities in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are burying their dead in a mass grave.
With the city under steady bombardment, officials had been waiting for a chance to allow individual burials to resume. But with morgues overflowing, and many corpses uncollected at home, they decided they had to take action.
A deep trench some 25 meters long has been opened in one of the city’s old cemeteries in the heart of the city. Social workers brought 30 bodies wrapped in carpets or bags Wednesday, and 40 were brought Tuesday.
The dead include civilian victims of shelling on the city as well as some soldiers. Workers with the municipal social services have also been collecting bodies from homes, including some civilians who died of disease or natural causes.
No mourners were present, no families said their goodbyes.
LONDON — Dutch brewer Heineken, TV company Discovery and the Universal Music Group have joined the corporate exodus from Russia over the Ukraine invasion.
Heineken said Wednesday it will stop the production, advertising and sale of the beer brand in Russia. The company said it stands with the Ukrainian people and called the Russian government’s war “an unprovoked and completely unjustified attack.”
“We will take immediate steps to ring-fence our Russian business from the wider Heineken business to stop the flow of monies, royalties and dividends out of Russia,” said Heinken, which earlier stopped all new investments and exports to Russia.
Discovery said in a brief statement that it decided to “suspend the broadcast of its channels and services in Russia.” The indefinite suspension is set to take effect by the end of Wednesday.
Universal Music Group said late Tuesday that it’s suspending all its operations and closing its offices in Russia, effective immediately.
Earlier Wednesday, Imperial Brands became the first of the so-called Big Four tobacco producers to halt all operations in Russia. It said the move includes halting production at its factory in Volgograd and ceasing all sales and marketing activity in the country.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, has been knocked off the power grid. Emergency generators are now supplying backup power.
The state communications agency says the outage could put systems for cooling nuclear material at risk.
The cause of the damage to the power line serving Chernobyl was not immediately clear, but it comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The site has been under control of Russian troops since last week.
Ukrainian grid operator Ukrenerho said that according to the national nuclear regulator, all Chernobyl facilities are without power and the diesel generators have fuel for 48 hours. Without power the “parameters of nuclear and radiation safety” cannot be controlled, it said.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the grid supplying electricity is damaged and called for a cease-fire to allow for repairs.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The Slovak government has approved a plan for NATO service members to be deployed in Slovakia. The move is part of NATO plans to strengthen the alliance’s eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Slovak Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that up to 2,100 troops could be deployed to help boost his country’s defence capabilities. It will be the first such a long term deployment of NATO troops in the country.
The plan still needs approval from the Parliament where the ruling coalition has a majority.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is ready to make its Russian-made fighter jets available to Ukraine, via NATO, Poland’s prime minister said Wednesday. But he added that it’s a “very serious decision” that should be taken by all NATO alliance members because it affects wider security.
Premier Mateusz Morawiecki says the decision on whether to make the MiG-29 planes available to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion is now in the hands of NATO and the U.S.
“Poland is not a side in this war (…) and NATO is not a side in this war,” Morawiecki said during a visit to Vienna. “Such a serious decision like handing over planes must be unanimous and unequivocally taken by by all of the North Atlantic Alliance.”
Morawiecki said talks on the subject are continuing.
Ukraine has been calling on the U.S. and Western countries to provide fighter jets. Poland responded on Tuesday by offering to transfer its planes to a U.S. military base in Germany, with the expectation that the planes would then be handed over to Ukrainian pilots. The Pentagon reacted by saying it had not been aware of the plan which it finds “untenable.”
BRUSSELS — European Union countries have agreed to slap further sanctions on Russia, targeting oligarchs and their relatives who played a role in the invasion of Ukraine.
In addition to measures already adopted targeting President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s financial system and the country’s high-tech industry, the EU imposed new sanctions on 160 individuals and added new restrictions on the export of maritime navigation and radio communication technology. The extra measures are also aimed at Russia’s ally Belarus.
The French presidency of the European Council said they will exclude three Belarussian banks from SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions.
KYIV, Ukraine — Civilians from besieged towns northwest of Kyiv worked their way toward the capital Wednesday, crossing over a small river via a damaged bridge.
The bridge area has come under sporadic mortar fire in recent days, with civilians killed. But there was little shelling reported in the area Wednesday morning, so civilians took their chance to leave their homes in the hope of finding safety.
Firefighters pulled an elderly man in a handcart, and police helped others across. A soldier held a child’s hand. A woman carried her cat.
One resident of the town of Irpin described four days without heat, electricity, water or cell phone connections. Others came from neighboring Bucha.
The route from Irpin and Bucha to Kyiv is part of a humanitarian corridor announced by Ukrainian authorities Wednesday.
Thousands have been entering Kyiv via this route in recent days, with many then taken to the railway station for onward evacuation by train to Ukraine’s west.
“We have a short window of time at the moment (for evacuations). Even if there is a ceasefire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment,” said Yevhen Nyshchuk, actor and former culture minister, now a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says efforts are under way to evacuate some 18,000 people from the capital Kyiv and embattled towns near it.
He said Wednesday the efforts are part of broader evacuation attempts by multiple humanitarian corridors within Ukraine, and warned Russian forces against violating cease-fire promises.
He appealed again for foreign air support, saying “send us planes.” Western powers have sent military equipment and beefed up forces on Ukraine’s eastern flank, but have been wary of providing air support and getting drawn into a direct war with Russia.
He also issued an appeal, unusually in Russian, to urge Russian soldiers to leave.
“Our resistance for almost two weeks has shown you that we will not surrender, because this is our home. It is our families and children. We will fight until we can win back our land,” he said. “You can still save yourselves if you just go home.”
LONDON — Britain has impounded a private jet it suspects of being linked to a Russian oligarch, and tightened aviation sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Wednesday the Luxembourg-registered plane had been seized at Farnborough Airport in southern England while U.K. authorities tried to unravel its ownership.
U.K. officials believe the Bombardier Global 6500 jet is connected to billionaire oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler. It arrived in the U.K. from New Jersey last week and had been due to fly to Dubai on Tuesday.
Britain has banned Russian-owned or operated planes from its airspace, but Shapps said the government was still working to close some “loopholes.”
The government announced late Tuesday it was toughening sanctions to include “the power to detain any aircraft owned by persons connected with Russia.” Britain also banned the export of aviation- or space-related items and technology to Russia.
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — The besieged Azov Sea port city of Mariupol has seen some of the most desperate scenes of the war, with civilians struggling without water, heat, basic sanitation or phones for several days.
With water supplies cut, people have been collecting water from streams or melting snow.
The representatives of Ukraine’s Red Cross are trying to deliver first aid to those who need it the most, but resources are scarce.
“There is no heating, electricity, water, natural gas … In other words there is nothing. no household commodities. The water is collected from the roofs after the rain,” says Aleksey Berntsev, head of Red Cross of Mariupol.
People sheltered in underground basements, anxiously waiting for news of evacuation efforts as they struggled to survive in a city where bodies have been left uncollected on the streets.
Berentsev said that apart from delivering aid, giving local residents information is one of the most important task they are undertaking.
“Sometimes information is more important for the people than food,” he says.
Power cuts mean that many residents have lost internet access and now rely on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill to impose economic sanctions on Russia.
Unlike many countries that had already imposed sanctions, New Zealand’s laws didn’t previously allow it to apply meaningful measures unless they were part of a broader United Nations effort. Because Russia has U.N. Security Council veto power, that had left New Zealand hamstrung.
The new law, which was rushed through in a single day, targets those in Russia associated with the invasion, including oligarchs. It will allow New Zealand to freeze assets and stop superyachts or planes from arriving. Lawmakers said it would stop New Zealand becoming a safe haven for Russian oligarchs looking to avoid sanctions elsewhere.
BEIJING — China says it is sending humanitarian aid including food and daily necessities worth 5 million yuan ($791,000) to Ukraine while continuing to oppose sanctions against Russia over its invasion.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters an initial batch was sent to the Ukrainian Red Cross on Wednesday with more to follow “as soon as possible.”
China has largely backed Russia in the conflict and Zhao reiterated Beijing’s opposition to biting economic sanctions against Moscow.
Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing that “wielding the stick of sanctions at every turn will never bring peace and security but cause serious difficulties to the economies and livelihoods of the countries concerned.”
He said China and Russia will “continue to carry out normal trade cooperation, including oil and gas trade, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”
China has sought to blame the U.S. for instigating the conflict, citing what it calls Washington’s failure to adequately consider Russia’s “legitimate” security concerns in the face of NATO expansion.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have announced a 9 a.m.-9 p.m. cease-fire along several evacuation routes for civilians in besieged or occupied cities, though it is unclear whether Russian forces will respect it.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian authorities on Wednesday confirmed the cease-fire along the evacuation corridors to Ukrainian counterparts and the Red Cross.
She said the routes lead out of Sumy in the northeast, Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east, and several towns in the Kyiv region.
All the corridors lead to sites elsewhere in Ukraine that are currently held by the Ukrainian government.
The route out of Sumy, on the Russian border, is the only one that has been used successfully so far, allowing for the evacuation of 5,000 people on Tuesday southwest to the city of Poltava.
Ukrainian officials released videos Wednesday showing trucks and buses with red cross symbols heading to besieged cities.
BERLIN — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says he hopes that corridors to evacuate civilians from under-fire cities in Ukraine will begin to work better after a sputtering start.
ICRC President Peter Maurer told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday that his organization has been working for days to bring the warring parties together and encourage them to hold detailed military-to-military talks on enabling civilians to flee.
Maurer said it’s important that agreements succeed “because the military units stand close to each other and the smallest uncertainty, as we have seen in recent days, leads instantly to exchanges of fire, and that makes the escape routes impossible.”
He added: “We hope that it will work better today; in any case, we are talking to the parties and, above all, the parties are talking to each other — that is the most important thing at the moment.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it has thwarted a large-scale plot to attack separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine.
Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov on Wednesday cited from what he claimed was an intercepted Ukrainian National Guard document laying out plans for a weekslong operation targeting the Donbas region.
Konashenkov said in a televised statement: “The special military operation of the Russian armed forces, carried out since Feb. 24, preempted and thwarted a large-scale offensive by strike groups of Ukrainian troops on the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which are not controlled by Kyiv, in March of this year.”
He did not address Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and attacks on Ukrainian civilians or cities, Russian military casualties or any other aspect of its bogged-down campaign.
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” and official statements about the war have focused almost exclusively on fighting and evacuations in the separatist-held regions, where Russian-backed forces have been fighting Ukraine’s military since 2014.
LVIV, Ukraine — The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces says the country is building up its defense of key cities in the north, south and east as Russia’s advance has stalled.
In a statement early Wednesday, it said that forces around Kyiv are resisting the Russian offensive with unspecified strikes and “holding the line.”
The Ukrainian general staff said that in the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms.
And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv.
Meanwhile, the administration of the northeastern border city of Sumy says further civilian evacuations are planned Wednesday.
In a Telegram post, regional administration chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy says a safe corridor will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 22 buses that traveled the day before from Sumy southwest to the city of Poltava would return Wednesday afternoon to pick up more people seeking to flee. Priority will go to pregnant women, women with children, the elderly and the disabled.
Sumy is on the Russian border and has seen deadly shelling in recent days. The Sumy-Poltava route is the only one successfully used so far for humanitarian evacuations, and some 5,000 people, including 1,700 foreign students, were brought out Tuesday. Other evacuation efforts stalled or were thwarted by Russian shelling.