LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces have now seized two Ukrainian nuclear power plants and are advancing toward a third, Ukraine’s president said during a call with U.S. senators Saturday.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the third plant currently under threat is the Yuzhnoukrainsk nuclear power plant, located 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Mykolaiv, one of several cities the Russians were trying to keep encircled Saturday.
One of the plants under the Russians’ control is the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe. The other is Chernobyl, which is not active but is still staffed and maintained. Previous Russian shelling sparked a fire at the Zaporizhzhia plant that was extinguished without a release of radiation.
Technical safety systems are intact and radiation levels are still normal at the Zaporizhzhia plant, according to the country’s nuclear regulator, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday.
Two out of the six reactors at the plant, Europe’s biggest, are now operating after Russian forces took control of the site, the nuclear regulator told the IAEA.
Russia-Ukraine War: What to know on Russia’s war in Ukraine
Ukrainian drone enthusiasts sign up to repel Russian forces
Local churches shun Vatican’s moderate stance on Russia
Charities struggle to deliver humanitarian aid into Ukraine
Ukraine has four nuclear plants with a total of 15 reactors.
WASHINGTON — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged U.S. lawmakers to sanction Russia’s oil and gas sector and suspend credit card access, and backed an idea to ban Russian oil imports to the U.S. that’s been gaining support in Congress.
Youtube video thumbnail
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said Zelenskyy emphasized during a private call Saturday with the U.S. lawmakers that the energy sector needs to be sanctioned.
“Anything that could hurt the Russian economy will help the Ukrainian people and may make this war more difficult” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graham said in a video.
During the call, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked Zelenskyy about the idea of banning Russian oil to the U.S., according to two people granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
Zelenskyy indicated he was 100% on board with banning Russian oil to the U.S. and told the senators it would be very helpful, the people said.
Zelensky also asked them to suspend access to Visa and Mastercard credit cards in Russia, according to another person granted anonymity to discuss the call.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Michael Balsamo and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for several hours in Moscow on Saturday.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office confirmed the meeting at the Kremlin, which came just days after Bennett spoke over the phone with both Russian and Ukrainian leaders.
Bennett’s office said he departed early Saturday morning for Moscow, accompanied by Russian-speaking Cabinet minister Zeev Elkin, who was born in Ukraine. Both men are observant Jews and wouldn’t normally travel on the Sabbath.
Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both sides. The country has delivered humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but also maintains ties with Moscow to make sure that Israeli and Russian warplanes do not come into conflict in neighboring Syria.
The meeting ended after about three hours, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the meeting was coordinated with the U.S., Germany and France and that Bennett “is in ongoing dialogue with Ukraine.”
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
CAIRO — Egypt says it has transferred to Europe about 4,000 Ukrainian tourists who were stranded in the Middle Eastern nation after Russia invaded their country.
The tourists were brought to countries neighboring Ukraine on free flights operated by state-run airliners, and more flights are scheduled in the coming days, government spokesman Nader Saad said Saturday. He did not elaborate.
Following Russia’s invasion and the closure of Ukrainian airspace, the Egyptian government has allowed Ukrainian tourists to extend their stay for free in hotels and resorts, Saad said.
Ukraine’s embassy in Cairo has said there were about 20,000 Ukrainian tourists in Egypt, a touristic hub for tourists from eastern Europe and Russia.
WASHINGTON — A Russian airliner has received an exception to the U.S. airspace ban in order to return Russian diplomats expelled from the U.S to Russia.
The Ilyushin Il-62 is flying from St. Petersburg to Washington Dulles International Airport outside the U.S. Capitol. A U.S. government official confirmed it had been granted a waiver from the airspace restriction put in place in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in order to retrieve the Russian diplomats.
The U.S. expelled 12 Russians at its mission to the United Nations accusing them of being intelligence operatives.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.
NEW YORK — Another Russian airline, low cost carrier Pobeda, said it would halt all international flights starting March 8, in accordance with recommendations from the Russia’s state aviation agency.
Rosaviatsiya on Saturday recommended that all Russian airlines with foreign-leased planes halt both passenger and cargo flights abroad. It cited a high risk of foreign-leased planes being impounded as part of Western sanctions that ban leasing of planes to Russia.
Rosaviatsiya’s recommendation doesn’t apply to Russian airlines that use Russian planes or foreign planes that aren’t at risk of being impounded. However, shortly after the recommendation was released, Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot said it would suspend international flights starting March 8, including those carried out by its subsidiary airline Rossia. Several hours later, Pobeda followed suit.
LONDON — Ukraine’s foreign minister on Saturday criticized Shell for continuing to buy Russian oil, lashing out at the energy giant for continuing to do business with Vladimir Putin’s regime after the company announced it was exiting investments in Russia.
Dmytro Kuleba said he had been told Shell “discreetly” bought the oil on Friday. He appealed to the public to pressure the company and other international firms to halt such purchases in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“One question to Shell: doesn’t Russian oil smell (like) Ukrainian blood for you?” Kuleba said on Twitter. “I call on all conscious people around the globe to demand multinational companies to cut all business ties with Russia,” he wrote.
Earlier this week, Shell said it was “shocked by the loss of life in Ukraine” and would end its joint ventures with Gazprom, the massive oil and gas company that is controlled by the Russian government.
Shell on Saturday said it has already stopped “most activities involving Russian oil,” although it continues to buy some products from Russia to supply the needs of its refineries and chemical plants. These purchases are necessary to ensure fuel supplies for customers, Shell said.
WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” to U.S. senators on Saturday to send more planes to help the country fight the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy made the request on a call joined by more than 300 people, including senators, some House lawmakers and aides.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement that Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine.”
“I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer,” Schumer said.
Schumer told Zelenskyy the U.S. lawmakers are inspired by him and by the strength and courage of the Ukrainian people, according to another person on the call who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
The U.S. Congress also is working on a $10 billion package of military and humanitarian aide, and Schumer told Zelenskyy that lawmakers hope to send it quickly to Ukraine, the person said.
Zelenskyy told senators he needs planes and drones more than other security tools, according to a senior Senate aide granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Associated Press reporter Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has updated an earlier travel advisory and is now recommending that U.S. citizens leave Russia immediately.
The notice offers this guidance: “If you wish to depart Russia, you should make arrangements on your own as soon as possible. If you plan to stay in Russia, understand the U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may change suddenly.”
The department already has advised Americans not to travel to Russia. That warning cites “the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine” and “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials,” among other things.
CHISINAU, Moldova — Hundreds of families, many from Ukraine’s Donetsk region, have taken refuge in a sports venue in the capital of Moldova. The refugees milled about or tried to relax on cots Saturday while lamenting what they were forced to leave behind.
Maria Cherepovskaia, 50, said she walked 15 kilometers (9 miles) to reach Chisinau, and received help from people who supplied rides and food.
“We will be here until the war is over,” Cherepovskaia said. “We don’t know where to go. We left behind our children and relatives, also our men.”
She said there is bombing going on in Donetsk: “a lot, too much.”
Refugees also fled to Siret, Romania, where some gathered together in a large tent. Iryna Bogavchuk, from Chernivtsi in Ukraine, warmed herself next to a portable heater as she caressed her 4-year-old daughter and looked at photos of her husband, who stayed behind.
“I miss him,” Bogavchuk said as she wept. “I took a few Polaroid photos because I couldn’t take a lot of stuff.”
ROME — Thousands of pacifists marched through Rome on Saturday to protest the war in Ukraine.
But Italy’s powerful labor federations are feuding over whether to support the decision of Italy and other Western countries to send weapons to Ukraine’s government.
The leader of the more centrist-leading CISL union, Luigi Sbarra, said he was boycotting the pacifist rally on Saturday because “one can’t be neutral, we’re with the Italian government.”
The Italian government last week asked Parliament to approve sending weapons to Ukraine.
Rome’s protests comprised two marches, one of which set out behind a banner reading “Neither NATO nor Putin.”
Left-leaning CGIL union leader Maurizo Landini, who turned out for the rally, dismissed suggestions that he wasn’t supportive of efforts to help Ukraine.
“The theme is to block war” with negotiations, Landini told reporters. “It’s (Russian President Vladimir) Putin who started the war.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in the central and southeastern part of the country Saturday, while the Russians were trying to block and keep encircled Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
“We’re inflicting losses on the occupants they could not see in their worst nightmare,” Zelenskyy said. He alleged that 10,000 Russian troops were killed in the 10 days of the war, a claim that could not be independently verified. The Russian military doesn’t offer regular updates on their casualties. Only once, on Wednesday, they revealed a death toll of nearly 500.
“This is horrible,” Zelenskyy said. “Guys 18, 20 years old … soldiers who weren’t even explained what they were going to fight for.”
CHERNIHIV, Ukraine __ Video released Saturday by the Ukrainian government shows a Russian military plane falling from the sky and crashing, as onlookers on the ground cheer.
Firefighters sprayed water on flames and smoke at a structure next to the debris of the plane, which bore a red star and the number 24.
WARSAW, Poland — The head of Ukraine’s Supreme Court has appealed for Russia’s top court to be excluded from a body of Central and Eastern Europe’s chief justices because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s top court president, Vsevolod Kniaziev, said the Supreme Court of Russia should be excluded from the Conference of Chief Justices of Central & Eastern Europe “as it represents a country that brought terror, death and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.”
Kniaziev’s letter of appeal was received Saturday by Malgorzata Manowska, the president of the Supreme Court in Poland, which borders Ukraine.
Manowska’s office said she will urgently pass the appeal on to the chief justices’ conference, a platform of cooperation that works to enhance judicial standards.
NEW YORK — Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is nothing that warrants imposing martial law in Russia at this point.
Putin’s comment on Saturday followed days of speculation that the introduction of martial law could be imminent.
Putin said that “martial law is imposed in a country … in the event of external aggression, including in specific areas of hostilities. But we don’t have such a situation, and I hope we won’t.”
ROME — Italian state broadcaster Rai is suspending reporting by its correspondents in Russia.
Rai’s measure, effective Saturday, follows similar moves by some other foreign media. Rai said the measure is necessary to “safeguard the safety of its journalists in the place as well as the maximum freedom of information about the country.”
Russia on Friday passed a law foreseeing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading what is deemed to be fake information about its armed forces.
NEW YORK — Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as “participation in the armed conflict.”
Speaking at a meeting with female pilots on Saturday, Putin said Russia would view “any move in this direction” as an intervention that “will pose a threat to our service members.”
“That very second, we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are,” the Russian president said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed NATO to impose a no-fly zone over his country, warning that “all the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you.”
NATO has said a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine, could provoke widespread war in Europe with nuclear-armed Russia.
HELSINKI, Finland — Finland and Sweden have pledged to further deepen defense cooperation, including with NATO. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin says that “Russia’s war against a European nation puts the European security order at risk.”
Finland and neighboring Sweden for years have resisted joining NATO, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine is changing the dynamic. Recent polls in both countries show more than 50% of Finns and Swedes in support of NATO membership but their governments are more cautious.
“It’s very understandable that the mindset of our citizens is changing due to Russia’s attack against Ukraine,” said Marin, but refused to comment on whether Finland would ask for a major non-NATO allied status, a designation given to countries with close strategic relationship with the U.S. military.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said cooperation with NATO is “maybe closer than ever” and that a rapprochement with NATO would be discussed.
BERLIN — The U.N. human rights office says it has confirmed the deaths of 351 civilians in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.
The Geneva-based office said that another 707 civilians were injured between Feb. 24 and midnight Friday.
The rights office uses strict methodology and only reports casualties it has confirmed. It said Saturday it believes the real figures are considerably higher, “especially in government-controlled territory and especially in recent days,” as the receipt of information from some places where there was intense fighting was delayed and many reports were still undergoing corroboration.
Ukrainian officials have presented far higher numbers.
LONDON — Hundreds have gathered in central London Saturday to protest Russia’s assault on Ukraine, with the conflict in its 10th day.
Carrying placards reading ”Protect Europe: Save Ukraine″ and waving the country’s blue and yellow flag, demonstrators chanted, “Stop Putin, stop the war.”
The rally in London’s Trafalgar Square began with a prayer from Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the papal nuncio to Great Britain. He said: “Today we are all Ukrainians.”
NEW YORK — Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship carrier, has announced that it will halt all international flights except to Belarus starting March 8.
The move by Russia’s biggest state-owned airline comes after the country’s aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, recommended that all Russian airlines with foreign-leased planes halt both passenger and cargo flights abroad.
It cited a high risk of foreign-leased planes being impounded as part of Western sanctions that ban leasing of planes to Russia.
Rosaviatsiya’s recommendation doesn’t apply to Russian airlines that use Russian planes or foreign planes that aren’t at risk of being impounded.
It also doesn’t apply to foreign airlines from countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia and have not shut down their airspace for Russian planes. Aeroflot’s statement Saturday cited “circumstances that hinder operating flights” as a reason for its move.
Aeroflot said it would cancel return tickets for passengers who are scheduled to depart Russia after March 6 and travel back after March 8. Those with one-way tickets will be allowed to fly up until March 8. Earlier this week, S7, Russia’s biggest private airline, announced that it was halting all international flights starting Saturday.
BERLIN — German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF say they are suspending reporting from their Moscow studios after Russia passed a law foreseeing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading what is deemed to be fake information about its armed forces.
The measure was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on Friday and already prompted some foreign media including the BBC and Bloomberg to say they were suspending operations within Russia.
ARD and ZDF said in a statement that they are examining the consequences of the new legislation and suspending reporting from the Moscow studios for now.
The passing of the law comes amid a broader crackdown on media outlets and social media in Russia.
LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian president’s office says civilian evacuations have halted in an area of the country where Russian defense officials had announced a cease-fire.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said the evacuation effort was stopped because the city of Mariupol remained under fire on Saturday.
“The Russian side is not holding to the ceasefire and has continued firing on Mariupol itself and on its surrounding area,” he said. “Talks with the Russian Federation are ongoing regarding setting up a ceasefire and ensuring a safe humanitarian corridor.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier in a statement it had agreed on evacuation routes with Ukrainian forces for Mariupol, a strategic port in the southeast, and for the eastern city of Volnovakha.
But a city official reported that shelling continued in his area Saturday despite the deal, a sign of the fragility of efforts to stop fighting across the country.
RZESZOW, Poland — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine as the war enters its 10th day. Blinken arrived in Rzeszow on Saturday for talks with top Polish officials and was to visit a frontier post to meet Ukrainian refugees later in the day.
Blinken was meeting Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau a day after attending a NATO foreign minister’s meeting in Brussels at which the alliance pledged to step up support for eastern flank members like Poland to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Although NATO has ruled out establishing a no-fly zone over non-member Ukraine, it has significantly boosted both military and humanitarian assistance. Rzeszow is about 80 km (50 miles) from the Ukrainian border and its airport has become a hub for flights carrying such aid.
NEW YORK — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has defended Russia’s adoption of a law setting out prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading what is deemed to be fake information about its armed forces.
The measure was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on Friday and prompted some foreign media including the BBC and Bloomberg to say they were suspending operations within Russia.
Peskov told reporters the measure was justified on the grounds of an “information war which was unleashed against our country.” Asked how Russians could express opinions which don’t match the official government position, Peskov said “within the bounds of the law.”
The passing of the law comes amid a broader crackdown on media outlets and social media in Russia. Facebook and Twitter were both blocked Friday in Russia.
GENEVA — The International Organization for Migration says the number of people who have left Ukraine since fighting began has now reached 1.45 million.
The U.N. migration agency, citing figures from government ministries in countries where they have arrived, said Saturday that 787,300 of them went to Poland. Some 228,700 fled to Moldova, 144,700 to Hungary, 132,600 to Romania and 100,500 to Slovakia.
The IOM said that nationals of 138 countries have crossed Ukraine’s borders into neighboring nations.
ROME — Italian financial police have seized two Russian-owned superyachts moored in a Ligurian port after Italy’s foreign minister announced plans to sequester 140 million euros ($154 million) from Russian billionaires in Italy.
Foreign Minister Luigio Di Maio told Italian state TV Friday evening that “this is the only way to convince” Putin “to reason.”
Financial police in the port of Imperia immediately seized the 65-meter (215-foot) “Lady M,” with an estimated value of 65 million euros, owned by Alexei Mordashov, as well as the “Lena,” valued at 50 million euros and belonging to Gennady Timchenko. Other seizures were reportedly under way.
PARIS — The office of President Emmanuel Macron says France will soon propose concrete measures to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s five main nuclear sites.
The safeguards will be drawn up on the basis of International Atomic Energy Agency criteria, a statement from the French presidency said Saturday.
A Russian attack on a nuclear plant sparked a fire on Friday and briefly raised worldwide fears of a catastrophe. The statement said Macron is “extremely concerned about the risks to nuclear safety, security and the implementation of international safeguards resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Macron said Russia “must immediately cease its illegal and dangerous military actions” and allow Ukrainian authorities full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. He urged Russia to allow “free, regular and unhindered access for facility personnel to ensure their continued safe operation.”
KYIV, Ukraine — The Russian military will observe a cease-fire in two areas of Ukraine starting Saturday to allow civilians to evacuate, Russian state media reported, but there was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine. It would be the first breakthrough in allowing civilians to escape.
The Russian Defense Ministry statement carried by the RIA Novosti and Tass agencies said it has agreed on evacuation routes with Ukrainian forces to allow civilians to leave the strategic port of Mariupol in the southeast and the eastern town of Volnovakha “from 10 a.m. Moscow time.” It was not immediately clear from the vaguely worded statement how long the routes would remain open.
The head of Ukraine’s security council, Oleksiy Danilov, had called on Russia to create humanitarian corridors to allow children, women and the elderly to escape the fighting, calling such corridors “question No. 1.”