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Live updates | Zelenskyy: Troops shell retreating Russians

LVIV, Ukraine – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops retaking areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv are not allowing Russians to retreat without a fight, but are “shelling them. They are destroying everyone they can.”

Zelenskyy, in his Saturday night video address to the nation, said Ukraine knows Russia has the forces to put even more pressure on the east and south of Ukraine.

“What is the goal of the Russian troops? They want to seize the Donbas and the south of Ukraine,” he said. “What is our goal? To defend ourselves, our freedom, our land and our people.”

He said a significant portion of the Russian forces are tied up around Mariupol, where the city’s defenders continue to fight.

“Thanks to this resistance, thanks to the courage and resilience of our other cities, Ukraine has gained invaluable time, time that is allowing us to foil the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities,” Zelenskyy said.

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Zelenskyy appealed again to the West for more modern weaponry, such as anti-missile systems and aircraft.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine blogger video fuels false info on Mariupol bombing

— Ukrainian forces retake areas near Kyiv amid fear of traps

— Ramadan kicks off in much of Middle East amid soaring prices

— Russian space chief says sanctions could imperil International Space Station

— Ukraine volunteer fighters from near and far: a photo gallery

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

A Ukrainian beauty blogger whom Russian officials accused of being a crisis actor when she was interviewed and photographed by The Associated Press in a bombed out Mariupol maternity hospital has emerged in new videos that are fueling fresh misinformation about the attack.

A Russian government-linked Twitter account on Friday shared an interview with Marianna Vishegirskaya, in which the new mother says the hospital was not hit by an airstrike last month and that she told AP journalists she did not want to be filmed. But AP reporting, and recordings of AP journalists’ interactions with her, contradict her claim.

In the interview, conducted by Russian blogger Denis Seleznev and filmed by Kristina Melnikova, Vishegirskaya is asked to provide details about what occurred at the hospital on March 9, the day of the bombing. It is not clear where Vishegirskaya is, or under what conditions the interview was filmed.

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Russian officials have repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the strike in Mariupol, a key military objective for Moscow, since images were seen around the world and shed light on Russia’s attacks on civilians in Ukraine.

In the new videos, Vishegirskaya says those huddled in the basement of the hospital after the attack believed the explosions were caused by “shelling,” not an airstrike, because “no one” heard sounds that would indicate that bombs were dropped from planes.

But eyewitness accounts and video from AP journalists in Mariupol lays out evidence of an airstrike, including the sound of an airplane before the blast, a crater outside the hospital that went at least two stories deep and interviews with a police officer and a soldier at the scene who both referred to the attack as an “airstrike.”

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BUCHA, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops moved cautiously to retake territory north of Kyiv on Saturday, even amid fears that Russian forces left booby-trapped explosives.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that departing Russian troops were creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and “even the bodies of those killed.” His claims could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian troops took up positions in the town of Bucha, and were stationed at the entrance of Antonov Airport in Hostomel after retaking territory from Russian forces.

In Bucha, AP reporters counted at least 6 bodies of civilians scattered along a street and in the front yard of a house. Ukrainian soldiers, backed by a column of tanks and armored vehicles, attached cables to the bodies and pulled them off the street for fear they may be booby-trapped. Soldiers also cleared barricades and inspected suspicious objects, placing red rags on remnants of unexploded ordnance to draw attention to the possibility of explosions.

Residents of the town said the civilians were killed by Russian soldiers without apparent provocation.

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Ukraine and its Western allies reported mounting evidence of Russia withdrawing its forces from around Kyiv and building its troop strength in eastern Ukraine. The visible shift did not mean the country faced a reprieve from more than five weeks of war or that the more than 4 million refugees who have fled Ukraine will return soon.

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CAIRO — The Muslim holy month of Ramadan — when the faithful fast from dawn to dusk — began at sunrise Saturday in much of the Middle East, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent energy and food prices soaring.

The conflict cast a pall over Ramadan, when large gatherings over meals and family celebrations are a tradition. Many had hoped for a more cheerful Ramadan after the coronavirus pandemic blocked the world’s 2 billion Muslims from many rituals the past two years.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, millions of people in the Middle East are now wondering where their next meals will come from. The skyrocketing prices are affecting people whose lives were already upended by conflict, displacement and poverty from Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Yemen.

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Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which Middle East countries rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and sunflower seed oil used for cooking.

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Ukraine’s deputy prime minister says 765 residents managed to make it out of Mariupol in private vehicles on Saturday while a team a humanitarian workers has yet to reach the hard-hit city.

Iryna Vereshchuk said the residents reached Zaporizhzhia, a city 140 miles (226 kilometers) to the northwest.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross said a team with three vehicles and nine staff members had planned to get into Mariupol, scene of some of the war’s worst attacks, on Saturday to evacuate residents. The Red Cross said it could not carry out the operation Friday because it did not receive assurances the route was safe. City authorities said the Russians blocked access to the city.

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A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross said Saturday evening the team, which departed Zaporizhzhia in the morning, was “spending the night en route to Mariupol and are yet to reach the city.” Around 100,000 people are believed to remain in the city on the Sea of Azov, down from a prewar population of 430,000, and facing dire shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine.

The Mariupol city council said earlier Saturday that 10 empty buses were headed to Berdyansk, a city 52 miles (84 kilometers) west of Mariupol, to pick up people who managed to get there on their own. About 2,000 made it out of Mariupol on Friday, city officials said.

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At least 17 colleges and universities in several U.S. states will jointly offer honorary degrees to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during their commencement ceremonies this spring.

Alfred University President Mark Zupan said the idea grew from his request to have Zelenskyy speak virtually to a combination of graduating classes.

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When an official at the Ukrainian embassy declined the western New York university’s request, the institutions agreed to award honorary degrees in absentia to honor Zelenskyy’s leadership during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“The gesture was motivated by the inspiring example provided by President Zelenskyy to his people and the broader world in defense of freedom and democracy,” Zupan said in a news release Friday.

Several additional campuses in upstate New York, which has a significant population with ties to Ukraine, have committed to the idea. They are being joined by institutions in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Others are expected to join in, Alfred University said.

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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday thanked the people of Enerhodar for protesting the Russian occupation. The southeastern city, where employees of the nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant live, has been under Russian control since early March.

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In response to the protest, Russian forces “opened fire and used grenades against completely peaceful people,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address. Four people were badly burned, according to Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman.

Ukraine’s state nuclear agency reported about Saturday’s attacks on its official Telegram channel. A video clip accompanying the Telegram post by Ukraine’s Energoatom appeared to feature loud blasts and flying debris.

A second post on the state enterprise’s channel claimed that explosions and mortar bursts could be heard near the Sovremennik cultural center, where residents held a rally in support of Ukraine. The ombudsman said the residents were singing Ukraine’s national anthem.

“As protesters began to disperse, the invaders arrived in police vehicles, and began to force local residents into them,” the post read. “A few minutes later, the city was rocked by massive explosions and shelling.”

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A Russian group that monitors political arrests says 208 people were detained in demonstrations held Saturday across the country protesting Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

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CHISINAU, Moldova — Authorities in the tiny breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova denied “absolutely untrue” claims Saturday by Ukraine that Russian troops based there are massing to conduct “provocations” along Ukraine’s border.

Earlier Saturday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that Russian troops already in Transnistria were preparing for “a demonstration of readiness for the offensive and, possibly, hostilities against Ukraine.”

“The information disseminated by the General Staff of Ukraine is absolutely untrue,” Transnistria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that leaders have repeatedly “declared the absence of any threat to Ukraine.”

Moldova’s Foreign Ministry also said Saturday there is “no information to confirm the mobilization of troops in the Transnistrian region” and that “state institutions are closely monitoring the security situation in the region.”

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Transnistria is a Russia-backed region of Moldova that broke away after a short civil war in the early 1990s, and is unrecognized by most countries. An estimated 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed there.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A prominent Ukrainian photojournalist who went missing last month in a combat zone near the capital has been found dead.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement Saturday that Maks Levin was killed with two gunshots, fired allegedly by the Russian military. Levin’s body was found in the Huta Mezhyhirska village on Friday.

Levin, 40, worked as a photojournalist and videographer for many Ukrainian and international publications.

Levin has been missing since March 13, when he contacted his friend from Vyshhorod near Kyiv to report on the fighting in the region.

An investigation into his death has been launched.

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HELSINKI — Finland’s prime minister says her country should make a decision on NATO membership “during this spring” after the government and lawmakers have carefully assessed the pros and cons of joining the military alliance — a topical issue in the Nordic nation after Russia’s invasion to Ukraine.

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Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Saturday that “both joining (NATO) and not joining are choices that have consequences. We need to assess both the short-term and long-term effects. At the same time, we must keep in mind our goal: ensuring the security of Finland and Finns in all situations.”

Marin said Finland’s relationship with neighboring Russia has changed irreversibly after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last month, and “it takes a lot of time and work for confidence to be restored.”

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest by any European Union member.

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WARSAW, Poland –Poland’s government says it has issued over 625,000 national identification numbers to Ukrainian refugees since Russia launched its invasion.

The ID number, something all Polish citizens have, gives people the right to access health care, schooling or other state services. Poland, the country that has accepted the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees, decided recently to extend those rights to Ukrainians fleeing war.

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More than 4 million Ukrainians have so far fled, and more than 2.4 of them have crossed into Poland. Others have fled into Romania, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary.

It is not clear, however, exactly how many of them stay in the countries they first arrive in, and how many move on to other places, such as Germany, Italy and Spain.

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ROME — Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, visiting Azerbaijan, has described his talks there as laying the bases for even stronger cooperation on energy, as Italy seeks to quickly reduce its heavy reliance on Russian gas.

In comments to reporters in Baku on Saturday, Di Maio described Azerbaijan, which is Italy’s largest supplier of oil and third-largest supplier of gas, as a “priority partner” in Italy’s quest to diversify its sources of energy.

Di Maio arrived in the South Caucasus country on Friday, following previous energy-focused missions to Algeria, Qatar, Angola and Congo. Italy is eyeing the possibility of increasing the supply of natural gas from Azerbaijan through the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, which transported its first gas in 2020.

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GENEVA —The former chief prosecutor of the U.N. war crimes tribunals has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is a war criminal,” Carla Del Ponte told Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview published Saturday.

In interviews given to Swiss media to mark the release of her latest book, the Swiss lawyer who oversaw U.N. investigations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, said there were clear war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

She said she was particularly shocked by the use of mass graves, which recalls the worst of the wars in former Yugoslavia.

Other war crimes she identified in Ukraine included attacks on civilians, the destruction of civilian buildings and even that of entire towns.

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This item has been corrected to say that Del Ponte was chief prosecutor of UN war crimes tribunals, not the International Criminal Court.

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LVIV, Ukraine — At least 33 people have been killed and 34 injured in a Russian rocket strike on the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv. Ukrainian officials gave the latest death toll in a statement Saturday, updating the numbers of the deadly strike that hit Mykolaiv on Tuesday.

Rescuers sent by the State Emergency Service have been searching the wreckage for survivors since Russian forces struck the building, which housed the office of regional governor Vitaliy Kim. The governor, who was not on the premises at the time of the attack, later posted social media images showing a gaping hole in the nine-story structure.

The confirmed death toll has risen steadily as the search and rescue operation continues.

Mykolaiv, a strategically important city en route to Ukraine’s largest port of Odesa, has withstood weeks of shelling by the Russian forces.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s top space official says the future of the International Space Station hangs in the balance after the United States, the European Union, and Canadian space agencies missed a deadline to meet Russian demands for the lifting of sanctions on Russian enterprises and hardware.

The head of Russia’s Roscosmos state agency told reporters on Saturday morning that the agency was preparing a report on the prospects of international cooperation at the station, to be presented to federal authorities “after Roscosmos has completed its analysis.”

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin implied on Russian state TV that the Western sanctions, some of which predate Russia’s military action in Ukraine, could disrupt the operation of Russian spacecraft servicing the ISS.

He stressed that the Western partners need the ISS and “cannot manage without Russia, because no one but us can deliver fuel to the station.”

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Rogozin added that “only the engines of our cargo craft are able to correct the ISS’s orbit, keeping it safe from space debris.”

Later on Saturday, Rogozin wrote on his Telegram channel that he received responses from his Western counterparts vowing to promote “further cooperation on the ISS and its operations.”

Responding to Western sanctions on Telegram last month, Rogozin warned at the time that without Russia’s help, the ISS could “fall down into the sea or onto land,” and claimed that the crash site was unlikely to be in Russia.

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ISTANBUL – Turkey has offered to help evacuate civilians from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol by ship. The Turkish defense minister said Saturday that “we can provide ship support for the evacuation of civilians and injured Turkish and other countries’ citizens in Mariupol from the sea.”

State-run Anadolu Agency reported that Hulusi Akar said Turkey was coordinating possible evacuations with the authorities of the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

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Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, has seen some of the worst suffering of the war. The International Committee for the Red Cross is attempting to remove some of the 100,000 people are believed to remain in the city.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that some 30 Turkish nationals were still in the city.

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VALLETTA, Malta — Pope Francis says he is studying a possible visit to Kyiv and he blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching a “savage” war, as he arrived in Malta and delivered his most pointed and personalized denunciation yet of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Francis didn’t cite Putin by name, but the reference was clear when he said that “some potentate” had unleashed the threat of nuclear war on the world in an “infantile and destructive aggression” under the guise of “anachronist claims of nationalistic interests.”

Speaking to Maltese authorities Saturday, Francis said: “We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past.” Francis has to date avoided referring to Russia or Putin by name. But Saturday’s personalization of the powerful figure responsible marked a new level of outrage for the pope.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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