Ukraine: Russian troops more active in east

The Ukrainian military says that Russian troops have intensified their activities in the country’s east.


Russia Ukraine War Ukrainian soldiers of the 103rd Separate Brigade of the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces, fire their weapons, during a training exercise, at an undisclosed location, near Lviv, western Ukraine, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty) ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Ukrainian general staff said Wednesday that the Russians have scaled up their activities around Izyum, south of Kharkiv, after redeploying some units from other areas. It also said that the Russian forces have intensified shelling and attacks in the eastern Donetsk region, focusing on trying to win control of Mariupol, Popasna and Rubizhne.

The Russian military has said it has shifted its focus to Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014.

KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia hits near Kyiv and another Ukrainian city despite vows to scale back

— Poland to end Russian oil imports; Germany warns on gas

— UN agency says 4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine

— UN food chief: Ukraine war’s food crisis is worst since WWII

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government has decided to increase the size and scope of a one-time, tax-free subsidy to housesholds affected by high heating bills. Around 419,000 households will now receive 6,000 kroner ($891) under the plan.

A previous deal reached Feb. 11, before Russia's invasion started, provided for aid of 3,750 kroner to around 320,000 households to help cover the costs of soaring heating bills.

Energy Minister Dan Jørgensen said the war “has created uncertainty in the energy markets, and gas prices are expected to be at a high level for the rest of 2022.”

The government will now spend 2 billion kroner ($297 million) on the program. Conditions for receiving support include a home being located in an area with district heating fueled primarily by gas power plants, or the home having individual gas heating.

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LONDON -- Britain’s main opposition party has called the government’s progress in welcoming refugees from Ukraine “shamefully slow” after figures showed that just 2,700 visas have been granted under its “Homes for Ukraine” program despite tens of thousands of Britons volunteering to offer refuge.

Some 28,300 applications have been made to bring Ukrainians to safety in the U.K. since the government launched a program on March 18 allowing individuals, charities and businesses to host refugees in homes across the country.

But Britain retains a visa requirement on security grounds, unlike other European countries that had no such requirement or have waived checks in reaction to the humanitarian crisis.

Yvette Cooper of the opposition Labour Party said Wednesday that despite strong support from the British people the government’s “shambolic bureaucracy” was letting everyone down.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says that it will take some time to switch payments for Russian gas to rubles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the government to make the necessary arrangements by Friday to ensure that European customers pay for Russian gas in rubles rather than Western currencies. The West has rejected the demand.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the switch is going to be a “drawn-out process.” He didn’t give a specific timeframe.

Peskov noted that there is always a gap between supplies and payments in the gas trade. He said the government will soon release the details of the new proposed payment scheme.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway says it has donated a further 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against the Russian invasion, adding to protective equipment and about 2,000 anti-tank weapons that were sent previously.

Norwegian Defense Minister Odd Roger Enoksen said that if Ukraine succeeds in repelling Russia's attack, "it will both ensure Ukrainian sovereignty and help maintain the norm of peaceful conflict resolution and respect for borders in Europe.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — A senior Ukrainian official says that the Russian military has continued shelling areas around the Ukrainian capital.

Oleksandr Pavliuk, the head of the Kyiv region military administration, said Wednesday that there were 30 Russian shellings of the residential areas and civilian infrastructure in the Bucha, Brovary and Vyshhorod regions around the capital over the previous 24 hours.

The barrage came despite a Russian pledge to reduce military activities around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv after Tuesday’s talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul.

Olexander Lomako, the secretary of Chernihiv city council, said in a voice message to The Associated Press that military action increased in intensity overnight and “the city was bombed, shelled by artillery and heavy weapons,” with a library and a shopping mall among places that were hit.

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ROME — Italy is renewing its offer to be a guarantor should any peace deal be reached between Russia and Ukraine that involves a neutrality clause.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Wednesday that Italy “will put at disposal all our efforts, competence and experience" so that it can made a “fundamental contribution" to an agreement.

He told reporters in Berlin, where he was attending a meeting on energy, that Italy was willing to be a guarantor for any neutrality mechanism that might be part of a strategy to end the war.

Earlier this week Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that he had expressed his appreciation to Italian Premier Mario Draghi for Rome's “willingness to join the creation of a system of security guarantees” for Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says there was no breakthrough in the latest round of talks with Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday it was a “positive factor” that Ukraine submitted its written proposals, but added that “we can’t say there has been something promising or any breakthroughs.”

He emphasized in a call with reporters that there is still a lot of work ahead following Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul.

On Tuesday, Ukraine set out a detailed framework for a peace deal under which the country would remain neutral but its security would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland. It said it would also be willing to hold talks over a 15-year period on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Peskov said Russia’s chief delegate in the talks, Vladimir Medinsky, has reported their results to President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin spokesman didn’t discuss details of the negotiations. Asked about the Ukrainian offer of talks over the status of Crimea, he said there is nothing to discuss because Crimea is part of Russia under the country’s constitution.

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GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body has chosen a Norwegian former judge at the European Court of Human Rights to head a three-member panel to investigate possible abuses and violations in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Erik Møse, formerly president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, will be joined by Jasminka Dzumhur, the human rights ombudsperson in Bosnia, and Pablo de Greiff of Colombia, a political theorist who has specialized in justice issues, on the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.

The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council created the commission earlier this month.

The three panel members will lead a team that has a one-year mandate to “to establish the facts, circumstances and root causes” of any human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine that could eventually contribute to international justice over the war.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s state agency for emergencies says that the death toll in a Russian strike on the regional administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 14.

Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces blasted a gaping hole in a nine-story government building in a strike on Tuesday morning. The regional governor has charged that they waited for people to go to work before striking it.

The emergencies agency said Wednesday that rescuers removed one more body from the rubble and another person died of wounds at a hospital, bringing the death toll to 14.

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KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s president says that the Russian military has redeployed some of its forces to the east of the country.

Oleksiy Arestovych said in televised remarks Wednesday that Russia has moved some of its troops from areas near Kyiv to the east in an effort to encircle the Ukrainian forces there.

He said Russia has left some of its forces near Kyiv to tie up Ukrainian troops there and prevent them moving to other areas. Arestovych said Russia hasn’t yet pulled back any of its troops from the northern city of Chernihiv.

Russian military officials have said they will focus their efforts on eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. Russia also announced after talks Tuesday with Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul that it will scale down its activities around Kyiv and Chernihiv to help the talks succeed.

Chernihiv governor Viacheslav Chaus said that Russian strikes against civilian infrastructure continued overnight despite the Russian claim.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military has reported a new series of strikes on Ukrainian arsenals and fuel depots.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that the military used air-launched long-range cruise missiles to target fuel depots in Starokostiantyniv and Khmelnytskyi in central Ukraine.

Konashenkov said in a statement that the Russian forces also hit the Ukrainian special forces headquarters in Bereznehuvate in the southern Mykolaiv region.

Konashenkov also said that the Russian military used mobile land-based Iskander missile launchers to hit two ammunition depots in the eastern Donetsk region. The Russian military said that it has shifted focus to Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas, where Moscow-backed rebels have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.

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LVIV, Ukraine — A spokesman for the World Food Program says it welcomes talk of a possible pullback of Russian forces in parts of Ukraine but the process of negotiating aid access has not improved.

Tomson Phiri told The Associated Press on Wednesday that “we expect faster clearances, faster guarantees of access."

He spoke after a WFP convoy reached the hard-hit city of Kharkiv with supplies for bakeries and emergency food rations.

“People had gone for days without finding food,” he said. “These are people who’ve never experienced hunger in their lives.”

He says WFP has already reached 1 million people with assistance. The goal is to reach 4 million in the coming months.

“Mariupol is top of mind,” he said, as well as Sumy and other partly encircled areas.

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GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says more than 4 million people have now fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, a new milestone in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees posted Wednesday on a website that tracks refugee flows around the world that 4.01 million people have now fled Ukraine. Of those, 2.3 million have entered Poland.

Aid workers say the flow has eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war. An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within Ukraine.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says his country will take steps to end Russian oil imports by the end of 2022.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that Poland has already largely reduced its dependence on Russian oil.

Morawiecki told a news conference that Poland was launching the most radical plan among European nations to wean off Russian energy sources.

Poland said Tuesday it was banning imports of Russian coal. Morawiecki said he expects coal imports will be cut in May and called on other European countries to follow suit.

Poland is arguing that money from oil and gas exports are fueling Russia’s war machine and that that should stop.

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This item has been corrected to show that Poland’s prime minister expects coal imports to be ended in May, not gas imports.

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BERLIN -- The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is visiting a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on a trip meant to help bolster the security of the country’s nuclear facilities.

Rafael Mariano Grossi arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he tweeted that he was at the South Ukraine power plant to meet Ukrainian government officials and staff, and start IAEA technical assistance.

He said it is “vital to be on the ground to provide effective support to (Ukraine) in these extremely difficult times” and that the IAEA’s presence “will help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident that could have severe public health and environmental consequences in Ukraine and beyond.”

The nearest major city to the plant is Mykolaiv.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four plants -- one of which, at Zaporizhzhia, is under the Russian military’s control. It also is home to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, the site of the 1986, which the Russian military seized early in the war.

As of Tuesday, eight reactors were operating, including two at South Ukraine, while the rest were shut down for regular maintenance.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey says Ukrainian and Russian delegations have decided to return home for consultations after making progress in negotiations.

The talks on Tuesday hosted by Turkey sketched out what could end up being a framework for ending the war. The talks had been expected to resume on Wednesday, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two sides were bringing the proposals back to their capitals.

At the conference in Istanbul, Ukraine’s delegation laid a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would in the meantime cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”

Russian delegation head Vladimir Medinsky said negotiators would take Ukraine’s proposals to Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Moscow would provide a response, but he did not say when.

Cavusoglu said he expected a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers at an unspecified time. He said another meeting between the presidents of the two countries is also on the agenda.

Russian state news agency Tass reported that Moscow’s delegates arrived back in Russia late Tuesday.

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LONDON — Britain says Russia’s increasing reliance on mercenaries to fight in Ukraine is a sign of the war’s heavy toll on Moscow’s forces.

Western officials say up to 1,000 combatants from the private Wagner Group have been sent to eastern Ukraine. Moscow is also trying to recruit Syrians to fight in the country.

British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said “it is a worrying sign but it also probably shows you how dependent they have become on other fighters because of the weakness and fragility of the professional forces.”

He told Sky News that “the Russian war machine, which had a pretty fearsome reputation, has been found to stutter and stumble, in at least the early stages of this campaign.”

The U.K. Defense Ministry says some Russian units have withdrawn from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus after suffering heavy losses.

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The governor of Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region says Russian attacks continued overnight despite Moscow saying it would reduce military activity in the area.

Viacheslav Chaus said in a video message on social media that houses and infrastructure including libraries and shopping centers had been damaged in the cities of Chernihiv and Nizhyn.

Chaus didn’t say if anyone had been killed or injured.

Of Russia’s statement that it would cut back its military activity, he said: “Do we believe that? Of course not.”

During talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says he is triggering the early warning level for gas supplies amid Russia’s continued demand to be paid in rubles.

Robert Habeck told reporters Wednesday that this was the first of three warning levels and entails the establishment of a crisis team in his ministry that will heighten monitoring of the gas supply situation.

Habeck said he took the measure after Moscow indicated it would require payment in rubles despite the Group of Seven countries rejecting such demands on Monday.

He says Germany’s gas storages are currently filled to about 25% capacity.

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LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says Russia’s stated focus on the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine “is likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance.”

In a daily war assessment, the ministry said Wednesday that Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganize and supply. It says such activity is placing further pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics and demonstrates the difficulties Russia is having reorganizing its units in forward areas within Ukraine.

It noted, however, that the shift is unlikely to mean relief for civilians in cities that have been subjected to relentless Russian bombardments. It expects Moscow will continue to compensate for reduced ground maneuvers through mass artillery and missile strikes.

The Associated Press

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