By The Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says he will meet Sunday in Kyiv with the U.S. secretary of state and secretary of defense.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of the plans Saturday during a press conference. He did not immediately share more detail about the visit from Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin.
The White House declined to comment on Saturday. The U.S. State Department also declined comment.
Zelenskyy has for weeks urged Western allies to send Ukraine more weapons to counter the Russian invasion.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukrainian counterattacks slowing Russian offensive in the east
— Ukrainian village faces a churchless Easter
— Sanctions hit Russian economy, though Putin says otherwise
— Refugees in the Czech Republic make protective vests for volunteer fighters
— Possible mass graves near Mariupol shown in satellite images
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s top diplomat says Ankara has closed the Turkish airspace to Russian civilian and military flights between Russia and Syria.
Mevlut Cavusoglu told a group of Turkish journalists during a visit to Uruguay that Russia had permission to use the Turkish airspace for flights to Syria until April.
But Haberturk television reported that Cavusoglu said Saturday that he asked Moscow to stop using the airspace during a visit there in March, and that Moscow agreed to the Turkish request.
Cavusoglu did not elaborate and it was not clear if the move aimed to prevent the possible transfer of Syrian fighters to Ukraine.
NATO-member Turkey has been trying to balance its close relations with Moscow and Kyiv and has positioned itself as a mediator between the two. It has not joined international sanctions against Russia but has closed the straits at the entrance of the Black Sea to some Russian warships.
The country has hosted a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers as well as talks between the two countries’ negotiating teams.
BERLIN — Germany’s former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has rejected criticism of his work as a lobbyist for Russian energy companies since leaving office in 2005, telling the New York Times: “I don’t do mea culpa.”
In an interview with the newspaper published Saturday, Schroeder also claims that his long-time friend President Vladimir Putin of Russia is interested in ending the war with Ukraine.
Schroeder reportedly blasted German officials who now criticize his efforts to procure Russian energy supplies for Germany, saying that “they all went along with it for the last 30 years.”
In the interview, he called the war in Ukraine “a mistake” and said atrocities need to be investigated, but added that he did not believe Putin himself ordered killings of civilians such as those allegedly committed by Russian troops in Bucha.
Schroeder, who met with Putin in Moscow last month on a private mission to broker peace with Ukraine, claimed the Russian president “is interested in ending the war.”
“But that’s not so easy. There are a few points that need to be clarified,” the New York Times quoted him saying, without elaborating.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said he promised more defense weaponry is on the way to Ukraine while speaking with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone on Saturday afternoon, the latest chat between the two leaders who talk to each other regularly.
The British leader told Zelenskyy that the United Kingdom is sending more weaponry including vehicles, drones and anti-tank missiles.
Johnson also confirmed to Zelenskyy that the U.K. would reopen its embassy in Kyiv next week. He also updated the Ukrainian leader on new U.K. sanctions designations against members of the Russian military and told him the British government was helping to collect evidence of war crimes.
The two also discussed the U.K.’s work on long term security solutions and financial support with international partners.
“The Prime Minister ended by reiterating the UK’s unwavering support for the people of Ukraine and committed to continue working with international partners to provide the assistance necessary to help Ukraine defend itself,” Downing Street said in a statement.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s president says five people including a three-month-old infant were killed in a missile attack in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.
Ukraine presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, provided the information Saturday.
An adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister earlier said Russian forces fired at least six cruise missiles at the city.
Anton Gerashchenko said in a Telegram post on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were able to shoot down several missiles, but at least one landed and exploded.
“Residents of the city heard explosions in different areas,” Gerashchenko wrote. “Residential buildings were hit.”
HELSINKI — Hundreds of protesters belonging to Latvia’s sizable Russian-speaking community have taken part in a large-scale demonstration in the Baltic nation’s capital, Riga, condemning the Kremlin regime and Moscow’s aggression on Ukraine.
Participants of Saturday’s rally entitled “The Russian Voice Against War” waved Ukrainian flags and posters with inscriptions such as “Stop the genocide in Ukraine” and “Complete Russian gas and oil embargo” at the central Freedom Monument, Latvia’s public broadcaster LSM reported.
Organizers said the protest aimed to demonstrate that many of Latvia’s Russian-speakers are not aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a statement, they called Moscow’s actions “criminal.”
Ethnic Russians make up around 25% of the 1.9 million population in Latvia, a former Soviet republic. Adding other national groups, like Belarusians and Ukrainians, the share of Russian-speakers is about 30% of the all citizens.
Earlier this week, Latvia’s Parliament unanimously declared killings of civilians in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, including Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol, to be acts of genocide.
KYIV, Ukraine — A top Ukrainian official has announced a country-wide curfew for the night of the Orthodox Easter.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said in a video address Saturday that in the regions most affected by the invasion — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson — the curfew will run from 7 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Sunday.
In others regions, including Kyiv, Odesa, Chernihiv and Lviv, the curfew will run from 11 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Sunday.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office says Russian forces are attacking a steel plant that is the last defense stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said during a briefing on Saturday that the Russian forces have resumed air strikes on Azovstal and were trying to storm it.
“The enemy is trying to completely suppress resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the area of Azovstal,” Arestovich said.
Arestovich’s statement came two days after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the whole of Mariupol, with the exception of Azovstal, had been “liberated” by the Russians.
Putin ordered the Russian military to not to storm the plant and instead to block it off in an apparent attempt to stifle the remaining pocket of resistance there.
Ukrainian officials have estimated that about 2,000 of their troops are inside the plant along with about 1,000 sheltering in the facility’s underground tunnels.
Arestovich says the Ukrainian fighters are still holding on despite the resumed attacks and are even trying to counter them.
LVIV, Ukraine — Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy has announced a curfew starting on Orthodox Easter night.
Citing “new intelligence,” Kozytskyy said the curfew would run from 11 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday, and then every day between those hours until further notice.
“Unfortunately, the enemy doesn’t have such a concept as a major religious holiday,” Kozytskyy wrote. “They are so beastly that they don’t understand what Easter is.”
Kozytskyy said the church leadership is in support of the decision and that all churches in the region will be postponing their Easter night services until the morning hours.
KYIV, Ukraine — A video released by the Azov regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, part of a group currently holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, shows women and children sheltering underground. Some of them have been hiding in the plant’s tunnels for up to two months.
“We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe in fresh air,” said one woman in the video that was released on Saturday. “You have simply no idea what it means for us to simply eat, drink some sweetened tea. For us it is already happiness.”
Another young girl in the video says she and her relatives left home on Feb. 27. Since then, they have seen “neither the sky, nor the sun.” “We really want to get out of here safely, so that no one gets hurt,” the girl pleads.
Azov’s deputy commander Sviatoslav Palamar told the AP the video was shot on Thursday. Contents of the video could not be independently verified.
According to Ukrainian officials, some 1,000 civilians, including women and children, remain trapped at Azovstal together with the Ukrainian troops holed up there.
KYIV, Ukraine — Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov says two people were killed and 19 more wounded by Russian shelling.
Synehubov said on the messaging app Telegram on Saturday that over the past day Russian forces fired at the region’s civilian infrastructure 56 times.
Kharkiv, which is near the front lines, has faced repeated shelling from Russian forces.
KYIV, Ukraine — Efforts to evacuate civilians to safer areas will continue in Ukraine on Saturday, the country’s officials said.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app there will be another attempt to evacuate women, children and the elderly from the strategic port city of Mariupol, which has been besieged by Russian forces for weeks and reduced largely to smoking rubble by constant bombardment.
The Kremlin earlier this week declared that Mariupol has been “liberated,” with the exception of the Azovstal steel mill, the last pocket of resistance where Ukrainian troops are holed up.
Vereshchuk said that “if everything goes according to plan,” the evacuation in Mariupol will begin at midday on Saturday. Many previous attempts to evacuate civilians from the city have failed.
The governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said on Telegram that an evacuation train will depart Saturday from the eastern city of Pokrovsk. Residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which comprise Ukraine’s industrial heartland known as Donbas, will be able to take the train free of charge.
It will bring them to the Western city of Chop near Ukraine’s border with Slovakia and Hungary, according to Haidai.
Russia has said that establishing full control over the Donbas, a large part of which has been in the hands of Russia-backed separatists since 2014, is currently one of the main goals of its operation in Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai says that two people were killed by Russian shelling in the city of Popasna.
Haidai said Saturday on the messaging app Telegram that residential buildings in the region were shelled 12 times the previous day, and Popasna “got the most” of it.
“In addition to the fact that street fighting continues in the city for several weeks, the Russian army constantly fires at multistory residential buildings and private houses. Just yesterday, local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks…. Not all survived,” Haidai wrote.
He added that some houses were also destroyed in Lysychansk and Novodruzhesk.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukraine military’s General Staff says that Russian forces continue their “offensive operations” in eastern Ukraine with the goal of defeating Ukrainian forces, establishing full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and securing “a land route between these territories and the occupied Crimea.”
Ukrainian forces in the past 24 hours repelled eight Russian attacks in the two regions, destroying nine tanks, 18 armored units and 13 vehicles, a tanker and three artillery systems, the General Staff said on its Facebook page on Saturday morning.
Russian forces continue to partially block and shell Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and are active in the area of Izyum, the update said.
In the strategic port city of Mariupol, Russian troops “continue to blockade” Ukrainian units in the area of the Azovstal steelworks, the last remaining stronghold, and “launch air strikes on the city, including with the use of long-range aircraft,” the post said, adding that an engineering unit arrived to Mariupol in order to demine the port infrastructure.
KYIV, Ukraine — Another mass grave has been found outside Mariupol, the city council and an adviser to the mayor said Friday.
The city council posted a satellite photo provided by Planet Labs showing what it said was a mass grave 45 meters (147.64 feet) by 25 meters (82.02 feet) that could hold the bodies of at least 1,000 Mariupol residents.
It said the new reported mass grave is outside the village of Vynohradne, which is east of Mariupol.
Earlier this week, satellite photos from Maxar Technologies revealed what appeared to be rows upon rows of more than 200 freshly dug mass graves in the town of Manhush, located to the west of Mariupol.
The discovery of mass graves has led to accusations that the Russians are trying to conceal the slaughter of civilians in the city.
KYIV, Ukraine — At least three civilians died and seven more were injured in shelling attacks in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine on Friday, as Russian forces continue to roll into the country’s industrial east, the governor of the region said in a Telegram post.
Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko blamed the deaths of “three more peaceful residents” in a small town and two villages on Russian shelling.
In a separate Telegram post earlier, Kyrylenko said that as of Friday afternoon, Russians had opened fire at 20 settlements in the region and destroyed or damaged 34 civilian infrastructure facilities.
Also on Friday, the local prosecutor’s office in the northeastern region of Kharkiv said in a Telegram post that charred bodies of two residents were discovered near the city of Izyum that same day. The post accused Russian soldiers of torturing the residents and burning their bodies.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will convene a meeting next week in Germany of defense officials and military leaders from more than 20 countries to discuss Ukraine’s immediate and long-term defense needs.
The Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, said Friday that about 40 nations, including NATO members, were invited and that responses are still arriving for the session to be held Tuesday at Ramstein air base. He did not identify the nations that have agreed to attend but said more details will be provided in coming days.
The meeting comes as Russia gears up for what is expected to be a major offensive in eastern Ukraine.
The agenda will include an updated assessment of the Ukraine battlefield as well as discussion of efforts to continue a steady flow of weapons and other military aid, Kirby said. It will include consultations on Ukraine’s post-war defense needs but is not expected to consider changes in the U.S. military posture in Europe, he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that one serviceman died, 27 more went missing and 396 were rescued after a fire on the flagship missile cruiser Moskva last week.
The statement comes a week after the vessel sunk.
Shortly after the incident, the ministry said the entire crew of the ship, which was presumed by the media to be about 500 people, had been rescued. The ministry did not offer an explanation for the contradicting reports.
Ukraine said it hit the cruiser with a missile strike.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s security chief said Friday that the main battles in the country are taking place in the Donbas, the industrial heartland in the east, with Russia deploying more and more troops every day.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press that over 100,000 Russian troops are currently fighting in Ukraine, including mercenaries from Syria and Libya.
Some of Russia’s elite military units have left the strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which was declared “liberated” by the Kremlin on Thursday, and are now moving to the east of the country to participate in the fighting there, Danilov said.
Danilov said a nighttime helicopter delivery brought weapons to Mariupol’s steel mill, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the city. He urged Ukraine’s Western partners to speed up the delivery of weapons to his country.
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