By The Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine — Officials from Ukraine’s national security council warned residents Friday against the increased risk of shelling on Sunday and Monday, coinciding with Russia’s Victory Day celebrations.
A Facebook post published on the profile of the Center for Counteracting Disinformation, under the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, urged Ukrainians not to ignore air raid sirens.
“Since Russian troops cannot boast of any significant achievements on the front by Victory Day, the risk of massive shelling of Ukrainian cities these days is increasing,” the post said.
Separately on Friday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said authorities will not be extending the curfew in Kyiv; one has already been introduced. But street patrols would be reinforced.
Moscow commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9 each year.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— New effort races to rescue civilians from Mariupol plant
— Europe’s farmers stir up biogas to offset Russian energy
— With Ukraine’s ports blocked, trains in Europe haul grain
— A song with power: Ukraine’s Eurovision entry unites nation
— Official: US gave intel before Ukraine sank Russian warship
— Jill Biden to meet Ukrainian refugees during border visit
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian army said Friday it had made progress in the northeastern Kharkiv region, recapturing five villages and part of a sixth.
“As a result of the offensive by units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine, control was restored over the settlements of Aleksandrovka, Fedorovka, Ukrainka, Shestakovo, Pobeda and part of the village of Cherkassky Tishki,” said a Facebook post published Friday afternoon on the official profile of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
A village in Russia’s southern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, is being evacuated due to shelling from Ukrainian territory, the regional governor said Friday.
Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that as of Friday afternoon, fewer than 30 people remained in the village of Nekhoteevka, located directly next to a border crossing.
“We have already taken most of the residents to a safe place,” he said, adding that five houses had been damaged by shelling. His post featured two photos of what appeared to be the same damaged building.
The accuracy of Gladkov’s claims could not be immediately verified, nor did his post specify the number of people currently living in Nekhoteevka. Russia’s 2010 census referenced the village as having 145 permanent residents.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region accused Russian troops Friday of “terrorizing” residents of a frontline city as they try to advance across the Seversky Donets River.
In a Telegram post, Serhiy Haidai said more than 3,500 residents of the city of Kreminna had found themselves in Russian-controlled territory.
“The captured city is teeming with Russian military equipment. Fighting is going on in the vicinity,” he wrote. “The Russians are terrorizing the population in every possible way: from checking phones to forcibly disappearing Ukrainian patriots. … Almost every house has been looted.”
He added that Kreminna suffered from food and electricity shortages and that mobile communications had been shut down.
The accuracy of his statements could not be immediately verified.
SONCHAMP, France — In lush fields southwest of Paris, farmers are joining Europe’s fight to free itself from Russian gas.
They’ll soon turn on the tap of a new facility where crops and agricultural waste are mashed up and fermented to produce “biogas.” It’s among energy solutions being promoted on the continent that wants to choke off funding for Russia’s war in Ukraine by no longer paying billions for Russian fossil fuels.
Small rural gas plants that provide energy for hundreds or thousands of nearby homes aren’t — at least anytime soon — going to supplant the huge flows to Europe of Russian gas that powers economies, factories, business and homes. And critics of using crops to make gas argue that farmers should be concentrating on growing food — especially when prices are soaring amid the fallout of the war in Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets.
Still, biogas is part of the puzzle of how to reduce Europe’s energy dependence.
TURIN, Italy — Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra’s upbeat, melodic entry for this month’s Eurovision Song Contest was written as a tribute to the frontman’s mother.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has become an anthem to the war-ravaged motherland.
“Stefania” is the most-watched song on YouTube among the 35 national entries that are slated to compete when the Eurovision contest takes place next week in Turin, an industrial city in northern Italy.
While some oddsmakers and data analysts have predicted other contestants will win, the song by Kalush Orchestra is quickly becoming a sentimental favorite.
“I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed,’’ Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleh Psiuk wrote in the lyrics for “Stefania.”
His words have become more poignant as missiles pound Ukrainian cities and villages, forcing more than 11 million to flee since Russia invaded the country.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said Friday that 41 more Ukrainians were released that day in a prisoner swap with Russia.
Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram that the 41 people who’ve been returned include 28 military personnel and 13 civilians.
MOSCOW — Russia has no intention of deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday, a day after Moscow’s top diplomat in the U.S. chided Western officials for targeting it with “baseless” accusations.
“Russia firmly abides by the principle that there can be no victors in a nuclear war and it must not be unleashed,” Alexey Zaitsev said. He added that Russian nuclear doctrine does not envisage any scenarios for potential strikes which would apply to Moscow’s military goals in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, Zaitsev added that “any provocations whatsoever can be expected” from Ukraine and the West, and that Russia has to “be ready for any development in the media space and directly on the ground.”
His statement echoed remarks made by Russia’s ambassador in Washington on Thursday.
In an interview with Newsweek, Anatoly Antonov slammed what he called “a flurry of blatant misrepresentation of Russian officials’ statements on our country’s nuclear policy.” He accused top U.S. military leaders — including the Defense Secretary and Joint Chiefs of Staff — of falsely blaming Moscow for escalating nuclear tensions, calling their claims “baseless” and “part of a propaganda campaign against Russia in response to the steps taken to neutralize threats to our national security emanating from the Ukrainian territory.”
He also blamed the wider Western bloc for what he called its “irresponsible” handling of the situation in Ukraine, implying that NATO’s rhetoric and continuing support for Kyiv contributed to heightening nuclear tensions.
“The current generation of NATO politicians clearly does not take the nuclear threat seriously,” Antonov told Newsweek.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin both asserted this week that Moscow would not use nuclear weapons first.
A Russian senator said Friday that Russia will remain “forever” in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, whose capital has been occupied by Moscow’s troops since early March.
Andrey Turchak from the ruling United Russia party visited Kherson on Friday, meeting with its Russian-appointed governor Volodymyr Saldo.
“I want to say once again – Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about it,” Turchak is heard saying in a video published by Russia’s state RIA Novosti agency.
“We will live together, develop this rich region, rich in historical heritage, rich thanks to the people who live here,” he added.
When asked about the future formal status of the Kherson region, Turchak cautioned against “running too far ahead” and said that “in any case, the status is determined by the residents.”
LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has invited Germany’s head of government and its head of state to visit Ukraine on May 9, the day Russia marks the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II.
Western officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the Victory Day holiday to make an announcement about the war — either declaring a victory or escalating the conflict.
Germany is part of the Western alliance supporting Ukraine, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has yet to make a solidarity visit to the country. Scholz has traded barbs with Ukrainian officials in recent weeks because of Kyiv’s refusal to invite Germany’s head of state, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom Ukraine accuses of cozying up to Russia during his time as foreign minister.
Speaking at London’s Chatham House think-tank on Friday, Zelenskyy said he had spoken to Steinmeier and invited both him and Scholz to come to Kyiv.
He said Scholz “can make this very powerful political step to come here on the 9th of May, to Kyiv.”
There was no immediate word on whether the German politicians had agreed. German Parliament President Baerbel Bas is scheduled to visit Ukraine on Sunday and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is due to visit soon.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says his country is providing Ukraine with “all the support we can give and also take responsibility for” in its war with Russia.
Speaking to business leaders in Hamburg on Friday, Scholz said Russia must not gain the upper hand in the conflict, which he described as a “war of destruction” waged by Moscow against Ukraine.
The German leader said that Russia’s position as a global power with a seat on the U.N. Security Council means that “if (Vladimir) Putin gets away with it then there’s a risk of international lawlessness.”
LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he is still open to negotiations with Russia, but he repeated his position that Moscow must withdraws its forces to their pre-invasion positions.
Zelenskyy told a meeting at London’s Chatham House think-tank on Friday that “regaining the situation as of the 23rd of February” — the day before the invasion — is a prerequisite for talks.
He said “in that situation we will be able to start discussing things normally,” and Ukraine could use “diplomatic channels” to regain its territory.
The British government, a key ally of Ukraine, has said Russia must be driven from all of Ukraine, including Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Despite Russia’s intensified attack on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Zelenskyy said there is still space for diplomacy. He said “not all the bridges are yet destroyed,” figuratively speaking.
Asked whether Russia would soon take full control of the besieged port city of Mariupol, Zelenskyy said: “Mariupol will never fall. I’m not talking about heroism or anything … There is nothing there to fall apart. It is already devastated.”
BERLIN — Police in the German capital are bracing for possible confrontations between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters around the anniversary of the end of World War II.
Berlin police said Friday that security around 15 memorial sites across the city will be stepped up on May 8 and 9, and officers will crack down on any attempts to glorify Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
The Russian government has tried to portray the leadership in Kyiv as ‘Nazis’ — a claim both Ukraine and Germany have ridiculed.
Berlin’s police chief Barbara Slowik said authorities have banned the use of Russian or Ukrainian flags, the playing of military music or the wearing of uniforms or the orange and black ribbon of St. George showing support for the Russian military anywhere near the memorial sites.
German news agency dpa quoted police saying that some 3,400 officers will be deployed throughout the city on both days.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — The president of Cyprus says he and the Greek prime minister agree that any additional European Union sanctions against Russia must be targeted and not chosen to “serve the interests” of some member states while leaving others in the lurch.
President Nicos Anastasiades said after talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens on Friday that the two leaders fully support EU sanctions against Russia and condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
But Anastasiades said he and Mitsotakis share the view that the 27-nation bloc must take into account the concerns of Greece, Malta and Cyprus regarding sanctions that could potentially harm their economies.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioanis Kasoulides told state broadcaster CyBC on Thursday that Cyprus objects to any sanctions that would impact law and accounting firms that offer services to Russian-owned companies registered in Cyprus.
Kasoulides said he believes the EU will move to impose additional sanctions on law and accounting firms servicing Russian-owned companies specifically registered in Russia.
He said an embargo on Russian oil and gas wouldn’t affect Cyprus which purchases its supplies from other countries but joins Malta in supporting Greece’s efforts to keep its sizeable oil tanker fleet off any sanctions list.
ROME — The European Union’s foreign affairs chief has voiced worry that Russia might expand its war in Ukraine to include Moldova, a small nation that borders southern Ukraine.
Josep Borrell, the top EU diplomat, was asked at a forum in Florence, Italy, on Friday if the European Union was concerned about what could happen to Moldova.
“Yes, we’re very much worried about what can happen,’’ Borrell said. “The temptation to expand the war and affect Moldova is a possibility,’’ Borrell said.
He cited recent explosions in the country as well as the presence of Russian troops. Last month, two explosions in a radio facility close to the border with Ukraine knocked out of service a pair of powerful broadcast antennas in Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, according to local police.
Transnistria is a narrow strip of land that has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases some 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, describing them as peacekeepers.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis says Russia’s war in Ukraine is particularly “barbarous” given that it involves Christians killing fellow Christians in a scandal that should drive the faithful toward unity.
Speaking to members of the Vatican office that promotes Christian unity among Catholics, Orthodox and other Christian churches, Francis said Christians should ask themselves what they have done and can do to foster fraternity with one another.
Francis recalled that efforts at unifying Christians took off in the last century thanks to “the awareness that the scandal of the division of Christians had a historical weight in generating the evil that has poisoned the world with grief and injustice.”
He said: “Today, in the face of the barbarism of war, this yearning for unity must be fueled again.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The foreign ministers from the three Baltic countries have paid a visit to Kyiv Friday and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“This time we are also talking about the rebuilding, restoration and the EU candidate status for Ukraine,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted. “Blooming Kyiv reminds (us) that the country is ready for a bright future.”
Landsbergis was traveling with Edgars Rinkevics of Latvia and Estonia’s Eva-Maria Liimets. The latter posted a video on Twitter of them shaking hands with Zelenskyy.
Rinkevics wrote on Twitter that they also discussed “what the world, Europe and all us can learn from Ukraine.”
GENEVA — The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization is pointing to “anecdotal evidence” that Russian forces are stealing grain from Ukraine, at a time when the country’s ports have been all but unable to export following the Russian invasion.
Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s markets and trade division, told reporters at a U.N. briefing in Geneva that about 700,000 tons of grain had “disappeared” in Ukraine. He cautioned that there were no “statistics” about possible theft.
“There’s anecdotal evidence that Russian troops have destroyed storage capacity and that they are looting the storage grain that is available,” he said. “They are also stealing farm equipment.”
He pointed to “quite a bit of credibility” to footage shared on social media suggesting that “large amounts of grain all being trucked out of the country by Russia.”
Schmidhuber said that “to the best of my knowledge,” no grain was leaving Ukrainian ports.
“It’s an almost grotesque situation that we see at the moment in Ukraine: There are nearly 25 million tons of grain that could be exported, but they cannot leave the country simply because of the lack of infrastructure and the blockade of the ports,” he said.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – A European Union embargo on Russian oil would be equivalent to dropping an “atomic bomb” on Hungary’s economy and could thus not be accepted, the country’s nationalist prime minister said on Friday.
Speaking on state radio, Viktor Orban reiterated earlier statements from Hungarian officials that Hungary would not support a new round of proposed EU sanctions against Russia if they included a ban on Russian oil exports.
Orban said that while his government is willing to negotiate on any EU proposals that are in Hungary’s interests, the country’s geography and existing energy infrastructure make a shutdown of Russian oil unfeasible.
“We cannot accept a proposal that ignores this circumstance because in its current form it is equivalent to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” Orban said.
Hungary’s government has firmly opposed EU plans to include Russian energy exports in its sanctions against Moscow, arguing that 85% of Hungary’s gas and more than 60% of its oil comes from Russia.
On Friday, Orban said that converting Hungary’s oil refineries and pipelines to be able to process oil from different sources would take five years and require massive investment.
BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister confirmed Friday that her country will supply Ukraine with seven powerful self-propelled howitzers to help defend itself against Russia.
Christine Lambrecht said Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in Germany to use the self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery, which is capable of firing precision ammunition at a distance of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles).
Germany has stepped up its material support for Ukraine in recent weeks, after the government’s initial reticence to provide heavy weapons drew widespread criticism.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to address the nation Sunday on the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies 77 years ago has increasingly been portrayed as a day of liberation in the country. Scholz’s speech is expected to outline his government’s position on the war in Ukraine.
LVIV, Ukraine — The British military believes Russia wants to take the port city of Mariupol and its vast steel mill before it marks Victory Day on Monday.
The British Defense Ministry made the comment in a daily intelligence briefing it makes on Twitter.
The Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol has been the scene of weeks of fighting. It has a vast network of underground bomb shelters shielding fighters and civilians from Russian bombardment, though the site has been repeatedly struck by high-explosive bombs.
The British military said: “The renewed effort by Russia to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol is likely linked to the upcoming 9 May Victory Day commemorations and Putin’s desire to have a symbolic success in Ukraine.”
It added: “This effort has come at personnel, equipment and munitions cost to Russia. Whilst Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas.”
Victory Day marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
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