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Red Cross convoy forced to turn back from Mariupol

April 1, 2022

The International Committee of the Red Cross has contradicted reports that about 2,000 civilians had left the besieged city. The aid agency said its evacuation buses and aid trucks had to turn back.

Local residents stand next to a building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
Mariupol, in southern Ukraine, has been under attack by Russian forces for weeksImage: ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS
  • The Red Cross will try to reach Mariupol on Saturday after an earlier attempt failed
  • Russia says a Ukrainian strike on its territory may harm peace talks
  • US official says Russian focus on Donbas could prolong the war
  • EU tells China not to interfere with Western sanctions
  • Amnesty says Russia used outlawed cluster bombs in civilian areas

This article was last updated at 00:19 GMT/UTC.

This live updates article is now closed. For the latest information on the war in Ukraine, please click here.

US to provide Ukraine $300 million more in security assistance

The United States will provide an additional $300 million in security assistance to Ukraine, the Department of Defense said Friday.

The assistance is to include laser-guided rocket systems, drones, and commercial satellite imagery services.

"This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide new capabilities to Ukraine’s Armed Forces," Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

150 food deliveries to Ukraine from Germany

Germany made 150 food deliveries totaling about 4,800 pallets of food to Ukraine in the past month, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir told the Funke Media Group on Friday.

"Retailers and food manufacturers and the entire food industry were ready to start right away," he said.

Strike on fuel depot will 'strain' Russia's logistics chains

The destruction at a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod is likely to add to Moscow's logistics issues, British military intelligence said.

Several oil tanks were destroyed at the Belgorod site on Friday, which is a logistics hub for Russia's war effort in Ukraine. 

The latest damage in Belgorod is "will likely add additional short-term strain to Russia's already stretched logistics chains," the British Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter.

Supplies to Russian forces encircling the besieged Ukrainian city of Kharkhiv, located 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Belgorod, "may be particularly affected," the ministry added.

Russia has blamed Ukraine for the destruction, saying that Ukrainian helicopters hit the fuel depot earlier on Friday, sparking a large fire. Ukrainian officials denied responsibility.

'We still do not have access to Mariupol,' Ukrainian Red Cross tells DW

The deputy Director-General of the Ukrainian Red Cross, Olena Stokoz, told DW that the aid organization was stopped by Russian soldiers en route to Mariupol on Friday.

The Red Cross team managed to reach the city of Berdyansk, around an hour outside of Mariupol, before they were halted. However, they managed to escort some Mariupol evacuees who managed to escape the besieged city.

"We reached only Berdyansk and then [we were] stopped by the Russian troops," she said.

"But in Berdyansk we helped to evacuate the population coming from Mariupol on their own in such a way."

Stokoz said the organization has not heard from some of its staff members and volunteers in Mariupol and is unsure if they are alive.

"Unfortunately, the situation in Mariupol is getting worse and worse from day to day," she told DW. "We haven't heard anything from our people in Mariupol for more than one week."

The Ukrainian Red Cross still has staff working in the port city, including six volunteers, Stokoz said. The local office in Mariupol was hit by a Molotov cocktail earlier this week.

"We live in war conditions now," she said.

Ukraine says prisoner exchange took place with Russia

Ukraine and Russia carried out a prisoner exchange on Friday, according to Ukrainian officials.

Some 86 Ukrainian soldiers, including 15 servicewomen, were released as part of the exchange, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration.

He did not say how many Russian troops were released in part of the swap, but said the exchange resulted as part of ongoing peace talks.

The comments were made in a video posted on Telegram, which was later circulated elsewhere on social media.

Russian officials did not immediately confirm or comment on the exchange.

Red Cross plans fresh attempt at Mariupol evacuation

A Red Cross team will make a fresh attempt on Saturday to help evacuate thousands of civilians from the port city of Mariupol, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

An earlier attempt to help people flee the besieged city failed on Friday after "conditions made it impossible to proceed," the Red Cross said in a tweet and statement on their website.

The international aid organization appealed for all sides to provide security guarantees so that the evacuation mission can proceed.

"For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees," the Red Cross urged.

The initial plan on Friday was for the Red Cross to escort dozens of cars and buses carrying thousands of civilians out of Mariupol and bring them safely to another Ukrainian city. While Russian and Ukrainian officials have agreed to a humanitarian corridor, it was unclear whether the message has been received by troops on the ground.

Germany moves anti-aircraft missiles to Lithuania

Anti-aircraft missiles from Germany have arrived in Lithuania to help bolster NATO's eastern flank following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

According to a tweet from the battle group's operations command, the missile defense technology started arriving on Thursday.

The Bundeswehr leads the NATO battle group in Lithuania. It has been reinforced several times already in response to the conflict.

The air force's light air defense system Ocelot protects land forces against low-flying fighter-bombers and combat helicopters.

On Friday, Germany also approved the sale of 58 armored personnel carriers by a Czech company to Ukraine.

The tanks, which are equipped with cannons and machine guns, were originally part of the East German military and were standard military hardware in the armies of the Warsaw Pact.

The weapons were absorbed by the Bundeswehr after German reunification in 1991 and were later sold to a Czech firm, but Berlin must approve any onward sale.

UNESCO: Dozens of historical, religious sites damaged in war

At least 53 historical sites, religious buildings and museums have sustained damage during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the UN's cultural agency has said.

UNESCO said it used satellite images and witness reports to verify the information provided by the Ukrainian authorities about the damage in the north and east of the country.

They include more than a dozen sites in the eastern Kharkiv region, ranging from churches to more modern heritage sites. Five others are in the capital Kyiv while another five are in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine which is home to a cluster of historic sites.

None of those confirmed damaged are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Saint-Sophia Cathedral and monastic buildings of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv.

The list does not include information from the besieged city of Mariupol or the city of Kherson which was captured by Russia.

A damaged church in Kharkiv, Ukraine
This church in Kharkiv sustained damage after a Russian attack last weekImage: Felipe Dana/AP Photo/picture alliance

Dozens of countries join US in releasing oil reserves

Thirty-one countries have agreed to release oil from their emergency reserves for a second time to try to bring down the price of oil, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said.

The measure was decided by IEA members at an extraordinary meeting. It did not provide information on how much emergency stock would be released, saying this would be made public next week.

The decision follows US President Joe Biden's order on Thursday to release a record million barrels per day for six months from the US strategic oil stockpile.

The US measure is by far the biggest use of the strategic stockpile in history and aims to cool down the overheated global oil market and calm rising inflation.

Oil prices were already climbing when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, sparking Western sanctions against Moscow.

Russia is the world's third-largest oil producer, with about 60% of exports going to Europe and 20% going to China.

Oil reached $139 (€126) a barrel shortly after the invasion but on Friday prices steadied, briefly dropping under $100 a barrel.

IEA members said last month that they would release 62.7 million barrels of oil to ease shortages.

Baerbock: Onus on Russia to end Ukraine war

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says ending the war in Ukraine is in Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands.

"He's the one who started the war without any reason. It is now his responsibility to end the war," Baerbock told US broadcaster CNN.

Germany's top diplomat said Putin had chosen "to fight a war against civilians and to fight a war against the European peace order."

Though sanctions have left Moscow "totally isolated," Baerbock said, the European Union now needs to sever its strong energy links with Russia.

"Therefore, we are working every day to phase out our fossil fuel dependency on Russia," she said.

The minister also explained why Berlin had U-turned on its policy of not sending weapons to active conflict zones by approving arms deliveries to Kyiv.

"We had to change our course in Germany by 180 degrees because Ukraine needed our military support; we tried everything to avoid this war, but it was Putin's decision to do the opposite and that's why now we are also delivering weapons to Ukraine," Baerbock said.

On Friday, Germany approved the sale of 58 armored personnel carriers that were originally part of the East Germany military by a Czech company to Ukraine.

A previous attempt to sell the vehicles to Ukraine was blocked in 2019 by the government of former Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Approval is required due to a clause that prevents military hardware from being sold to third parties without Berlin's signature.

Kyiv denies strike on Russian fuel depot

Kyiv has denied responsibility for a blaze at a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, which Moscow said was caused by a Ukrainian airstrike.

Russia's Defence Ministry said that two Ukrainian helicopters struck the facility, which lies some 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the joint border, and is one of Russia's main logistics hubs for the war.

A fire at a fuel depot
Footage released by Russia shows the fuel depot in Belgorad shortly after the reported strikeImage: AFP

Moscow said the choppers entered Russian territory at an extremely low altitude at around 5 a.m. Moscow time (0200 UTC) on Friday, but Ukraine's top security official rebuffed the accusation.

"For some reason, they say that we did it, but according to our information, this does not correspond to reality," Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on Ukrainian national television.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin had been briefed about the incident and that the strike could harm peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv.

Red Cross: Evacuation team could not reach Mariupol 

The Red Cross says its convoy of buses and aid has not yet made it to Mariupol to help evacuate civilians from the city that's been besieged by Russian forces for weeks.

Earlier, the city council suggested that the first evacuations had taken place in buses belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Reporting from Ukraine, DW correspondent Rebecca Ritters explained: "The ICRC team said they were on their way to facilitate the safe passage of civilians to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-held town just north of Mariupol. But they had to turn around because arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed."

"We had heard that 2,000 people were going to be evacuated today. Unfortunately, that's not true," Ritters added. But she said that more than 1,400 people had left the city by private vehicle on Thursday.

The Red Cross convoy also includes desperately-needed humanitarian supplies, which have still not made it the city.

Mariupol residents have been without power and communications for several weeks and food supplies have run low.

Wladimir Klitschko meets Chancellor Scholz in Berlin

The brother of Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko has met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

Wladimir Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, also held talks with Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

Klitschko told Welt-TV after the talks that the conversation with Scholz had been friendly.

He arrived in Berlin a day earlier with a delegation from Ukraine to seek support for the country's fightback against Russia's invasion.

In an earlier interview with Bild TV, Klitschko called for financial aid and: "We need weapons."

"If you are a passive observer, you also have the blood on your own hands," he said.

'People of Europe stand with Ukraine' — European Parliament president

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola has pledged European support for Ukraine while on a visit to Kyiv.

"Please believe me when I say that the European Parliament, the European Union and the people of Europe stand with Ukraine," Metsola said in a joint briefing with Ruslan Stefanchuk, chair of Ukraine's parliament.

Metsola said that Russian President Vladimir "Putin's criminal invasion of Ukraine puts Russia in direct confrontation with Europe," and that it would not go unchallenged.

Ukraine's ambition to join the EU was also recognized, with Metsola saying that Ukraine could "count on the European Parliament's full support in achieving this goal."

Metsola also said that Europe would be ready to rebuild Ukraine's cities and towns once the "illegal, unprovoked and unnecessary war is over."

Macron says helping Mariupol remains a priority

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to continue working towards creating a humanitarian corridor to and from the besieged city of Mariupol.

Macron's office said that France is trying to ensure that people fleeing Mariupol are able to go "in the direction of their choosing" and added that France was willing to assist resettlement elsewhere in Ukraine.

The comments came during talks between Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday.

"The initiative of France on humanitarian corridors from Mariupol must be implemented!" Zelenskyy said on Twitter following the call.

Ukraine won't give up on Donbas, says presidential adviser

Ukraine doesn't want to "give up on Donbas and Crimea," during peace talks with Russia, Liubov Tsybulska, an expert in hybrid warfare and an adviser to the Ukrainian government told DW.

Tsybulska said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's position was to "talk about this in a few years and solve it in a diplomatic way."

She rejected the idea that taking control of the Donbas region has been the goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin all along.

"They [the Russians] don't need Donbas at all," she said. "They were controlling Donbas — Donetsk and Luhansk — for eight years. It's not their intention to get these territories."

Russia says Kyiv has agreed to cede sovereignty of Donbas and Crimea as well as not seek NATO membership, but Ukraine's government has denied those claims.

Tsybulska said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's real strategy is "about controlling Ukrainians."

She said Russia's claim that it was easing military activity around Kyiv was a ploy so they can regroup their forces, especially considering that "Russia is suffering very heavy losses, human losses, equipment and so on."

Barcelona, PSG to play fund-raising friendlies against Dynamo Kyiv

Ukrainian soccer giants Dynamo Kyiv will play a series of friendlies with top-flight clubs to raise money for their war-scarred nation.

The club said that during April-June they were "planning to play friendly matches" with Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Steaua Bucharest, Legia Warsaw and Barcelona.

Dynamo added that Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Sporting Lisbon and Basel were also on the list.

"All these matches with the participation of the Ukrainian champions will be held under the slogan "Match for Peace! Stop the War!", the club said in its statement.

Ukraine's Premier League has not resumed matches after the winter break due to Russia's invasion.

The season's future is in question as the clubs' stadia have been damaged or threatened by Russian bombing and foreign players are leaving Ukrainian teams.

Amnesty: Russia used cluster bombs in civilian areas of Ukraine

Russian forces are using outlawed cluster munitions on densely populated civilian areas in Ukraine, Amnesty International said.

In an investigation published Friday, the human rights group revealed how the Russian army deployed cluster munitions in the city of Kharkiv, having examined fragments of a weapon that injured a local resident.

"We were standing in front of the grocery shop when I heard a loud noise. I turned around and saw a lot of small fires 50 meters away from me," the wounded man, Olesky Stovba, told Amnesty. "And I felt something hit my right leg. I pulled down my pants and saw a lot of blood."

Cluster bombs release hundreds of smaller explosive devices, many of which do not detonate immediately. So they can kill or injure people long after they are dropped.

The bombs have been internationally outlawed since 2010. About a hundred countries joined the convention, but neither Russia nor Ukraine.

Red Cross buses help evacuate residents from Mariupol — DW correspondent

Nearly 3,500 people have been evacuated from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol over the past two days, DW Correspondent Rebecca Ritters has said.

Reporting from Ukraine, Ritters said a limited cease-fire "is holding," citing reports from inside the southern port city.

"We are getting reports that buses have been allowed in and some 2,000 people are currently are being evacuated out of the city through Red Cross buses and a series of private vehicles," she said.

"Yesterday those buses weren't able to get in, nor was a massive humanitarian convoy that was trying to get supplies into the besieged city to help those still trapped inside,” Ritters said, adding that 1,400 people were helped to evacuate on Thursday.

"There are an estimated 100,000-150,000 people still trapped in Mariupol, that's more than a quarter of the city's population. So while 3,500 people is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go."

'We're in action moving towards Mariupol'

Meanwhile, the bombardment of Mariupol has caused at least $10 billion in damage to infrastructure, the city council said.

"Every crime, every murder and act of destruction committed by the aggressor must be recorded and passed on to the International Court (of Justice)," the council cited Mayor Vadym Boichenko as saying.

EU president: China should not interfere with sanctions on Russia

The head of the European Union's executive arm urged China not to help Moscow circumvent Western sanctions in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We made very clear China should not interfere with our sanctions," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference after a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Her comments were backed up by the head of the European Council Charles Michel who said: "Any attempts to circumvent sanctions or provide aid to Russia would prolong the war. This would lead to more loss of life and greater economic impact."

Michel said the two sides had agreed that the conflict was threatening global security, adding that "positive steps by China to help end the war would be welcomed by all Europeans and by the global community."

Beijing, however, renewed its criticism of Western sanctions against Russia.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing that China was even more opposed to unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction that have no basis in international law.''

The ministry also laid the blame for the war in Ukraine at least partially on the United States for pushing to expand the NATO military alliance closer to Russia's borders.

Gazprom to pull its operations in Germany

Russian energy giant Gazprom is to pull out of its operations in Germany, the company has said.

The decision means a withdrawal from Gazprom Germania GmbH and its subsidiaries.

The withdrawal comes amid a deepening row between Moscow and Berlin over payments for Russian natural gas.

The Kremlin has ordered all payments to be made in rubles from Friday, rather than euros or dollars as stipulated in contracts.

It's unclear whether the decision will have consequences for natural gas deliveries to Germany.

Gazprom Germania's business areas are trading, transport and storage of natural gas.

On Thursday, German business daily Handelsblatt reported that Berlin was considering expropriating local units of Gazprom and fellow Russian energy giant Rosneft, amid concerns about energy security.

The Kremlin said any such move would be a violation of international law.

Klitschko tells Kyiv residents not to return

"Huge" battles are being fought to the north and east of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said.

Klitschko warned residents who have fled the capital not to return at present, as it isn't safe.

"The risk of dying [in Kyiv] is pretty high, and that's why my advice to anyone who wants to come back is: Please, take a little bit more time," he said.

Earlier, Kyiv's regional governor said earlier that Russian forces were strengthening their positions in some areas and pulling back in others.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency cited a senior US administration official as saying that Russian forces are using a church site northwest of the capital as a staging ground for their assault on Kyiv.

"Military personnel are situated both on the grounds of the church and the surrounding residential area," the official said, without giving evidence.

Ukraine to inspect Chernobyl site after Russian pullout

Ukraine says it will carry out checks at the Chernobyl nuclear site to determine what the occupying Russians did there.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the government would work with the UN atomic agency to mitigate any danger.

He said the Russians, who controlled the site for more than four weeks, had behaved irresponsibly.

Staff at the plant were stopped from carrying out important tasks, Kuleba added.

Later, the chief of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency  Rafael Mariano Grossi said he would head a support mission to Chernobyl ''very, very soon.''

Russian troops withdrew early Friday from the heavily contaminated facility, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in April 1986, which claimed more than 100 lives.

Ukraine's state power company said Russian troops received ''significant doses'' of radiation from digging trenches in the exclusion zone around the plant.

Ukrainian refugee tally surpasses 4 million

Four-point-one million Ukrainian refugees have now fled the conflict, the United Nations said Friday.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said in the past week around 40,000 people per day have escaped across the country's western borders.

Women and children account for 90% of those who have fled, as men under 60 are eligible for military call-up and cannot leave.

The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) said more than 204,000 non-Ukrainians living, studying or working in the country have also left.

"Forced to flee extraordinary levels of violence, they have left behind their homes and often their families, leaving them shocked and traumatized," said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.

Grandi, who was wrapping up a visit to Ukraine, added: "The support and solidarity shown so far by donors, neighboring countries, and private individuals from around the world has been remarkable."

He later traveled for talks on the refugee situation with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

China declines to take sides, rejects sanctions

China won't take sides in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told EU leaders on Friday.

Li told European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen via video link that China "opposes division of blocs and taking sides," a Chinese diplomat said.

Saying that China is pushing for peace talks between the two sides in "its own way," Li reiterated that Beijing advocates for the safeguard of international law and international norms, including the territorial integrity of all countries, CCTV reported.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing that Beijing "disapproves of solving problems through sanctions, and we are even more opposed to unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction that have no basis in international law."

During a break in the talks, EU Council President Charles Michel tweeted: "China and the EU have a mutual responsibility to use their joint influence and diplomacy to bring an end to Russia's war in Ukraine."

This is the first summit between EU and Chinese leaders in two years.

Germany greenlights sale of infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine

The German government has approved the sale of several dozen infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to Ukraine, according to a media report.

The 58 vehicles of the type PbV-501 originally belonged to the former communist East Germany. They are armed with cannons and machine guns, Welt am Sonntag newspaper said on Friday.

It added that following German reunification, Berlin had passed the IFVs on to Sweden at the end of the 1990s, which later sold them to a Czech company that now aims to sell them to Kyiv.

Countries and companies aiming to pass on German weapons exports need to apply for approval in Berlin first.

Despite the approval, the IFVs won't be delivered to Ukraine immediately, as they require certain repairs and maintenance work, which will likely take several weeks, the paper said.

Moscow says Ukraine air strike on Russia will affect talks

Russia said on Friday that a reported air strike by Ukrainian helicopters on a fuel storage facility in the Russian city of Belgorod will hinder peace talks.

"Of course, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of negotiations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

When asked about the attack, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: "I can neither confirm nor reject the claim that Ukraine was involved in this simply because I do not possess all the military information."

He also said Ukraine was waiting for Russia's formal response to Kyiv's proposals laid out at peace talks in Turkey and that foreign powers were not pushing Ukraine to compromise in negotiations.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's presidential office said both sides resumed peace talks on Friday in an online format, without providing further details.

Russia says won't turn off gas supply to Europe from Friday

Russia will not cut off gas supplies to Europe after Moscow set a Friday deadline for payments to be made in Russia's currency, the ruble.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Thursday that stipulated that buyers must make payments in rubles.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that by Friday, foreign gas buyers need to open ruble-denominated accounts at the state-controlled Gazprombank in order to pay.

Pointing out that payments on deliveries due after April 1 come in the second half of this month and May, Peskov said that Putin's order on the end-payment currency was irreversible and that the ruble was the most preferable and secure currency for Russia now.

Marieluise Beck: War in Ukraine 'brutal, dirty'

Lavrov says Russia open to India mediating in the Ukraine crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said that Moscow is open to India playing the role of a mediator in the Ukraine conflict.

Lavrov is currently in New Delhi to discuss the Ukraine crisis and bilateral ties with Indian leaders. He will also be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to convey a "message personally" from President Vladimir Putin.

India has so far refused to condemn Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, calling only for a cessation of violence. New Delhi also continues to buy Russian fossil fuels and other goods, frustrating the US and its allies, who have been trying to isolate and punish Moscow.

Talks are reportedly ongoing between Indian and Russian officials to set up a rupee-ruble payment mechanism to bypass Western financial sanctions.

"If India wants to buy anything, we're ready to discuss it," Lavrov said. "We are friends," he told reporters.

Russia withdrawing from Kyiv, Chernihiv regions: Ukraine

Russia is withdrawing its forces from the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine, the local governor said on Friday.

"Air and missile strikes are (still) possible in the region, nobody is ruling this out," Governor Viacheslav Chaus said, adding that Ukrainian forces were entering and securing settlements previously held by Russian troops.

Russia is also continuing to withdraw some of its forces from the Kyiv region and they are heading towards Belarus, the region's governor, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, wrote on Telegram. "We are observing the movement of joint (Russian) vehicle columns of various quantities."

Russia said earlier this week that it would scale down operations in the Chernihiv and Kyiv regions and focus on the eastern Donbas region.

China, aid group against ousting Russia from G20

China said on Friday that it doesn't support calls for expelling Russia from the G20 club of the world's major economies.

"All members are equal and no one has the power to divide the G20," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during talks with Retno Marsudi, the foreign minister of Indonesia, which is hosting the G20 summit this year in November.

Wang stressed that the gathering should not be "politicized," emphasizing that the G20 is focused on economic issues.

Mathias Mogge, the head of the German aid group Welthungerhilfe, also urged world leaders not to throw Russia out of the bloc, saying that it could slow efforts to tackle a worsening food crisis worldwide.

"Of course, Russia is the aggressor here, and there needs to be sanctions and everything. But in a humanitarian situation as we have it today, there must be open lines of communication," he said in an interview this week.

Red Cross en route to Mariupol

Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have set off for Mariupol. A spokesman told reporters the ICRC is "hopeful" that evacuations of thousands of civilians can begin on Friday.

"We have permission to move today and we are en route to Mariupol," ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said. "We are hopeful it (the safe passage operation) will commence today."

Dozens of busses that have been put together by Ukrainian authorities to take people out also have not started approaching the dividing line, he said. Ukraine said Russia had prevented buses from reaching the besieged city on Thursday.

However, the body did not receive permission to take humanitarian aid with the convoy, and it departed without any supplies, Watson added.

He called it an "extremely complex" operation, adding that "not all details are in place."

Local residents carry foodstuff while walking past an apartment building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
Local residents carry foodstuff while walking past an apartment building damaged in the besieged southern port city of MariupolImage: Alexander Ermochenko/REUTERS

Russia 'appreciates' India's response to the Ukraine crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is holding talks with senior Indian officials in New Delhi on the Ukraine war and ways to boost bilateral ties. 

"We appreciate that India is taking this situation in the entirety of facts and not just in a one-sided way," Lavrov said in his opening remarks during a meeting with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

India has so far refused to condemn Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, calling only for a cessation of violence.

New Delhi also continues to buy Russian fossil fuels and other goods, frustrating the US and its allies, who have been trying to isolate and punish Moscow.

Mariupol remains 'closed' and 'very dangerous,' says mayor aide

Russian forces have been hindering evacuation efforts and preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching the besieged city, Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol, said on Friday.

The statement came despite an assurance from Russian Major General Mikhail Mizintsev that people would be able to leave.

"The city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to exit with personal transport," Andryushchenko said in a Telegram post. "In addition, since yesterday the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian aid — even in small quantities — into the city."

About 5,000 civilians have been killed in the city since the Russian invasion began, according to Ukrainian authorities. It's estimated that tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the city.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations said that they will make a renewed attempt on Friday to help the city's residents flee.

Fighting for Mariupol 'can go on for a long time'

Tens of thousands of people remain trapped in Mariupol with scant food, water and other supplies.

"Russia gave an ultimatum a while ago saying that the Ukrainian soldiers either had to give up or they would continue to pound the city," said DW correspondent Amien Essif, who is currently in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

"Russia has said very clearly that they will not continue to exacerbate this humanitarian crisis until Ukraine surrenders, perhaps hoping that the international community will see what's happening there and encourage Ukraine to surrender that city," he added.

Essif noted the strategic importance of the city for both sides as holding the city will allow them to control the Sea of Azov.

Stressing that it's very hard to know what's happening in that city, he underlined that the fighting "can go on for a long time."

"Either Russia wins a complete and total victory with the total destruction of the city and most of the civilian lives there or Ukrainians will pull off an unlikely victory and maintain control of that city, hopefully avoiding the worst."

UK says Ukraine has retaken two villages between Chernihiv and Kyiv

Ukrainian troops have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka to the south of Chernihiv and located along main supply routes between the city and Kyiv, British military intelligence said on Friday.

"Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counter attacks to the east and northeast of Kyiv," the UK Defense Ministry said.

"Both Chernihiv and Kyiv have been subjected to continued air and missile strikes despite Russian claims of reducing activity in these areas," the ministry added.

Ukraine helicopters struck a fuel storage unit in Belgorod, Russian official claims

Two Ukrainian military helicopters struck a fuel storage facility in the Russian city of Belgorod on Friday, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram post.

"There was a fire at the petrol depot because of an air strike carried out by two Ukrainian army helicopters, who entered Russian territory at a low altitude," he said.

Belgorod is located close to the Ukrainian border. The helicopters crossed the border at low altitude, Gladkov said, adding that the strike caused a blaze at the site injuring two workers and forcing authorities to evacuate some areas in the city.

There have been no deaths resulting from the incident, the governor said. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

The alleged strike comes just two days after the province was rocked by blasts at an arms depot.

Gladkov said this week that the arms depot explosions were believed to be a result of another fire, although he said the regional authorities were awaiting confirmation from the Russian Defence Ministry.

Russia pulls out of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear site

Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site on Friday after returning control to Ukraine.

Energoatom, Ukraine's state power company, said the pullout came after Russian soldiers suffered from "significant doses" of radiation after digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed plant. The information, however, wasn't independently verified.

Officials in Kyiv also claimed that the Russians took an unspecified number of captive Ukrainian servicemen with them.

Russian troops had seized control of the Chernobyl site on February 24, the day when Moscow's invasion of Ukraine began.

A Soviet-era top secret object Duga, an over-the-horizon radar system once used as part of the Soviet missile defense early-warning radar network, seen behind a radioactivity sign in Chernobyl
A Soviet-era top secret object Duga, an over-the-horizon radar system once used as part of the Soviet missile defense early-warning radar network, seen behind a radioactivity sign in ChernobylImage: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ukraine to receive 'super modern' equipment to protect skies — envoy to Japan

Ukraine's ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, said that Ukraine expects to receive enhanced military equipment from the United States and Britain that will give the country the ability to better protect its skies.

"They still have superiority in air force, in airplanes and missiles, and we expect to begin to receive super-modern equipment from the United States and Britain to protect our skies and our cities," Korsunsky said.

"When they fire cruise missiles from long distance, we cannot get to the launch place. We have to intercept them. That's why we need this modern equipment."

Australia to send more equipment to Ukraine

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that Australia will send armored Bushmaster vehicles to Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically asked for them.

Zelenskyy addressed the Australian Parliament on Thursday and requested the Australian-made, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

"We're not just sending our prayers, we are sending our guns, we're sending our munitions, we're sending our humanitarian aid, we're sending all of this, our body armor, all of these things and we're going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters, as well," Morrison said.

Moscow threatens to cut off European gas supply

Countries could have their gas supply turned off after Moscow set a deadline for payments to be made in Russian currency.

"If such payments are not made, we will consider this a breach of obligations on the part of our buyers," Putin said. Russia would then halt existing contracts.

"The actions of the EU will not remain unanswered ... the irresponsible sanctions by Brussels are already negatively affecting the daily lives of ordinary Europeans," senior Russian foreign ministry official Nikolai Kobrinets told the state RIA news agency.

Germany has insisted that it will pay in euros or dollars as stipulated in the contracts, and called Moscow's demand to pay in rubles "blackmail." Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany imported 55% of its gas supplies from Russia.

France's economy minister said that Berlin and Paris were preparing for a scenario where Russia turns off gas taps.

Canada's Trudeau against Russian attendance of G20

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he opposes Russian Vladimir Putin's attendance of this year's G20 meeting.

The G20 is an international forum that consists of most of the world's largest economies.

Trudeau said he shared his view with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The G20 summit is scheduled be held in November on the Indonesian island of Bali.

"Russia has with its illegal invasion of Ukraine upended economic growth for everyone around the world and can't possibly be a constructive partner in how we manage the crisis created by Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine," Trudeau said.

The US and Australia have also voiced support for kicking Russia out of the summit, whereas Brazil and China have said they oppose barring Putin from attending.

US official: Russian refocusing on Donbas could prolong war

Russia's refocusing of its efforts on Ukraine's eastern Donbas region could lead to a "longer, more prolonged conflict" in the country, a senior US defense official was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

"Just because [the Russians] are going to prioritize it and put more forces there or more energy there doesn't mean it's going to be easy for them," the official said. "It could be a harbinger of a longer, more prolonged conflict here as the Russians try to gain some leverage, gain some progress, and perhaps gain some chips at the bargaining table."

Fighting in the Donbas region started in 2014 as pro-Russian protests morphed into a separatist insurgency that established breakaway "people's republics" in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia had previously denied public support for the insurgency for years, but it recognized the two self-proclaimed "people's republics" shortly before launching its full-scale invasion of the country a little over a month ago.

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Ukrainian negotiators have said that they are willing to discuss the country's "neutrality" as part of a future peace deal with Moscow but that there would be no compromise on the country's "territorial integrity."

Last week, senior Russian military leader Sergey Rudskoy announced that the war was entering a new phase and that Russian troops would concentrate on taking Donbas. US intelligence said that some Russian troops were being repositioned away from Kyiv, although shelling of the area continued.

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Ukraine's Zelenskyy: Situation in Donbas and southern Ukraine extremely difficult

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address that the situation in the south of the country and the Donbas region in the east remained extremely difficult.

Zelenskyy said that Russia was building up forces around the besieged city of Mariupol. Mariupol has been a major focus of fighting for weeks as Russian forces attempt to take the Azov coast.

"There will be battles ahead. We still need to go down a very difficult path to get everything we want," Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy also said that he had fired two top officials at the national security service and accused them of betraying their oath to defend Ukraine.

"I do not have time to deal with all the traitors, but they will gradually all be punished," Zelenskyy said.

Summary of events in Russia's war in Ukraine on Thursday

See all the developments from Thursday's live updates by clicking here.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it was unclear if Russia's convoy of military vehicles to Kyiv "even exists" anymore after failing to accomplish its mission.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was informed by Ukraine that Russian forces have "in writing, transferred control" of the Chernobyl nuclear plant to Ukrainian authorities.

US President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be self-isolating and may have sacked some of his advisers.

Biden also announced the largest-ever release of US emergency oil reserve in a bid to bring down gasoline prices.

The US Treasury Department announced sanctions against a series of Russian tech firms, including Russia's largest chip maker.

Moscow imposed entry bans on representatives of the European Union in response to Western sanctions.

sdi, sri/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)