Ukraine: Russia steps up attacks on Mariupol steel plant — as it happened | News | DW | 03.05.2022

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Ukraine: Russia steps up attacks on Mariupol steel plant — as it happened

Russian forces are attempting to storm the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, according to Ukrainian fighters. Meanwhile, Slovakia wants to be exempt from any planned EU embargo on Russian oil. Relive DW's live updates.

Pro-Russian troops fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system during fighting in Ukraine-Russia conflict near a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Russian forces have fired rockets at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

  • German opposition leader Friedrich Merz visits Ukraine
  • Ukrainian fighters say Russian forces are attempting to storm the Mariupol steel plant
  • Pope says he wants to go to Moscow to meet Putin over Ukraine
  • The US says Russia plans to try and formally annex three Ukrainian regions
  • Putin tells Macron Moscow is open to talks

This article is now closed. For the latest news on Ukraine, head to our new live updates.

German opposition leader Merz calls on Scholz to visit Kyiv in TV interview

German opposition leader Friedrich Merz, speaking on German public television, called on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to travel to Kyiv personally.

Merz appeared on the news program "ZDF Heute Journal" Tuesday evening, saying that he had spoken with several leaders on his trip to Kyiv, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Mayor Vitali Klitschko, and the head of the country's parliament as well as its opposition leader.

"You can't have these kinds of talks on the telephone. And you can't have them via video conference. You have to have them in person."

Merz' comments come as Scholz finds himself stuck in a diplomatic conundrum with calls for him to visit but him declining to over the fact that German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was very publicly declared unwelcome in Kyiv due to his past actions and policies — which Kyiv says were too Russia-friendly.

Merz said he was deeply moved while touring Kyiv and shocked by the sheer scale of the "entirely senseless destruction" that he witnessed. 

"You have to see it up close to truly get a sense of how horrific this war is," he said. 

German Chancellor Scholz on President's cancelled visit to Ukraine

Russian troops reportedly attempting to encircle Donbas from the north

Kyiv says Russian troops are attempting to advance on Ukrainian forces stationed in the eastern Donbas region to encircle them.

Ukraine's General Staff on Tuesday reported that, "the occupiers moved batteries of Tyulpan heavy mortars of 240-millimeter caliber and Smerch rocket launchers from the Belgorod region to the Izyum area," to assist armored and infantry units and paratroopers who attacked targets between Izyum and Barvenkov.

Ukrainian military reports said Russian troops also attacked several other towns while advancing toward Lyman-Siversk and Slovyansk.

The General Staff said Russian forces had suffered losses but gave no indication of whether they had captured territory. 

After failing to quickly capitalize on original incursions into Ukraine from the north, south and east, Russia's military has increasingly turned its attention to taking the Donbas, though territorial gains in the disputed region have been meager.

Evidence of rapes used as weapon of war in the Donbas: DW's Rebecca Ritter

Trans-Dniester government in Moldova accuses Ukraine of drone attack

Pro-Russian separatists in the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova on Tuesday accused Ukraine of carrying out an armed drone attack on a broadcast facility. 

"According to information from specialists, the drone with the dangerous cargo started on the Ukrainian side," said an Interior Ministry statement. The ministry said the drone was destroyed.

Trans-Dniester has increasingly become a point of concern for Kyiv, Moldova and the West. All have voiced fears that Russia could exploit the tense situation to expand its war in Ukraine and possibly drag the West into direct conflict.

Over the past several weeks the headquarters of the region's intelligence services have come under attack, as have Russian troops. Two radio towers have also been destroyed. 

Trans-Dniester sought to break away from Moldova in 1990. Some 1,500 Russian remain stationed in the area, which is still claimed by Moldova.

Ukraine war sparks worries in Moldova

Russian forces launch rocket attacks on Lviv

Russian forces reportedly shelled targets in the western city of Lviv Tuesday evening. Although it was not immediately clear what had been targeted, witnesses said at least four distinct explosions were heard. 

Train service out of Lviv has been halted and the city's mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, said the attacks had damaged two power substations knocking out electricity. He advised citizens to take shelter.

Lviv, near the Polish border, has been a safe haven for Ukrainians fleeing heavy fighting in the eastern part of the country and was last attacked on April 18, when at least seven people were killed.

On Monday, acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien held a press conference with the mayor outlining Washington's plans to reopen its diplomatic presence in the city. 

German opposition leader: 'Germany has obligation to help Ukraine rebuild'

Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany's opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said on Twitter that, "the atmosphere and content" of his hour-long meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv Tuesday was "extremely good."  

Merz said he would relay the content of the meeting to Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Scholz has come under criticism both at home and abroad for not traveling to Kyiv himself, as well as for his hesitancy to send heavy weapons as Ukraine attempts to fend off invading Russian forces.

Merz said, "We in Germany remain obliged to help this country," noting that Berlin, "also has to help Ukraine rebuild, not just defend itself militarily."   

The opposition leader called for Germany to "play a leading role" in guaranteeing Ukraine's security after the conflict is ended, saying this would be important when answering the questions of how and when Ukraine could become a member of the European Union.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal took to Twitter to publicly thank Merz for Germany's assistance after the two met in Kyiv, adding, "I stressed the importance of strengthening sanctions and supporting Ukraine's candidate status for EU membership."

RSF: Media freedom in Russia almost 'eliminated'

Christian Mihr, the executive director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany, told DW that media freedom has been "almost" entirely "eliminated" in Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Mihr made the comment as RSF published its annual Press Freedom Index on Tuesday.

"We observed a crackdown on independent media in recent weeks, which was dramatic," he continued. "And we observed that many journalists, and in some cases whole newsrooms, in Russia left [the country]."

"Just as in any other war, journalists are targeted"

Germany mulling delivery of howitzers to Ukraine: report

The German government is reportedly planning to approve further arms deliveries to Ukraine. According to the Welt newspaper, the shipment could include the self-propelled howitzer 2000, which is a heavy weapon.

Last week, Berlin approved the export of 50 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine — the first time in the war that heavy weapons will be delivered directly from Germany.

Welt said Berlin was now considering sending seven self-propelled howitzers from the stocks of the German army. The Dutch government has already agreed to supply Ukraine with five howitzers. Germany is expected to provide training for the weapon system.  

German lawmakers last week voted to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, marking a significant shift in policy.

More than 400,000 Ukrainian refugees in Germany 

Germany's Interior Ministry on Tuesday said that 400,632 Ukrainian refugees had entered the country since Russia launched its invasion on February 24. 

The number was published in a tweet and noted that the large majority of those arriving were women, children and elderly individuals.

Family Minister Lisa Paus said that among the 180,000 children who entered the country, some 3,000 were orphans.

Authorities say the true number of refugees in the country is likely far higher as border controls between Germany and Poland, for instance, are sporadic. 

A map showing where refugees from Ukraine are going

Ukrainians have the automatic right to travel freely within the EU for 90 days and need only register with authorities when seeking welfare assistance.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, some 5.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war. More than 3 million are currently sheltering in Poland

Georgia seeks 'ultimate security' of EU, NATO membership, says president

Georgia's president, Salome Zourabichvili, has told DW that her country seeks a "quicker and surer path" towards integration in both NATO and the European Union.

"That's where we see our ultimate security. Our ultimate security cannot be in a war, because we will never be able to win a war with Russia," she said in an exclusive interview.

Zourabichvili, currently visiting Berlin, said the war in Ukraine has accelerated her country's path towards European integration.

"That has turned into this new disposition of the European countries to look at us three — Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia — in a different manner, understanding that just the perspective [of membership] is not sufficient to provide for the security and sense of belonging that by now we should have," she said.

Zourabichvili, the first woman to be elected as Georgia's president, also explained her country has shown solidarity towards Ukraine by welcoming about 30,000 refugees.

She admitted Georgia's political stance has been "careful," given its own problematic relations with Russia.

A former Soviet republic, Georgia declared independence in 1991. It was invaded by Russian forces in 2008.

At the time, then US President George W. Bush urged that both Georgia and Ukraine be admitted to NATO. 

The so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) was rejected, however, by then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the idea "an unnecessary offense" to Russia.

Georgia has maintained ties with the EU since 1996. It had been scheduled to submit a formal membership application in 2024, but instead did so on March 3, 2022, as a direct result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Georgia 'very worried' it could become Russia's 'next target': MP Nikoloz Samkharadze

10 killed in Russian strike on factory: governor

The governor of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk says at least 10 people have been killed in a Russian strike on a coke plant in the city of Avdiivka.

"At least 10 killed and 15 wounded, the consequences of the shelling of the Avdiivka coke plant by the Russian occupiers," Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.

He warned that the number of victims may rise. The report of the attack has not been independently verified.

The Ukrainian president's office said earlier Tuesday that other parts of Donetsk were under constant fire from Russian forces.

Moscow launched a new offensive in eastern Ukraine after abandoning an attack on the capital, Kyiv, in late March.

A map showing which parts of Ukraine are controlled by Russian forces

EU's next wave of sanctions may cut off more banks from SWIFT

The European Commission is working on the next package of sanctions against Russia aimed to "de-SWIFT more banks, list disinformation actors and tackle oil imports," said top EU diplomat Josep Borrell.

The EU already excluded several Russian banks from the payment platform in early March. However, the bloc stopped short of sanctioning Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, and Gazprombank, as the two banks are the main channels of payment for Russian energy imports.

The bloc is attempting to agree on a ban of Russian oil and is mulling ways to ensure gas supply after Russia suspended its deliveries to Bulgaria and Poland last week.

Russia suspends gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria

New sanctions are expected to be announced on Wednesday.

Over 100 civilians reach safety after being evacuated from Mariupol steel mill

A group of more than 100 civilian evacuees from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were "safely" brought to the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The group left the besieged steel mill in buses and ambulances on Sunday.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Osnat Lubriani said that the civilians "could finally leave the bunkers below the Azovstal steelworks and see the daylight after two months." More people left the plant but did not take advantage of the organized transport, according to the ICRC.

Some 200 civilians are believed to still be trapped in the plant as Russian forces renewed their attack on Tuesday.

Russian forces are attempting to storm the Azovstal plant — Azov battalion

After firing rockets at the Mariupol steelworks plant where the last Ukrainian fighters are fortified, Russia has launched a conventional assault with tanks, jets and a "large number of infantry," Azov military officer Svyatoslav Palamar wrote on Telegram.

Palamar called for immediate steps to evacuate civilians from the plant.

Separately, Denys Shlega, commander of the 12th Operational Brigade of Ukraine's National Guard who is also currently at Azovstal confirmed the attack on Ukrainian television.

"The enemy is trying to storm the Azovstal plant with significant forces using armored vehicles. Our fighters are repelling all attacks," he said.

Ukrainian authorities say another 200 civilians are still in the plant, with the number of remaining combatants estimated at around 2,000.

Moscow is open to dialogue, Putin tells Macron

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Russia's President Vladimir Putin spoke for over two hours on Tuesday, according to media reports.

Putin informed Macron about the principles of talking to Kyiv and noted that Moscow was open to talks, according to the Kremlin.

He also said that the West must stop supplying Ukraine with weapons and help stop the alleged atrocities by Ukrainian fighters.

The two leaders last spoke on March 29.

Scholz: Germany would support Finland, Sweden joining NATO

UK's Boris Johnson hails Ukraine's 'finest hour' while addressing its lawmakers

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the Ukrainian parliament via a video-link on Tuesday, becoming the first foreign leader to do so since the invasion started on February 24.

He praised the country for destroying "the myth of Putin's invincibility."

"The so-called irresistible force of Putin’s war machine has broken on the immovable object of Ukrainian patriotism and love of country," he said.

Johnson also confirmed his country will send another £300 million (roughly €360 million or $375 million) in military aid to Ukraine, and said that the UK and its allies should aim to "fortify Ukraine that no-one will ever dare to attack you again."

The conservative politician referenced Winston Churchill's "finest hour" speech from 1940, when Churchill urged the UK to show heroism in defiance of Adolf Hitler.

"This is Ukraine's finest hour, that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come," Johnson told Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada.

Russia unleashes rockets in Mariupol

Despite hundreds of civilians remaining trapped inside, Russian forces fired rockets at Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant.

On Sunday, some civilians sheltered inside the last Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged port city were evacuated as part of an UN-brokered cease-fire.

Ukrainian officials said 200 civilians were still trapped inside the plant.

They said Russian forces have pounded the steelworks with shelling since the convoy left.

Mariupol evacuation underway but faltering

Russia, meanwhile, accused Ukrainian soldiers of using the cease-fire to move into firing positions.

"They came out of the basement, they took up firing positions on the territory and in the factory buildings," the Russian Defense Ministry told state news agency RIA.

Further evacuations were planned for civilians still trapped at the plant, but it is unclear whether that will be possible.

Putin orders retaliatory sanctions

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to counter the "unfriendly actions of certain foreign states and international organizations."

The document gave the government 10 days to compile lists of foreign individuals and companies to be sanctioned.

The Kremlin said Russia would forbid the export of products and raw materials.

The decree also prohibits transactions with foreign individuals and companies hit by Russia's retaliatory sanctions.

It also frees Russians of their obligations to uphold existing commitments with these people or companies. 

WHO to discuss the health impact of Russia's war in Ukraine

The World Health Organization's European (WHO) region will hold a special meeting next week on the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"There will be a meeting on 10 May on the impact of war on Ukraine health system," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

The Reuters news agency reported last week that Kyiv had requested the meeting, citing a letter written by the Ukraine diplomatic mission in Geneva signed by some 38 other countries.

Both Russia and Ukraine are WHO members within its European region.

German opposition leader Friedrich Merz on a train in Ukraine

German opposition leader Friedrich Merz was on a train heading to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Tuesday.

He posted a video on Twitter in which he said, "everything is safe, all is well, and the Ukrainian authorities are extremely cooperative. It's nice to be in this country."

 

Merz's conservative Christian Democrats, in opposition for the first time in more than 15 years, have been critical for weeks of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's handling of the war in Ukraine, arguing he's been hesitant on many key matters and has communicated his stance poorly to the people.

In a fiery speech during the Bundestag's vote on sending heavy weapons to Ukraine last week, Merz described Scholz as insecure, weak, hesitant and timid.

Scholz on Monday said he would not visit Kyiv because Ukraine's decision not to welcome German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier "stands in the way" of him traveling to Kyiv.

In response, Ukraine's notoriously outspoken ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, accused Scholz of pretending to be insulted, saying this "doesn't sound very statesmanlike."

Slovakia wants exemption from EU embargo on Russian oil

Slovakia would seek an exemption from an European Union embargo on imports of Russian oil, the country's Economy Ministry said.

"If it comes to an approved embargo of Russian oil as part of a further package of sanctions against Russia, then Slovakia will request an exemption," the ministry told the Reuters news agency.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the country would not support sanctions that prevented Budapest from importing Russian oil altogether.

Szijjarto said it accounted for about 65% of the oil Hungary needed, and there were no alternatives.

Officials said the EU executive might offer Hungary and Slovakia exemptions or transition periods and phase in the ban by the year-end.

Fiji court rules US can seize Russian oligarch's superyacht

A Fijian court gave the US permission to seize a superyacht suspected of belonging to a Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov docked in the Pacific island nation.

Kerimov has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union in response to Russia's actions in Syria and Ukraine.

Authorities detained the Amadea, worth some $325 million (€309 million), on arrival in Lautoka in mid-April.

Boat captain Emosi Dawai looks at the superyacht Amadea where it is docked at the Queens Wharf in Lautoka, Fiji

The Amadea is docked in Lautoka, Fiji

Fiji's High Court granted the order to seize the yacht, but lawyers for the Amadea said they would seek an interim order to stop the vessel from being towed away.

Lawyers for the yacht's registered owner, Millemarin Investments, have denied Kerimov ultimately owns it.

The US, UK, and EU have targeted superyachts as part of a crackdown on oligarchs, and several have already been seized in European ports.

Pope wants a meeting with Putin in Moscow

Pope Francis has asked for a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to stop the war in Ukraine but has not received a reply.

"I was willing to go to Moscow. Certainly, it was necessary for the Kremlin leader to allow an opening. We have not yet received a response and we are still insisting," the pope told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

He also had no plans to visit Ukraine, saying he had to go to Moscow first.

"I fear that Putin cannot, and does not, want to have this meeting at this time. But how can you not stop so much brutality," the Pontiff asked.

He said he also spoke to Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has given the war his full-throated backing, saying that he "cannot become Putin's altar boy."

Russian troops accused of weaponizing rape in Ukraine

German jets scrambled in response to Russian aircraft near Rügen

German fighter planes reportedly scrambled to intercept a Russian reconnaissance aircraft near Rügen over the Baltic Sea in recent days.

The German news agency dpa reported Tuesday the Russian plane was flying in international airspace over the weekend. 

The German Air Force ended up accompanying the Russian aircraft away from Germany.

The Danish Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to the country for talks on Monday after a Russian AN-30 propeller plane apparently entered its airspace on Friday night.

NATO has nearly doubled the number of military aircraft on alert across Europe to monitor and intercept Russian planes. 

UK says Russia's military now 'significantly weaker'

The war in Ukraine would have a lasting negative impact on the Russian military ability to deploy a conventional military force, the UK Ministry of Defence said.

"Russia's military is now significantly weaker, both materially and conceptually," it said in its latest military intelligence update.

It points to Russia's defense budget doubling between 2005 and 2018 but the country still failing to dominate Ukraine.

"Failures both in strategic planning and operational execution have left it unable to translate numerical strength into decisive advantage," the update stated.

Inflation rising in developed economies, partly fueled by the war in Ukraine

Australia's central bank has increased interest rates for the first time in more than 11 years.

Ending record-low rates, the bank cited inflation levels that had "picked up more quickly, and to a higher level, than was expected."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in the middle of an election campaign, has insisted that inflation results from worldwide trends, including COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

"We are still feeling the effects of the rather extraordinary economic times that we are living in," Morrison said ahead of the announcement.

The Reserve Bank of Australia raised the primary lending rate by 25 basis points to 0.35%, the first increase since November 2010.

The US Federal Reserve was widely expected to raise its key interest rate by 0.5 percentage points after meeting on Wednesday, as was the Bank of England.

Western economies have consistently held their interest rates at or near the unprecedented level of 0 ever since the 2008 global financial crash.

The war in Ukraine would likely keep pressure on prices.

Russia 'evacuated' more than 1 million people from Ukraine

Russia's Defense Ministry said more than one million people had been taken to Russia from Ukraine since the war began.

It included 11,550 people, including 1,847 children, in the past day, "without the participation of the Ukrainian authorities," state-owned news agency TASS quoted Defence Ministry official Mikhail Mizintsev as saying.

He added they "were evacuated to the territory of the Russian Federation from the dangerous regions" of Donetsk, Luhansk and other parts of Ukraine.

In an interview on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Greek state TV ERT a million Ukrainians have been "illegally taken to Russia, or other places, against their will."

EU's top diplomat: 'More Russian banks' to exit SWIFT banking network

Josep Borrell, the EU's top diplomat, said during a visit to Panama that "there will be more Russian banks that will leave SWIFT."

SWIFT is the global banking communications system that permits money to be wired around the globe.

Ukrainian envoy criticizes Scholz Kyiv visit hesitancy

Andriy Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, criticized German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for saying he would probably not be visiting Kyiv until President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had. Opposition Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Friedrich Merz is set to visit Kyiv.

Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF Monday evening that Kyiv's refusal to accept a visit last month from federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had deterred him. Some consider Steinmeier cozy with Russian politicians including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Melnyk was also critical that the Gepard tanks Germany had promised as of yet were without ammunition as none has been located.

Mariupol city council says evacuations to continue

The Mariupol city council said on Facebook that evacuations will continue Tuesday.

"With the support of the UN and the Red Cross, the evacuation of civilians has been agreed for tomorrow," the city council wrote, adding that the attempt to start the latest round of evacuations will begin at 7:00 a.m. 

Doctors Without Borders: Mariupol is 'total catastrophe'

Anja Wolz, the emergency coordinator for Ukraine for Doctors Without Borders, told newspapers of Germany's Funke media group that the humanitarian situation in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol "is a total catastrophe."

"Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel are just the tip of the iceberg," Wolz said. 

The three towns are suburbs of Kyiv where mass graves, bodies with signs of obvious torture and distress were found along with murdered civilians who were left on the streets following a weeks-long occupation and subsequent withdrawal of Russian forces.

Wolz stressed: "It is currently almost impossible to get aid supplies to Mariupol," the besieged port city in southeastern Ukraine.

"People there are on their own," she said. 

UK to announce £300 million in military aid for Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to announce during a remote address to the Ukrainan parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada, his country's plans to provide an additional £300 million (roughly €360 million or $375 million) in military aid for Ukraine.

Johnson's speech will be the first to the Ukrainian parliament since the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

In his address, he plans to note that, "When my country faced the threat of invasion during the Second World War, our parliament -- like yours -- continued to meet throughout the conflict," according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks released by the prime minister's office.

The UK defense aid package will include electronic warfare equipment, a counter battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment, thousands of night vision devices and drones.

One teenager dead and another wounded in Odesa missile strike

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that one 14-year-old boy had died and a 17-year-old girl was injured when a missile struck the southern port city of Odesa.

"How did these children and the dormitory threaten the Russian state?" Zelenskyy asked.

Russia reroutes internet traffic in Kherson

Internet service disruption monitor NetBlocks said Russia has rerouted internet traffic in the Ukrainian region of Kherson, which it currently occupies, through Russia to tighten its grip on information and exert control.

On Saturday, the region of Kherson faced a nearly full internet blackout, NetBlocks said. When the internet was restored, traffic was rerouted through Russia, with NetBlocks noting on its website that the internet in Kherson was "hence likely now subject to Russian internet regulations, surveillance, and censorship."

Russian-appointed authorities in areas of Kherson said the region would adapt the Russian currency, the ruble, beginning May 1.

US warns Russia plans to annex parts of eastern Ukraine

The US warned Moscow plans to formally annex parts of eastern Ukraine, specifically the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, after Russia failed to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said, "Russia plans to engineer referenda upon joining sometime in mid-May."

He added Russia also has a similar plan for the Kherson region. Carpenter told reporters in Washington the US believes "the reports are highly credible."

The new focus sees Russia shifting to capitalizing on existing territorial gains in the east while pounding the southern port city of Odesa.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on secret visit to Ukraine

US Senate leader hopes Ukraine aid bill can pass next week

The US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hopes the Senate will bring to a floor vote US President Joe Biden's $33 billion request for emergency aid to Ukraine as soon as next week.

In remarks in the Senate, the New York Democrat said, "Quickly approving this emergency funding is essential to helping the people of Ukraine in their fight against Russia."

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

More civilians were evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday, but hundreds remained trapped, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Ukraine also said that a Russian strike has hit a strategically key road and rail bridge in the coastal city of Odesa that had already been damaged in previous strikes. The loss of this logistical route would obstruct the supply of weapons and other goods from neighboring Romania.

Israel condemns Russia over claims Hitler was Jewish

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's suggestion that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler is Jewish shows "the Russian leadership has forgotten all the lessons of World War II."

Lavrov made the comments during a 42-minute discourse on an Italian television channel owned by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The comments were widely condemned, including by Israeli Prime Minister Nafttali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Felix Klein, the antisemitism commissioner for the German government, among other leaders. Israel also summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded an apology.

Altogether 3,153 civilians have been confirmed killed in military actions since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said, though the actual number is expected to be much higher.

Additionally, more than 5.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said and at least 7.7 million people are displaced within Ukraine.

The Russians said they shot down a MiG-29 near Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine while the EU warned that Russia may end its supply of gas to member states at any moment, following Moscow's decision to stop exports to both Poland and Bulgaria.

Russia has demanded that "unfriendly countries," including the EU, pay for their imports in rubles following sanctions against Russia's central bank. The European Commissioner for energy, Kadri Simson, said that attempts to pay for gas and oil in rubles, even with a workaround, would constitute a breach of the EU's sanctions.

Simson said that the 27 member states would begin to stockpile gas in preparation for a possible breakdown in Russian fuel imports.

The Day with Clare Richardson

js,lo,ar/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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