Here are the latest updates on the war in Ukraine:
- Reports of shelling around Kyiv and Chernihiv continued on Wednesday, a day after Russia vowed to de-escalate its military operation in those regions
- The president of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia said on Wednesday that the territory would take steps in the near future to become part of Russia
- U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday discussed additional U.S. aid, sanctions and Kyiv’s peace talks with Russia in an hour-long call, the two sides said.
- More than 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine, UN agency says
- Ukraine’s food crisis is the worst it’s been since WWII, the UN food chief warned
5:50 p.m. ET
International Red Cross in Ukraine says it is a victim of a disinformation campaign
The head of the emergency response division of the Ukrainian Red Cross says efforts to help people affected by the war with Russia have been hampered by a controversy enveloping its international counterpart and its role in the conflict.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been accused of being overly co-operative with Moscow and criticized for considering opening an office in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia close to the Ukrainian border, which some say could be used to facilitate the expulsion of Ukrainians.
The president of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, has further infuriated critics by being photographed shaking hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after a recent meeting in Moscow.
This week a group of Ukrainian MPs appealed to the ICRC to reconsider its plans for the Russian office. More than 3,000 people, including representatives from dozens of Ukrainian humanitarian organizations, have signed an open letter to Mr. Maurer calling on his organization to do more to stop forced evacuations and work more effectively with local volunteers. And the Ukrainian Canadian Congress has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to raise concerns about the Rostov-on-Don office and question how donations to the Canadian Red Cross are being spent in Ukraine.
ICRC officials say the accusations are unfounded – that the Red Cross would never evacuate people against their will. The organization said it works with all sides in conflict zones to help those in need and always remains neutral.
– Paul Waldie, in Lviv
5:25 p.m. ET
Zelensky says talks with Russia are continuing, no concrete results
Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are continuing “but for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised address on Wednesday.
Zelensky also said Ukrainian forces were preparing for new attacks by Russia in the Donbas area.
5:10 p.m. ET
White House blasts Trump’s request that Putin release info on Hunter Biden amid war in Ukraine
The White House on Wednesday criticized Donald Trump’s request for Russian President Vladimir Putin to release potentially damaging information on U.S. President Joe Biden’s son, calling the move particularly poorly timed as war rages in Ukraine.
Reporters asked White House spokesperson Kate Bedingfield about the former president’s comments on the “Just the News” TV program that raised unsubstantiated questions about Hunter Biden’s former business dealings in Russia. Trump said, “I think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it.”
His comment came as Western nations are trying to persuade Putin to end his five-week-long assault on Ukraine, the biggest European war since World War Two. Russia calls its actions there a “special military operation.”
“What kind of American, let alone an ex-president, thinks that this is the right time to enter into a scheme with Vladimir Putin and brag about his connections to Vladimir Putin? There is only one, and it’s Donald Trump,” Bedingfield said.
4:45 p.m. ET
U.S. warns India, others against sharp rise in Russian oil imports
A significant increase in Russian oil imports by India could expose New Delhi to a “great risk” as the United States prepares to step up enforcement of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, a senior U.S. administration official said.
While the current U.S. sanctions against Russia do not prevent other countries from buying Russian oil, the warning raises expectations that Washington will attempt to restrict other countries’ purchases to normal levels.
The U.S. official’s comment comes ahead of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s two-day visit to New Delhi and during the ongoing visit of U.S. deputy national security adviser for economics Daleep Singh.
Refiners in India, the world’s third biggest oil importer and consumer, have been snapping up Russian oil through spot tenders since the war broke out on Feb. 24, taking advantage of deep discounts as other buyers back away. India has purchased at least 13 million barrels of Russian oil since Feb. 24, compared with nearly 16 million barrels in all of 2021.
“U. S. has no objection to India buying Russian oil provided it buys it at discount, without significantly increasing from previous years,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Some increase is allowed,” said the source, who did not offer more detail.
4:00 p.m. ET
Pentagon says Russian troops are repositioning
In its most specific description of Russian forces moving away from Kyiv, the Pentagon says “less than 20 per cent” of the Russian contingent in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital are starting to “reposition.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby gave no specific troop number on Wednesday. He said those that have begun moving away from Kyiv had been deployed in the vicinity of the Hostomel airport northwest of Kyiv.
Kirby said it appears Russia is pulling troops away from Kyiv in order to resupply and reorganize them for use elsewhere in Ukraine – not to send them back to Russia.
Moscow officials had said earlier this week that they were significantly reducing military operations in the Kyiv area as a gesture to advance peace talks. But Ukrainian and U.S. officials have expressed skepticism about Russian intentions.
– The Associated Press
3:15 p.m. ET
Russia’s ruble rebound raises questions of sanctions’ impact
The ruble is no longer rubble.
The Russian ruble by Wednesday had bounced back from the fall it took after the U.S. and European allies moved to bury the Russian economy under thousands of new sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has resorted to extreme financial measures to blunt the West’s penalties.
While the West has imposed unprecedented levels of sanctions against the Russian economy, Russia’s Central Bank has jacked up interest rates to 20 per cent and the Kremlin has imposed strict capital controls on those wishing to exchange their rubles for dollars or euros.
It’s a monetary defence Putin may not be able to sustain as long-term sanctions weigh down the Russian economy. But the ruble’s recovery could be a sign that the sanctions in their current form are not working as powerfully as Ukraine’s allies counted on when it comes to pressuring Putin to pull his troops from Ukraine.
The ruble was trading at roughly 85 to the U.S. dollar, roughly where it was before Russia started its invasion a month ago. The ruble had fallen as low as roughly 150 to the dollar on March 7, when news emerged that the Biden administration would ban U.S. imports of Russian oil and gas.
2:45 p.m. ET
Chechen chief Kadyrov says Russia will make no concessions in Ukraine, contradicting Kremlin
Ramzan Kadyrov, the powerful head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, said on Wednesday that Moscow would make no concessions in its war in Ukraine, deviating from the official line and suggesting the Kremlin’s own negotiator was wrong.
Kadyrov, who has Chechen forces fighting in Ukraine as part of Russia’s military operation, said in comments on Telegram that President Vladimir Putin would not simply stop what he had started there.
He spoke after Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s chief negotiator, said following talks with Ukraine on Tuesday that Moscow was taking steps to de-escalate the conflict, including scaling back military activity around Kyiv.
“We will not make any concessions, it was … Medinsky who made a mistake, made an incorrect wording … And if you think that he (Putin) will quit what he started just the way it is presented to us today, this is not true,” Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov, who rose to power in the mainly Muslim southern Russian region of Chechnya in the wake of two brutal wars after the Soviet Union’s collapse, has often described himself as Putin’s “foot soldier.” Moscow has poured in huge sums of money to rebuild the region under him.
Though he wields outsize power and is one of the country’s most influential regional chiefs, his statements contradicting Medinsky by name were highly unusual on such a sensitive subject as the war.
2:25 p.m. ET
Biden, Zelensky discuss sanctions, aid, talks with Russia
U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday discussed additional U.S. aid, sanctions and Kyiv’s peace talks with Russia in an hour-long call, the two sides said.
The United States intends to give Ukraine US$500-million in direct budgetary aid, Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart, according to a White House statement.
Biden also reviewed sanctions and humanitarian assistance that were announced last week, while Zelensky updated Biden on the status of negotiations with Russia, the White House said in a statement following the call.
“Shared assessment of the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro-financial and humanitarian aid,” Zelensky wrote in a post on Twitter.
The White House separately said the two discussed Washington’s efforts “to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country.”
2:10 p.m. ET
Cyberattack in Ukraine war affected thousands across Europe
A cyberattack targeting a satellite network used by Ukraine’s government and military agencies shortly after Russia’s invasion also knocked offline tens of thousands of broadband Internet users across Europe, the satellite owner disclosed Wednesday.
The owner, U.S.-based Viasat, provided new details of how the cyberattack, the biggest known such attack in the war so far, was conducted and its wide-ranging impact. The attack affected users from Poland to France and knocked off remote access to thousands of wind turbines in Central Europe.
Viasat did not say in its statement who it believed was responsible for the attack. Ukrainian officials have blamed Russian hackers.
The attack in the early hours of Feb. 24 on the KA-SAT satellite network began with a distributed denial-of-service onslaught knocking offline a large number of modems. It then moved to a destructive attack in which a malicious software update distributed across the network rendered tens of thousands of modems across Europe inoperable by overwriting their internal memory, Viasat said.
It said it has shipped 30,000 replacement modems to affected customers across Europe, most of whom use the service for residential broadband Internet access.
The attack caused a major loss in communications in Ukraine in the early hours of Russia’s invasion, top Ukrainian cybersecurity official Victor Zhora told reporters earlier this month. Asked who was responsible, Zhora said “We don’t need to attribute it since we have obvious evidence that it was organized by Russian hackers to disrupt connection between customers that use this satellite system.”
– The Associated Press
1:50 p.m. ET
Germany says companies won’t be paying in rubles to buy gas supplies
The German government says it has received assurances from Russia that European companies won’t have to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles.
Olaf Scholz’s office said the German chancellor spoke by phone Wednesday afternoon with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had requested the call, about the issue.
During the call Putin said he planned to issue a law requiring gas supplies to be paid in rubles from April 1, Scholz’s office said.
“At the same time (Putin – emphasized during the conversation that there would be no change for European contractual partners,” who would continue to pay only in euros to Gazprom Bank, it said.
The bank, which is not currently subject to sanctions, would convert the payments to rubles,” Scholz’s office added.
It noted that the German chancellor did not agree to the procedure but instead requested written information to understand it better.
– The Associated Press
1:10 p.m. ET
Pentagon sees strategic efforts as Russian troops move toward Belarus
The Pentagon said Wednesday that over the last 24 hours it has seen some Russian troops in the areas around Kyiv moving north toward or into Belarus.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. does not view this as a withdrawal, but as an attempt by Russia to resupply, refit and then reposition the troops.
“We don’t know exactly where these troops are going to go,” he said.
But he noted that Russia has talked about prioritizing the Donbas region. Kirby was speaking on CNN and Fox Business.
Kirby also said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have continued to try to speak with their Russian counterparts but they have “not answered and they have not replied with a willingness to do so.”
– The Associated Press
12:50 p.m. ET
Breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia says it plans to join Russia
The president of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia said on Wednesday that the territory would take steps in the near future to become part of Russia.
Moscow recognized the territory and the coastal region of Abkhazia as independent after fighting a war with Georgia in 2008. It has provided them with extensive financial support, offered Russian citizenship to their populations and stationed thousands of troops there.
“I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal, our path, the aspiration of the people,” Anatoly Bibilov, was quoted as saying by the press service of the United Russia party.
“We will take the relevant legal steps in the near future. The republic of South Ossetia will be part of its historical homeland – Russia.”
As in the Russian-speaking Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, Moscow has used recognition of the breakaway regions, and the awarding of citizenships, to maintain an armed presence in an area of the former Soviet Union that it sees as part of its natural sphere of influence.
In Ukraine, Russia’s long-standing support for armed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk gave it a platform to launch a large-scale military incursion on Feb. 24, one of whose stated aims is to “liberate” the entire, wider Donbas region from Ukrainian control.
12:20 p.m. ET
Local mayor says 80 civilians killed in Ukraine’s Mykolayiv since start of war
About 80 civilians have been killed and around 450 wounded in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, the local mayor said on Wednesday.
Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych also said on national television that Russia had used cluster munitions in Mikolayiv. He provided no evidence but said there was a “huge number of cluster bombs scattered around the city.”
Reuters could not independently verify his assertion. Russia has previously denied using cluster munitions or targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Cluster bombs are made up of a hollow shell that explodes in mid-air, dispersing dozens or even hundreds of smaller “bomblets” over a wide area.
Russia is not party to a 2008 convention banning cluster munitions although it is bound by international humanitarian law, particularly the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks.
11:37 a.m. ET
Putin advisers ‘too afraid to tell him the truth’ on Ukraine, U.S. official says
Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging Western sanctions have been, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, citing declassified intelligence.
Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its southern neighbour has been halted on most fronts by stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces who have recaptured territory even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.
“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military,” leading him to mistrust the military leadership, the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Putin didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president,” the official said.
The official did not provide the intelligence report, but said the information had been declassified.
The Kremlin made no immediate comment after the end of the working day in Moscow, and the Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
11:12 a.m. ET
Russian shelling, air strikes on cities may amount to ‘war crimes’, says UN’s Bachelet
Ukrainian cities have been pounded by air strikes and heavy shelling in Russia’s five-week-old invasion, killing civilians and destroying hospitals in acts that may amount to war crimes, the top United Nations human rights official said on Wednesday.
Michelle Bachelet, addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, called on Russia to withdraw its troops.
She also said her office had received “credible allegations” that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times and said her office was investigating alleged use of cluster munitions by Ukraine.
“Homes and administrative buildings, hospitals and schools, water stations and electricity systems have not been spared,” she said.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “de-nazify” its neighbour.
Bachelet said that her office, which deploys nearly 60 U.N. human rights monitors in Ukraine, had verified 77 incidents in which medical facilities were damaged, including 50 hospitals.
10:47 a.m. ET
Ukraine says Russia planting mines in Black Sea as shipping perils grow
Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of planting mines in the Black Sea and said some of those munitions had to be defused off Turkey and Romania as risks to vital merchant shipping in the region grow.
The Black Sea is a major shipping route for grain, oil and oil products. Its waters are shared by Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Turkey as well as Ukraine and Russia.
Russia’s military took control of waterways when it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what Moscow calls a “special operation.” In recent days Turkish and Romanian military diving teams have been involved in defusing stray mines around their waters.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Russia was using naval mines as “uncontrolled drifting ammunition.”
“It was these drifting mines that were found March 26-28, 2022 off the coasts of Turkey and Romania,” it said in a statement. Russian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
8:12 a.m. ET
Russians bombard cities as losses force them back
Russian forces bombarded a besieged city in northern Ukraine on Wednesday, a day after promising to scale down operations there, and Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed a pullback near the capital as a ploy to regroup by invaders taking heavy losses.
Nearly five weeks into an invasion in which it has failed to capture any major cities, Russia said it would curtail operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for peace talks.
But Chernihiv’s Mayor Vladyslav Astroshenko said Russian bombardment had only intensified over the past 24 hours, with more than 100,000 people trapped in the city with just enough food and medical supplies to last about another week. “This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies,” he told CNN in an interview. “They actually have increased the intensity of strikes,” with “a colossal mortar attack in the centre of Chernihiv” on Wednesday wounding 25 civilians. Reuters could not immediately verify the situation there.
In an overnight address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made clear he took nothing Moscow said at face value.
“Ukrainians are not naive people,” he said. “Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result.” Read full story.
7:41 a.m. ET
U.S. astronaut ends record-long space flight in Russian capsule
A NASA astronaut caught a Russian ride back to Earth on Wednesday after a U.S. record 355 days at the International Space Station, returning with two cosmonauts to a world torn apart by war.
Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan alongside the Russian Space Agency’s Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, who also spent the past year in space.
Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures. A small NASA team of doctors and other staff was on hand for the touchdown and planned to return immediately to Houston with the 55-year-old astronaut.
Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei said he was avoiding the subject with his two Russian crewmates. Despite getting along “fantastically … I’m not sure we really want to go there,” he said.
Before departing the space station, Shkaplerov embraced his fellow astronauts as “my space brothers and space sister.”
“People have problem on Earth. On orbit … we are one crew,” Shkaplerov said in a live NASA TV broadcast Tuesday. The space station is a symbol of “friendship and co-operation and … future of exploration of space.”
The war tensions bubbled over in other areas of space with the suspension of European satellite launches on Russian rockets and the Europe-Russia Mars rover stuck on Earth for another two years.
-The Associated Press
7:04 a.m. ET
Wounded children recovering after escape from besieged Ukrainian city
Eleven-year-old Milena Uralova remembers being knocked unconscious and waking up to see her mother Yelena weeping after she was wounded while the family was escaping from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol two weeks ago.
Now recovering in the relative safety of a children's’ hospital in Zaporizhzhia, some 200 km (124 miles) away, she recounts the incident calmly, a bright green line on the side of her face and neck marking the area where doctors have treated her wounds.
“I saw darkness and there was a loud noise ringing in my ears,” she said. “When I opened my eyes, I saw my mother holding me in her arms. She put me on the ground and started crying and asking for help.”
According to Yelena, Milena was wounded when Russian troops opened fire as the family passed through a checkpoint on the way to Zaporizhzhia, an industrial town that has become a key transit point for evacuees fleeing from Mariupol.
Busloads of evacuees arrive in the city before moving further west, joining an exodus where around a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people have had to leave their homes to seek refuge either in safer areas of the country or abroad.
Next to Milena, Sasha, an 11-year-old boy, also from Mariupol, sits with a large white bandage on his nose, the legacy of a rocket strike that hit as he was playing with friends. “I was very afraid, there was a lot of blood everywhere,” he said.
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, has become a symbol of suffering more than a month after Russia invaded its smaller neighbour in what the Kremlin calls its assault a “special operation” to disarm and “de-nazify” Ukraine.
According to city authorities in Mariupol, nearly 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed since the Russian assault began.
6:13 a.m. ET
‘They come with nothing’: Ukrainian-Canadians hosting families fleeing Russia’s war call for federal support
Ukrainian-Canadians hosting family members and friends who have fled Russia’s invasion say they are worried about trying to support loved ones with little material support from the federal government, and that Ukrainians without contacts in Canada would have difficulty settling here.
Most Ukrainians fleeing the war leave with very little. When they reach Canada, they need clothes, food and housing, as well as help accessing services, health care and mental-health support.
Anastasiia Hlukhova, 36, who lives in Barrie, Ont., with her husband and two kids, is waiting for five relatives to arrive. She said her parents, sister and niece have fled to Poland and once they have their visas, they will travel to Canada. Ms. Hlukhova also has a nephew in Germany waiting on a visa.
“To be honest I have no idea how it’s going to be, and how it’s going to hit us financially. But that’s what we have to do,” she said.
5:57 a.m. ET
Germany girds for gas rationing in ruble standoff with Russia
Germany triggered an emergency plan to manage gas supplies in Europe’s largest economy on Wednesday, an unprecedented move that could see the government ration power if there is a disruption or halt in gas supplies from Russia.
The announcement is the clearest sign yet that the European Union is preparing for Moscow to cut supplies to the region after President Vladimir Putin demanded that Europe and the United States pay for gas exports in rubles.
That demand, which has been rejected by G7 nations, is in retaliation for the West imposing crippling sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow has not said when the currency change will take effect but it is expected to unveil its plans for ruble payments on Thursday. Russia’s top lawmaker warned on Wednesday that oil, grain, metals, fertilizer, coal and timber exports could also soon be priced the same way.
With a potential crunch looming, Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck activated the ‘early warning phase’ of an existing gas emergency plan meaning that a crisis team from the economics ministry, the regulator and the private sector will monitor imports and storage. Read full story
5:42 a.m. ET
Ukraine says Russian shelling continues on many fronts despite promise to scale back
Ukrainian officials reported shelling around the capital Kyiv and the northern region of Chernihiv on Wednesday, despite a promise by Moscow to scale down military operations there.
Russian forces were also shelling nearly all cities along the front line separating Ukrainian government-controlled territory from areas held by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk region, the regional governor said, and heavy fighting was reported in the southern port city of Mariupol.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia was transferring forces from northern Ukraine to eastern areas to try to encircle Ukrainian troops there. Read full story.
5:28 a.m. ET
4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, UN agency says
The UN refugee agency said Wednesday more than 4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
The new figure was posted on an UNHCR website. More than 2.3 million have arrived in Poland, but many have travelled onward to other countries or back into Ukraine.
Aid workers say the numbers have eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war. An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within the country.
More than 608,000 have entered Romania, over 387,000 have gone to Moldova, and about 364,000 have entered Hungary since the war began on Feb. 24, based on counts provided by governments.
From the onset of the war, UNHCR had projected that about 4 million people might flee Ukraine – though it has repeatedly said that it has been reassessing its forecasts.
“Refugees from Ukraine are now 4 million, five weeks after the start of the Russian attack,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted as he crossed the border into Ukraine.
-The Associated Press