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Also: Ukraine prepared to discuss neutrality status, Zelensky tells Russian journalists; Blinken says U.S. not trying to topple Putin, despite harsh condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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This handout photograph released by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on March 27, 2022, shows Ukrainian soldiers walking among destroyed Russian vehicles following a battle in the town of Trostyanets, Sumy region.STR/AFP/Getty Images

This digest has now been archived. Find the latest Russia-Ukraine updates here.

Here are the latest updates on the war in Ukraine:

  • The United Nations human rights office said on Sunday that 1,119 civilians had so far been killed and 1,790 wounded since Russia began its attack on Ukraine.
  • Ukraine’s military intelligence chief says that Russia could try to break Ukraine in two.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused the West of lacking courage as his country fights to stave off Russia’s invasion, making an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to sustain a defence in a conflict that has ground into a war of attrition.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is not trying to topple Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite its harsh condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russian authorities have blocked the website of German newspaper Bild as part of their efforts to control the message on Ukraine.

10:40 p.m. ET

Ukraine receives silent salute at Oscars ceremony

Hollywood shared a little bit of its big night with the people of Ukraine on Sunday, using text on a screen to ask the world for financial contributions for those suffering from the Russian assault.

But rather than turn the Oscars ceremony into a megaphone for messages about Ukraine, the show’s directors opted for a silent message that did not mention Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 31 days ago.

“We’d like to have a moment of silence to show our support for the people of Ukraine currently facing invasion, conflict and prejudice within their own borders,” read the message posted on screen just before a commercial break.

The message said millions of families needed food, medical care, clean water and emergency services and asked viewers for humanitarian aid.

“We ask you to support Ukraine in any way you are able,” read the silent message, adding the hashtag #StandWithUkraine.

- Reuters

10:20 p.m. ET

Mayor of Chernobyl workers’ town says Russian forces have left

Russian forces have left the Ukrainian town of Slavutych, home to workers at the defunct nuclear plant of Chernobyl, after completing their task of surveying it, the mayor said early on Monday.

On Saturday, the Kyiv regional governor said Russian forces had taken control of the town just outside the safety exclusion zone around Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, where Ukrainian staff still manage the plant.

“They completed the work they had set out to do,” Yuri Fomichev, the mayor of the northern town, said in an online video post. “They surveyed the town, today they finished doing it and left the town. There aren’t any in the town right now.”

Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

Fomichev, seated in front of two small flags of the European Union and Ukraine, added that he was working, and not cooperating with the Russians. Last week, the regional governor, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, had said Russian forces kidnapped the mayor.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which it calls a “special military operation”, has devastated several Ukrainian cities, caused a major humanitarian crisis and displaced an estimated 10 million people, nearly a quarter of the population.

- Reuters

9:35 p.m. ET

Students launch petition against University of Montreal professor over comments supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Two University of Montreal students have launched a petition against a long-time history professor over “shocking” comments he made on social media that supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The petition, which had received more than 175 signatures by Sunday evening, accuses Prof. Michael J. Carley of spreading Russian propaganda to students and demands that the university both rebuke the professor and strip him of his role as a thesis adviser and supervisor.

“Considering that Mr. Michael Jabara Carley has deliberately misled hundreds, if not thousands, of students and members of the scientific community regarding the war Russia has been waging against Ukraine since 2014, having taken on a much greater magnitude on February 24, 2022, he is liable to reprimand, suspension or dismissal from the University of Montreal,” states the petition.

Tweets from Prof. Carley’s Twitter account had quoted Russian state media outlets, such as Sputnik, using the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The tweets claimed that the country was cleansing Donbas and Mariupol against “a rotten fascist government in Ukraine” and “Ukrainian Nazis” that had “infiltrated into every level of Ukr gvt & armed forces.”

His Twitter and Facebook accounts have since been deleted. Mr. Carley did not respond to a request for comment about the petition.

- Emerald Bensadoun

8:55 p.m. ET

Canadian energy-services companies wrestle with Russian operations

The small number of Canadian energy-services companies that provide drilling or hydraulic fracturing equipment in Russia are rushing to get out.

Most of the companies in the sector chose never to enter the Russian market in the first place, citing poor economics, or got out some time ago. However, that makes the ones who continued to operate in Russia up until its invasion of Ukraine stand out even more, particularly Calgary’s Calfrac Well Services Ltd.

While many Canadian energy-services companies not in Russia have seen their share prices jump by double-digit prices since the war began, Calfrac stock has fallen nearly 8 per cent.

In the year ended Dec. 31, Calfrac reported $122.1-million in revenue from Russia, up more than 20 per cent from 2020. That was just over 12 per cent of the company’s sales last year. It says it has three contracts in the country all slated to expire sometime in 2022.

- David Milstead

7:35 p.m. ET

Ukraine accuses Russia of ‘militarizing’ exclusion zone around Chernobyl power station

A senior Ukrainian official accused Russia on Sunday of “irresponsible” acts around the occupied Chernobyl power station that could send radiation across much of Europe, and urged the United Nations to dispatch a mission to assess the risks.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian forces were “militarizing” the exclusion zone around the station, site of the world’s worst civil nuclear accident in 1986.

Russian forces, she said, were transporting large amounts of old and badly maintained weapons, creating a risk of damaging the containment vessel constructed around the station’s wrecked fourth reactor.

And Russian forces were preventing firefighters from bringing under control large numbers of fires in the zone.

“In the context of nuclear safety, the irresponsible and unprofessional actions of Russian servicemen present a very serious threat not only to Ukraine but to hundreds of millions of Europeans,” Vereshchuk said on her Telegram account.

- Reuters

7:05 p.m. ET

Biden says he is not calling for regime change in Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden clarified on Sunday that the United States does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, after his declaration that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”

Biden’s comments in Poland on Saturday also included calling Putin a “butcher” and appeared to be a sharp escalation of the U.S. approach to Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Top American diplomats on Sunday had played down his declaration, and Biden, asked by a reporter as he departed a church service in Washington if he was calling for regime change in Russia, gave a one-word reply: “No.”

Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, earlier sought to contextualize Biden’s remarks, saying they followed a day of speaking with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. Russia’s month-old invasion has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s population of 44 million from their homes.

“In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day,” Smith told CNN’s “State of the Union” program before adding: “The U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop.”

- Reuters

5:30 p.m. ET

Berlin considering buying missile shield, Chancellor Scholz says

Germany is considering purchasing a missile defence system to shield against a potential attack from Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said late on Sunday.

“This is certainly one of the issues we are discussing, and for good reason,” he told public broadcaster ARD when asked whether Germany might buy a defence system such as Israel’s Iron Dome.

He did not specify what type of system Berlin was considering.

When asked whether Germany aimed to procure a missile defence system with a longer range than its existing Patriot batteries, Scholz said: “We need to be aware that we have a neighbour who is prepared to use violence to enforce their interests.”

- Reuters

3:20 p.m. ET

Red Cross asks Canada not to mix Ukraine aid promises with military support, sanctions

The International Committee of the Red Cross is asking Canada not to mix promises of humanitarian aid with announcements about military support and sanctions when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart says he understands the government wants to show its support for Ukrainians in their time of need.

But he says lumping promises of humanitarian assistance with military support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia threatens the neutrality that aid groups require to safely operate there and elsewhere.

While Stillhart did not identify any specific examples, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday announced $50 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Ukraine while also levying new sanctions against dozens of Russian officials.

– The Canadian Press

2:30 p.m. ET

Ukraine prepared to discuss neutrality status, Zelensky tells Russian journalists

Ukraine is prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia but it would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in remarks aired on Sunday.

Zelensky was speaking to Russian journalists in a 90 minute video call, an interview that the Russian authorities had pre-emptively warned Russian media to refrain from reporting. Zelensky spoke in Russian throughout.

Zelensky said Russia’s invasion had caused the destruction of Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine, and said the damage was worse than the Russian wars in Chechnya.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine was discussing the use of the Russian language in Ukraine in talks with Russia, but refused to discuss other Russian demands, such as the demilitarization of Ukraine, Zelensky said.

– Reuters

1:55 p.m. ET

Zelensky signs new Ukraine law limiting the reporting on movement of troops

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A Ukrainian serviceman walks next to the wreck of a Russian tank in Stoyanka, Ukraine, March 27, 2022.VADIM GHIRDA/The Associated Press

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a law restricting the reporting on troop and military equipment movement unless such information has been announced or approved by the military general staff.

The state news agency Ukrinform reported Sunday that the law calls for potential prison terms of three to eight years for violations.

The law bans “unauthorized dissemination of information about the direction, movement of international military assistance to Ukraine, the movement, movement or deployment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or other military formations of Ukraine, committed in a state of martial law or a state of emergency,” Ukrinform said.

– The Associated Press

1:30 p.m. ET

Canada’s grocers remove Russian products from store shelves

As companies around the world distance themselves from operations and business relationships in Russia – a corporate shunning of Vladimir Putin’s regime as its invasion of Ukraine rages on – grocery retailers here have also taken a small but symbolic step.

Some of the country’s largest grocers confirm they have been removing Russian products from store shelves in recent weeks. The food retailers’ decisions follow earlier moves in many provinces to stop selling Russian vodka.

Empire Company Ltd., which owns grocery chains including Sobeys, Safeway and FreshCo, began pulling Russian products from shelves in early March.

“We are also working with our supplier partners to find alternative sourcing arrangements for any of their Russian-produced products,” spokesperson Jacquelin Weatherbee wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Metro Inc. also stopped selling products made in Russia earlier this month, spokesperson Marie-Claude Bacon said.

Loblaw Companies Ltd. recently reviewed its product suppliers and has been removing items and ensuring they are not reordered, spokesperson Catherine Thomas wrote. “They generally are off shelf now,” she said.

Susan Krashinsky Robertson, in Toronto

1:10 p.m. ET

Don’t report interviews with Ukrainian president, Russia warns media

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky remotely addresses by video-link the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26, 2022.KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images

Russia’s communications watchdog told Russian media on Sunday to refrain from reporting an interview done with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and said it had started a probe into the outlets which had interviewed the Ukrainian leader.

In a short statement distributed by the watchdog on social media and posted on its website, it said a host of Russian outlets had done an interview with Zelensky.

“Roskomnadzor warns the Russian media about the necessity of refraining from publishing this interview,” it said. It did not give a reason for its warning.

– Reuters

12:30 p.m. ET

Humanitarian aid for Ukraine is dwindling, deputy health minister says

The amount of humanitarian aid arriving in Ukraine is beginning to wane even as the Russian bombardment persists, Ukrainian Deputy Health Minister Oleksii Laremenko said on Sunday.

Speaking in a cargo warehouse near Warsaw’s Chopin airport during a delivery of medical equipment facilitated by charity Direct Relief, Laremenko said he was grateful to the international community for the relief provided so far.

The shipment bound for Ukraine included everything from metal beds to gauze to asthma inhalers and oxygen concentrators. But more support was desperately needed, Laremenko added, calling on other organizations to send aid.

“For the last week what we see that the level of humanitarian support is a little bit down. We hope that it will be some pause to find new resources and because Russian aggression are increasing and they are bombing civilians,” he told Reuters.

“What we are asking, if you can support, please support right now,” he said. “Don’t wait for weeks and months, because we need the support right now.”

The conflict in Ukraine has caused a humanitarian crisis and displaced an estimated 10 million people, nearly a quarter of the country’s population, according to the United Nations.

– Reuters

11:18 a.m. ET

Next round of Ukraine-Russia talks will take place in Turkey, Ukrainian negotiator says

The next round of face to face talks between Ukraine and Russia will take place in Turkey on March 28-30, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said on social media on Sunday.

Ukraine described previous talks with Russia, launched after Russia unleashed an invasion last month, as “very difficult.”

– Reuters

10:55 a.m. ET

Ukraine asks Red Cross not to open office in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don

Ukraine has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross not to open a planned office in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, saying it would legitimize Moscow’s “humanitarian corridors” and the abduction and forced deportation of Ukrainians.

The head of the ICRC said on Thursday after his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that agreement between the Russian and Ukrainian armies was needed before civilians could be evacuated properly from war-torn Ukraine.

Russian media reported that Red Cross chief Peter Maurer asked Russia to facilitate the opening of a Red Cross office in Rostov-on-Don.

Mykhailo Radutskyi, chairman of the public health committee in Ukraine’s parliament, appealed to the Red Cross to change its plans.

“The Committee calls on the International Committee of the Red Cross that it would not legitimize ‘humanitarian corridors’ on the territory of the Russian Federation as well as that it would not support the abduction of Ukrainians and its forced deportation,” Radutskyi said in a statement.

– Reuters

10:25 a.m. ET

Why some foreign fighters – including Canadians – quit plans to battle for Ukraine

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Paul Hughes came to Ukraine from Calgary on March 4 with plans to join the International Legion of Territorial Defence. He became disillusioned with the group and ended up starting a humanitarian organization called Helping Ukraine Grassroots Support (HUGS) instead.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

Foreign fighters flocking to war zones are nothing new but they usually operate in an informal capacity or as mercenaries.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took the unusual step of actively recruiting foreigners by calling on “citizens of the world” to join the battle against the Russians. He created the international legion as a special branch of the Territorial Defence Force, a largely civilian operation, and the government has estimated that about 20,000 people from more than 50 countries have signed up.

While it’s hard to verify the numbers, there’s little doubt that thousands of eager warriors from Canada and elsewhere have joined the Ukrainian cause and provided crucial support on the battlefield. But some foreign fighters have also found the experience frightening and dangerous.

Paul Waldie, in Lviv

10:10 a.m. ET

Ukrainian civilian death toll reaches 1,119, UN says

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Medical specialists transport a woman, who was wounded in the shelling of an apartment building, to an ambulance, as her husband stands nearby, in Kyiv, Ukraine Feb. 26, 2022.GLEB GARANICH/Reuters

The United Nations human rights office said on Sunday that 1,119 civilians had so far been killed and 1,790 wounded since Russia began its attack on Ukraine.

Some 15 girls and 32 boys, as well 52 children whose sex is as yet unknown, were among the dead, the United Nations said in a statement which covered the period between when the war began on Feb. 24 and midnight on March 26.

The true casualty figures are expected to be considerably higher, the world body said, with reports delayed in some regions where intense hostilities are going on, while many reports still require corroboration.

This was particularly the case around the besieged southern port of Mariupol, as well as Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Izium in the Kharkiv region, Popasna and Rubizhne in the Luhansk region, and Trostianets in the Sumy region, the United Nations said.

Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, the United Nations said.

– Reuters

9:35 a.m. ET

Russia blocks German newspaper’s website

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A man takes a copy of the German "Bild" newspaper from a stack in a newsagent in Berlin June 22, 2012.THOMAS PETER/Reuters

Russian authorities have blocked the website of German newspaper Bild, part of their efforts to control the message on Ukraine.

Communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said Sunday it blocked Bild’s website at prosecutors’ request.

Instagram and Facebook were already blocked in Russia after Roskomnadzor said they were being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers. Russian authorities also have shut access to foreign media websites, including BBC, European news network Euronews, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza.

Bild says it has been putting Russian-language reports on Russia’s war in Ukraine and its slide toward “totalitarian dictatorship” on its website, and parts of its live video broadcasts have been subtitled in Russian. It noted that it also has a Russian-language Telegram channel.

Bild editor-in-chief Johannes Boie said the decision to block its website in Russia “confirms us in our journalistic work for democracy, freedom and human rights.”

– The Associated Press

9:00 a.m. ET

Russia may try to split country, Ukraine military intelligence chief says

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief says that Russia could try to break Ukraine in two.

Kyrylo Budanov said in remarks released by the Defense Ministry on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has realized “he can’t swallow the entire country” and would likely try to split the country under “the Korean scenario.” That’s a reference to the decades-old division between North and South Korea.

Budanov said that “the occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine.” He pointed to Russian attempts to set up parallel government structures in occupied cities and to bar people from using the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia.

Budanov predicted that Ukrainian resistance will grow into a “total” guerrilla warfare, derailing Russia’s attempts.

– The Associated Press

8:45 a.m. ET

Macron cool on Biden’s comments about Putin, focuses on de-escalation

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French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he speaks to the media after European Union leaders' summit, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium, March 25, 2022.JOHANNA GERON/Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has distanced himself from U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” He is urging efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Macron, who has spoken several times to the Russian president in sofar unsuccessful peacemaking efforts, is due to speak again with Putin Sunday or Monday.

“We should be factual and … do everything so that the situation doesn’t get out of control,” Macron said Sunday on France-3 television, when asked about Biden’s remark.

Macron said: “I wouldn’t use those terms, because I continue to speak to President Putin, because what we want to do collectively is that we want to stop the war Russia launched in Ukraine, without waging war and without an escalation.”

He stressed that the U.S. remains an important ally, saying, “We share many common values, but those who live next to Russia are the Europeans.”

Macron said he will talk with Putin about a proposed humanitarian corridor for the besieged city of Mariupol, also discussed with Turkey and Greece.

– The Associated Press

8:35 a.m. ET

U.S. not seeking Russian regime change despite Biden’s harsh comments, Blinken says

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference with Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, March 27, 2022.POOL/The Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is not trying to topple Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite its harsh condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken spoke a day after President Joe Biden said of Putin during a speech in Warsaw: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

”At a news conference in Jerusalem, Blinken said Biden’s point was that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”

He said the U.S. has repeatedly said that “we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter.”

”In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people,” Blinken said.

– The Associated Press

8:10 a.m. ET

Zelensky pleads for fighter jets and tanks to defend Ukraine from Russian invasion

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Members of Congress give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation before he speaks in a virtual address to Congress in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium in Washington, on March 16, 2022.Sarahbeth Maney/The Associated Press

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the West of lacking courage as his country fights to stave off Russia’s invasion, making an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to sustain a defence in a conflict that has ground into a war of attrition.

Speaking after U.S. President Joe Biden met with senior Ukrainian officials in Poland on Saturday, Zelensky lashed out at the West’s “ping-pong about who and how should hand over jets and other defensive weapons to us” while Russian missile attacks kill and trap civilians.

“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I’m in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism and firmness are astonishing,” Zelensky said in a video address early Sunday, referring to the besieged southern city that has suffered some of the war’s greatest deprivations and horrors. “If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1 per cent of their courage.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 32nd day, has stalled in many areas, its aim to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force its surrender faltering in the face of staunch Ukrainian resistance – bolstered by weapons from the U.S. and other Western allies.

However, Western military aid has, so far, not included fighter jets. A proposal to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was scrapped amid NATO concerns about getting drawn into a military conflict with Russia.

– The Associated Press

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