Russia assaulted cities and towns along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long and poured more troops into Ukraine on Tuesday in a potentially pivotal battle for control of the country’s eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories.
If successful, the Russian offensive in what is known as the Donbas would essentially slice Ukraine in two. In Mariupol, the now-devastated port city in the Donbas, Ukrainian troops said the Russian military was dropping heavy bombs to flatten what was left of a sprawling steel plant and hit a hospital where hundreds were staying.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Moscow’s forces bombarded numerous Ukrainian military sites, including troop concentrations and missile-warhead storage depots, in or near several cities or villages.
Those claims could not be independently verified.
In what both sides described as a new phase of the war, the Russian assault began Monday along a front stretching more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southeast.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian military was throwing everything it has into the battle, with most of its combat-ready forces now concentrated in Ukraine and just across the border in Russia.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Russian forces are attacking along broad east front, Ukraine says
— Displaced people from across Ukraine seek shelter in Lviv apartment building
— Yellen to see Ukraine PM, avoid Russians at global meetings
— Global finance meeting focuses on war-driven food insecurity
— UN chief urges 4-day Easter ‘pause’ in fighting in Ukraine
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for a four-day halt in fighting in Ukraine, starting Thursday to coincide with Orthodox Christians’ Holy Week observances.
Noting that Orthodox Easter is coming amid an intensifying Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the U.N. chief said Tuesday that the need for a “humanitarian pause” is all the more urgent.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya called on Russia to heed Guterres’ call.
But Russian deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said Tuesday he was “a bit skeptical” about the idea.
Guterres said the goal is to allow for evacuating civilians from “current or expected areas of confrontation” and or getting more humanitarian aid into desperately needy places such as Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. More than four million people in those areas need assistance, Guterres said.
The proposal comes after the U.N. recently helped to foster a two-month truce in Yemen’s civil war, halting fighting as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new security assistance package in the coming days that will include additional artillery and ammunition, according to a U.S. official.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said details of the latest package are being finalized.
Last week, in anticipation of Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine, Biden approved an $800 million package including additional helicopters and the first provision of American artillery. The U.S. has sent about $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russian invaded.
Asked by reporters whether he’d be sending more artillery, Biden said “Yes.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “providing more ammunition and security assistance to Ukraine” was discussed by Biden and other allied leaders during a video call on Tuesday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italy Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took part in the more than 80-minute call.
— Aamer Madhani contributed to this report from Washington.
OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will send heavy artillery to Ukraine.
Trudeau says he’s been in close contact with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Canada is very responsive to what Ukraine needs. He says there will be more details on the pledge in the days to come, and that Ukrainians have “fought like heroes.”
Canada’s government has also hit 14 more Russians with sanctions for their close ties with President Vladimir Putin, including his two adult daughters.
BERLIN — The International Atomic Energy Agency says direct phone communications between the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant and Ukraine’s nuclear regulator have been restored.
Ukraine informed the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog on March 10 that it had lost direct contact with the plant, the site of the 1986 disaster. Russian forces seized Chernobyl at the beginning of the invasion on Feb. 24 and withdrew on March 31.
The IAEA’s director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said Tuesday that “this was clearly not a sustainable situation, and it is very good news that the regulator can now contact the plant directly when it needs to.”
Grossi plans to lead a mission of IAEA experts to Chernobyl to conduct nuclear safety and radiological assessments, deliver equipment and repair the agency’s own remote monitoring systems there.
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged world finance leaders Tuesday to “get concrete” as they look for ways to combat a global crisis over food insecurity that’s getting worse due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“This threat touches the most vulnerable people the hardest — families that are already spending disproportionate amounts of their income on food,” Yellen told fellow finance leaders during a food security meeting convened with members of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “People on every continent are impacted.”
Failure to feed the world’s population risks not only starvation, but also social unrest and cross-border political upheaval. Among the proposed solutions: reducing export restrictions, relieving price controls and subsidizing small farmers.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday issued a carve-out to sanctions against Russia to allow agricultural transactions and trade related to humanitarian aid and access to communications.
Russia and Ukraine produce a third of the world’s wheat supply. The loss of commodities due to the war has resulted in soaring food prices and uncertainty about the future of food security globally, especially in impoverished countries. With fertilizer and natural gas costs exploding, leaders expressed concern that countries could turn inward and restrict trade to protect their populations, indirectly hurting more vulnerable countries that face even worse food problems.
David Malpass, president of the World Bank, said his organization will provide $17 billion per year to strengthen food security, and develop a 15-month crisis response package of $170 billion, that will address the pandemic, refugee resettlement and other issues alongside food supply.
KVIV, Ukraine — Russia is assaulting cities and towns across Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland in a new phase of the war after losing about 25% of the combat power it sent into Ukraine, according to Pentagon estimates.
Capturing the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region would give President Vladimir Putin a badly needed victory, slicing Ukraine in two and depriving it of key industrial assets.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said air-launched missiles destroyed 13 Ukrainian troop and weapons locations while artillery hit 1,260 Ukrainian military facilities and 1,214 troops concentrations over the last 24 hours. The claims could not be independently verified.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military’s assessment of Russia’s renewed offensive in the Donbas region of Ukraine is that it has begun in a limited way, mainly in an area southwest of the city of Donetsk and south of Izyum.
“When people say the offensive has begun, that’s what they’re referring to, and we’re not pushing back on that notion,” a senior U.S. defense official said.
The official said the Russians are taking actions to improve their ability to sustain combat operations in the Donbas and to “prepare for what we believe will be larger offensives in the future.”
The U.S. estimates that the Russian military has lost about 25% of the combat power it sent into Ukraine at the start of the war, so they’re refitting ground combat units for insertion into Ukraine. The official said the Russians added two more battalion tactical groups in the past 24 hours, for a total of 78. That’s up from 65 last week.
— AP Military Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.
BERLIN — Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany will continue to enable weapons deliveries to Ukraine, with one possibility being systems from eastern European nations that would be easily and quickly usable.
Scholz has faced increasing pressure from within his own governing coalition and the main opposition party to deliver heavy weapons such as German Leopard tanks.
But Scholz said Germany and its partners in the Group of Seven industrial nations have concluded it makes more sense to send in systems already used in Ukraine, such as the Soviet-era weapons some NATO partners still have.
Western partners would help those countries with replacements.
After conferring with U.S. President Joe Biden and other Western leaders on Tuesday, Scholz said “all of us will continue to support Ukraine, financially and also militarily.”
The Kremlin’s diplomats are doing more online dirty work as governments and social media companies try to suppress Russia’s state media and the disinformation it spreads about the war in Ukraine.
Russian embassies and consulates are prolifically using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to deflect blame for atrocities while seeking to undermine the international coalition supporting Ukraine.
With hundreds of social media accounts on every continent, Russia’s diplomatic corps acts as a global propaganda network, tailoring claims for each nation’s audience.
Tech companies have responded by adding warning labels and removing Russia’s diplomatic accounts from its recommendations and search results. But they remain active, as their diplomatic status provides more protection from moderation.
“Each week since the beginning of the war these diplomats have posted thousands of times, gaining more than a million engagements on Twitter per week,” said disinformation researcher Marcel Schliebs at the Oxford Internet Institute.
PRAGUE — Czech authorities have launched a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine during the Russian invasion.
Prague’s High Public Prosecutor’s Office that oversees the investigation said Tuesday that the initial information from Ukraine “shows signs of war crimes,” according to international law.
The office said the purpose of the investigation is to secure evidence from witnesses and victims who have arrived to seek refuge in the Czech Republic. The Czechs coordinate their effort with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation.
The investigators are focusing on suspected use of banned and illegal means and methods of warfare.
KHARKIV, Ukraine — Associated Press journalists in Kharkiv say at least four people were killed and three others wounded in a Russian attack on a residential area.
The attack on Tuesday happened as residents attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy in the eastern city, with municipal workers planting spring flowers in public areas.
Kharkiv is near the front lines and has faced repeated shelling from the Russian forces. Earlier on Tuesday, a regional governor in Kharkiv said 5 civilians had been killed and 17 wounded in the past 24 hours.
Also on Tuesday, an explosion rocked the eastern city of Kramatorsk killing at least 1 person and injuring 3, according to AP journalists at the scene.
— By Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine
MOSCOW — Russia said Tuesday it is expelling 15 diplomats from the Netherlands and an unspecified number of Belgian embassy staff in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats by those countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says it has ordered 14 employees of the Dutch embassy in Moscow and one from the consulate in St. Petersburg to leave the country.
“We expected Russia to take reciprocal measures. Nevertheless I regret this step. We are now going to see what the consequences are of the fact that so many colleagues have to leave Moscow and Petersburg,” Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra said.
That follows the Netherlands expelling Russian diplomats last month. Dutch authorities said they expelled 17 and alleged they had been using diplomatic cover to work as spies. The Russian Foreign Ministry said a total 18 people with diplomatic status were expelled from its embassy in The Hague, a trade mission in Amsterdam and the Russian representation at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is based in the Netherlands.
The ministry added that the Belgian ambassador had been notified that embassy staff would have to leave by May 3, without saying how many people were affected. The ambassador of Luxembourg was summoned for an official protest after the small Western European nation expelled a single Russian diplomat this month.
LONDON — British officials say the next phase of the war in Ukraine is likely to be “an attritional conflict” that could last several months.
A senior U.K. national security official briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday, as Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of the eastern Donbas region.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the official told ministers that Russia’s greater number of troops was “unlikely to be decisive on its own” against fierce Ukrainian resistance.
The official told Cabinet that there are signs Russia has not learned the lessons from previous setbacks in northern Ukraine, with evidence of troops being committed to the fight in a “piecemeal fashion” and some soldiers and units refusing to fight.
Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the prime minister had told Cabinet that Ukraine’s position remained “perilous,” with Russian President Vladimir Putin “angered by defeats but determined to claim some sort of victory regardless of the human cost.”
MOSCOW — The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya says he is certain that the Russian forces will uproot the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the key port of Mariupol within hours.
Ramzan Kadyrov said on a messaging app channel that the Russian troops will “finish off” the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol on Tuesday and take full control of the giant Azovstal steel mill, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the city.
Ukrainian troops have defended the strategic port on the Sea of Azov for seven weeks despite the Russian blockade and relentless barrage that flattened most of the city.
The Azovstal plant, which covers the territory of about 11 square kilometers (over 4 square miles), offered Ukrainian defenders a strong fighting position thanks to its sprawling network of underground tunnels and depots.
Kadyrov, whose forces have taken part in the fighting in Mariupol, has repeatedly made blustery comments about the city’s inevitable fall.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says he plans to speak with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts as part of Turkey’s efforts to halt the conflict.
Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey was also talking to P5 nations — the United States, China, France, Russia and the U.K. — and other countries about possible security guarantees for Ukraine, adding that Kyiv’s request for guarantees similar to Article 5 of the NATO treaty hadn’t found support, especially among Western countries.
“If there can be no guarantees (similar to) NATO’s Article 5, then what options are there? We are taking care of such these details,” Cavusoglu said. “We must be prepared for the possibility of a cease-fire.”
He was speaking during a joint news conference with Hungary’s foreign minister in Ankara.
NATO-member Turkey, which has maintained its close ties to both Russia and Ukraine, has hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers as well as talks between the two negotiating teams last month.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he hopes to bring the Russian and Ukrainian leaders to the negotiating table.
MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister has accused the U.S. and other Western nations of supplying Ukraine with weapons so that it continues fighting “until the last Ukrainian.”
Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday at a meeting with the top military brass that Washington and its allies are doing all they can to drag out Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
He noted that “the growing supplies of foreign weapons clearly signal their intention to provoke the Kyiv regime to keep fighting until the last Ukrainian.”
Shoigu said that the Russian military has “consistently implemented the plan to fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.”
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years in the mostly Russian-speaking region eastern industrial heartland, Donbas, that includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Russia.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says security for his country also means security for Bulgaria and all other Black Sea countries.
“We are fighting not only for our safety,” Kuleba said after talks Tuesday with his Bulgarian counterpart, Teodora Genchovska. “We are fighting for you too, so that you never have to face the tragedy of Russia’s attempts to affect and damage your country.”
Kuleba expressed understanding that many in Bulgaria have emotional and historic links to Russia.
“But now it’s different — destroying, killing, torturing, raping,” he said. “This is not a Russia that deserves sympathy and understanding. I want everyone to understand that.”
No details of the talks have been disclosed, but media reports alleged that Kuleba may ask for a stronger engagement of Bulgaria in Ukraine’s defense from Russia’s aggression. Along with Hungary, Bulgaria is the only EU member that has so far been reluctant to send weapons to Kyiv.
During his unofficial visit to Sofia, Kuleba will also meet Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.
MOSCOW — The Russian foreign minister says that Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine is entering a new stage.
Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Indian television broadcast Tuesday that “the operation is continuing, and another phase of this operation is starting now.”
Lavrov’s statement follows Ukrainian statements that Russia on Monday launched an offensive in the country’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years in the mostly Russian-speaking region and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Moscow.
Lavrov emphasized that the Russian operation is aimed at the “full liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.”
AMSTERDAM — Automaker Stellantis says it is suspending production in Russia because of the impact of sanctions and logistical problems.
Stellantis was making vans in Russia under the Peugeot and Citroen brands at a factory in Kaluga which it shared with Mitsubishi. The Japanese manufacturer suspended its production there earlier this month.
Stellantis said Tuesday it wanted to “ensure full compliance” with international sanctions and “protect its employees” by suspending production. The company had previously warned the Kaluga factory was running low on parts. Many automakers with operations in Russia have struggled to import the components they need since the invasion of Ukraine began.
Based in the Netherlands, Stellantis is the world’s fourth-largest automaker with brands including Chrysler, Jeep and Fiat. It previously stopped vehicle shipments to and from Russia last month.
Russian authorities have criticized companies which shut down their operations, and warned they could take steps to put production facilities under state control.
MOSCOW — The Russian military has made a new demand to the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol to lay down their arms.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev gave the Ukrainian troops holed up at the giant Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol until midday (0900 GMT) Tuesday to surrender.
He said that those who surrender will “keep their lives.”
Ukrainian troops who have defended the city for seven weeks have ignored such previous offers. The Azovstal plant, which covers the territory of about 11 square kilometers (over 4 square miles) is the last major Ukrainian pocket of resistance in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov.
Earlier Tuesday, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region, said that assault groups had moved into Azovstal in a bid to uproot the Ukrainian troops following bombing and artillery barrage.
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