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Live updates: Putin outlaws the spread of ‘fake’ reports


By The Associated Press

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill introducing a prison sentence of up to 15 years for spreading information that goes against the Russian government’s position on the war in Ukraine.

The bill criminalizing the intentional spreading of what Russia deems to be “fake” reports about the war was quickly rubber-stamped by both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament earlier Friday.

Russian authorities have repeatedly decried reports of Russian military setbacks or civilian deaths in Ukraine as “fake” reports. State media outlets refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” rather than a “war” or “invasion.”

The law envisages sentences of up to three years or fines for spreading what authorities deem to be false news about the military, but the maximum punishment rises to 15 years for cases deemed to have led to “severe consequences.”

Also Friday, the state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, blocked Facebook and five foreign media organizations based abroad which publish news in Russian in a sweeping action to establish tight control over information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the European nations to support his country’s fight against the invading Russian military.

Zelenskyy appeared on video as he addressed thousands of people protesting the war in several European cities, naming among them Paris, Prague, Lyon, Frankfurt and others. He asked the big crowds not to be silent about what’s going on in his country.

“Don’t turn a blind eye on this,” he said. “Come out and support Ukraine as much as you can,” he said though a translator.

“If we fall, you will fall,” he said.

“And if we win, and I’m sure we’ll win, this will be the victory of the whole democratic world, this will be the victory of our freedom, this will be the victory of light over darkness, of freedom over slavery. And if we win we will become as blossoming as Europe. And Europe will be flourishing more than ever,” he said.

“All of you are Ukrainians today, thank you for this.”

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MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister has spoken to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about humanitarian corridors in Ukraine.

Sergei Shoigu told Guterres in Friday’s call that the Russian military has created safe corridors for civilians to exit areas blocked by the Russian troops but charged that Ukrainian “nationalists” have prevented them from leaving, according to the Defense Ministry readout. Shoigu alleged that “nationalist and neo-Nazi forces, which also include foreign mercenaries, have used civilians as shields,” a claim that couldn’t be independently verified.

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators on Thursday held the second of two rounds of talks, reaching a tentative agreement on setting up safe corridors to allow civilians to leave besieged Ukrainian cities and the delivery of humanitarian supplies. They are yet to iron out detailed provisions for those corridors.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s state communications watchdog has ordered to completely block access to Facebook in Russia amid the tensions over the war in Ukraine.

The agency, Roskomnadzor, said Friday it decided to cut access to Facebook over its alleged “discrimination” of the Russian media and state information resources. It said the restrictions introduced by Facebook owner Meta on the RT and other state-controlled media violate the Russian law.

A week ago, the watchdog announced “partial restrictions” on access to Facebook that sharply slowed it down, citing the platform’s moves to limit the accounts of several state-controlled Russian media. Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in amplifying dissent in Russia in recent years.

The move against Facebook follows the blocks imposed Friday on the BBC, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza as the government seeks to uproot independent sources of information about the invasion of Ukraine.

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TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is heading to several European capitals next week where he will he discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and disinformation coming from the Kremlin.

Trudeau says he will have meetings in London, Berlin, Riga, Latvia and Warsaw, Poland. He says he is joining partners to stand against Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. Trudeau says Russia is reeling from strong and aligned sanctions that democracies around the world have employed.

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BRUSSELS — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major world powers say that those responsible for Russian military attacks on civilians in Ukraine must be held accountable for their crimes, amid reports of the use of cluster bombs and other banned munitions.

In a statement after talks in Brussels on Friday, the G7 ministers said they are “deeply concerned with the catastrophic humanitarian toll taken by Russia’s continuing strikes against the civilian population of Ukraine’s cities.”

They underlined that “indiscriminate attacks are prohibited by international humanitarian law,” and that they “will hold accountable those responsible for war crimes, including indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians.”

The ministers also welcomed the investigations and evidence-gathering being done to establish what war crimes might have been committed in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor has launched an investigation that could target senior officials believed responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide amid a rising civilian death toll and widespread destruction of property.

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ROME — The head of the World Food Program says the U.N. organization is putting in motion systems to feed from 3 million to 5 million people inside Ukraine.

David Beasley told the Associated Press from Warsaw, Poland that they were putting together teams around Ukraine’s borders to reach “those who can’t get out, and those who are going to be needing food support immediately.” He said they were leasing warehouses, trying to figure out how much food they can potentially buy in Ukraine, how much can be brought from outside.

“No one would ever expect anything like this in Europe in this century,” Beasley said, adding that millions of Ukraine’s 43 million-strong population were either refugees or internally displaced.

He praised the response of Poles, who have been meeting fleeing Ukrainians at the border, ’making certain they’re getting hot meals, taking them to wherever they need to go,” calling it “really, really quite remarkable.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. nuclear agency says a “projectile” hit a building adjacent to a block of six reactors at Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, sparking a fire that didn’t affect its operation, although he stressed there is nothing normal when military forces are in charge of the site.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the IAEA was informed by Russia a few days ago that its military forces were moving to take control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, similar to troops’ seizure last week of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Grossi said the advance of Russian troops toward the perimeter of the nuclear power plant “was met with opposition and some group of civilians attacking the access to the plant.” Early Friday, he said, the IAEA “got information that a projectile had impact (sic) a building adjacent to the block of reactors, six of them.” He did not say who fired the projectile.

Grossi said Ukraine’s nuclear installations and facilities are important — four big sites and 15 reactors and associated facilities, plus the site at Chernobyl, which has a giant metal dome covering the destroyed reactor.

The IAEA chief reiterated his readiness to travel to Chernobyl “as soon as practicable” to consult with Ukrainian nuclear authorities and, when necessary, the Russian authorities in charge to ensure that basic principles of safety and security are maintained.

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UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s U.N. ambassador is rejecting claims that its military forces attacked Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant as “simply untrue” and part of “an unprecedented campaign of lies and disinformation against Russia.” He claimed a “Ukrainian sabotage group” set fire to a training facility just outside the plant.

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Vassily Nebenzia told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the Russian military took control of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Enerhodar and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant located there on Monday.

After negotiations with the plant’s management, he said, an agreement was reached for the Russian military to guard the facility to ensure its security “to prevent the Ukrainian nationalist or other terrorist forces from taking advantage of the current situation to organize a nuclear provocation.”

Nebenzia said according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, on Thursday night a Russian mobile patrol in the area adjacent to the plant “was attacked by a Ukrainian sabotage group in order to provoke return fire.”

He said the patrol was attacked with heavy small arms fire from the windows of several floors of a training complex located just outside the nuclear plant and the Russians returned fire “and suppressed their fire.”

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GENEVA — A top Russian diplomat insisted Friday that his country will not occupy Ukraine.

“The goal is very clear: Denazification and demilitarization,” Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador in Geneva, said of the invasion — which he called a “special military operation.”

“We are not going to stay in Ukraine militarily. We are not going to occupy this country,” he told the U.N. Geneva press association ACANU. “I don’t now all the details of the military plan, but the political goal is as I described it.”

He said the definition of “demilitarization” was being discussed in diplomatic talks between Ukrainian and Russian envoys.

“We want to secure — or to have guarantees — that the threat is not coming from Ukraine against the Russian Federation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to legitimize Russia’s moves in Ukraine by claiming a desire to “denazify” Ukraine, a country with a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust and who heads a Western-backed, democratically elected government. Historians see Putin’s invocation of World War II as disinformation and a cynical ploy to further the Russian leader’s aims.

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MOTYZHYN, Ukraine — Footage shot near Kyiv shows the body of a woman alongside a vehicle, its windows shattered and its windshield wipers still swishing.

Petro Lytvyn, who lives near the site in Motyzhyn, said three people died amid shooting.

“Who was shooting we don’t know,” he said. A medic in town tried to reach the wounded but couldn’t. “We lost three. No one wants to pick them up from the car, maybe there is an explosive inside, so no one wants to approach it,” he said. Another vehicle with broken windows and a shorn-off front bumper holds a victim slumped over.

“I was scared the first three days,” said Olena Dovzhenko, who lives in the town. “Now we hear a little bit where there is shooting, who is fighting back and where. At the beginning, my heart was beating, I had panic attacks.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held separate calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Erdogan told Johnson that Turkey would continue to strive for an immediate cease-fire as well an an immediate end to Russia’s actions on Ukraine, according to a brief statement released from his office.

Erdogan and Zelenskyy discussed “Russia’s attacks and the latest developments” in Ukraine, his office said in a separate statement, but did not elaborate.

Turkey, which has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia, has been calling for a cease-fire to end the fighting.

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SAO PAULO — Brazil’s government said on Friday it will issue temporary humanitarian visas and residency permits for Ukrainian nationals and other individuals who have been affected or displaced by the conflict with Russia.

The visas will be valid for 180 days and arriving Ukrainians can apply for residency permits lasting two years, according to the text published in the nation’s official gazette. Brazil will require, among other documents, a certificate attesting to the person’s clean criminal record.

Brazilian media have reported that the country has Latin America’s biggest population of Ukrainians and their descendants, ranging between 500,000 and 600,000, according to an estimate from Ukraine’s embassy.

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LONDON — London’s Metropolitan Police force says its War Crimes Team is helping gather evidence for an International Criminal Court investigation into the Ukraine invasion.

Britain’s biggest police force appealed for people in Britain to come forward if they had “direct evidence of war crimes in Ukraine” between Nov. 21, 2013 and the present.

The 2013 date marks the start of protests against Ukraine’s Russia-leaning government and for closer ties with Europe. The following year, Russia annexed Crimea and intervened to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. Last week, Russian troops invaded the country en masse.

Commander Richard Smith, head of Metropolitan Police Counterterrorism Command, which includes the War Crimes Team, said evidence might include “direct messages, images or videos that friends or relatives here in the U.K. have been sent by those in Ukraine. Or it could be somebody who was previously in Ukraine and who may have witnessed or even been a victim of a war crime and has since travelled to the U.K.”

The force said evidence could be shared with the Hague-based court, which is investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

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GENEVA —The U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration said Friday that 1.25 million people had left Ukraine between the start of the invasion

Those figures were slightly higher than a count from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, which has so far estimated that 1.2 million people have left the country since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. A spokesman from IOM said its figures were slightly more up-to-date.

IOM, which focuses on all types of migrants — not just refugees — also provided new details about where the people fleeing were from: It reported that 78,800 “third-country nationals” — not Ukrainians — from 138 countries had left the country.

IOM said: “We have credible and verified information from partners and humanitarians present on borders with neighboring countries have documented discrimination against several third-country nationals arriving in neighboring countries. They have also documented act of xenophobia based on people’s race, ethnicity and nationality.”

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LONDON — The BBC says it is temporarily suspending the work of all its journalists in Russia after the country’s lawmakers approved legislation criminalizing reporting of the war in Ukraine that differs from the government line.

Tim Davie, director-general of the British broadcaster, said the legislation “appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism.” He said the corporation was halting newsgathering work by its journalists and support staff in Russia “while we assess the full implications of this unwelcome development.”

“The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs,” he said.

Davie said the BBC’s Russian-language news service would continue to operate from outside Russia.

The Russian parliament voted unanimously Friday to approve a draft law criminalizing the intentional spreading of what Russia deems to be “fake” reports. It could be signed by President Vladimir Putin and take effect as soon as Saturday.

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MOSCOW — A Russian lawmaker has spoken out about what she says are heavy losses being suffered by some military units fighting in Ukraine.

Lyudmila Narusova, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, said during Friday’s livestreamed proceedings that she knew of one company which was meant to be 100 strong but “only four were left alive” when the unit was withdrawn.

Narusova, the widow of President Vladimir Putin’s former political mentor Anatoly Sobchak, did not present evidence for her claims and said the Defense Ministry had refused her request to confirm the reported casualties.

Russia said Wednesday 498 of its troops had been killed in Ukraine and has not updated that number since. Ukraine claims that the true number of Russian casualties is far higher.

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LONDON — A Western official says a huge Russian military convoy advancing on Kyiv has made little progress for several days.

The official said the convoy, which has been estimated at up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) long, had become a huge traffic jam that included damaged or destroyed vehicles.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said the convoy had been attacked from the air by the Ukrainians, but that Ukraine’s ability to do so was limited.

The official assessed that Ukrainian forces remain in control of much of the country’s territory but that Russia holds the cities of Kherson, Melitopol and Berdiansk in the south.

Multiple Western officials have said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has advanced more slowly than planned, with Russian forces meeting stiff Ukrainian resistance and encountering myriad logistical problems.

Russian President Vladmir Putin said Thursday that what he calls a “special military operation” was on course to meet its goals.

__ Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia Herzegovina — Additional troops from four European Union nations started arriving in Bosnia Friday to reinforce the EU-led peacekeeping force in the Balkan country which has never fully recovered from its brutal 1992-95 war.

All four companies of the reserve forces from Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia will arrive at the European Union Force (EUFOR) base outside Sarajevo to reinforce its 600-strong contingent already stationed in the country. The new deployments will total 500 troops.

EUFOR announced the deployment of additional forces a day after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The force described the step as a precautionary measure to prevent the deterioration of the security situation internationally from spreading to Bosnia.

A staunchly pro-Russian Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, has for years advocated the separation of the semi-autonomous Bosnian Serb mini-state from the rest of the multi-ethnic country. Last winter, with tacit support from Moscow, Dodik intensified his secessionist campaign, pledging to form an exclusively Serb army, judiciary and tax system.

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MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin says Russia is ready for talks with Ukraine but insisted that it must meet Moscow’s demands.

Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Ukraine must agree to demilitarize, accept Moscow’s sovereignty over Crimea and surrender territory to Russia-backed rebels in the east, the Kremlin said in its readout of Friday’s call.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ouster of the country’s former Moscow-friendly leaders and cast its support behind the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Putin recognized the separatist “people’s republics” as independent states just before he launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, citing their plea for military assistance.

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators on Thursday held the second of two rounds of talks, reaching a tentative agreement on setting up safe corridors to allow civilians to leave besieged Ukrainian cities and the delivery of humanitarian supplies. They also agreed to keep talking on ways to negotiate a settlement, but Putin’s tough demands make prospects for a compromise look dim.

Ukrainian negotiators said the parties may conduct another round of talks over the weekend.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A top Ukrainian cybersecurity official says a volunteer army of hundreds of hackers enlisted to fight Russia in cyberspace is only attacking what it deems military targets, prioritizing government services including the financial sector, Kremlin-controlled media and railways.

Victor Zhora, deputy chair of the state special communications service, also said Friday that there had been about 10 hostile hijackings of local government websites in Ukraine to spread false text propaganda saying his government had capitulated. He said most of Ukraine’s telecommunications and internet were fully operational.

Zhora told reporters in a teleconference that presumed Russian hackers continued to try to spread destructive malware in targeted email attacks on Ukrainian officials and – in what he considers a new tactic – trying to infect the devices of individual citizens.

Zhora said one job of civilian volunteer hackers is to try to obtain intelligence that can be used to attack Russian military systems.

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KYIV, Ukraine — As occasional explosions sounded on the fringes of Kyiv, a young couple held their wedding ceremony on Friday.

Dmytro Shybalov and Anna Panasyk smiled and blushed in shy delight at the civil registry office where they married. The day was an eerie echo of when they fell in love in 2015 in Donetsk amid the fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces that was a precursor to the countrywide war.

“It’s 2022 and the situation hasn’t changed. It’s scary to think what will happen when our children will be born,” Shybalov said.

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GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office, in its latest count of casualties released Friday afternoon, said it had confirmed 331 people killed and 675 people injured since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The rights office uses strict methodology and only reports casualties it has confirmed. It believes the real figures are much higher. Ukrainian officials have presented far higher numbers.

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LONDON — A union says dockers at a British port have refused to unload gas tankers from Russia, and called for tighter sanctions to prevent Russian cargoes arriving in the U.K.

The Unison union says two tankers, Boris Vilkitsky and Fedor Litke, were diverted from Europe’s largest liquefied natural gas terminal on the Isle of Grain in southeast England.

The union said the British government must close a loophole that meant the cargo could return if it was loaded onto non-Russian vessels.

Britain has banned Russia-linked ships from its ports, but the union’s head of energy, Matt Lay, said the rules “only cover the ownership and operators of vessels, not the cargo.” He said “companies are free to get around the rules by hiring ships from other countries to import Russian goods.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for Western countries to stop buying Russian oil and gas, but it is still being bought by many countries, including the U.K.

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BRUSSELS — Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says the European Union may agree “early” next week on another set of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Coveney said Friday that “we in the European Union and other partners are really disgusted and outraged by what we continue to see day after day in Ukraine and Russia’s actions, which clearly are a breach of international law.”

Speaking to reporters before a meeting with his EU counterparts and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Coveney said: “I don’t think there’s any credible argument now that war crimes aren’t being committed on a daily basis.”

He says the West must brace for no letup in the fighting in Ukraine.

“Unfortunately it looks like we are going to see more of this in the coming days and weeks,” Coveney said. “The picture looks very bleak, very dark, in terms of Russia’s intentions. And there doesn’t seem to be any willingness to discuss a cease-fire, to discuss a pulling back out of residential areas.”

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TOKYO – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has condemned Russia’s attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine, calling it “unforgivable, reckless act.”

Kishida said he talked on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and told him that “Russian attack on the nuclear plant was an unforgivable, reckless act.”

Russian forces shelled Europe’s largest nuclear power plant Thursday, causing a fire there that was extinguished overnight but sparking global fear of radiation leaks. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, says there was no sign on Friday of radiation leaks.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011 destroyed power and cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing its triple meltdowns, spewing large amounts of radioactive materials in its surroundings and keeping part of the region still uninhabitable.

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