By The Associated Press
The latest on the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian president’s office said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
The State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection warned that the explosion, which it said looked like a mushroom cloud, could cause an “environmental catastrophe” and advised residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze and to drink plenty of fluids.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said the Russian forces have been unable to take Kharkiv, where a fierce battle is underway.
The city of 1.5 million is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.
GENEVA — The United Nations says it has confirmed at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 people killed, in the fighting in Ukraine that erupted since Russia’s invasion on Thursday — though it believed the “real figures are considerably higher” because many reports of casualties remain to be confirmed.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs relayed the count late Saturday from the U.N. human rights office, which has strict methodologies and verification procedures about the toll from conflict.
OCHA also said damage to civilian infrastructure has deprived hundreds of thousands of people of access to electricity or water, and produced a map of “humanitarian situations” in Ukraine — mostly in northern, eastern and southern Ukraine.
The human rights office had reported early Friday an initial count by its staffers of at least 127 civilian casualties – 25 people killed and 102 injured – mostly from shelling and airstrikes.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has asked his Belarus counterpart to demand that the country, Ukraine’s neighbor, quickly order Russian troops to leave.
In a phone conversation Saturday, Macron denounced “the gravity of a decision that would authorize Russia to deploy nuclear arms on Belarus soil,” a statement by the presidential palace said.
Macron told Alexander Lukashenko that fraternity between the people of Belarus and Ukraine should lead Belarus to “refuse to be a vassal and an accomplice to Russia in the war against Ukraine,” the statement said.
Belarus was one one of several axes used by Russia to launch attacks on Ukraine, with Belarus the point to move toward the capital Kyiv, a senior U.S. defense official has said.
Macron has pushed persistently to try to claw out a ceasefire amid the war, using the telephone to talk to all sides, diplomacy and sanctions by the European Union.
MOSCOW — Russia is closing its airspace to planes from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia, a move that comes as Moscow’s ties with the West plunge to new lows over its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s state aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, announced early Sunday that the measure was taken in retaliation for the four nations closing their airspace for Russian planes.
On Saturday, the agency also reported closing the Russian airspace for planes from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic in response to them doing the same.
WASHINGTON — The U.S., European Union, and United Kingdom on Saturday agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system and to impose ”restrictive measures” on its central bank in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine.
The measures were announced jointly as part of a new round of financial sanctions meant to impose a severe cost on Russia for the invasion.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would push the bloc also to “paralyze the assets of Russia’s Central bank” so that its transactions would be frozen.
Cutting several commercial banks from SWIFT “will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” she said.
As a third measure, she said the EU would “commit to taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship—so called golden passports—that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.”
COPENHAGEN— Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet says two freelancers working for the paper were injured when the car they were traveling in was hit by gunfire near the village of Ohtyrka in eastern Ukraine.
The reporter and photographer were taken to a local hospital, Ekstra Bladet said, adding their injuries were not life-threatening. The paper was working with a security firm to have the two journalists evacuated.
BERLIN — Germany officials said Saturday that the country is preparing to close its airspace to Russian planes.
Transport Minister Volker Wissing backs such a measure and has ordered all preparations for this to be undertaken, his ministry said on Twitter.
Hours earlier, a German-registered DHL cargo plane made a sharp turn back out of Russian airspace, according to air traffic monitoring website FlightAware.com.
GENEVA — A respected Swiss newspaper is reporting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked his Swiss counterpart on Saturday to act as a neutral mediator between Ukraine and Russia, and help work toward a ceasefire between the two countries.
Daily Tages Angeizer said the request of Swiss President Ignazio Cassis came in the context of the upcoming Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva starting on Monday, at which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to attend on Tuesday.
The report, which was not immediately confirmed by the Swiss Foreign Ministry that Cassis also leads, cited Swiss experience with such issues — notably a mediation effort carried out by Switzerland after Russian forces seized control of Crimea in 2014.
Ministry spokesman Andreas Heller told The Associated Press late Saturday that he could not immediately confirm whether any such communication had taken place between the two presidents, but said Switzerland was ready to offer its “good offices” for any such initiative.
MOSCOW — More and more Russians spoke out Saturday against the invasion of Ukraine, even as their government’s official rhetoric grew increasingly harsher.
Street protests, albeit small, resumed in the Russian capital of Moscow, the second-largest city of St. Petersburg and other Russian cities for the third straight day, with people taking to the streets despite mass detentions on Thursday and Friday. According to OVD-Info, rights group that tracks political arrests, at least 460 people in 34 cities were detained over anti-war protests on Saturday, including over 200 in Moscow.
Open letters condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine kept pouring, too. More than 6,000 medical workers put their names under one on Saturday; over 3,400 architects and engineers endorsed another while 500 teachers signed a third one. Similar letters by journalists, municipal council members, cultural figures and other professional groups have been making the rounds since Thursday.
A prominent contemporary art museum in Moscow called Garage announced Saturday it was halting its work on exhibitions and postponing them “until the human and political tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine has ceased.”
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council will meet Sunday afternoon to hold a procedural vote on a request by Ukraine for an emergency session of the 193-member General Assembly in light of Russia’s invasion of its country.
There are no vetoes on a procedural vote in the council, unlike on resolutions. A procedural vote requires approval from nine of the 15 council members.
Council diplomats said approval is virtually certain, and the emergency meeting of the General Assembly is expected to be held on Monday.
Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya tweeted Thursday that he asked General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid to prepare for an emergency meeting in the coming days.
He said the meeting should be held under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, initiated by the United States and adopted in November 1950 to circumvent vetoes by the Soviet Union during the 1950-53 Korean War.
The resolution gives the General Assembly the power to call emergency meetings to consider matters of international peace and security when the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.
Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution Friday demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat says he’s calling an urgent meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers on Sunday to weigh yet more measures against Russia as it wages its military campaign in Ukraine.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted Saturday that “I am convening a virtual meeting of EU foreign ministers tomorrow at 18.00 (Central European Time, 1700 GMT) to adopt further measures in support of Ukraine, against aggression by Russia.”
Borrell says he will propose to the ministers that they endorse “a package of emergency assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, to support them in their heroic fight.”
It will be third time the ministers have met in a week. Previously they have endorsed two packages of sanctions; one raft targeting Russians involved in the recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, and another hitting Russia’s economy, and freezing the assets of the president and foreign minister.
BERLIN — Russia’s space agency said Saturday that it is suspending cooperation with its European partners in response to EU sanctions.
In a Twitter post, Roscosmos said it would withdraw its personnel from the European space port in Kourou, French Guiana.
Several European satellites have been launched with Soyuz rockets from Kourou, and more were scheduled over the coming year.
Thierry Breton, a senior EU official who oversees the 27-nation bloc’s space policy, said Roscosmos’ decision would have “no consequence on the continuity and quality” of its flagship Galileo global positioning system or the Copernicus program of Earth observation satellites.
Breton said the EU would strive to develop the Ariane 6 and VegaC launchers “to ensure Europe’s strategic autonomy.”
BERLIN — In a significant shift, the German government said Saturday it will send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine and supports some restrictions of the SWIFT global banking system for Russia.
Germany’s chancellery announced it will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 “Stinger” surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine “as quickly as possible.”
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire post-war order,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement. “In this situation, it is our duty to help Ukraine, to the best of our ability, to defend itself against Vladimir Putin’s invading army.”
In addition, the German economy and climate ministry said Germany is allowing the Netherlands to ship 400 German-made anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.
Germany had long stuck to a policy of not exporting deadly weapons to conflict zones, including Ukraine. As recently as Friday, government officials said they would abide by that policy.
The country has faced criticism from Ukrainian officials and other allies that it has not acted decisively enough to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion. Previously, Germany contributed 5,000 helmets to Ukraine’s defense.
In addition, Germany will send 14 armored vehicles and up to 10,000 tons of fuel to Ukraine.
ROME — The Ukrainian Embassy to the Holy See says Pope Francis spoke by phone on Saturday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The embassy tweeted that “the Holy Father expressed his deepest pain for the tragic events that are taking place in our country.”
Zelenskyy tweeted that he thanked the pontiff for “praying for peace in Ukraine and a ceasefire. The Ukrainian people feel the spiritual support of His Holiness.”
The pope, who has repeatedly called war folly, has designated March 2, Ash Wednesday, as a day of fasting and prayer for peace.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he’s open for talks with Russia.
Zelenskyy said in a video message Saturday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev offered to help organize such talks. He added that “we can only welcome that.”
Zelenskyy also said he and Erdogan “agree that a ban on the passage of Russian warships into the Black Sea is very important today,” adding that “it has been done.” Turkey, however, hasn’t announced any ban for Russian warships to move through Turkish Straits following Erdogan’s talk with Zelenskyy.
Zelenskyy also said the Ukrainian diplomats have succeeded in persuading the country’s European allies to cut Ukraine’s allies to cut Russia off SWIFT international payment system, saying it would cost Russia billions of dollars in what he said is a “concrete price for its treacherous invasion of Ukraine.”
The U.S. and the European Union officials said kicking Russia out of SWIFT is possible as part of a next round of sanctions, but no such move has been announced yet.
Zelenskyy said that “Ukrainians’ readiness to protect our state, our solidarity and courage have thwarted the scenario of occupation of our country.”
“The world has seen that Ukrainians are strong, Ukrainians are brave, Ukrainians stand on their land and will not surrender it,” he said.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. is weighing sanctioning the Russian Central Bank, a move aimed at targeting more than $600 billion in reserves that the Kremlin has at its disposal, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The White House hasn’t made a final decision on the move, the officials said. The step could cause broad economic impact to the Russian economy, but also have reverberations in the broader global economy.
The White House declined to comment on the report.
__ Matt Lee
NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call Saturday that the United Nations is determined to step up humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people.
He said he will launch an appeal Tuesday to fund U.N. humanitarian operations in the conflict-wracked country, the U.N. spokesman said.
LITHUANIA — The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have decided to close their airspace to Russian airlines, transport officials in the three countries say.
The legal formulation for the measure is underway and it wasn’t immediately clear when precisely the ban would take effect.
Lithuanian Transport Marius Skuodis told media outlets that the goal of the Baltic countries is to issue the ban at the same time.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted on Saturday that Western nations should isolate Russia both economically and politically after its invasion on Ukraine, saying “there is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies.”
Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits told local news agency LETA that the country’s decision to close its airspace to Russian airlines will be made in coordination with Estonia, Lithuania and the EU.
KYIV, Ukraine — The authorities in the Ukrainian capital say a curfew in the city will last through early Monday as Russian troops are pressing the offensive into Kyiv.
The city authorities previously announced the curfew to last from 5 pm to 8 am, but then clarified the order and specified that it will last from Friday afternoon until Monday’s morning to keep people indoors through the day Sunday.
The measure comes as the Ukrainian authorities reported fighting with small groups of Russian troops that infiltrated the city. More Russian troops are closing in on Kyiv.
Some grocery stores were open until the curfew went into effect. The array of goods was thin. The concern for now is how long stockpiles will last. Some pharmacies were similarly open, but there were reports that new shipments from distributors had halted.
In addition, the Interfax news agency reported that Ukraine’s three major cellphone service providers have blocked access for Russian SIM cards.
MEDYKA, POLAND — Lines of vehicles miles long are clogging border crossings out of Ukraine, as tens of thousands rush to neighboring countries to escape danger from invading Russian troops.
Nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries in the wake of Russian invasion, the U.N. refugee agency said Saturday. The largest numbers were arriving in Poland, where 2 million Ukrainians have already settled to work in recent years. Poland’s government said Saturday that more than 100,000 Ukrainians had crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border in the past 48 hours alone.
One family from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine waited 20 hours before being able to cross the border into Siret in northern Romania.
At the border town of Medyka, the line of vehicles waiting to enter Poland stretched many miles into Ukraine.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda says the European Union should grant Ukraine the group’s membership in an express way.
Duda said on Twitter that Poland is for immediately granting Ukraine the status of a candidate to the 27-member EU. Duda added that Ukraine should have access to EU funds, to help it rebuild from damage caused by Russia’s armed invasion. “Ukraine deserves that,” Duda tweeted.
In Rome, the Ukrainian ambassador to Rome backed that sentiment, insisting that “Ukraine earned and has the right to be a member of the European Union.”
Ambassador Yaroslav Melnyk said Saturday on Italian state TV that “the destiny of Ukraine is the destiny of Europe” and that “when bombs fall in Ukraine that means bombs fall in Europe.”
BUDAPEST — For the second time in three days, several thousand protesters gathered Saturday in Hungary’s capital to demonstrate against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to urge world leaders to apply sanctions on Moscow.
The protest, organized by Budapest’s Ukrainian community, was attended by Hungarians, Ukrainians, Russians and others and filled one of the city’s main avenues in front of the Russian Embassy.
Dasha Ivashuk, who fled Ukraine into Hungary on Friday night, said she attended the protest to call for an end to the violence.
“I’m here to say we just want to live in peace,” she said. “We don’t want to run from the bombs that are taking place all over Ukraine for the last several days.”
Thousands of people also gathered in Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, protesting the Russian invasion of Ukraine and expressing solidarity with its people.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A senior U.S. defense official says the United States estimates that more than 50% of Russian combat power arrayed along Ukraine’s borders has entered Ukraine. That is up from a U.S. estimate Friday that one-third of the Russian force had been committed to the fight.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. assessments, would not say how many Russian troops that amounts to inside Ukraine, but the U.S. had estimated the total Russian force arrayed near Ukraine at more than 150,000.
The official said advancing Russian forces were roughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) outside Kyiv as of Saturday, and that an unspecified number of Russian military “reconnaissance elements” had entered the capital.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that “the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.”
“Russian forces are bypassing major Ukrainian population centres while leaving forces to encircle and isolate them,” the ministry said.
—By Robert Burns
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian peace activists have held a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine following the Balkan nation’s decision not to join international sanctions against Moscow.
Serbia has criticized the attack on Ukraine but has remained a rare country in Europe that refused to impose sanctions against its traditional Slavic political ally Russia.
Holding a huge Ukrainian flag, the activists from Women in Black group held banners in Belgrade reading “Stop Putin!” and calling for peace. Ukrainians living in Serbia also joined the gathering.
Serbia is formally seeking European Union membership but the country’s populist authorities have fostered close ties with Russia and China.
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia and the Czech Republic have closed down their airspaces for Russian planes because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Slovenia’s government on Saturday said the ban relates to all aircraft registered in Russia and operators based in Russia and licensed by a competent Russian authority. The decision became effective immediately and will remain in force until needed, the government said.
Saturday’s decision was announced by Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka a day after the Czech Republic banned all Russian airlines from using Czech airports.
“We’re stepping up our measures against the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” Kupka said.
ROME — Thousands of people have turned out in Milan to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The march in Italy’s business capital appeared to be the largest of similar protests held Saturday in many Italian cities. In Milan, many participants held up a 20-by-10 meter (66-by-33 foot) rainbow-hued peace banner – with the enormous cloth sometimes covering their heads – to show opposition to the invasion.
In Rome, several hundred people rallied in a square in the city’s historic center in a protest organized by Italian labor leaders.
BEREGSURANY, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has told a news conference that Hungary is accepting all citizens and legal residents of Ukraine, regardless of whether they are subject to military conscription into the Ukrainian armed forces.
“We’re letting everyone in,” Orban said in the border town of Beregsurany. “I’ve seen people who have no travel documents, but we’re providing them too with travel documents. And we’re also allowing in those who have arrived from third countries after the proper screening.”
Several thousand refugees fleeing Ukraine have crossed into Hungary in recent days, entering through five border crossings along Hungary’s 137-kilometer (85-mile) border with Ukraine.
The move is a significant shift, for Hungary under Orban has in recent years firmly opposed all forms of immigration.
Regarded as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, Orban has pursued close economic and diplomatic ties with the Kremlin. But he said that Russia’s invasion of Hungary’s neighbor would likely cause changes in his relationship with Putin, and that Hungary was supporting all proposed sanctions against Moscow at the European level.
TOKYO — From Tokyo to London to Taipei, Ukrainians living abroad and hundreds of protesters have turned out on the streets to join anti-war rallies spreading around the world as Russia’s troops pressed toward Ukraine’s capital.
Several hundred Ukrainians living in Japan gathered outside of Tokyo’s main train stations Saturday, chanting “Stop war!” and “Peace for Ukraine.” They held up signs including “No war,” “Stop Putin, Stop Russia,” while others waved Ukrainian flags. At a separate rally reportedly organized by Russian residents in Japan, several dozen people chanted “Hands off Ukraine!”
In Taiwan, more than 100 demonstrators chanting “Stand with Ukraine” and “Glory to Ukraine” protested outside the Russian representative office in Taiwan on Saturday.
“My family, my friends are now sheltered in their basements because of the air attacks,” said Yulia Kolorova, a 49-year-old Ukrainian living in Taiwan.
PARIS — The captain of a Russian cargo ship intercepted early Saturday in the English Channel was formally advised that his vessel breaks European Union sanctions levied days ago for its invasion of Ukraine, France’s finance ministry said.
Customs officials examined the Baltic Leader after it was escorted to the port of Boulogne-Sur-Mer before a written contravention was handed to the captain, a ministry statement said.
A spokesperson for the Maritime Prefecture, Veronique Magnin, said the seizure of the ship apparently was the first such action in the English Channel.
The vessel, which was carrying cars, is owned by PSB Lizing, which an official close to Public Affairs Minister Olivier Dussopt said is among Russian companies listed in the EU sanctions. He confirmed that PSB Lizing is a subsidiary of PSB, or Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company
The approximately 130-meter-(426.5 foot) ship was headed from Rouen, in Normandy, to Saint Petersburg, and was stopped near Honfleur,
MOSCOW — A senior Russian official has warned that Moscow could react to Western sanctions over its attack on Ukraine by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact and freezing Western assets.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, shrugged off a set of crippling sanctions that the U.S., the European Union and other allies slapped on Russia as a reflection of Western “political impotence.”
In comments posted on his page on Russian social media VKontakte, Medvedev said the sanctions could offer Moscow a pretext for a complete review of its ties with the West, suggesting that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Medvedev also raised the prospect of cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries, saying “we may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights.”
He pointed at the possibility of freezing Western assets in the country if the West proceeds with threats to freeze Russian assets.
KYIV, Ukraine — A rescue worker says at least six civilians were injured by a rocket that hit a high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.
Petro Prokopov, a firefighter who was taking part in rescue efforts, said the building on the southwestern edge of Kyiv near Zhuliany airport was hit between 16 and 21 floors on Saturday. He said at least six people were injured and apartments on two floors were gutted by fire. Emergency responders have evacuated 80 people.
Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko posted an image showing a gaping hole on one side of the apartment building.
Separately, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said a Russian missile was shot down before dawn Saturday as it headed for the dam of the sprawling water reservoir that serves Kyiv. “If the dam is destroyed, the flooding will cause catastrophic casualties and losses – including flooding of residential areas of Kyiv and its suburbs,” the ministry said.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian health minister says that 198 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been wounded in the Russian offensive.
Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said Saturday that there were three children among those killed. His statement made it unclear whether the casualties included both military and civilians.
He said another 1,115 people, including 33 children, were wounded in the Russian invasion that began Thursday with massive air and missile strikes and troops forging into Ukraine from the north, east and south.
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