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Live updates: US pledges to crack down on Russian oligarchs


By The Associated Press

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department says it will crack down on Russian oligarchs and anyone else who violates the sweeping sanctions imposed by the Biden administration in response to the war against Ukraine.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday announced the creation of Task Force KleptoCapture, a team of federal agents and prosecutors responsible for investigating and prosecuting any violations of new and future sanctions.

That includes seizing the assets belonging to oligarchs and others who violate the sanctions, and thwarting any efforts to use cryptocurrency to get around sanctions.

Garland said in a statement announcing the sanctions that the Justice Department “will leave no stone unturned” in investigating and prosecuting “those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war.”

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Three boys wounded by apparent Russian shelling while they were playing soccer Wednesday were rushed into a hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

One of the boys had lost his legs, and died soon after arrival, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. The other two were rushed into surgery and then intensive care.

The boys, all born in 2006, had been playing soccer and hanging out near School No. 29 in Mariupol when the shelling hit, family members told the VFAB. A woman with severe face injuries from the same strike was also brought to the hospital.

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KYIV, Ukraine — In Kyiv’s northwestern outskirts, a bridge reduced to rubble led people to balance on narrow pipes to cross the fast-moving river below.

According to footage, a man carrying a rifle helped a smiling child cross. Others carried bags and used a rope to ford the river.

A woman carrying a cart across stopped to pat a dog on its head. Near the crossing point, a van had flipped upside down, its grill lodged in the river muck and debris.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says its first shipment of medical supplies for invasion-hit Ukraine will arrive in neighboring Poland on Thursday, calling for a humanitarian corridor to ease delivery in the face of a crisis with “ordinary civilians being broken” in the fighting.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the shipment includes 36 metric tons (40 U.S. tons) of supplies for trauma care and emergency surgery to help 1,000 patients as well as other supplies to meet the needs of 150,000 people.

He said WHO’s prepositioned supplies in the capital, Kyiv are currently unavailable. He did not elaborate, but the agency alluded to logistical problems amid the fighting after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.

“There is an urgent need to establish a corridor to ensure humanitarian workers and supplies have safe and continuous access to reach people in need,” Tedros said.

Dr. Jarno Habicht, WHO’s country representative in Ukraine, said it was “difficult to find drivers” to deploy supplies. The agency said some of the supplies include treatment for noncommunicable diseases, insulin, and hypertension medication, as well as things like tetanus antitoxin.

The WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said other supplies included sutures, skin graft equipment, and “equipment for doing amputations, for bone grafting, for bone wiring…”

“I think this gives you the graphic nature of what’s happening,” Ryan said. “These are ordinary civilians being broken and the health system is going to have to put them back together again.”

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PRAGUE — Dozens of craft beer brewers in the Czech Republic are joining forces to help Ukraine.

More than 40 such breweries will participate in the “Drink for Ukraine” beer festival at Prague’s Congress Center on Saturday. All the brewers will contribute some 100 kinds of beer free of charge for the festival.

They will also donate beer rarities that will be auctioned at the festival.

All the money from the sales and auction will be sent to the People In Need humanitarian organization that is providing aid for people in Ukraine.

The organizers said they were not able to watch the aggression against Ukraine without doing something to help.

“We help by doing what we know the best — good beer,” festival co-organizer Karolina Chroustovska.

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ROME — The Venice Biennale art exhibition, which has already seen members of the Russian pavilion quit to protest the invasion of Ukraine, says it’s working to make sure the artist representing Ukraine can show his work.

Pavlo Makov is due to represent Ukraine with “The Fountain of Exhaustion. Acqua Alta” at the Biennale, which runs April 23-Nov. 27.

In a statement Wednesday, Biennale organizers said they were working to make sure Makov could come to Italy and present his work as planned, as a sign of its solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

The festival said it would continue to welcome Russian artists who support freedom of expression and have opposed the invasion, but that official Russian delegations wouldn’t be allowed.

Last week, the curator and members of the official Russian pavilion quit to protest the war. The festival hailed the decision as a “noble act of courage” on the part of the Russian artists

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NEW DELHI — India is asking its nationals to leave Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv by Wednesday evening, based on information that Indian authorities have received from Russia.

External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Indian nationals have been advised to move to three safe zones some 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.

Bagchi declined to give details about what information New Delhi had received from Russia, which is invading Ukraine.

Bagchi also said nearly 17,000 Indian nationals, mostly students, out of an estimated 20,000, have left Ukraine. India is trying to evacuate the rest to nearby countries.

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ROME — European Union member Malta says it is suspending the processing of applications from Russian and Belarusian nationals for its so-called “golden passport” program in the wake of EU sanctions on Russia.

The much-criticized program, which grants citizenship or official residence in Malta, was begun as a lucrative source of income for the tiny island nation in 2014. A government statement on Wednesday also noted that nobody who gained citizenship that way has been found to be on the list of sanctioned individuals.

It said sanctions now make it impossible to perform due diligence on applicants from Russia and Belarus. Under the program, Maltese passports can be obtained with 600,000 euros ($660,000) and three years of residency or 750,000 euros and 12 months of residency, plus a 700,000-euro purchase of property. But investigative reporting in recent years found that the residency requirement wasn’t always fully enforced.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Israel’s president says his country is helping to push for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine and is offering its services to achieve that.

President Isaac Herzog said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart on Wednesday that Israel is also sending an “unprecedented amount” of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, totaling some 100 tons.

Herzog said the aid is a “moral obligation” and that his country is considering more ways to support the Ukrainian people.

He said a missile attack on the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv “epitomizes the huge pain and suffering of people there” and the “terrible tragedy that we’re seeing unfolding in front of our eyes.”

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TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister says his country will accept refugees from Ukraine, as Russia invades its eastern European neighbor.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Wednesday that the offer includes Ukrainians who have fled to Poland.

“We plan to start first with those with family and friends in Japan, but we will not stop there and will respond from a humanitarian viewpoint,” Kishida told reporters.

The Japanese offer is unusual, though Japan has accepted refugees before, from various nations, albeit in very small numbers.

Japan has often been criticized for providing a relatively narrow door for migrants wanting to get in. Those policies have become even tighter due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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LONDON — Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has received a standing ovation from British lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Legislators from all parties rose to applaud when Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle announced that Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko was in the public gallery for the weekly Prime Minister’s questions session.

Hoyle said applause was usually banned in the chamber, but “the House quite rightly wants to demonstrate our respect and support for your country and its people in the most difficult of times.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “underestimated the extraordinary fortitude of the Ukrainian people and the unity and resolve of the free world in standing up to his barbarism.”

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LONDON — European plane maker Airbus says it has stopped providing support services to Russian airlines and supplying spare parts to the country.

The company said in a statement that the suspension was “in line with international sanctions now in place.”

U.S. rival Boeing has also said it’s putting its operations in Moscow on hold, temporarily shutting its Kyiv office and suspending parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian carriers.

Airbus and Boeing jets account for the vast majority or Russia’s passenger aircraft fleet.

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GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says more than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week and the figure is “rising exponentially,” putting it on track to cross the 1 million mark possibly within hours.

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that people are continuing to stream into Ukraine’s neighboring countries to the west, with more than 200,000 fleeing since Tuesday.

A day earlier, Mantoo had cautioned that the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of the “biggest refugee crisis this century” — eclipsing the one from Syria’s war over the last decade.

She noted that UNHCR had previously projected that as many as 4 million people might flee Ukraine, but noted that the agency will be re-evaluating its forecast.

The latest figures show that more than half — or nearly 454,000 — have gone to Poland, more than 116,300 to Hungary and over 79,300 to Moldova. Another 69,000 have gone to other European countries and 67,000 have fled to Slovakia.

Mantoo noted that the figure of 874,000 was an increase from more than 660,000 only a day earlier — and some 116,000 on Saturday, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union has banned seven Russian banks from the SWIFT global system that underpins cross-border payments.

But it spared two financial institutions in Russia because they are key to transactions for EU energy imports.

The EU left out Gazprombank and Sberbank from its move Wednesday to disconnect parts of the Russian financial industry from the SWIFT secure messaging network.

The exemption of those two banks underscores the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy and the two financial institutions’ central role in managing payments for that business.

The seven banks targeted by the latest EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine are: Bank Otkritie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, Rossiya Bank, Sovcombank, VEB and VTB.

Gazprombank and Sberbank are, however, subject to other sets of EU financial sanctions against Russia that began in 2014 when the Kremlin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

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MOSCOW — Russian and Ukrainian officials say they are standing by to resume talks about their war, though the time and place for negotiations was unknown and hopes for a breakthrough remain low.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that “in the second half of the day, closer to evening, our delegation will be in place to await Ukrainian negotiators.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukrainian officials are ready for new talks but said the venue is undecided and Kyiv won’t accept any Russian ultimatums.

Kuleba said: “Russia’s demands remain the same as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin announced in his address before the war started.”

Peskov said Putin’s culture adviser Vladimir Medinsky remains the main negotiator for Russia.

The first round of talks on resolving the Russia-Ukraine war were held near the Belarus-Ukraine border last Sunday.

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VIENNA — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog is warning about the dangers of a war around nuclear power plants, as Russia invades Ukraine.

Rafael Grossi told a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors on Wednesday that he is “gravely concerned” by the situation.

He said it’s “the first time a military conflict is happening amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program.” That includes the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

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Grossi added, according to a text of his comments provided by the IAEA: “It is also imperative to ensure that the brave people who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine can continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure.”

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s prime minister says his country has been hit by a wave of refugees from Ukraine after their country was invaded by Russian troops.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala told the lower house of parliament on Wednesday that some 20,000 refugees arrived from Ukraine in last few days. The Czech Republic doesn’t have a border with Ukraine and most refugees are coming though neighboring Slovakia and Poland.

He said his government is working on legislation that would give the refugees access to the labor market without a work permit.

He said Czechs have been creating assistance centers in every of the country’s 14 regions for the refugees, making it easier for them to get registered, receive medical treatment or receive information about job openings.

Some 200,000 Ukrainians were working in the Czech Republic before the invasion.

Fiala said his government has sent to Ukraine arms worth almost $30 million and will continue to do so.

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BEIJING — China’s bank regulator says Beijing won’t join the United States and European governments in imposing financial sanctions on Russia.

China is a major buyer of Russian oil and gas and is the only major government that has refrained from criticizing Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

Beijing disapproves of the sanctions, which it believes lack a legal basis and “will not have a good effect,” said Guo Shuqing, the chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

“We will not join such sanctions, and we will keep normal economic, trade and financial exchanges with all the relevant parties,” Guo said at a news conference. “We disapprove of the financial sanctions.”

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Ukrainian embassy in the United Arab Emirates says the Gulf country is re-imposing visa requirements on Ukrainians, in an effort to stop anyone fleeing the war against Russia heading there.

The embassy posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that the suspension went into effect March 1. Any Ukrainian passport holders wanting to visit the United Arab Emirates will now need a visa first.

The energy-rich UAE, which relies on Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports, is home to some 15,000 Ukrainian residents among its roughly 8 million foreign residents and 1 million Emirati citizens. Before the coronavirus pandemic, around a quarter-million Ukrainian tourists visited the UAE.

The UAE, like other Gulf Arab states, does not recognize individuals fleeing war and has not permitted refugees from Syria, Iraq and other wars to seek asylum or seek resettlement.

The UAE, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote late last week condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is thanking Poland for opening its borders and homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

Francis gave a special shout-out to Poland during his Wednesday general audience. The weekly appointment coincided with Ash Wednesday, which Francis has designated as a day for fasting and prayers for peace in Ukraine.

Speaking to Polish pilgrims, Francis said he was “profoundly grateful” for Poland’s gestures of solidarity.

“You are the first ones who have supported Ukraine opening your borders, your hearts, the doors of your homes to the Ukrainians who are escaping the war,” Francis said. “You are generously offering everything necessary so that they can live in a dignified way despite the dramatic moment.”

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VIENNA — Russia claims its military has taken control of the area around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.

That’s according to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

It said Wednesday it had received a letter from Russia saying personnel at the Zaporizhzhia plant continued their “work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation.”

The letter added: “The radiation levels remain normal.”

Zaporizhzhia is the largest of Ukraine’s nuclear sites, with six out of the country’s 15 reactors.

Already, Russia has seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

The IAEA says that it has received a request from Ukraine to “provide immediate assistance in coordinating activities in relation to the safety” of Chernobyl and other sites.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says Russia has withdrawn a request to send four warships to the Black Sea through the Turkish straits.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that Moscow had agreed to a “friendly request” by Turkey, a NATO member.

Turkey — which has been trying to balance its close relations with both Ukraine and Russia — announced this week that it will implement an international convention that allows it to shut down the straits to warships belong to warring countries.

The convention provides an exception for warships returning to Black Sea ports they are registered with.

Cavusoglu said three of the Russian ships were not registered with Black Sea naval bases.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norsk Hydro, one of the largest aluminum companies worldwide, says it won’t sign new contracts linked to Russian producers until further notice.

The company with operations in more than 40 countries said in a statement Wednesday that it has no “business-critical supplies” from Russia or Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is appealing to Jews around the world to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in which significant Jewish sites have been hit.

Zelenskyy made the appeal on Wednesday, a day after a Russian missile strike damaged the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial on the outskirts of Kyiv, where Nazi occupiers killed more than 33,000 Jews over two days in 1941.

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, said: “I appeal now to all the Jews of the world — don’t you see what is happening? Therefore, it is very important that millions of Jews around the world do not remain silent now.”

Earlier, shelling hit the town of Uman, a significant pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews.

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Follow VFAB’s coverage of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine at

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