By The Associated Press
LVIV, Ukraine — Air raid sirens sounded Saturday afternoon in the western city of Lviv, and governor of the region Maxym Kozytsky reported “three powerful explosions near Lviv” without giving details of what was hit. Footage shot by The Associated Press showed thick plumes of smoke rising above the city.
Lviv, a city of over 700,000 roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Ukraine’s border with Poland, has been largely spared from major Russian attacks in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, the Russian forces fired missiles on a military training center near Lviv, which at the time was the most westward target, and killed 35 people.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Lviv has become a safe harbor for some 200,000 displaced Ukrainians.
The explosions Saturday came as U.S. President Joe Biden was wrapping up a visit to neighboring NATO ally Poland in which he told Poland’s president that “ your freedom is ours.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Shelled city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine fears becoming ‘next Mariupol’
— The Associated Press has independently documented at least 34 assaults on Ukrainian medical facilities by Russian forces
— Russian President Vladimir Putin faces stark choices in Ukraine invasion as armed forces stall
— Hungarian PM Orban criticized for ‘neutral’ stance in Russia’s war on Ukraine
— Ukrainian fashion brand in bombarded city picks up and flees
— Is cryptocurrency aid for Ukraine a significant innovation or just a sideshow?
Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
WARSAW–President Joe Biden on Saturday spent time with Ukrainian refugees in Poland as he wrapped up his four-day visit to Europe, marveling at the spirit of their resolve in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of their homeland.
The president listened intently to young Ukrainian children tell them about their parents. He picked up a young Ukrainian girl in a pink coat, smiling broadly and telling her she reminded him of his own granddaughters.
He also held hands and gave hugs to their parents, as he heard their stories during a visit to a stadium in Warsaw where Ukrainian refugees go to obtain a Polish identification number that gives them access to social services such as health care and schools.
Some of the women and children told Biden that they fled for Poland without their husbands and fathers, men of fighting age that were required to remain behind to assist in the fight against Russian forces.
“What I am always surprised by is the depth and strength of the human spirit,” Biden told reporters after his conversations. “Each one of those children said something to the effect of ‘Say a prayer for my dad or grandfather or my brother.’”
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s President Andrzej Duda welcomed President Joe Biden’s assurances while visiting the Polish capital on Saturday that NATO would guarantee his country’s security.
He said the assurances were all the more important as Russia is carrying out brutal assaults in Ukraine, just across Poland’s eastern border.
“I think that for us Poles, in the situation we have today, in our part of Europe, in the era of Russian aggression against Ukraine, this is a very important element,” Duda said.
Duda, speaking after meeting Biden, said that he also urged the United States to speed up its planned delivery of weapons to Poland.
Duda noted that under contracts already concluded with the U.S., Poland is set to receive Patriot missile sets, artillery rocket launchers, F-35 fighter jets and 250 Abrams tanks.
“I asked the U.S. president, Joe Biden, to accelerate, as much as possible, those purchasing programs that are already being implemented in order to strengthen our security,” the Polish leader said.
A Winona, Minnesota man taken into custody by Russian forces in Ukraine has been released, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.
Tyler Jacob had been detained earlier this month while trying to cross from Ukraine into Turkey. Klobuchar said she reached out to the U.S. State Department and connected with John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, who discussed the situation with the Russian government.
The 28-year-old Jacob went to Ukraine in November, where he took a job teaching English to be with his longtime girlfriend, a Ukrainian, the Star Tribune reported. The couple married in January and lived in Kherson, a southern port on the Black Sea. Jacob stayed even after Russia invaded last month, but finally decided he should try to get out.
Along with some friends from Turkey, he got on a bus headed for the Turkish border but was taken into custody at a checkpoint in Armiansk.
Jacob is now safe with his wife and daughter and they are all planning to travel to Minnesota. The family declined to elaborate on the circumstances of Jacob’s detainment. Klobuchar said they “want to be really careful” and “at some point … the whole story will be told.”
PRAGUE — Several thousand Russians living in the Czech Republic in Prague and thousands more people in London have rallied to protest the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
The organizers from Prague’s Russian anti-war committee said the rally is an opportunity for the Russian nationals to say loud and clear “No to the war,” “No to Putin,” “We are with Ukraine,” and “We are with the Czech Republic and the whole world against the Russian aggression.”
The participants were marching through the Czech capital Saturday, waving white and blue flags, a common feature for the anti-war protests by the Russians. They replaced the Russian national flag with the tricolour of the red, blue and white horizontal fields with another one where the red field, which symbolizes blood, was replaced by one more white one.
The protesters also displayed banners that read ”Stop Putin,” “Save the World” and ”Putin is not Russia,” calling Russia’s President Vladimir Putin a “Killer.”
Besides their condemnation of the war, the Russians also said they want to make it clear they are part of the local society and not secret supporters of Putin.
LONDON — Thousands have gathered in central London on Saturday to march in support of the people of Ukraine as they resist the Russian invasion.
The march was organized by London Mayor Sadiq Khan after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on people everywhere to show their backing for Ukraine. Demonstrators were marching from Hyde Park to Trafalagar Square, which has been decorated in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag.
“These innocent people have been through unimaginable pain and suffering over the last month, and by joining together today we are showing that we stand with them,” Khan said.
Khan also pledged 1.1 million pounds ($1.45 million) to support refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in London. Some 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began.
WARSAW, Poland — U.S. President Joe Biden has told Poland’s President Andrzej Duda that “your freedom is ours,” echoing of one of Poland’s unofficial mottos. He assured Duda that the U.S. and other NATO allies would come to their aid if Russia should attack.
The two gathered Saturday on Biden’s final day in Europe to speak about their shared effort to end the war in neighboring Ukraine.
Biden called the “collective defense” agreement of the Western military alliance a “sacred commitment,” and said that the unity of NATO was of the utmost importance. He also acknowledged that Poland was bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis, with more than 2 million of the 3.5 million people fleeing Ukraine entering the country. He said the other NATO allies must do more. The U.S. has pledged to accept up to 100,000 refugees.
Duda said that the relations between the two nations are flourishing, despite the difficult times.
BUCHAREST, Romania — NATO’s deputy secretary-general says that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s month-old “barbaric war” against Ukraine is one he cannot win.
Mircea Geoana said in an interview with The Associated Press that NATO would be “forced to take appropriate measures” in the event of a chemical or nuclear attack, which follows a string of ominous comments from Moscow officials who refuse to rule out their use. He declined to say what those measures would be.
“NATO is a defensive alliance, but also it’s a nuclear alliance,” he said. “If they will be using chemical weapons or other kinds of higher-end systems against Ukraine, this will be changing fundamentally the nature of the war that Mr. Putin has waged against Ukraine.”
“I can guarantee that NATO is ready to respond proportionately,” he added.
HELSINKI — Finland’s president says his country would likely be targeted by Russian cyber warfare and could face border violations if it decides to apply for membership in NATO.
Several polls in recent weeks have shown a majority of Finns now supporting NATO membership, up from 25% at most before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview Saturday with public broadcaster YLE that the biggest benefit would be “gaining a preventive effect.”
But he pointed to a risk of disruptive behavior by Russia during an accession process, which would take at least months.
He said an application would lead to tensions at Finland’s 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, including the possibility of “robust” border and territorial violations — not just by Russian aircraft, as Finland has experienced in the past.
Niinisto said: “We don’t even know all the possiblities for hybid influencing that someone may invent. The entire world of information technology is vulnerable. Even some important society functions can be disrupted.”
Moscow has said it would consider European Union members Finland and neighboring Sweden joining NATO a hostile move that would have serious military and political repercussions.
MEDYKA, Poland — Refugees arriving in Poland from Ukraine are pleading for more help to end the war as U.S. President Joe Biden wraps up his four-day visit to Europe.
The U.S. has been sending money and supplies to aid the refugee effort. This week, Biden announced $1 billion in additional aid and said the U.S. would accept up to 100,000 refugees.
Elena Taciy, a 50-year-old from Berdyansk, said that the U.S. support is “right and needed.” She said Saturday she wanted Biden “to come to Ukraine in person and see the situation with his own eyes.”
Maria Shevchenka, a 43-year-old from Mykolaiv, said that “we are waiting for them (the Americans) to help us end this crisis, so that finally we can return back to our country and our homes.”
Biden, who was in Warsaw on Saturday, dropped in on a meeting between U.S. and Ukrainian foreign policy and defense leaders.
LVIV, Ukraine — The governor of the Kyiv region says that Russian forces have entered the city of Slavutych and seized a hospital there.
Slavutych is located north of Kyiv and west of Chernihiv, outside the exclusion zone that was established around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the 1986 disaster. It is home to workers at the Chernobyl site.
Governor Oleksandr Pavlyuk said Saturday that the Russians also kidnapped the city’s mayor, but some media reported later in the day that the mayor was released swiftly. Neither claim could be verified independently.
The governor said that residents of Slavutych took to the streets with Ukrainian flags to protest the Russian invasion.
“The Russians opened fire into the air. They threw flash-bang grenades into the crowd. But the residents did not disperse, on the contrary, more of them showed up,” Pavlyuk said.
LVIV, Ukraine — Authorities in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, have announced a new 35-hour curfew in the city.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the curfew will run from 8 p.m. local time on Saturday to 7 a.m. on Monday, with local residents allowed to leave their homes only to get to a bomb shelter.
Klitschko said that shops, pharmacies, gas stations and public transport will not be operating during the curfew.
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s defense ministry says a “mine-like” object has been “neutralized” at the northern entrance to the Bosporus Strait.
The sighting on Saturday of a possible naval mine followed warnings that mines laid at the entrances to Ukrainian ports could break free in bad weather and cross the Black Sea.
Broadcaster NTV showed images of an object bobbing in the waves off Istanbul’s Sariyer district, on the Bosporus’ European coast. A Coast Guard vessel was stationed nearby.
A Defense Ministry statement said divers were dispatched to deal with the object. According to Demiroren News Agency, it was noticed by fishermen.
On March 18, Turkey advised ships to keep a “sharp lookout” and report any possible mines that had drifted from Ukrainian ports.
Last year some 38,500 ships passed through the Bosporus, which links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ankara closed the strait to military vessels.
LONDON — Britain’s Defense Ministry says Russia continues to besiege a number of major Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol.
A daily update says Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralize defending forces.
The assessment says it is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties.
DOHA, Qatar — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a surprise video appearance at Qatar’s Doha Forum.
Zelenskyy in his video address Saturday criticized Russia’s ongoing war on his nation. He called on the United Nations and world powers to come to his aid. He compared Russia’s destruction of the port city of Mariupol to the Syrian and Russian destruction wrought on the city of Aleppo in the Syrian war.
“They are destroying our ports,” Zelenskyy said. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will deal a blow to countries worldwide.”
He added: “The future of Europe rests with your efforts.” He called on countries to increase their exports of energy — something particularly important as Qatar is a world leader in the export of natural gas.
He criticized Russia for what he described as threatening the world with its nuclear weapons.
“Russia is deliberating bragging they can destroy with nuclear weapons, not only a certain country but the entire planet,” Zelenskyy said.
He also noted Muslims in Ukraine would have to fight during the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan.
“We have to ensure this sacred month of Ramadan is not overshadowed by the misery of people in Ukraine,” he said.
ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy by telephone, discussing the situation in Ukraine and negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv, Erdogan’s office said late Friday.
Erdogan told his counterpart that he had raised Turkey’s support for Ukrainian territorial integrity at a recent NATO summit, where he had relayed the diplomatic efforts made by Turkey in one-one-one meetings with other leaders, according to a statement from the Turkish presidency.
Ankara, which has close ties with both Russia and Ukraine, has positioned itself as a neutral party, seeking to facilitate negotiations between the warring sides.
Russian forces in Ukraine appear to have shifted their focus from a ground offensive aimed at Kyiv to instead prioritizing what Moscow calls the liberation of the contested Donbas region, suggesting a new phase of the war.
It appears too early to know whether this means President Vladimir Putin has scaled back his ambitions in Ukraine, but Russian military moves this week indicate a recognition of the surprisingly stout Ukrainian resistance. Russian-backed separatists have controlled part of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday again appealed to Russia to negotiate an end to the war, but he said Ukraine would not agree to give up any of its territory for the sake of peace.
Putin’s forces are under great strain in many parts of the country, and the United States and other countries are accelerating their transfer of arms and supplies to Ukraine. In recent days, U.S. officials have said they see evidence of Ukrainian defenders going on the offensive in a limited way in some areas.
Putting a positive face on it all, the deputy chief of the Russian general staff said his forces had largely achieved the “main objectives” of the first phase of what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
LVIV, Ukraine — Even as the conflict rages, a vast apparatus is being built to gather and preserve evidence of potential war crimes.
Less than a month after Putin’s order to drop the first bombs on his neighbor, the United States declared that Russian forces were violating international laws of war that were written after World War II. But it remains far from clear who will be held accountable and how.
Possible war crimes that have been reported in Ukraine include destroying homes, firing on civilians as they evacuate through safe corridors, targeting hospitals, using indiscriminate weapons like cluster bombs in civilian areas, attacking nuclear power plants and intentionally blocking access to humanitarian aid or food and water.
But intention matters. Destroying a hospital alone is not evidence of a war crime. Prosecutors would have to show that the attack was intentional or at least reckless.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff is calling on the West to create a new lend-lease program for Ukraine, referring to the World War II effort that sent U.S. supplies to the Soviet Union to help it fight Nazi Germany.
“We need a full lend lease,” Andriy Yermak said in an address late Friday. “Today Ukraine is the holy grail of Europe, and without exaggeration Ukraine is reviving those principles that gave life to current Western civilization.”
He said what Ukraine needs most is real-time intelligence and heavy weapons.
Yermak also repeated the Ukrainian president’s calls for help in closing the skies over Ukraine to stop Russian bombing and missile attacks. The West has refused to impose a no-fly zone for fear of widening the war.
He said options include supplying Ukraine with air defense systems or fighter jets, or creating an “air police force to protect civilian infrastructure.”
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has again appealed to Russia to negotiate an end to the war, but says Ukraine would not agree to give up any of its territory for the sake of peace.
In his nightly video address to the nation Friday, Zelenskyy appeared to be responding to Col. Gen Sergei Rudskoi, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, who said Russian forces would now focus on “the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”
Russian-backed separatists have controlled part of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014, and Russian forces have been battling to seize more of the region from Ukraine, including the besieged city of Mariupol.
Rudskoi’s statement also was a suggestion that Russia may be backing away from trying to take Kyiv and other major cities where its offensive has stalled. Zelenskyy noted that Russian forces have lost thousands of troops but still haven’t been able to take Kyiv or Kharkiv, the second-largest city.