Live updates: Finnish leader urges ceasefire in Putin call


By The Associated Press



The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finnish President Sauli Niinistö spoke in a phone call Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the war in Ukraine.

Niinistö’s office said in a statement that he informed Putin that he, earlier in the day, had a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and that Zelenskyy was prepared to talk directly with Putin.

The statement said Niinistö called for an immediate ceasefire and the safe evacuation of civilians, but also spoke to Putin about the security of nuclear energy facilities in Ukraine.

Niinisto is one of the few Western leaders who has kept a regular dialogue with Putin ever since the Finnish leader took office in 2012.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister said Friday that sanctions imposed against Russia by the European Union would not involve a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas.

In a video on his social media channels following a meeting of EU leaders in Versailles, France, Viktor Orban said it was possible that the war in Ukraine “would drag on,” but that “the most important issue was settled in a way that was favorable to us.”

“There will be no sanctions covering oil and gas, which means that Hungary’s energy supply is guaranteed for the next period,” Orban said.

Orban, widely considered to be the Kremlin’s closest ally in the EU, has supported the bloc’s sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Hungary’s neighbor.

But he has remained firm in insisting that the energy sector be left out of sanctions, arguing that such a move would damage EU countries more than Russia.

Last year, Hungary extended by 15 years a natural gas contract with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, and has entered into a 12 billion-euro ($13.6 billion) Russian build-and-finance agreement to add two nuclear reactors to Hungary’s only nuclear power plant.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says his country’s military forces have reached “a strategic turning point,” while Russia’s president says there are “certain positive developments” in talks between the warring countries.

Neither leader explained clearly what they meant, however.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday: “It’s impossible to say how many days we will still need to free our land, but it is possible to say that we will do it because … we have reached a strategic turning point.” He didn’t elaborate.

He said authorities are working on 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure needy people receive food, medicine and basic goods.

He spoke on a video showing him outside the presidential administration in Kyiv, speaking in both Ukrainian and Russian about the 16th day of war.

Meanwhile, in Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin said there have been positive developments in talks between the warring countries, but he didn’t offer any details about what those developments were.

Putin hosted Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for talks on Friday and told him that negotiations with Ukraine “are now being held almost on a daily basis.”

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STOCKHOLM — Swedish authorities estimate that about 4,000 Ukrainian refugees are arriving in Sweden every day.

Official figures say a total of 5,200 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Sweden, but the true number is “significantly higher,” Mikael Ribbenvik, head of the Swedish Migration Board, said Friday.

Anders Ygeman, the Swedish Minister for Integration and Migration, stressed that Sweden “must accept its responsibility” but insisted that other European nations also take their share of refugees.

In neighboring Denmark, authorities were preparing to receive Ukrainian refugees.

“This can be huge,” Niels Henrik Larsen, the head of the Danish Immigration Service, said. “This can be the biggest we ever have seen.”

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ANTALYA, Turkey — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the “paths of dialogue and diplomacy” are the only way toward ending the war in Ukraine.

“The senseless conflict in Ukraine is causing death and devastation to the country and its people with enormous security risks for the region and the world,” Guterres said.

He spoke Friday in a video appearance at a diplomacy forum being held at a resort near the Turkish Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya.

Guterres warned that the war has “disrupted the global economy with unforeseeable consequences. It has multiplied the danger of miscalculation and escalation.”

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GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says it has documented 549 civilian deaths and 957 injuries so far following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying the toll and “general human suffering” are rising.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said Friday it has verified 29 attacks on health care facilities, workers and ambulances in the hostilities, including a high-profile one on a maternity hospital in southeastern Mariupol on Wednesday. In those, 12 people have been killed and 34 injured, WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said in an email.

The figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which run through the Feb. 24 start of the fighting to midnight Wednesday, focus on civilians in general. It uses a strict methodology and counts only confirmed casualties. It acknowledges that its tally is likely to underestimate the real toll.

“Civilians are being killed and maimed in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks, with Russian forces using explosive weapons with wide area effects in or near populated areas,” spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a U.N. briefing.

“Civilian casualties are rising daily, as is general human suffering,” Throssell said.

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LVIV, Ukraine — A team of U.S. and U.K.-based doctors and nurses have begun a tour of medical facilities in Lviv, offering help and advice to Ukrainian doctors during the Russian invasion.

The team of nine brought in aid and medical equipment in 167 bags, including ventilators, ultrasound machines and gas masks, worth about $500,000, said Zaher Sahloul, a Chicago-based doctor.

“There is huge shortage of medical supplies and equipment, especially for trauma, and medication for chronic diseases,” he said. “It looks like the healthcare system is about to collapse because of the impact of the war, the huge displacement of the population, and the large number of injured people in many areas in Ukraine.”

Sahloul is a native of Syria and has visited that war-stricken country several times, working with volunteers and medical staff to establish or restore health services in opposition-held areas heavily bombed by the Russian air force over the years.

Sahloul said Ukrainian doctors mostly need basic supplies, such as tactical first aid kits. He said that, like in Syria, many of the doctors in Kyiv are working in basements to avoid being targeted by Russian forces.

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LONDON —- Britain has slapped sanctions on 386 Russian lawmakers who recognized two regions of eastern Ukraine as independent, the precursor to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says the Duma members who voted to recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk face a U.K. travel ban and a freeze on any assets they have in Britain.

Truss said U.K. sanctions were targeting “those complicit in Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and those who support this barbaric war.”

Friday’s announcement follows through on Britain’s promise two weeks ago to sanction the Duma members.

Britain has also slapped sanctions on Russian banks and on 18 wealthy individuals.

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BERLIN — The German government says that more than 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine are known to have entered Germany, but the true number could be much higher.

Interior Ministry spokesman Marek Wede said Friday that federal police so far have recorded 109,183 people coming from Ukraine entering the country, more than 99,000 of them Ukrainian citizens.

He noted that the number may be higher because Germany doesn’t have full regular border checks on its eastern frontiers with Poland and the Czech Republic. However, federal police have stepped up checks on the Polish border.

Wede said it’s also unclear how many of the refugees who entered Germany may have traveled onward to other countries.

As of Friday, U.N. agencies said that more than 2.5 million people had fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24. More than 1.5 million of those went to Poland.

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NEW DELHI — Hundreds of Indian medical students who sheltered in bunkers while Russia shelled a Ukrainian city have returned home to bouquets and hugs from their parents in emotional scenes at New Delhi’s international airport.

Thousands of Indians studying in Ukraine suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war after Russia invaded the country last month.

The group arriving home Friday were studying in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy.

“It was very, very scary for us,” Lakshyaa Dahiya, a medical student, said. “Seeing this much army with tanks… it was very dangerous also. We will not forget that thing ever, in our whole life.”

Arindam Bagchi, an External Affairs Ministry spokesman, said India has evacuated nearly 23,000 of its citizens, mostly students, from Ukraine.

Pressure on the Indian government to pull out its citizens intensified after one student died in shelling in Kharkiv last month.

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TOKYO — Japan’s government is freezing the assets of three Belarusian banks in Japan and banning exports of high technology equipment to Russia and Belarus, as Tokyo steps up sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Japan is taking additional steps to remain in concert with the United States and European countries in their effort to pressure Russia and Belarus, which is helping Moscow, to stop the war.

Japan has previously frozen the assets of individuals and organizations from the two countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top government officials, as well as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and cut seven Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system.

Japan is also banning exports of semiconductors, telecommunication equipment and other high-technology goods to Russia and Belarus from March 18 to prevent them from bolstering their military capabilities.

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BERLIN — Two German public broadcasters say they will resume reporting from their Moscow studios, after halting operations following the approval of Russian legislation penalizing any reports that authorities deem to be fake information about the country’s military.

ARD and ZDF said last weekend that they were suspending reporting from Moscow while they examined the consequences of the measure, which foresees prison sentences of up to 15 years. Several other Western media outlets made similar decisions.

The broadcasters said Friday that they have now decided to resume reporting from their Moscow studios in the coming days on the “political, economic and social situation in Russia.” But reporting on the military situation in Ukraine will be done from other locations.

ARD and ZDF said they will be transparent about “the special conditions” of reporting from Russia.

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BANGKOK — China is helping Russia spread inflammatory and unsubstantiated claims that the U.S. is financing biological weapons labs in Ukraine, the target of a Russian invasion.

The U.S. has refuted Russia’s conspiracy theory, and the United Nations has said it has received no information that would back up the allegations. But that hasn’t prevented the claims from proliferating.

The partnership between the two authoritarian countries appears aimed at muddying the waters of the rationale for Russia’s invasion — part of what American officials have called an “information war.”

China’s Foreign Ministry has helped fuel the fire this week, repeating the Russian claim several times and calling for an investigation into “the secret of the U.S. labs in Ukraine.”

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TOKYO — The Japanese navy has spotted a fleet of 10 Russian warships crossing the Tsugaru Strait between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, raising concern about increasing Russian naval activity in the region amid its invasion of Ukraine.

Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters Friday that the fleet movement was believed to be part of Russia’s ongoing major naval exercises in the region since February.

He said the exercises are “apparently to show off its naval capability spanning from the East to the West, in unison with the Russian military movement in and around Ukraine.”

He renewed his condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “barbaric act” that shakes the foundations of international order.

Kishi said Japan is watching the Russian military movement “with serious concern” and has raised its warning and reconnaissance levels.

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LONDON — The British government is warning military veterans not to join the fighting in Ukraine and says any serving troops who go there will be court-martialed when they return.

Veterans Minister Leo Docherty wrote to British military charities urging ex-soldiers to support the Ukrainian people through donations and volunteering in the U.K.

He said Friday that “veterans always step up in times of need, but they must channel their skills, experience and passion into legal routes of support for Ukraine and not engage in the conflict.”

Ukraine has encouraged foreign volunteers to join the fight against Russia’s invasion. A handful of U.K. service members have reportedly gone AWOL to travel to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he sympathized with those wishing to go, but “we have very clear laws in this country. You shouldn’t go to Ukraine, and I’m afraid people going from our armed services … will face court martial.”

Russia said Friday it was planning to bring “volunteers” from countries including Syria into the conflict on its side.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — A drone has crashed on the outskirts of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and is suspected of having flown all the way from the Ukrainian war zone.

Croatian authorities said Friday the overnight crash caused a loud blast but no injuries.

A statement issued after Croatia’s National Security Council meeting said the “pilotless military aircraft” entered Croatian airspace from neighboring Hungary at a speed of 700 kph (430 mph) and an altitude of 1,300 meters (4,300 feet).

That means the large drone flew at least 350 miles (560 kilometers) apparently undetected by air defenses in Croatia and Hungary. Both countries are members of NATO.

Military experts of The War Zone online magazine said that the aircraft is likely a Soviet-era Tu-141 “Strizh” reconnaissance drone that must have severely malfunctioned. They said that Ukraine is the only known current operator of the Tu-141.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel is calling on the country to join its Western allies in slapping sanctions on Russia.

Yevgen Korniychuck told reporters Friday that it was the “moral obligation” of Israeli companies to suspend business in Russia, as many Western firms have done.

Korniychuck also indicated that Israel’s attempt at mediating between Kyiv and Moscow appeared to have stalled, saying it was “unclear” where the mediation stood and that he was not aware of “any immediate tasks” taken up by Israel on the matter.

Israel is one of the few countries with good working relations with both Ukraine and Russia. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has repeatedly expressed support for the Ukrainian people, and Israel has sent humanitarian aid to the country, but he has stopped short of condemning Russia for its incursion.

That middle ground helped pave the way for Bennett to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin last Saturday in an attempt to mediate between the sides.

Mediation efforts by Turkey, which also has ties with both of the warring countries, also have yet to make demonstrable progress.

— This item was previously corrected to show that the Ukraine ambassador said Israeli companies, not the Israeli government, have a moral obligation to suspend business in Russia.

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WARSAW, Poland — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has wrapped up her visit to Poland by meeting with U.S. and Polish troops, as Russia pressed ahead with its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Harris is on a whirlwind trip to meet with the leaders of Poland and Romania. Those two countries are eastern flank NATO allies and have witnessed an influx of refugees since war broke out last month.

“We stand as partners,” Harris said. “We work together, we train together, we form friendships that are based on solidarity, mutual values and shared principles,” she told the troops.

Harris was due to meet later Friday with Romania’s president to discuss a response to the influx of refugees from Ukraine due to the war.

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STOCKHOLM — Police in Sweden are donating helmets, flak jackets, binoculars and drones to Ukraine.

Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said Friday that Ukraine police had requested the material via the European police agency Europol, which has 27 member countries.

The Scandinavian country will donate 367 flak jackets, 94 bulletproof helmets, 62 pairs of binoculars and five drones. Sweden is also sending 3,400 items of protective clothing. All the equipment was either to be thrown away or was not in use but it is in working order, Johansson said.

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GENEVA — The International Organization for Migration says 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded more than two weeks ago.

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said in a text message that the figures, taken from national governments, were up to date through Friday morning.

He said that more than 1.5 million refugees have gone to neighboring Poland and that some 116,000 of the refugees are “third-country nationals,” not Ukrainians.

The U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, also gave the 2.5 million total for refugees and said his agency estimates that about two million people are displaced inside Ukraine as well.

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NEW YORK — Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered that so-called volunteer fighters should be brought into Ukraine.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia knew of “more than 16,000 applications” from countries in the Middle East, many of them from people who he said helped Russia against the Islamic State group, according to a Kremlin transcript.

They want “to take part in what they consider a liberation movement,” Shoigu said, on the side of Russia-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Since 2015, Russian forces have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against various groups opposed to his rule, including Islamic State.

Putin told Shoigu that Russia should help would-be volunteers to “move to the combat zone” and contrasted them with what he called foreign “mercenaries” fighting for Ukraine.

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LONDON — British defense officials say Russia is rearranging its forces on the ground in Ukraine in an attempt to push forward its struggling invasion plan.

The Ministry of Defence says that “Russia is likely seeking to reset and re-posture its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days. This will probably include operations against the capital Kyiv.”

In an update on social media Friday, the ministry said Russian ground forces continued to make “limited progress,” hampered by logistical problems and strong Ukrainian resistance.

It said it “remains highly unlikely that Russia has successfully achieved the objectives outlined in its pre-invasion plan.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Two Ukrainian servicemen were killed and six people wounded in Russian airstrikes Friday on the Lutsk military airfield, according to the head of the surrounding Volyn region, Yuriy Pohulyayko.

The mayor of Ivano-Frankiivsk, Ruslan Martsinkiv, had ordered residents in the neighboring areas to head to shelters after an air raid alert. The mayor of Lutsk had also announced an airstrike near the airport.

The strikes were far to the west from the main Russian offensive and could indicate new direction of the war.

The western cities hit Friday are between 130 and 150 kilometers (80-90 miles) from Lviv, the city that has become a refuge for Ukrainians from across the rest of the country and a hub for global humanitarian aid and other support for Ukraine.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities announced plans for several evacuation and humanitarian aid delivery routes Friday, with the support of the Red Cross.

The top priority remained freeing people from the besieged city of Mariupol and getting aid to its hungry, thirsty, freezing and terrified population.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video message that Ukrainian authorities are trying yet again Friday to send aid into Mariupol and bring evacuees out to the city of Zaporizhzhia. Repeated previous attempts have failed, as aid and rescue convoys were targeted by Russian shelling.

Vereshchuk said buses would be sent Friday to multiple Kyiv suburbs to bring people to the capital, and to bring aid to those staying behind.

She also announced efforts to create new humanitarian corridors to bring aid to people in areas occupied or under Russian attack around the cities of Kherson in the south, Chernihiv in the north and Kharkiv in the east.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces are continuing their offensive toward Kyiv on Friday from the northwest and east, notably trying to break through Ukrainian defenses from Kukhari, 90 kilometers (56 miles) to the northwest through to Demidov, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Kyiv, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement.

The general staff said Russian troops had been halted in efforts to take the northern city of Chernihiv, notably by Ukraine’s re-taking of the town of Baklanova Muraviika, which Russian troops could use to move toward Kyiv.

Russian forces are blockading Kharkiv and pushing their offensive in the south around Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kryvyi Rih, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown.

Rough weather on the Azov and Black Seas has stalled Russian ships’ efforts to come ashore, the general staff said.

Three Russian airstrikes hit the important industrial city of Dnipro in eastern Ukraine on Friday, killing at least one person in strikes that hit near a kindergarten and apartment buildings, according to Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko.

One strike hit a shoe factory, sparking a fire, he said. He released video showing flashes over residential areas of the city, home to nearly 1 million people.

By The Associated Press