French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP)
The latest on the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
PARIS — France is joining many other European countries in closing their airspace to all Russian aircraft as the West ramps up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering an invasion of Ukraine.
Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Luxembourg have already announced they were closing their respective airspace to Russian planes.
“To the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe responds with total unity,” Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari tweeted Sunday.
Separately, Air France announced that it was suspending flights to and from Russia for safety reasons “until further notice.”
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Japan has decided to join the United States and European nations in cutting key Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial messaging system to step up sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Japan will also freeze assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials, while sending $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Kishida told reporters.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a unilateral attempt to change the status quo and the act shakes the foundation of the international order. It’s an outright violation to international law and we strongly denounce the act,” Kishida said. “Japan stands by the Ukrainian people who are fighting hard to defend their sovereignty and territory, their homeland and families.”
MOSCOW — Russians in cities spanning from Moscow to Siberia have taken to the streets again on Sunday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Demonstrators marched in city centers, chanting “No to war.”
Protests against the invasion started on Thursday and have continued for four days in a row, despite police swiftly moving to detain hundreds of people each day.
In St. Petersburg, where dozens gathered in the city center, police in riot gear grabbed protesters and dragged some to police vans, even though the demonstration was peaceful.
According to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests, by Sunday afternoon police detained at least 356 Russians in 32 cities over anti-war demonstrations.
KYIV, UKRAINE — The office of Ukraine’s president has confirmed that a delegation will meet with Russian officials as Moscow’s troops draw closer to Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy office said Sunday on the Telegram messaging app that the two sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border and did not give a precise time for the meeting.
The meeting news came shortly after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert in response to what he called “aggressive statements” by leading NATO powers.
BERLIN — Approximately 100,000 people have turned out in Berlin to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Police said large crowds have filled the area originally planned for the demonstration, around the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin, and that they were allocating additional space to accommodate the protesters.
Sunday’s protest was peaceful, including many families with children. People waved yellow and blue Ukrainian flags to show their support. Some carried placards with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace.”
Beate Schmid, who works as a scientist in Berlin, said she works closely with academics in Ukraine. “Their sons and brothers and husbands are now being drafted to fight against the Russians,” she said. “It’s so sad. Simply unbelievable.”
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces put on high alert amid tensions with the West over his invasion of Ukraine.
Putin asserted at a meeting with his top officials on Sunday that leading NATO powers had made “aggressive statements” along with the West imposing hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russia, including the president himself.
The alert means Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch. He told the Russian defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers are holding emergency talks later Sunday to discuss ways to help Ukraine’s armed forces fight back against the Russian invasion.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will chair the videoconference, starting at 1700 GMT. Borrell says he will urge the ministers to endorse “a package of emergency assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, to support them in their heroic fight.”
The 27-nation bloc has set up a European Peace Facility, a fund with a ceiling of around 5.7 billion euros ($6.4 billion), to bolster its military training and support missions around the world. Some of the money can be used to train and equip partner countries, including with lethal weapons.
The meeting comes a day after Germany announced a major shift in policy to send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine.
WARSAW, Poland — While countries like Poland and Hungary have welcomed fleeing Ukrainians, some foreign citizens seeking to leave Ukraine have reported difficulties at the Polish border.
An Indian volunteer in Poland said Sunday some Indian citizens seeking to flee Ukraine into Poland are stuck at the border leading into Medyka, Poland, and unable to cross.
The Indian Embassy in Kyiv said Sunday that Indian citizens are being evacuated from Ukraine to Romania and Hungary. But some have arrived at the border with Poland apparently unaware of this and are stuck.
Ruchir Kataria, the volunteer, told The Associated Press that the Indians seeking to cross at Medyka were told in broken English: “Go to Romania.” But they had already made long journeys on foot to the border, and have no way to reach the border with Romania hundreds of kilometers away.
Some other Indian citizens who managed to cross into Poland have been denied a place to stay in shelters set up by Polish authorities and charities, and were told that the help was reserved for Ukrainians, according to Kataria’s wife, Magdalena Barcik, who is working with him to help those fleeing.
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has offered to help broker an end to fighting in Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Bennett told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a call on Sunday that Israel is ready to play mediator. It didn’t say whether the Russian leader accepted the offer.
The Kremlin said Putin told Bennet that Russia has sent a delegation to Gomel in southern Belarus to conduct peace talks with Ukrainian officials, who have refused to come. Ukrainian officials described the Russian move as a “manipulation,” noting that Ukraine hasn’t agreed to hold talks in Belarus.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized the country’s readiness for peace talks but said that they can’t be held in Moscow’s ally Belarus, which has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for the invasion that began Thursday.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has denounced the “diabolical and perverse logic” of launching a war in Ukraine in his strongest public comments yet.
Francis also called Sunday for humanitarian corridors to welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing the “tragic” invasion of their homeland.
Francis has refrained from calling out Russia by name as he seeks to mend ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, and he again omitted any reference to Moscow on Sunday. But he said: “Those who make war forget humanity,” adding that warfare “relies on the diabolical and perverse logic of weapons, which is the farthest thing from God’s will.”
Francis repeated his call for the faithful to mark Ash Wednesday this week as a day of fasting and prayer to show solidarity with the “suffering people of Ukraine.”
Earlier Sunday, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople described Russia’s invasion as “beyond every sense of law and morality” and pleaded for an end to the war.
Patriarch Bartholomew is considered the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide. In 2019 he granted the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, severing it from the Russian church it had been tied to since 1686.
VIENNA — Austria and Italy are joining a growing list of European countries in closing their airspace to all Russian aircraft as the West ramps up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering an invasion of Ukraine.
Several other European countries, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Luxembourg have also announced they were closing their respective airspace to Russian planes.
GENEVA — The United Nations’ refugee agency says the latest count of Ukrainians arriving in neighboring countries stands at 368,000 and continues to rise.
The update from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Sunday more than doubles its estimate a day ago, when it said at least 150,000 have fled Ukraine into Poland and other countries including Hungary and Romania.
Spokesman Chris Meizer said on Twitter that the line of cars at the Poland-Ukraine crossing stood at 14 km long (8.7 miles), and those fleeing — mostly women and children — had to endure long waits in freezing temperatures overnight.
Poland’s government said Saturday that more than 100,000 Ukrainians had crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border in the past 48 hours alone.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany is committing 100 billion euros ($112.7 billion) to a special fund for its armed forces, raising its defense spending above 2% of its GDP.
Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin on Sunday that it was clear “we need to invest significantly more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy.”
Germany had come under criticism for not investing adequately in its defense budget and not doing enough to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Saturday evening, the German government announced it would be sending weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine to help troops against invading Russia forces.
BRUSSELS — European Union interior ministers are gathering Sunday for emergency talks on how to cope with an influx of refugees from conflict-hit Ukraine as tens of thousands of people flee across the border into Poland, Hungary, Romania and elsewhere.
The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting in Ukraine have fled the country, and that up to four million could flee if the fighting spreads. Poland said Saturday that over 100,000 people had entered from Ukraine in the previous 48 hours alone.
At a meeting in Brussels, the ministers will look at ways to shelter people, how to manage the security challenges that the conflict poses to the EU’s external borders, and what kind of humanitarian support can be provided to Ukraine.
Those arriving at the borders are mostly women, children and the elderly. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has banned the departure of men aged between 18 to 60 so they can take up arms against Russian forces.
BRUSSELS — Belgium is joining a growing list of countries closing their airspace to Russian airlines as the West ramps up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering an invasion of Ukraine.
Belgian Prime Minster Alexander De Croo tweeted Sunday that the country “has decided to close its airspace to all Russian airlines.”
De Croo says that “our European skies are open skies. They’re open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress.”
Russia said Saturday that it was closing its airspace to planes from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia after they banned Russian planes from their skies. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania, among several other countries, also have a ban in place.
LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says Russian President Vladimir Putin could use “the most unsavory means,” including banned chemical or biological weapons, to defeat Ukraine.
“I urge the Russians not to escalate this conflict but we do need to be prepared for Russia to seek to use even worse weapons,” Truss told Sky News.
She said the International Criminal Court is watching events in Ukraine, and that Putin and the Russian government would face “serious consequences” if it committed war crimes.
Britain has slapped sanctions on Russian banks, companies and oligarchs in response to the invasion, and agreed with the European Union and the U.S. to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system.
Truss said tough sanctions will have an economic cost on Britain, including in higher energy costs. But she insisted it’s a price worth paying to stop Putin threatening more countries.
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has temporarily lost his most senior official position in world sports.
The International Judo Federation on Sunday cited “the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine” for suspending Putin’s honorary president status.
The Russian president is a keen judoka and attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.
The judo federation is rare among Olympic sports bodies for using the word “war” to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ordered by Putin since Thursday. Others have used phrases such as “escalation of conflict.”
A Kremlin-supporting oligarch and longtime friend of Putin, Arkady Rotenberg, remains on the IJF executive committee as development manager.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says that Russia should be thrown out of the United Nations Security Council following its invasion of his country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message Sunday that the Russian invasion of Ukraine amounts to an act of genocide, saying that “Russia has taken the path of evil and the world should come to depriving it of its U.N. Security Council seat.”
Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, giving it veto power over resolutions.
Zelenskyy said that Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities should be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal and denounced the Russian invasion as “state terrorism.”
He dismissed as lies Russia’s claims that it wasn’t targeting civilian areas.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s prime minister says the country is sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid to assist civilians caught up in the fighting in Ukraine.
Naftali Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet Sunday that the aid includes medical equipment and medicine, tents, sleeping bags and blankets.
Bennett did not comment on a report by Israeli public broadcaster Kan which said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked the Israeli leader to mediate talks on ending the crisis with Russia. Bennett’s office confirmed there had been a call but declined to comment on the report. The Ukrainian embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bennett has treaded carefully in his public comments on Russia’s invasion. He has voiced support for Ukrainian civilians but has stopped short of condemning Russia. Israeli relies on Russia for security coordination in Syria, where Russia has a military presence and where Israel frequently strikes hostile targets.
LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says overnight fighting in Kyiv was less intense than the night before, but battles are raging in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
The U.K.’s Ministry of Defense has been posting intelligence updates on social media since Russia invaded.
It said Sunday that “Ukrainian forces have engaged the remnants of Russian irregular forces within the city of Kyiv for the second night in a row, fighting has been at a lower intensity than the previous evening.
“After encountering strong resistance in Chernihiv, Russian forces are bypassing the area in order to prioritise the encirclement and isolation of Kyiv,” it said. “Intensive exchanges of rocket artillery overnight have been followed by heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Kharkiv.”
The ministry said Russian forces are continuing to advance into Ukraine from multiple axis but they are encountering stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says his country is ready for peace talks with Russia but not in Belarus, which was a staging ground for Moscow’s 3-day-old invasion.
Speaking in a video message Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues. He said other locations are also possible but made clear that Ukraine doesn’t accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.
The Kremlin said Sunday that a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats.
“The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Peskov said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, with troops moving from Moscow’s ally Belarus in the north, and also from the east and south.
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says a Russian delegation has arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats. “The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Peskov said.
There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials, who previously expressed their own readiness for peace talks with Russia but haven’t mentioned any specific details on their location and timing.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, and its troops are closing in on the capital, Kyiv, and making significant gains along the country’s coast.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say Russian troops have entered Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv and fighting is underway in the streets.
Oleh Sinehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said Sunday that Ukrainian forces were fighting Russian troops in the city and asked civilians not to leave their homes.
Russian troops approached Kharkiv, which is located about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia, shortly after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. But until Sunday, they remained on its outskirts without trying to enter the city while other forces rolled past, pressing their offensive deeper into Ukraine.
Videos on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and a light vehicle burning on the street.
TEL AVIV, Israel — An organization that facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel says it is ramping up its efforts along Ukrainian border crossings to absorb what it expects to be a wave of new immigrants fleeing the Russian invasion.
The Jewish Agency for Israel said late Saturday it plans to open six processing facilities along Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. The organization said in a statement it also plans to assist Ukrainian Jews with temporary housing in bordering countries until they can leave to Israel.
The agency said it assisted a group of new immigrants to cross into Poland on Saturday where they are awaiting a flight to Israel.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry estimates there are at least 120,000 Jews in Ukraine. Israel also has a sizeable population of Ukrainian emigres.
LOS ANGELES — Elon Musk says his SpaceX company’s Starlink satellite internet service is now “active” in Ukraine.
The tech billionaire made the announcement on Twitter in response to a tweet by Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation saying that while Musk tries to “colonize Mars,” Russia is trying to occupy Ukraine. The minister called on Musk to provide his country with Starlink stations.
In his response Saturday, Musk said: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.”
Starlink is a satellite-based internet system that SpaceX has been building for years to bring internet access to underserved areas of the world. It markets itself as “ideally suited” for areas where internet service is unreliable or unavailable.
UNITED NATIONS — The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is aware of requests by Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador and others to repatriate the bodies of Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine but has no numbers.
Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya tweeted Saturday that Ukraine has appealed to the ICRC “to facilitate repatriation of thousands of bodies of Russian soldiers” killed during its invasion of Ukraine. An accompanying chart claimed 3,500 Russian troops have been killed.
Kyslytsya tweeted that parents in Russia should have a chance “to bury them with dignity.” “Don’t let (Russian President Vladimir) Putin hide scale of tragedy,” he urged.
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.
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.
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.”
PHILADELPHIA – The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Philadelphia and Greater Delaware Valley announced that the Evzones, the Presidential Guard of Greece will be participating in the Philadelphia Greek Independence Day Parade on March 20.
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