Russia–Ukraine War (April 1): Zelenskyy Won’t Discuss Fuel Depot Attack

By Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff
April 1, 2022 Updated: April 2, 2022

The latest on the RussiaUkraine crisis, April 1. Click here for updates from March 31.

Zelenskyy Won’t Discuss Fuel Depot Attack

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declined to comment on whether he ordered an attack on a Russian fuel depot.

In an interview with FOX News, Zelenskyy said he does not discuss any orders he issues as commander in chief.

Earlier, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security council denied allegations from Moscow that two Ukrainian helicopter gunships had struck the facility in the city of Belgorod north of the border at around dawn Friday.

The regional governor in Belgorod said two workers at the depot were injured, but Russian media cited a statement from state oil company Rosneft that denied anyone was hurt.

But if Moscow’s claim is confirmed, it would be the war’s first known attack in which Ukrainian aircraft penetrated Russian airspace.

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US Giving Ukraine $300 Million More in Military Equipment

The U.S. Defense Department says it is providing an additional $300 million in military equipment to Ukrainian forces defending the country from Russian troops.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Friday evening that the gear in the new package includes laser-guided rocket systems, unmanned aircraft, armored vehicles, night vision devices, and ammunition. Also included are medical supplies, field equipment, and spare parts.

Kirby said the new package “represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide new capabilities” to Ukraine, rather than delivering equipment drawn from U.S. military stockpiles.

The United States has provided more than $1.6 billion in security assistance since Russia’s invasion, Kirby said.

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China Launched Massive Cyberattack on Ukraine: Report

China launched a massive cyberattack on vital Ukrainian infrastructure in the leadup to Russia’s invasion, according to a report by UK media outlet The Times. The attack included efforts to degrade Ukrainian military and nuclear facilities.

More than 600 websites owned by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense in Kyiv weathered thousands of hacking attempts coordinated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to the report.

The report was based on intelligence memos obtained by The Times and subsequent interviews with British and Ukrainian intelligence and security organizations.

The attacks began on Feb. 23, two days after the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics and one day before Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Read the full article here

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IEA States Agree on Coordinated Oil Release but Not Volumes

U.S.-allied countries on Friday agreed to their second coordinated oil release in a month to calm markets roiled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday, without specifying volumes.

The silence on the size of the agreed release left crude prices largely unmoved, with benchmark Brent trading near $104 a barrel, underscoring supply concerns as releases from finite supplies struggle to make up for a loss of 3 million barrels per day (bpd) of Russian oil estimated by the IEA.

The announcement showed IEA member states’ “strong and unified commitment to stabilizing global energy markets,” the Paris-based group of 31 industrialized nations but not Russia said in a statement following an emergency meeting.

“Details of the new emergency stock release will be made public early next week,” the IEA said, a day after the United States pledged its biggest oil release ever.

IEA member countries did not agree on volumes or the commitments of each country.

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Ukraine Denies Attack on Russian Fuel Depot

The secretary of Ukraine’s national security council has denied the country was responsible for a reported attack on a Russian fuel depot.

Moscow had earlier placed the blame on Ukraine. There was no independent confirmation of details about the incident.

“For some reason they say that we did it, but in fact this does not correspond with reality,” Oleksiy Danilov said on Ukrainian television on Friday.

Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said earlier that two Ukrainian helicopter gunships had flown at low altitude and struck the facility in the city of Belgorod north of the border.

Two workers at the depot were injured, he said. But Russian media cited a statement from state oil company Rosneft that denied anyone was hurt.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said 86 Ukrainian service members were freed in the Zaporizhzhia region as part of a prisoner swap with Russia. The number of Russians released was not disclosed.

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Ukraine Says It Foiled Attempted Russian Missile Attack on Odessa Region

Ukraine’s military said on Friday that its anti-air defenses had foiled an attempted Russian missile attack on critical infrastructure in the major Black Sea port of Odesa.

Gov. Maksym Marchenko earlier said three missiles had hit a residential area, adding there were casualties.

“The enemy tried in an insidious way to hit critical infrastructure facilities, the destruction of which could be dangerous for the civilian population,” the Ukrainian military’s southern command said in a Facebook post.

“Thanks to the timely and effective response of the air defense forces, the missiles did not hit the targets the enemy had been aiming at,” it said.

The Epoch Times could not immediately verify the Ukrainian statement.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in its war in Ukraine that began on Feb. 24 in what Moscow calls a “special operation” to demilitarize its southwestern neighbour. Western countries call it an unprovoked war of aggression.

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Kyiv Mayor: Nearby Towns Still Under Siege

The mayor of Kyiv said the bombardment of satellite towns near the Ukrainian capital was ongoing despite Russian promises of scaling back troops from the region.

Vitali Klitschko told British broadcaster Sky News on Friday he could hear the sounds of explosions “nonstop during the day and night.”

Klitschko claimed that the cities northwest of Kyiv such as Irpin, Borodyanka, and Hostomel were being targeted after Ukrainian fighters moved back Russian troops, and that fighting also persisted in Brovary, east of Kyiv.

For those who may want to return to Kyiv in light of the supposed Russian withdrawal, he urged people to wait a “couple of weeks” to see how the situation develops.

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Red Cross: Team Could Not Reach Mariupol

The International Committee of the Red Cross says a team intending to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol was unable to reach the port city on Friday.

The Red Cross said in a statement that the team hopes to try again Saturday.

“Arrangements and conditions made it impossible” for the convoy of three vehicles to get safely to Mariupol and they returned to Zaporizhzhia, it said.

“For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the organization said.

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Putin Warns West of New Migrant Crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Europe of a new influx of migrants that, in his opinion, will “inevitably” follow the food crisis.

Discussing on Thursday the unprecedented sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, Putin criticized the behavior of some Western politicians, who are allegedly prepared to sacrifice their citizens’ interests in order to “enjoy the good graces of their overseas master and overlord [implying the United States].”

“​​People are urged to eat less, put on more clothes, and use less heating, give up on travel—presumably for the benefit of the people who are demanding this kind of voluntary deprivation as a sign of some abstract North Atlantic solidarity,” Putin said at a meeting on air transportation and aircraft manufacturing on Thursday.

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EU Calls on China to End Russian War on Ukraine

Leadership from the European Union (EU) and China met for a virtual summit April 1, amid increasing tensions over the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) tacit support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We called on China to end the war in Ukraine,” said EU President Charles Michel during a press briefing after the meeting. “China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law.”

The EU took the opportunity to warn the CCP against assisting the Russian war effort more overtly.

“Any attempts to circumvent sanctions or provide aid to Russia would prolong the war,” Michel added. “This would lead to more loss of life and greater economic impact.”

Read the full article here

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Ukraine: Russian Forces Pushed Back From Kyiv but Fighting Continues

Officials in Ukraine on Friday said that Kyiv’s forces have pushed back Russian troops near the capital, Kyiv, although fighting is reportedly still raging in the area.

“Our troops are chasing them both to the northwest and northeast (of Kyiv), pushing the enemy away from Kyiv,” Oleksiy Arestovych, a political adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told the Reuters news agency.

Arestovych said Russia was carrying out a partial troop rotation and sending some of its forces to fight in eastern Ukraine. The Kyiv region’s governor, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, wrote on the Telegram messaging app earlier on Friday that some Russian troops had moved back and were heading toward the border with Belarus, a Russian ally.

Russian forces had left the village of Hostomel, which is next to an important airport, but they were digging in at the town of Bucha, Pavlyuk also said.

Read the full article here

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Kyiv Is Showing ‘More Understanding’ of Crimea and Donbass Issues: Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Ukraine has come closer on the terms regarding Crimea and the Donbass republics. He made the comments several days after a round of peace talks with Kyiv concluded in Turkey.

“There is progress, foremost in terms of recognition of the impossibility of Ukraine becoming a member of a bloc, the impossibility of Ukraine [joining] NATO,” Lavrov told reporters during his trip to New Delhi, India.

“We’ve also seen a lot more understanding of reality. I’m referring to the situation with Crimea and the Donbass.”

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Macron Says Mariupol Help Remains Priority

French President Emmanuel Macron promised to keep working to establish a sustainable humanitarian corridor in and out of Mariupol in talks Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy appealed to Macron to continue diplomatic efforts to get Russia to agree to conditions for evacuation and aid, according to Macron’s office. That includes a durable cease-fire announced far enough in advance to be able to organize help.

The French leader has been trying for a week to arrange help for Mariupol, so far without evident success.

Macron’s office said France is working to ensure that people fleeing Mariupol can go “in the direction of their choosing,” and that France is available to help civilians displaced by the war to settle elsewhere in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said on Twitter after the call: “Told about countering Russian aggression. Discussed the negotiation process— the course and prospects, the importance of security guarantees. The initiative of (France) on humanitarian corridors from Mariupol must be implemented!”

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Turkish Leader Asks Putin to Meet Zelenskyy

Turkey’s president said he renewed a call for a meeting between leaders of Ukraine and Russia in a telephone call Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A statement from Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said he and Putin also discussed the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia that were held in Istanbul earlier in the week.

Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader told Putin that the Istanbul talks had “raised hopes for peace.” Erdogan said Turkey wanted to cap off those efforts by bringing Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together, according to the statement.

The statement said Erdogan told Putin that it was important for the sides “to act with common sense and to maintain the dialogue.”

During the call, Putin thanked Erdogan for hosting the meeting between the delegations, according to Erdogan’s office.

Earlier on Friday, Erdogan said Zelenskyy was willing to participate in a leaders’ meeting to be hosted by Turkey.

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Russia Warns Agriculture Supplies Could Be Limited to ‘Friends’

Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s security council, warned on Friday that Russia, a major global wheat exporter, could limit supplies of agriculture products to “friendly” countries only, amid Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

He said he would like to outline “some simple but important points about food security in Russia,” given the sanctions imposed.

Most of them have been part of the country’s agricultural policy for years.

“We will only be supplying food and agriculture products to our friends,” Medvedev said on social media. “Fortunately we have plenty of them, and they are not in Europe or North America at all.”

Russia already supplies wheat mainly to Africa and the Middle East. The European Union and Ukraine are its main competitors in the wheat trade.

The priority in food supply is Russia’s domestic market and price control within it, Medvedev said. Russia has been using grain export quotas and taxes since 2021 to try to stabilize high domestic food inflation.

Agriculture supplies to “friends” will be both in roubles and their national currency in agreed proportion, Medvedev said.

Currency of payment can already vary in each grain export contract subject to the needs of buyers and sellers. However, Medvedev’s remark comes after Russia’s recent demand for foreign buyers to pay for Russian gas in roubles.

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Italy Continues Hunt for Gas Supply Diversity

Italy’s foreign minister was visiting Azerbaijan on Friday as part of Italy’s efforts to diversify its natural gas supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Italy buys 40 percent of its gas from Russia, which Premier Mario Draghi acknowledged Thursday was directly financing Russia’s war.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will discuss the possibility of increasing the supply of gas from Azerbaijan through the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, which was developed as an alternative to Russian supplies. The pipeline transported its first gas at the end of 2020.

Di Maio has been on missions to Qatar, Algeria, Angola, and Congo as Italy seeks to replace Russian gas.

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Ukraine Foreign Minister Says He Has No Information About Who Carried Out Belgorod Strike

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday he could not confirm or deny Ukraine’s alleged involvement in a strike on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod because he was not privy to all military information.

Responding to a question about the attack at a briefing in Poland, Kuleba said: “I can neither confirm nor reject the claim that Ukraine was involved in this simply because I do not possess all the military information.”

He also said Ukraine was waiting for Russia’s formal response to Kyiv’s proposals laid out at peace talks in Turkey and that foreign powers were not pushing Ukraine to compromise in negotiations.

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UN Atomic Energy Chief to Visit Chernobyl

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Russian forces’ departure from the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant is “a step in the right direction” and the U.N. nuclear watchdog plans to be there “very, very soon.”

IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi says he will head a support mission to Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, and that further nuclear safety missions to Ukraine will follow.

Grossi spoke Friday after visits to Ukraine and Russia. He said Russian nuclear and foreign ministry officials didn’t discuss with him why Russian forces left Chernobyl.

Of the overall situation in the area, he said: “The general radiation situation around the plant is quite normal. There was a relatively higher level of localized radiation because of the movement of heavy vehicles at the time of the occupation of the plant, and apparently this might have been the case again on the way out.”

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Russian Natural Gas Still Flowing to Europe

Russian officials say their demand that natural gas be paid for in rubles doesn’t mean supplies will be immediately interrupted.

Gas used for heating and electricity was still flowing from Russia to Europe on Friday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “payments on shipments in progress right now must be made not this very day, but somewhere in late April, or even early May.”

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia would start accepting ruble payments Friday and gas supplies would be cut off if buyers don’t agree to the new conditions.

A decree he signed gave Russian authorities and Gazprombank 10 days to make arrangements. It also says countries could pay foreign currency to the bank, which would convert it to rubles in a second account.

The European Commission’s energy chief said on Twitter that the European Union was coordinating “to establish a common approach.” Western leaders have said they will keep paying in euros and dollars.

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Ukraine Claims It Has Retaken 29 Settlements in Kyiv and Chernihiv Regions

Ukraine’s general staff says the country’s armed forces have retaken control over 29 settlements in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, where Russia has pulled back some of its troops.

The Russian military in the northeast continues to block and shell Chernihiv and Kharkiv, the general staff said Friday.

In the southeast of the country the Russians are trying to seize the cities of Popasna, Rubizhne and Mariupol in order to expand the territory of separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to the Ukrainian military.

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Kremlin Says Ukraine Strike on Russian Fuel Depot Creates Awkward Backdrop for Talks

The Kremlin said on Friday that a Ukrainian strike against a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod did not create comfortable conditions to continue peace talks with Kyiv.

Russia accused Ukraine on Friday of attacking the depot but Ukrainian authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said authorities were doing everything to reorganize the fuel supply chain and avoid disruption of energy supplies in Belgorod.

A Russian official said earlier on Friday that two Ukrainian military helicopters struck a fuel depot in Belgorod, making the first accusation of a Ukrainian airstrike on Russian soil since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in late February.

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Russia–Ukraine Talks Resume via Video Link

Talks between Russia and Ukraine have resumed via video link.

Russian delegation head Vladimir Medinsky published a picture of the talks under way Friday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that the negotiations had resumed.

Friday’s talks came three days after the last meeting, in Turkey, between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.

Medinsky, the Russian lead negotiator, said “our positions on Crimea and the Donbas are unchanged.”

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Impossible to Replace Russian Gas With ‘Expensive’ US Alternative, Hungary Says

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says there are countries that will not be able to substitute Russian gas with the more expensive American alternative.

Speaking to local radio station Kossuth on Friday, the Hungarian PM said Russian gas is his country’s only option, as Hungary is landlocked and won’t be able to receive liquified gas from the United States.

Orban reiterated that Hungary condemns Russia’s attack against Ukraine, and that he understands the efforts of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as his country is in trouble and he is looking out for Ukrainian interests, but stated that Hungary “can’t help the Ukrainian people by destroying itself.”

“It’s not about putting on a sweater at night, or turning down the heating a little or paying a bit more for gas, it’s about the fact that if there is no energy coming from Russia, Hungary will be left with no energy at all,” Orban said.

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Zelenskyy Strips Two Ukrainian Generals of Military Rank

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he has stripped two generals of their military rank.

Zelenskyy said “something prevented them from determining where their homeland was” and they “violated their military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people.”

According to Zelenskyy, one of the generals had headed internal security at the SBU, the main intelligence agency.

He said the other general had been the SBU head in the Kherson region, the first major city to fall to the Russians.

Zelenskyy didn’t say anything about the fates of the two generals other than them being stripped of their rank.

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EU Proposes Letting Ukraine Refugees Convert Their Money Into Euros

The European Union’s executive arm is proposing that the 27-nation bloc’s countries allow the millions of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine to exchange their hryvnia banknotes into the currencies of host member nations.

The European Commission said Friday its proposal aims at promoting a coordinated approach within the region.

“This approach was necessary in light of the fact that the National Bank of Ukraine had to suspend the exchange of hryvnia banknotes into foreign cash in order to protect Ukraine’s limited foreign exchange reserves,” the commission said.

“As a consequence, credit institutions in EU Member States have been unwilling to carry out the exchanges due to the limited convertibility of hryvnia banknotes and exposure to exchange rate risk.”

According to EU figures, more than 3.8 million of people fleeing the war have arrived in the European Union. More than 4 million have fled Ukraine.

The Commission proposed a maximum limit of 10,000 hryvnias (306 euros) per person, without charges, at the official exchange rate as published by the National Bank of Ukraine.

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Ukraine Checks Chernobyl After Russians Leave

Ukraine’s foreign minister says that now his country’s government is back in control of the Chernobyl nuclear site, it will work with the U.N. atomic agency to determine what the occupying Russians did there and mitigate any danger.

Russian troops left the heavily contaminated nuclear site early Friday after returning control to the Ukrainians.

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Erdogan Says Leaders’ Summit for Ukraine Possible in Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated that he would like to host a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders in Istanbul, in the hope that it would “turn the negative course of events into a positive one.”

Erdogan made the comments on Friday hours before he was scheduled to hold a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the call, he was expected to renew an offer to host a leaders’ meeting.

Erdogan told reporters that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with whom he spoke on Thursday, had a “positive outlook” toward such a meeting in Turkey and that Putin’s attitude had been positive in the past.

Russian and Ukrainian delegations held a face-to-face meeting in Istanbul earlier this week during which Ukraine presented a list of proposals, including that it would have neutral status guaranteed by a range of foreign countries.

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Russia Pulling Back Some Troops in Kyiv and Chernihiv Regions of Ukraine: Governors

Russia is pulling back some of its forces in the northern Ukrainian regions of Kyiv and Chernihiv, the two regions’ governors said on Friday.

Russia said during negotiations on Tuesday that it would scale down operations in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions. Fighting has continued in both regions and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Russian forces are not withdrawing but regrouping.

“We are observing the movement of joint (Russian) vehicle columns of various quantities,” the Kyiv region’s governor, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Pavlyuk said some of the troops were heading towards the border with Belarus, a Russian ally.

He said Russian forces had left the village of Hostomel, which is next to an important airport, but were digging in at the town of Bucha. Reuters was unable to verify the information.

Chernihiv Governor Viacheslav Chaus said some Russian troops had pulled back but some remained in his region.

“Air and missile strikes are (still) possible in the region, nobody is ruling this out,” he claimed in a video address.

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Kremlin Says No Conscripts Being Sent to Ukraine

The Kremlin said on Friday that Moscow was not sending conscripts to Ukraine, a day after President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of Russia’s annual spring draft.

The issue of conscripts’ involvement in Russia’s military campaign with Ukraine is highly sensitive. On March 9, the Russian defence ministry acknowledged that some had been sent to Ukraine after Putin had denied this on various occasions, saying only professional soldiers and officers had been sent in.

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Some Russian Troops Still in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine Says

Some Russian troops were still in the “exclusion zone” around the Chernobyl nuclear power station on Friday morning, a day after ending their occupation of the plant itself, a Ukrainian official said.

Russian forces occupied the defunct power station north of Kyiv soon after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 but Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company, Energoatom, said on Thursday they had left the plant and were heading towards the border with Belarus.

“Russians were seen in the exclusion zone this morning,” Yevhen Kramarenko, who heads the agency in charge of the exclusion zone, said in televised comments on Friday.

He did not say what the troops were doing or where they might be headed. He added that no Russian troops had been seen on the territory of the decommissioned nuclear power plant.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian authorities on the reported withdrawal.

The exclusion zone was established because of high radiation levels in the area after a nuclear reactor exploded at the plant in April 1986 in the world’s worst nuclear accident. The zone initially stretched 30 km (19 miles) from the plant in all directions but was later extended further.

The plant’s Ukrainian staff continued to oversee the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel at Chernobyl while it was occupied by Russian forces, and also supervised the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that exploded in 1986.

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Russian Forces Hand Back Chernobyl to Ukraine: IAEA

Russian forces have begun leaving the defunct Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the major 1986 disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. Russia seized the facilities, in February, at the start of its military campaign in Ukraine.

The IAEA added that Russian forces also left the nearby city of Slavutych, where many of the plant’s staff live. The agency cited Ukraine as saying that some Russian troops were still present on site, but it was “presumed” that they were preparing to exit as well.

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Russia Praises India’s Neutral Stand on Ukraine Fighting

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attended meetings with the leaders of India and China this week—two countries that have so far refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—as Moscow continues to be slapped with Western sanctions.

Lavrov was first in China where he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday before flying out to New Delhi on Thursday where he is set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar on Friday.

The meetings come as the Kremlin tries to maintain close ties with the Asian powers after being dealt a series of sanctions from the U.S, EU, and the UK, following Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in neighboring Ukraine which began on Feb. 24.

They also come as Russia looks to shore up support from both India and China as it becomes increasingly isolated from global financial systems and supply chains.

Read the full article here 

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Red Cross Teams on Way to Mariupol, but Without Aid

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is sending staff to the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and is hopeful that evacuations of thousands of civilians can begin on Friday, a spokesperson said at a media briefing.

The city has been encircled since the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24; a previous attempt by the Red Cross to access it in early March failed because the route was found to be unsafe and conflict resumed.

“We have permission to move today and we are en route to Mariupol,” ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said. “We are hopeful it (the safe passage operation) will commence today.”

The Red Cross team of 3 cars carrying 9 staff members aims to lead a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and a number of private vehicles out of the city, where up to 170,000 people are without power and have limited food, according to the mayor.

Watson stressed that the operation had been approved by both sides but the body is still working out some key details such as the exact timing as well as the destination, which will be an undetermined location in Ukraine.

“Piecing together this safe passage convoy has been and remains extremely complex,” he said.

The Red Cross was not allowed did to take humanitarian aid with the convoy, and it departed without the medical and other supplies it had pre-positioned in the city of Zaporizhzhia, he said.

“At the moment we do not have permission to bring in aid with us but that is something we will continue to make efforts to try to do over the coming days,” he added. He declined to give further details.

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US Will Not Recognize Results of Any Russian Effort to Divide Georgian Territory: State Dept

The United States will not recognize the results of any effort by Russia or its proxies to divide sovereign Georgian territory, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday, after Georgia rejected plans by the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia to hold a referendum on joining Russia.

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Ukraine Negotiations to Resume, Europe Faces Russia Gas Deadline

European buyers of Russian gas faced a deadline to start paying in roubles on Friday, while negotiations aimed at ending the five-week war were set to resume even as Ukraine braced for further attacks in the south and east.

Ukrainian authorities were hoping to evacuate more residents from the besieged southern port of Mariupol on Friday after Russia agreed to open a humanitarian corridor, but several previous deals have collapsed amid mutual recriminations.

Russia will respond to European Union sanctions, the RIA news agency quoted a senior foreign ministry official on Friday.

“The actions of the EU will not remain unanswered … the irresponsible sanctions by Brussels are already negatively affecting the daily lives of ordinary Europeans,” Nikolai Kobrinets told the news agency.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded European energy buyers to start paying in roubles from Friday or have existing contracts halted.

European governments rejected Putin’s ultimatum.

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Australia Sending Armored Vehicles to Ukraine

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that his country will be sending armored Bushmaster vehicles to Ukraine to help in its war against Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically asked for them during a video appeal to Australian lawmakers for more aid.

Zelenskyy addressed the Australian Parliament on Thursday and asked for the Australian-manufactured four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Morrison told reporters the vehicles will be flown over on Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport planes, but he didn’t specify how many Bushmaster vehicles would be sent or when.

“We’re not just sending our prayers, we are sending our guns, we’re sending our munitions, we’re sending our humanitarian aid, we’re sending all of this, our body armor, all of these things and we’re going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters as well,” Morrison said.

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Russian Forces Block Buses Leaving Mariupol: Ukraine Government

The Ukrainian government said Russian forces blocked 45 buses that had been sent to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol, and only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars.

Twelve Ukrainian trucks were able to deliver humanitarian supplies to Mariupol, but the supplies were seized by Russian troops, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said late Thursday.

According to Ukrainian officials, tens of thousands of people have made it out of Mariupol in recent weeks along humanitarian corridors, reducing the prewar population of 430,000 to about 100,000 by last week.

Vereshchuk said about 45,000 Mariupol residents have been forcefully deported to Russia and areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

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Russia Bars More Top EU Officials in Response to Sanctions

Russia said on Thursday it had greatly expanded the number of European Union officials, lawmakers, public figures, and journalists barred from Russia for allegedly being responsible for sanctions and stoking anti-Russian feelings.

“The restrictions apply to the top leadership of the European Union, including a number of European commissioners and heads of EU military structures, as well as the vast majority of members of the European Parliament who promote anti-Russian policies,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

The EU, the United States, and numerous other Western countries have imposed sweeping economic and political sanctions on Russia, some Russian media, and prominent or wealthy Russians in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Moscow said its blacklist also included representatives of some EU member states as well as public figures and journalists who it said were “personally responsible for promoting illegal anti-Russian sanctions, inciting Russophobic sentiments and the infringement of the rights and freedoms of the Russian-speaking population.”

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Russian Forces Have Left Chernobyl Plant: Ukraine State Nuclear Firm

The Ukrainian state nuclear company said on Thursday that all of the Russian forces occupying the Chernobyl nuclear power station had withdrawn from the territory of the defunct plant.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian authorities. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said it is preparing to send a mission to the radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl in northern Ukraine.

Though Russian soldiers seized control of Chernobyl soon after the Feb. 24 invasion, the plant’s Ukrainian staff continued to oversee the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and supervise the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that exploded in 1986, causing the world’s worst nuclear accident.

“According to the staff of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, there are now no outsiders on site,” Energoatom said in an online post. State-owned Energoatom had earlier said most troops had gone, leaving only a small number behind.

Russian forces have also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where workers at Chernobyl live, the company said.

Katabella Roberts, Jack Phillips, Andrew Thornebrooke, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.