POKROVSK, Ukraine — As Russian forces intensify their shelling of eastern Ukraine, more people are leaving their homes in search of safety.
In Pokrovsk, a town in the Donetsk region, people lined up Tuesday to board a train headed to the far west of the country along the border with Hungary and Slovakia. One person was lifted onto the train in a wheelchair, another on a stretcher.
The passengers took with them cats, dogs, a few bags and boxes, and the memory of those who did not flee in time.
“We were in the basement, but my daughter didn’t make it and was hit with shrapnel on the doorstep” during shelling on Monday, said Mykola Kharchenko, 74. “We had to bury her in the garden near the pear tree.”
He said his village, Vremivka, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Pokrovsk, was under heavy fire for four days and everything was destroyed. With tears in his eyes, Kharchenko said he somehow held himself together at home, but once he reached the train station he fell apart.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Nuclear chief: Russia’s Chernobyl seizure risked accident
— Poland, Bulgaria say Russia suspending natural gas supplies
— Putin gets what he didn’t want: Ukraine army closer to West
— Top Russian diplomat warns Ukraine against provoking WWIII
— France’s victorious Macron boosts weapons, stakes in Ukraine
— Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra organized by Met, Polish operas
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. says Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be involved in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that during their one-on-one meeting Tuesday, Guterres and Putin “discussed the proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, namely in relation to the situation in Mariupol.”
The sprawling Azovstal steel plant has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks but it is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.
An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.
Dujarric said that following the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle, discussions will be held with the U.N. humanitarian office and the Russian Defense Ministry on the evacuation.
WASHINGTON — The State Department says U.S. diplomats have begun returning to Ukraine by making day trips to temporary offices in the western city of Lviv from neighboring Poland.
The department said the first group of diplomats crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border and traveled to Lviv on Tuesday morning before returning to Poland later in the day.
The step came just two days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed Ukrainian leaders during a secrecy-shrouded visit to Kyiv that the U.S. would start restaffing its diplomatic facilities in Ukraine this week.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the agency has accelerated its review of re-opening the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, which was closed shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. He said operations at the embassy would resume as soon as possible depending on the security situation in the capital.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. says Secretary-General António Guterres is concerned about reports of new security incidents in a Russian-backed separatist region of Moldova “and urges all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions that could escalate tensions.”
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Tuesday that Guterres has called for efforts to lower tensions throughout Trans-Dniester. Explosions rocked the region for the second day in a row, knocking out two powerful radio antennas close to the Ukrainian border. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Ukraine all but blamed Russia.
Russian speakers of the strip of land with about 470,000 people between Moldova and Ukraine nominally seceded from Moldova in 1990, one year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, fearing the country might shortly merge with Romania, whose language and culture it broadly shares.
The separatist region fought a brief war with Moldova in 1992 and declared itself an independent state, though it remains unrecognized by any country, including Russia which bases about 1,500 troops there, calling them peacekeepers. Concerns are high that those forces could be used to invade Ukraine from the west.
Haq said the U.N. continues to fully support efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to reach a political settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict in the so-called 5+2 process which comprises Trans-Dniester, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE with the United States and the European Union as observers. The aim is to strengthen Moldova’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, with a special status for Trans-Dniester.
BERLIN — Germany’s vice chancellor says his country has come “very, very close” to independence from Russian oil and an embargo on deliveries would now be “manageable.”
Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, has said so far that it aims to end Russian oil imports by the end of this year.
Speaking Tuesday during a visit to Poland, Economy Minister Robert Habeck — who is also the vice chancellor and responsible for energy — said that his country has cut Russia’s share of its oil supply from 35% before the war in Ukraine to about 12%.
Habeck said “the situation is such that an embargo has become manageable for Germany.” He added that “the problem that just a few weeks ago seemed very big for Germany has become significantly smaller … so that independence from Russian oil imports has come very, very close.”
Russian gas imports, however, are a bigger issue for Germany. Berlin has said that it will need longer to do without gas supplies from Russia.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain does not want war “to escalate beyond Ukraine’s borders,” and rejected an allegation by Moscow that the West is fighting a proxy conflict with Russia.
But Johnson said Ukrainians “are being attacked from within Russian territory” and “have a right to protect and defend themselves” by striking inside Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused NATO of “pouring oil on the fire” with its support for Ukraine, and said the risk of World War III should not be underestimated. Russia has singled Britain out for criticism after a U.K. government minister said it was legitimate for Ukraine to hit fuel depots in Russia with U.K.-supplied weapons.
In an interview with British station Talk TV, Johnson said “it’s very, very important that we don’t accept the way that the Russians are trying to frame what is happening in Ukraine.”
He said: “They are trying to frame this as a conflict between Russia and the West, or Russia and NATO. That’s not what is going on.”
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova released a video addressing the invading Russian soldiers, their commanders and all whom it may concern, urging them to stop the war in Ukraine.
In the three-minute video in Russian with the subtitles in Slovak, Caputova condemned war crimes against women, children and civilians.
“You justify your invasion by talking about ‘liberation,’” Caputova told them. “How were you intending to ‘liberate’ Tatiana from Irpin, killed by a Russian grenade together with her two children? Or Olena from Hostomel, raped by one of you in a car?” she asked.
Referring to testimonies of women who have survived, Caputova says they “find that words are not enough when they try to describe the pain you have made a part of their lives simply because… Well, why even? None of us knows… Do you?”
She says “with each passing day, you are only increasing the army of wounded souls and bodies of women, children and innocent people.”
“If you still feel any leftover of humanity in you, bring it to life and end this horrible war.”
MOSCOW — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Moscow still hopes to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Ukraine, even as the fighting has continued.
Speaking at a Kremlin meeting Tuesday with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Putin noted that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators made what he described as a “serious breakthrough” in their talks in Istanbul, Turkey, last month. He claimed, however, that the Ukrainian side later walked back on some of the tentative agreements reached in Istanbul.
In particular, Putin said Ukrainian negotiators have changed their position on the issue of the status of Crimea and separatist territories in eastern Ukraine, offering to leave it for the countries’ presidents to discuss. Putin charged that the shift in the Ukrainian stand makes it hard to negotiate a future deal. Ukrainian officials have been evasive about the details of talks and the Russian claims of Ukraine walking back from its earlier proposals.
Putin has demanded that Ukraine recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and recognize independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as part of a future agreement on ending the hostilities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that those issues could only be decided by a future nationwide vote.
During Tuesday’s Kremlin meeting, Guterres criticized Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbor’s territorial integrity. He also urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped at a giant steel mill in Mariupol surrounded by the Russian forces.
Putin responded by claiming that the Russian forces have offered humanitarian corridors to civilians holed up at the Azovstal steel plant, charging that the Ukrainian defenders of the plant were using civilians as shields and not allowing them to leave.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern about the tensions in a Moscow-backed separatist region of Moldova.
The ministry noted that an attack on an administrative building in Tiraspol, the center of the separatist Trans-Dniester province of Moldova, along with explosions that hit broadcast antennas and other facilities in the region follow a Russian officer’s statement about Moscow’s intention to fully take control of Ukraine’s south and build a land corridor to Trans-Dniester.
It said in a Tuesday statement that Ukraine “resolutely supports Moldova’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and condemn attempts to draw the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova into the full-fledged war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine and call for deescalating tensions.”
Trans-Dniester, a strip of land with about 470,000 people, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, nominally as peacekeepers.
WARSAW, Poland — The Polish climate minister gave assurances on Tuesday that the country has plenty of natural gas on reserve, following reports that Russia has suspended gas supplies to Poland.
Anna Moskwa, minister for climate and environment, tweeted: “Poland has the necessary gas reserves and sources of supply that protect our security — we have been effectively independent from Russia for years. Our warehouses are 76% full. There will be no shortage of gas in Polish homes.”
Her tweet followed reports by the Onet news portal that Russia has suspended gas supplies to Poland under the Yamal contract. Onet reported that a crisis team had gathered at the Ministry of Climate to deal with the matter. Onet said, citing unnamed sources, that Russia had insisted on a Friday deadline for payment in rubles and that Poland has said it would not pay in rubles.
Poland has been working to wean itself off of Russian energy sources and was due to end its reliance on Russian gas this year.
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the war in Ukraine has already weakened Russia’s military capability.
Austin said after meeting allies and partners at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Tuesday that, since Russia began the invasion, its land forces have sustained “pretty substantial” casualties, as well as lost a lot of equipment and used a lot of precision-guided munitions.
He said that “they are, in fact, in terms of military capability, weaker than when they started, and … it’ll be harder for them to replace some of this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been placed on them.”
Austin reiterated that “we would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
He criticized Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s warning that the threat of a nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated.”
Austin said that “it’s unhelpful and dangerous to rattle sabers and speculate about the use of nuclear weapons.”
MOSCOW — A senior Kremlin official says that Ukraine may split into several parts.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, said in remarks published Tuesday that “the policies of the West and the Kyiv regime controlled by it would only be the breakup of Ukraine into several states.”
The statement comes as Russia says it has focused on expanding control over Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland called Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian troops there since 2014 when conflict erupted following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow launched military action in Ukraine on Feb. 24, days after recognizing the separatist regions’ independence.
Last week, a senior Russian military officer said that along with taking control over Donbas, Russia also wants to overtake southern Ukraine, saying such a move would also open a land corridor between Russia and the separatist Trans-Dniester region of Moldova.
MADRID — Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Tuesday he was “very worried” by the explosions this week in the separatist region of Trans-Dniester, adding that they reminded him too much of occurrences in the Donbas region immediately prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine late February.
“I remember before Feb. 21, there have been some series of ‘false-flag’ operations in Donbas region, so called people republics, that were used as the pretext by Russia to recognize and then to sign the so-called friendship and assistance treaties and then to start the military operation,” Rinkevics told reporters in Madrid.
“I’m very worried about the current trend in Trans-Dniester because that resembles a little bit that pattern that we have seen,” he added.
Police in Trans-Dniester say two explosions Tuesday in a radio facility close to the Ukrainian border knocked two antennas out of service. On Monday, several explosions were reported to have hit the Ministry of State Security in Tiraspol, the region’s capital.
Trans-Dniester, a strip of land in Moldova, has been under the control of separatists since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops there. The United States has warned that Russia could launch “false-flag” attacks in nearby nations as a pretext for sending in troops to those nations.
Rinkevics was in Madrid to meet his Spanish counterpart and discuss the Ukraine war and the upcoming NATO summit in the Spanish capital.
The Russian military has warned it could strike Ukrainian “decision-making centers” in the Ukrainian capital and said wouldn’t be stopped by the possible presence of Western advisers there.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday accused the U.K. of making statements encouraging Ukraine to use Western weapons to carry out strikes on the Russian territory, warning that if it happens the Russian military could retaliate by hitting government structures in Kyiv.
It directly pointed at U.K. Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey, who told Times Radio that it was “not necessarily a problem” if Ukraine British-donated weapons were used to hit sites on Russian soil.
The ministry said in a statement that “the Russian armed forces are ready to deal retaliatory strikes with long-range precision guided weapons on Kyiv centers that would make such decisions.” It noted that “the presence of citizens of one of Western countries in the Ukrainian decision-making centers won’t necessarily pose a problem for Russia in making a decision to launch retaliatory action.”
The Russian military so far has avoided striking presidential, government and military headquarters in Kyiv during its campaign in Ukraine that has entered a third month.
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is urging Congress to fully fund the Biden administration’s proposed budget for the State Department, telling lawmakers the spending is critical to ensuring that the war in Ukraine is a “strategic failure” for Russia and a message to other countries that might invade their neighbors.
Blinken said his weekend visit to Kyiv with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had left him with the “indelible impression” that Ukraine is winning, particularly in the capital. “It was right in front of us: the Ukrainians have won the battle for Kyiv,” he said.
Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the U.S.-led global response to Russia’s invasion had “underscored the power and purpose of American diplomacy.” He said the $60.4 billion budget proposal for the next fiscal year was needed to continue to rally partners and allies in the cause.
“We will, we have to continue to drive that diplomacy forward to seize what I believe are the strategic opportunities and address risks presented by Russia’s overreach, as countries reconsider their policies, priorities, their relationships,” Blinken said. “The budget request before you predated this crisis, but fully funding it is critical in my judgment to ensuring Russia’s war in Ukraine is a strategic failure for the Kremlin and serves as a powerful lesson to those who might consider following its path.”
Blinken did not name other nations that might be considering following Russia’s lead but his comment was seen as a veiled reference to China, which has sided with Russia in the Ukraine conflict and has made no secret of its desire to re-unify the island of Taiwan with the mainland.
CHERNOBYL, Ukraine — The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency says it was possible that an accident could have occurred when Russian troops seized control of the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster during the war in Ukraine.
Speaking on a visit to the former nuclear power plant Tuesday on the 36th anniversary of the meltdown, Rafael Mariano Grossi said “the situation in 1986 was completely different. In this case, what we had was a nuclear safety situation which was not normal, and could have developed into an accident.”
Russian troops moved into the radiation-contaminated Chernobyl exclusion zone in February on their way toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and withdrew late last month as Russia switched its focus to fighting in eastern Ukraine. The site is now back in Ukrainian hands and communications which were disrupted have been restored.
Russian forces continue to hold a working nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhia plant, where there was fighting nearby in early March which damaged the plant’s training facility.
“Clearly, the physical integrity of one nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, was compromised, we also had situations where the external power was interrupted including here (Chernobyl) so there were a number of events that were compromising the normal operations of any nuclear power facility,” Grossi said.
“Those were avoided but of course, as I was saying, the situation was not stable and we have to stay on alert.”