President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is still hoping for peace despite Russian attacks targeting Ukrainian civilians that he has called war crimes in recent days, he said Saturday.
“No one wants to negotiate with a person or people who tortured this nation,” Zelenskyy told The Associated Press in an interview. But, he said, “we don’t want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution.”
His comments come a day after an attack on a train station in Kramatorsk killed more than 50 people. Zelenskyy also told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Ukraine’s security services have intercepted Russian communications that include discussions of targeting civilians.
“There are pilots in prison who had maps with civilian targets to bomb,” Zelenskyy said in a clip of the interview that will air in full Sunday.
Zelenskyy said “everyone who made a decision, who issued an order, who fulfilled an order” is guilty of war crimes. Asked if he holds Vladimir Putin responsible, Zelenskyy said, “I do believe he’s one of them.”
LATEST VISUAL EXPLANATIONS: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
► At least 26 Ukrainians were released Saturday during a third round of prisoners of war exchange, said Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk in a message posted to Ukraine NOW’s Telegram channel.
► Italy and Austria both announced Saturday they plan to reopen their respective embassies in Kyiv. The moves come one day after the European Union returned its ambassador to Kyiv.
► YouTube blocked Duma TV from broadcasting Saturday “for a violation of YouTube’s Terms of Service.” The channel broadcasts from Russia’s lower house of parliament. Russia’s telecom watchdog is pushing for a reversal.
► The International Monetary Fund Executive Board approved an Administered Account Friday for countries that want to securely provide direct financial assistance to Ukraine.
► Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, is imposing curfew on its constituents due to possible Russian missile attacks. From Saturday night until Monday morning people in Odessa are forbidden from going out in public, the regional military administration said in a Facebook post.
► Russia and Ukraine on Saturday agreed upon 10 humanitarian corridors across three regions, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a Telegram post. The list includes one in the Donetsk region, four in the Zaporizhzhia region and four in the Luhansk region.
► The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office says about 67 bodies were buried in a mass grave near a church in Bucha, a northern Kyiv suburb where journalists and returning Ukrainians discovered scores of bodies on streets and elsewhere after Russian troops withdrew.
► Ukrainian forces have “eradicated” some of the Russian units that invaded the country in late February, according to a senior Defense official. Some Russian units have only a handful of troops and vehicles left, the official said.
► This week, Ukrainian forces retaking territory around the capital of Kyiv after Russian troops retreated discovered evidence of atrocities against civilians. In the suburb of Bucha, bodies were left in the streets, some with hands tied behind their backs, and bodies were found in a mass grave.
The European Union is resuming its diplomatic presence in Kyiv after pulling out of the nation when Russia invaded it in February, the union said in a press release Friday.
“With this visit, the European Union is returning to Kyiv,” E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter Friday while in Kyiv. “And I mean this literally: our Head of Delegation is back here, so that we can work even more directly and more closely with our Ukrainian partners, ensuring support for Ukrainians.”
The EU delegation to Ukraine, temporarily relocated to Rzeszow, Poland after Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, according to the release. Borrell added that while in Kyiv, the group saw firsthand the Ukrainian government’s ability to ensure the “effective and full functioning of state and government structures, despite very difficult circumstances.”
Borrell was accompanied to Kyiv by Matti Maasikas, head of the EU delegation, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Ukraine Saturday in a surprise visit.
Johnson’s visit included a pledge of 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems, part of another 100 million pounds ($130 million) of high-grade military equipment. Johnson also confirmed an additional $500 million in World Bank lending, taking Britain’s total loan guarantee up to $1 billion.
Johnson said Ukraine defied the odds pushing Russian forces “from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century.″
Johnson says Britain and its partners “are going to ratchet up the economic pressure … not just freezing assets in banks and sanctioning oligarchs but moving away from use of Russian hydrocarbons.”
Johnson also described a vision for a future Ukraine so fortified and protected by the equipment, technology and know-how of Britain and its partners that it can never be threatened in the same way again.
– The Associated Press
Russia’s Justice Ministry said Friday it will close the Moscow offices for 15 human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The justice ministry said it is closing the offices “due to the discovery of violations of the current legislation of the Russian Federation,” but offered no specifics, according to Reuters. The move will effectively cease the organizations’ activities in Russia.
In response, Human Rights Watch said in a press release that the group had worked in Russia since the Soviet era and this “new iron curtain” would not stop them from continuing that work, adding that the decision speaks to the Russian government’s years-long efforts to “stifle critical voices” in the nation.
Amnesty International said it would “work relentlessly” to make sure human rights violators, whether in Russia or Ukraine, would be held accountable for their actions.
“In a country where scores of activists and dissidents have been imprisoned, killed or exiled, where independent media has been smeared, blocked or forced to self-censor, and where civil society organizations have been outlawed or liquidated, you must be doing something right if the Kremlin tries to shut you up,” the group said in a statement.
– Ella Lee
At least 176 children have been killed and 324 injured since the Russian invasion into Ukraine began, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said Saturday.
This figure is not the final number of children harmed by the war as Ukrainian authorities continue to establish deaths in “places of active hostilities, in the temporarily occupied and liberated territories,” according to a statement released on Telegram.
The prosecutor general’s office also said most of the affected children were in Donetsk with 102 children harmed, and Kyiv, with 91 children injured.
Other cities were children have been killed include: Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, capital, Sumy and Zhytomyr .
Additionally, 928 education institutions have been damaged, and 84 destroyed since the war began.
– Mabinty Quarshie
The Ukrainian official in charge of integrating the nation with Europe said on Saturday she expects Ukraine to be a candidate for the European Union by June.
“Ukraine received the EU membership questionnaire,” said Olga Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. “We have already done much preparatory work, so ready to move fast…It is part of our recovery & victory over RU aggressor who wants to reverse Ukraine’s democratic course.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed Ukraine’s application to join the EU in February, appealing to the group and the world in a video the same day.
“Europeans are witnessing how our soldiers are fighting not only for our country, but for all of Europe, for peace, for peace for all, for all the countries of the European Union,” Zelenskyy said.
In response to Zelenskyy’s plea, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that any country’s membership bid could take “a lot of years” but did not close the door on Ukraine’s potential candidacy. The EU’s website also expresses that negotiation and induction into the EU “takes time to complete.”
– Ella Lee
In her first in-depth interview since the invasion began, Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, said in the early days of the conflict the possibility of war was unfathomable.
“There had been a lot of talk, everywhere, about a possible invasion,” Zelenska told Vogue. “But until the last minute it was impossible to believe that this would happen…in the twenty-first century?”
As the war continues, Zelenska said Russian President Vladmir Putin underestimated the perseverance of Ukrainian civilians.
“He [Putin] wanted to divide us, to shatter us, to provoke internal confrontation, but it is impossible to do this with Ukrainians,” she said.
Zelenka also said she and her children were not allowed to stay with her husband, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when the war began and were moved to a safe place. They now communicate with him through phone.
But Zelenska does have moments that give her hope. “My family – just like every Ukrainian – and my compatriots: incredible people who organized to help the army and help each other,” she said.
– Mabinty Quarshie
The European Union adopted a fifth package of restrictions against the Russian regime for its invasion of Ukraine.
The latest measures, announced Friday by the EU’s European Commission, include an import ban on all Russian coal, a transaction ban and asset freeze imposed on an additional four Russian banks and a ban on Russian and Belarusian freight road operators from working in the EU.
The measure also extends import bans on cement, spirits, rubber products, wood and high-end seafood.
The sanctions are the European Commission’s latest attempt to increase the economic pressure on the Kremlin and limit the regime’s financial ability to further invade Ukraine.
The coal ban alone is projected to cost Russia about 8 billion euros in annual lost revenue. Targeted export bans on other items such as specialist catalysts used in the refinery industry to advanced semiconductors to quantum computing, are projected to cost Russia an additional 10 billion euros.
The European Council also banned Russian nationals and entities from procuring EU contracts.
– Ana Faguy
LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says Russian naval forces are launching cruise missiles into Ukraine to support military operations in the eastern Donbas region and around the cities of Mariupol and Mykolaiv.
In its Saturday morning briefing, the ministry said Russia’s air forces are expected to increase activity in the south and east of Ukraine to further support these operations.
The ministry said these actions come as attempts to establish a land corridor between Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and Russian-controlled parts of the Donbas region “continue to be thwarted by Ukrainian resistance.”
The mayor of the encircled Ukrainian city of Mariupol said earlier this week that more than 5,000 civilians, including 210 children, have been killed during the month-long Russian siege.
Vadym Boichenko said Wednesday Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death, and have destroyed more than 90% of the southern port city’s infrastructure.
– Associated Press
50 killed in rocket strike on Kramatorsk train station
A rocket strike targeting a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk Friday killed at least 50 people and injured dozens who were attempting to flee amid Russia’s new focus on the region, Ukrainian officials said.
There were about 4,000 civilians in and around the station when it was struck. According to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, 98 people were hospitalized, including 16 children. Five children were among the dead.
The Russians used an SS-21 short-range ballistic missile in the attack, according to a senior Defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments. The Russian Defense Ministry denied targeting the station in Kramatorsk.
Microsoft disrupts cyberattacks against Ukraine
Microsoft intercepted cyberattacks from a Russian military-linked group of hackers targeting Ukrainian media organizations and U.S. and European think tanks and government institutions this week, the company said.
Microsoft said it obtained a court order on Wednesday to take control of seven internet domains used by the hackers, known as Strontium or Fancy Bear.
“We have since re-directed these domains to a sinkhole controlled by Microsoft, enabling us to mitigate Strontium’s current use of these domains and enable victim notifications,” Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust, said in a statement.
Contributing: The Associated Press