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Wednesday August 17th, 2022 2:46AM

Live updates | NATO leader condemns "brutality" in Ukraine

By The Associated Press
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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the graphic images coming out of Bucha, Ukraine, after Russian troops withdrew show “a brutality against civilians we haven’t seen in Europe for decades.’’

He tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that “it’s absolutely unacceptable that civilians are targeted and killed" and that it's Russian President Vladimir Putin's responsibility to stop the war.

Stoltenberg says it’s “extremely important” that the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into potential war crimes in Ukraine and that those responsible are held to account.

His comments echoed those by other European leaders, who condemned alleged war crimes and civilian killings by Russian forces in Ukrainian towns including Bucha near Kyiv, the capital.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine accuses retreating Russians of civilian massacres

— US, UK secret intelligence has unusually public role in Ukraine war

— Lithuania weans itself completely off Russian gas, 1st EU nation to do so

— Drug shortages persist in Russia after start of Ukraine war

— Ukraine blogger video fuels false info on Mariupol

— Ukraine volunteer fighters from near and far: a photo gallery

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

BUCHA, Ukraine — Residents of the Ukrainian town of Bucha near the capital of Kyiv have given harrowing accounts of how Russian troops shot and killed civilians without any apparent reason.

Bodies of civilians lay strewn across the northern town, which was controlled by Russian soldiers for about a month.

At a logistics compound that residents say was used as a base by Russian forces, the bodies of 8 men could be seen dumped on the ground, some with their hands tied behind their backs.

Residents say Russian troops would go from building to building, take people out of the basements where they were hiding from the fighting, check their phones for evidence of anti-Russian activity and take them away or shoot them.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has rejected the claims of atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv as a “provocation.”

The ministry says that “not a single civilian has faced any violent action by the Russian military“ in Bucha.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told a U.S. television interview Sunday that Russian attacks in Ukraine amount to genocide.

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ROME — The head of Italy’s Democratic Party called for a full oil and gas embargo in reaction to images emerging of atrocities against civilians by Russian soldiers retreating from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

“How many #Buca before we move to a full oil and gas Russia embargo,” Enrico Letta wrote on Twitter Sunday. “Time is over.”

Italy gets 40% of its natural gas from Russia and officials have said it would take three years to make the transition to other sources.

Premier Mario Draghi acknowledged last week that energy payments were fueling Russia’s invasion, and the foreign minister has been traveling to oil and gas producing countries to line up alternatives to Russia.

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WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff Ron Klain says the U.S. remains fully committed to providing a full range of economic and military support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, which he describes as “far from over.”

Klain credits Ukrainians for fighting off Russian troops in the northern part of Ukraine and says the U.S. and its allies are sending weapons into the country “almost every single day.”

But he also tells ABC’s “This Week” that there are signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin is redeploying Russian troops to the eastern part of Ukraine.

Klain says while it will be up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to decide if the political endgame is to allow Russia to occupy the eastern part of Ukraine, from the U.S. standpoint, the “military future of this attack has to be push back.”

He says regarding a potential Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine: “I will tell you, as President Zelenskyy has said, that’s not acceptable to him, and we are going to support him with military aid, with economic aid, with humanitarian aid.”

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Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says in a U.S. television interview that Russian attacks in Ukraine amount to genocide.

Zelenskyy told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that there are more than 100 nationalities in Ukraine and “this is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities. We are citizens of Ukraine and we don’t want to be subdued to the policy of Russian Federation.”

In an excerpt of the interview released by CBS before it aired, he says, “This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated. And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So this is the torture of the whole nation.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military says Russian troops have completed their pullback from the country’s north.

The military’s General Staff said in Sunday’s statement that Russian units have withdrawn from areas in the country’s north to neighboring Belarus, which served as a staging ground for the Russian invasion.

The Ukrainian military said its airborne forces have taken full control of the town of Pripyat just outside the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the section of the border with Belarus. It posted a picture of the Ukrainian soldier putting up the country’s flag with a shelter containing the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986 seen in the background.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania says it has cut itself off entirely of gas imports from Russia and that it’s the first of the European Union’s 27 nations using Russian gas to break its energy dependence upon Moscow.

“Seeking full energy independence from Russian gas, in response to Russia’s energy blackmail in Europe and the war in Ukraine, Lithuania has completely abandoned Russian gas,” Lithuania’s energy ministry said in a statement late Saturday, adding that the measure took effect in the beginning of April.

Lithuania reduced imports of Russian gas to zero on Saturday, a move seen a milestone in achieving energy independence in the former Soviet republic of 2.8 million, the ministry said.

“We are the first EU country among Gazprom’s supply countries to gain independence from Russian gas supplies, and this is the result of a multi-year coherent energy policy and timely infrastructure decisions,” Minister of Energy Dainius Kreivys said.

Lithuania’a president posted an upbeat tweet on his account and urged other European nations to do the same.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s top diplomat has called for tougher sanctions on Russia over growing evidence of what he called a massacre of civilians in the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials said earlier Sunday that scores of killed civilians have been found on the streets of Kyiv’ suburbs of Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel after the withdrawal of Russian troops. They said that some of the victims were shot in the head and had their hands bound.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Sunday that the killings were “deliberate,” adding that “Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can.”

He urged the West to impose an oil, gas and coal embargo, and close all ports to Russian vessels and goods. He also called for all Russian banks to be disconnected from the SWIFT international payment system.

In Germany President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin that “the war crimes committed by Russia are visible before the eyes of the world.”

German news agency dpa reported that Steinmeier said “the images from Bucha shake me, they shake us deeply.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pledged to tighten sanctions against Russia but did not give details.

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BERLIN — Poland’s most powerful politician says he is open to the permanent stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, said Sunday in an interview with German weekly Welt am Sonntag that “in principle, it makes sense to extend nuclear participation to the eastern flank.”

Kaczynski added that “if the Americans asked us to store U.S. nuclear weapons in Poland, we would be open to it. It would significantly strengthen deterrence against Moscow.”

Kaczynski acknowledged that “at the moment, this question does not arise, but that may change soon.”

The Polish leader also called for a much stronger presence of U.S. soldiers in Europe in the future, especially on NATO’s eastern flank.

He said that “Poland would welcome an increase in the American presence in Europe in the future from the current 100,000 soldiers to 150,000 soldiers because of Russia’s increasing aggressiveness.”

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says that by imposing sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin the West has demonstrated it has abandoned its sense of reason.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in televised remarks Sunday that the sanctions against Putin were going “beyond the edge of reason,” adding that they showed that the West is “capable of any stupidities.”

Peskov added that Putin’s meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is “hypothetically possible” once negotiators from the two countries prepared a draft agreement to be discussed.

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BERLIN — German authorities have registered more than 300,000 refugees from Ukraine since the outbreak of the war there last month.

The interior ministry tweeted Sunday that “to date, federal police has registered 303,474 refugees from Ukraine in Germany. Most of them are women, children and old people.”

The numbers of Ukrainian refugees in the country are thought to be much higher as Ukrainians can enter Germany without visas and there are no thorough controls along the Polish-German border.

Up to 10,000 arrived at Berlin's train station on some days. Recently the flow of refugees has slowed down from up to 15,000 new arrivals nationwide to around 5,000 to 7,000 new refugees per day.

Overall, more than 4.17 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24. Most sought refuge in neighboring Poland.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian presidential adviser says authorities have found evidence of serious war crimes by Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Sunday scores of killed civilians have been found on the streets of Kyiv’ suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel after the withdrawal of Russian troops. He compared the scene to “a horror movie.”

Arestovych said some victims were shot in the head and had their hands bound, and some of the bodies had signs of torture. He accused Russian troops of raping women and trying to burn their bodies.

Arestovych said Ukrainian authorities will investigate the alleged war crimes and track down the perpetrators.

The reports drew international condemnation. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there is increasing evidence of “indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians” and said they must be investigated as war crimes.

“We will not allow Russia to cover up their involvement in these atrocities through cynical disinformation and will ensure that the reality of Russia’s actions are brought to light,” she said.

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VALLETTA, Malta — Pope Francis is praying for an end to the “sacrilegious” war in Ukraine and for the world to show kindness and compassion to refugees.

Wrapping up a final Mass in Malta on Sunday, Francis urged the faithful to “think of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the martyred Ukraine, which continues to be bombarded in this sacrilegious war.”

He called for the world to be “tireless in praying and in offering assistance to those who suffer.”

Among those at the Mass was Alina Shcherbyna, a 25-year-old Ukrainian who arrived in Malta just over a week ago after fleeing her bombed-out home in Dnipro. She left behind her parents, who are both doctors and had to remain.

Carrying Ukrainian and Vatican flags, Shcherbyna said she wanted to ask the pope and the world for prayers for Ukraine.

“At school we were studying a lot about the Second World War, about bomb shelters and about this disaster, and we thought it was impossible in present time,” she said. “We thought it had ended in 1945 and that was it. But now, it’s really shocking for all of us.”

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MOSCOW — Russia’s top negotiator in talks with Ukraine says it’s too early to talk about a meeting between the two countries’ president.

Vladimir Medinsky, who led the Russian delegation in Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul, Turkey, said “there is still a lot of work to do” to finalize a draft agreement before Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy could meet.

Speaking Sunday in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency, Medinsky reaffirmed that the parties reached a tentative agreement on the need for Ukraine to adopt a neutral status and refrain from holding foreign military bases in exchange for international security guarantees.

Asked about Ukrainian negotiator Davyd Arakhamia’s claim that Moscow’s negotiators had informally agreed to most proposals by Ukraine during the talks in Istanbul this week and the two presidents could discuss the draft deal, Medinsky said he doesn’t share Arakhamia’s optimism. He said the talks will continue online Monday.

Medinsky emphasized that Russia’s stand on Crimea and rebel regions in Ukraine’s east remained unchanged. The Kremlin demands that Ukraine acknowledge Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and recognize the independence of Russia-backed separatist regions in Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.

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KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy devoted a good part of his late-night address to his nation to call out Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Hungarians prepared to vote in an election Sunday.

Zelenskyy depicted the Hungarian leader as out of touch with the rest of Europe, which has united to condemn Putin, support sanctions against Russia and send aid including weapons to Ukraine.

“He is virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr. Putin,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy noted the Hungarian people support the Ukrainian people, and distinguished between Hungarians and what he called “official Budapest.”

“The whole of Europe is trying to stop the war, to restore peace. Then why is official Budapest opposed to the whole of Europe, to all civilized countries?” Zelenskyy asked.

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BERLIN — The mayor of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has expressed shock at what he called “cruel war crimes” committed by Russian soldiers in the town of Bucha northwest of the capital.

Referring to reports of executed civilians, Klitschko told German daily Bild on Sunday that “what happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide.”

An AP crew on Sunday saw the bodies of at least nine people who appear to have been executed. At least two of them had their hands tied behind their backs. They were all in civilian clothes and at least three were naked from the waist up. One appeared shot in the chest from close range.

Klitschko said Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for the “cruel war crimes,” adding that civilians had been “shot with tied hands.”

He called on the the whole world and especially Germany to immediately end gas imports from Russia.

He said that “especially for Germany, there can only be one consequence: Not a penny should go to Russia anymore, that’s bloody money used to slaughter people. The gas and oil embargo must come immediately.”

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The Russian military says it has struck an oil processing plant and fuel depots around the strategic Black Sea port of Odesa.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian ships and aircraft fired missiles on Sunday to strike the facilities, which he said were used to provide fuel to Ukrainian troops near Mykolaiv.

Konashenkov also said Russian strikes destroyed ammunition depots in Kostiantynivka and Khresyshche.

In a message posted by Italian news agency ANSA, Italian photographer Carlo Orlandi said Odesa woke to military sirens at 5:45 a.m. Sunday, followed immediately by the sounds of bombs falling on the port city from two aircraft.

He described a column of dark smoke rising from the targets, and flames from the buildings.

“What we can see is a dense screen of dark smoke, and one explosion after the other,″ Orlandi said.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The regional governor in Kharkiv said Russian troops have continued shelling the city in northeast Ukraine.

Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Synyehubov said Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks carried out over 20 strikes on Kharkiv and its outskirts over the past 24 hours.

Synyyehubov said four people were wounded in a Russian missile strike on Lozova in the south of the Kharkiv region.

He said that in the town of Balakliia Russian tanks hit a local hospital, damaging the building and prompting the authorities to evacuate patients.

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LVIV, Ukraine – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops retaking areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv are not allowing Russians to retreat without a fight, but are “shelling them. They are destroying everyone they can.”

Zelenskyy, in his Saturday night video address to the nation, said Ukraine knows Russia has the forces to put even more pressure on the east and south of Ukraine.

“What is the goal of the Russian troops? They want to seize the Donbas and the south of Ukraine,” he said. “What is our goal? To defend ourselves, our freedom, our land and our people.”

He said a significant portion of the Russian forces are tied up around Mariupol, where the city’s defenders continue to fight.

“Thanks to this resistance, thanks to the courage and resilience of our other cities, Ukraine has gained invaluable time, time that is allowing us to foil the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy appealed again to the West for more modern weaponry, such as anti-missile systems and aircraft.

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