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Tuesday May 24th, 2022 6:07PM

Live updates | Pope Francis kisses Ukrainian flag from Bucha

By The Associated Press
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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has kissed a battered Ukrainian flag that was brought to him from the Ukrainian city of Bucha and called again for an end to the war.

Francis welcomed a half-dozen Ukrainian children up to the stage of the Vatican audience hall at the end of his Wednesday general audience and gave them each a giant chocolate Easter egg. He urged prayers for them and for all Ukrainians.

He told the crowd: “These children had to flee to arrive in a safe place. This is the fruit of war.”

The pontiff held up a grimy Ukrainian flag that he said had arrived the previous day at the Vatican from Bucha, where evidence has emerged of what appears to be intentional killings of civilians during the city’s occupation by Russian troops.

Kissing it, he said: “This flag comes from the war, from that martyred city Bucha ... Let us not forget them. Let us not forget the people of Ukraine.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— In Bucha, Ukraine, burned, piled bodies among latest horrors

— Ukraine president Zelenskyy at UN accuses Russian military of war crimes

— EU proposes Russian coal ban in new sanctions

— US official: US, allies, to ban new investments in Russia

— Harvard students’ site helping Ukraine refugees find housing

— Japan’s top envoy brings back 20 Ukrainians from Poland

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Ukrainian ambassador on Wednesday after days of the two countries’ officials trading barbs over Hungary’s position on the war.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote in a social media post on Wednesday that “we condemn military aggression, we stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty,” but that “this is not our war, so we want to and will stay out of it.”

Hungary’s government has refused to supply weapons to Ukraine or allow their transfer across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, and has fought against applying sanctions on Russian energy imports.

That position has prompted criticisms of Hungary’s government by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy, who on Monday said in an address on Ukrainian television that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban would need to choose between Moscow and “the other world” of the West.

Orban, who won a landslide victory in Hungarian elections on Sunday, in a victory speech depicted Zelenskyy as one of the opponents he and his right-wing party had defeated.

On Tuesday, Szijjarto called on Ukrainian leaders to “stop insulting Hungary and to take note of the will of the Hungarian people.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is beefing up its police and intelligence work, chiefly in the northern part of the country, which has a nearly 200-kilometer (124-mile) land border with Russia, and wants to spend 100 million kroner ($11.5 million) on it.

Norway’s domestic intelligence service considers the intelligence threat from Russia in the Scandinavian country to have increased, Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said Wednesday.

The money would be spent on staff and equipment. The government also wants to exert more control over Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic with a Russian settlement. Under a 1920 treaty, Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard, but other signatory countries have rights to exploit its natural resources — coal.

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The governor of Russia’s Kursk region on the border with Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian border guards were fired at with mortars on Tuesday.

Governor Roman Starovoit said on the messaging app Telegram that the border guards returned fire and that there were “no casualties or destruction” on the Russian side as a result of the incident.

The Ukrainian military has not yet commented on the allegation, and it could not be independently verified.

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LONDON — British defense officials say 160,000 people remain trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol, where Russian airstrikes and heavy fighting are continuing.

The Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update Wednesday that those in the city have “no light, communication, medicine, heat or water.” It accused Russian forces of deliberately preventing humanitarian access, “likely to pressure defenders to surrender.”

Repeated attempts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to get a humanitarian convoy into the southern port city have failed. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian forces stopped buses accompanied by Red Cross workers from traveling to Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of about 400,000. She said Russian troops allowed 1,496 civilians to leave the Sea of Azov port on Tuesday.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey says it shares the pain of the Ukrainian people over the “horrifying” images that emerged from towns near Kyiv and is calling for an independent investigation.

A statement from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday stopped short, however, of blaming Russia or describing the atrocities as a war crime.

Turkey has been measured in its criticism of Russia as it tries to balance its close relations with both Moscow and Kyiv. The country has hosted officials from the two countries for talks in a bid to end the war.

“The images of the massacre ... are horrifying and sad for humanity. We share the pain of the Ukrainian people,” the statement read.

“The targeting of innocent civilians is unacceptable. It is our basic expectation that the issue is subjected to an independent investigation, that those responsible are identified and are held accountable,” it said.

Scenes that have emerged from Bucha, Irpin and other Ukrainian towns liberated by Ukrainian forces have led to accusations of war crimes and demands for tougher sanctions against Russia.

The ministry statement said Turkey would continue its efforts to end such “shameful scenes for humanity and to ensure peace as soon as possible.”

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LVIV, Ukraine - Russian forces overnight struck a fuel depot and a factory in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, and the number of casualties remains unclear, the region’s Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Wednesday on the Telegram messaging app.

“The night was alarming and difficult. The enemy attacked our area from the air and hit the oil depot and one of the plants. The oil depot with fuel was destroyed. Rescuers are still putting out the flames at the plant. There is a strong fire,” Reznichenko wrote.

In the eastern Luhansk region, Tuesday’s shelling of Rubizhne city killed one and injured five more, Governor Serhiy Haidai said Wednesday on Telegram.

The Russian military continues to focus its efforts on preparing for an offensive in Ukraine’s east, according to a Wednesday morning update by Ukraine’s General Staff, with the aim “to establish complete control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

Parts of the two regions have been under control of Russia-backed rebels since 2014 and are recognized by Moscow as independent states.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Police in the Romanian capital say a car has crashed into the gate of the Russian Embassy, bursting into flames and killing the driver.

Police in Bucharest say the sedan rammed into the gate at about 6 a.m. Wednesday but did not enter the embassy compound.

Video of the aftermath showed the car engulfed in flames as security personnel ran through the area.

According to police, firefighters who arrived at the scene were able to put the fire out but the driver died at the scene.

There was no immediate information on a possible motive or other details.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden approved a $100 million transfer of Javelin anti-armor missiles to Ukraine on Tuesday, according to an administration official.

The transfer brings the total of U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to $2.4 billion since Biden took office last January.

The White House announced late Tuesday that Biden approved the assistance, which is funded as part of a broader $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine approved by Congress last month after Russia’s invasion.

The administration official confirmed that it was for a transfer of the Javelin missiles, which have been requested by the Ukrainian military to combat Russian armor.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said French President Emmanuel Macron has agreed to provide technical and expert support for an investigation into crimes committed by Russian troops in Bucha and elsewhere.

Zelenskyy said Tuesday that he also asked Macron to help the people trapped in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.

In an interview with Turkey’s Haberturk television in Kyiv, Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to hide its actions in Mariupol and didn’t want humanitarian aid to enter the city “until they clean it all up.”

Zelenskyy said he also expects European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to visit Kyiv soon.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces still are trying to push deep into Ukraine in the east, but the Ukrainian army is holding them back.

In his daily night-time video address to the nation late Tuesday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine was aware that Russia was gathering up reinforcements for another offensive.

Zelenskyy also said Ukraine is outnumbered both in troops and equipment.

“We don’t have a choice – the fate of our land and of our people is being decided,” he said. “We know what we are fighting for. And we will do everything to win.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Tuesday that he and Western leaders have discussed a new round of sanctions against Russia.

“After what the world saw in Bucha, the sanctions against Russia must be commensurate with the gravity of the war crimes committed by the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said in his daily night-time video address to the nation.

In coordination with the European Union and Group of Seven nations, the U.S. will roll out more sanctions against Russia on Wednesday. That reportedly will include a ban on all new investment in the country.

Also, the EU’s executive branch has proposed a ban on coal imports from Russia in what would be the first time the 27-nation bloc has sanctioned the country’s lucrative energy industry over the war.

The coal imports amount to an estimated 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) per year.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official says Russian troops have allowed 1,496 civilians to evacuate the besieged city of Mariupol by private vehicle but blocked a convoy of evacuation buses from entering.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russian forces stopped the buses accompanied by workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross from traveling to the Sea of Azov port on Tuesday. The civilians who were able to leave in their personal vehicles traveled to Zaporizhzhia.

Mariupol has been besieged by Russian forces for a month, cut off from food, water and energy supplies and has faced relentless artillery barrage and air raids that killed thousands.

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LVIV, Ukraine — A regional official in western Ukraine says a Russian missile hit fertilizer tanks, polluting ground water.

Ternopil region Gov. Volodymyr Trush said Tuesday that the Russian missile strike destroyed six reservoirs filled with fertilizers, resulting in an ammonia leak into ground water and the Ikva River.

Authorities are advising residents not to use water wells and stop fishing and officials have organized drinking water deliveries. Trush say the environmental situation is expected to stabilize in a few days.

___

MOSCOW — The Russian foreign minister is accusing Ukraine's government of sabotaging talks on ending the fighting in Ukraine, warning that Moscow will not “play cat and mouse.”

Sergey Lavrov specifically warns that Moscow will not accept the Ukrainian demand that a prospective peace agreement include an immediate pullout of Russian troops to be followed by a referendum in Ukraine on accepting the deal.

In televised remarks Tuesday, he says that if the peace deal fails to win approval in a referendum, a new deal will have to be negotiated. He says that “we don’t want to play such cat and mouse.”

Lavrov pointed at a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine signed in Minsk, Belarus, that was brokered by France and Germany but never implemented. He says that “we don’t want a repeat of the Minsk agreements.”

He also says Ukraine is “sabotaging” the talks by stonewalling Russian demands for “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country.

The tough statements from Lavrov contrasted with optimistic signals made by both Ukrainian and Russian representatives after the latest round of talks in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29.

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