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Live updates | NATO plans troop exercises to deter Russia

By The Associated Press
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LONDON — Tens of thousands of troops from NATO and other north Atlantic nations will take part in a series of military exercises across Europe in the coming weeks as western countries seek to deter Russian aggression.

The exercises, backed by aircraft, tanks, artillery and armored assault vehicles, will take place in Finland, Poland, North Macedonia and along the Estonian-Latvian border. They will include troops from NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force, which includes non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.

“The scale of the deployment, coupled with the professionalism, training and agility of the British Army, will deter aggression at a scale not seen in Europe this century,” Lt. Gen. Ralph Wooddisse, commander of the U.K.’s field army, said in a statement.

The deployments will begin this week in Finland, where troops from the U.S., Britain, Estonia and Latvia will participate in Exercise Arrow to improve their ability to work alongside Finnish forces.

Also this week, some 4,500 troops will take part in Exercise Swift Response, which will include parachute drops and helicopter-borne assaults in North Macedonia. The operation will include forces from U.S., Britain, Albania, France and Italy.

Next month, 18,000 NATO troops, including forces from Britain, France and Denmark, will take part in Exercise Hedgehog along the Estonia-Latvia border.

In late May, about 1,000 British soldiers will join troops from 11 other nations for Exercise Defender in Poland.

“The security of Europe has never been more important,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. “These exercises will see our troops join forces with allies and partners across NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a show of solidarity and strength in one of the largest shared deployments since the Cold War.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine slams Kyiv attack amid new Mariupol rescue effort

— Ukraine says Russian offensive in east picks up momentum

— NATO chief says Finland, Sweden could join quite quickly

— Biden seeks new powers to use oligarchs’ assets for Ukraine

— After a rocket: ‘One second and you are left with nothing’

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

BERLIN — The German government has strongly criticized the Russian missile strike on Kyiv during the U.N. secretary-general’s visit to the Ukrainian capital Thursday.

Germany “condemns the Russian missile attack on Kyiv, while Secretary-General (Antonio) Guterres was there simultaneously for talks, in the sharpest possible manner,” government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters in Berlin on Friday.

The attack “reveals before the eyes of the world community once more that Putin and his regime have no respect whatsoever for international law,” he added.

The US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says one of its journalists was killed by the Russian missile strike. Ten people were wounded in the attack, including at least one who lost a leg, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.

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The US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says one of its journalists was killed by a Russian missile strike on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Thursday night.

Vira Hyrych died when the building she lived in was hit and her body was found in the building’s rubble Friday, Radio Free Europe said. Hyrych had worked for the broadcaster’s Ukrainian-language service since 2018, Radio Free Europe said in a statement.

Ten people were wounded in the attack, including at least one who lost a leg, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.

Describing the attack, Russia says it “destroyed production buildings” at a defense factory in Kyiv. Russia used “high-precision, long-range weaponry” to hit the Artem factory in the Ukrainian capital, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The spokesman appeared to be referring to strikes on Kyiv that took place on Thursday evening, shortly after a meeting between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said cruise missiles were used in the attack and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed and four hospitalized when a residential building was hit.

Konashenkov also said Russia had destroyed a missile launch site that Ukraine had used to strike the Russia-held Ukrainian city of Kherson.

LONDON — Britain is sending a team of experts to Ukraine to help local authorities investigate reports of war crimes, including sexual violence, committed by Russian troops.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says the team, including experts in conflict-related sexual violence, will arrive in Poland in early May and meet with representatives of international agencies, non-governmental organizations, refugees and the Ukrainian government to determine what assistance it can provide.

“Russia has brought barbarity to Ukraine and committed vile atrocities, including against women,’’ Truss said in a statement. “British expertise will help uncover the truth and hold Putin’s regime to account for its actions. Justice will be done.”

Truss plans to meet with the president of the International Criminal Court, Judge Piotr Hofmanski, on Friday in the Hague, where she will reaffirm Britain’s support for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes in Ukraine.

LVIV, Ukraine — A British aid group says it believes two Britons have been abducted by Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine.

The British Foreign Office said it is “urgently seeking more information” about the two men’s case.

Dominik Byrne, the co-founder and chief operating officer of the Presidium Network, told The Associated Press on Friday that the men were last heard from on Monday.

Byrne said the men were taken while trying to carry out an independent evacuation in Dniprorudne, near the city of Zaporizhzhia, some 470 kilometers (290 miles) southeast of Kyiv.

Byrne said the family that the two men had been trying to evacuate later were interrogated by Russian forces, who asked them about the “British spies.” Bryne said the family later escaped to Poland.

Byrne identified the men as Paul Urey and Dylan Healy. He said they had been operating on their own in the war zone and hadn’t been associated with any aid group.

The British Foreign Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Russia hasn’t acknowledged taking the men.

STOCKHOLM - The Swedish capital will rename part of a park near the Russian Embassy to Fria Ukrainas plats (Swedish for Free Ukraine Square) to show “Stockholm’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” the mayor said Friday.

Stockholm’s planning department has decided to rename part of Mariebergspark, with the Stockholm mayor Anna König Jerlmyr calling it on Facebook “an important mark l against the actions of the Russian regime.”

Several European cities have renamed streets. One of the first was Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where a quiet alley where the Russian Embassy in the Lithuanian capital is located, changed its name to “Heroes of Ukraine street” in March.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A 25-year-old Dane was allegedly killed in Mykolajiv on April 26 while fighting with the International Legion Ukraine, a unit for foreigners who want to join the fight against Russia, according to Danish broadcaster TV2. The man’s name was not given.

In a statement to Danish media, the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen said it could not confirm the report and was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.

“It may therefore take time before the details are clarified” because the war creates “extremely difficult conditions,” the statement read.

The Jyllands-Posten daily, one of Denmark’s largest newspapers, said up to 100 Danes have traveled to Ukraine to fight Russia, citing Ukraine’s Embassy in Denmark.

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LVIV, Ukraine — The British Defense Ministry says Russia’s focus in its war on Ukraine remains the Donbas region.

In an update Friday, the British military said heavy fighting had been seen around Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The British said they believe Russia is trying to attempt an advance south from Izium toward Slovyansk.

The British military said in a tweet: “Due to strong Ukrainian resistance, Russian territorial gains have been limited and achieved at significant cost to Russian forces.”

The British military has been offering daily public reports on the fighting since the start of the war in February.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russia pounded targets from practically one end of Ukraine to the other Thursday, including Kyiv, bombarding the city while the head of the United Nations was visiting in the boldest attack on the capital since Moscow’s forces retreated weeks ago.

Ukrainian emergency services said 10 people were wounded when a Russian missile hit a 25-story apartment building in Kyiv on Thursday evening and set off a fire, which partially destroyed the first and second floors.

The bombardment came barely an hour after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a news conference with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who said Ukraine has become “an epicenter of unbearable heartache and pain.”

A spokesperson said Guterres and his team were safe.

Meanwhile, explosions were reported across the country — in Polonne in the west, Chernihiv near the border with Belarus, and Fastiv, a large railway hub southwest of the capital.

The mayor of Odesa, in southern Ukraine, said rockets were intercepted by air defenses.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had “very substantive and warm talks” on energy and defense cooperation with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov during his visit to Kyiv on Thursday.

Zelenskyy said they agreed that damaged Ukrainian military equipment could be repaired at Bulgarian plants and then sent back to Ukraine.

“Another issue we agreed on was the supply of Ukrainian electricity to Bulgaria and the joint use of the Trans-Balkan gas pipeline” to diversify energy supplies in the region,” Zelenskyy said late Thursday in his nightly video address to the nation.

Russia this week cut off natural gas supplies to Bulgaria and also to Poland, two NATO members which have been among the strongest European supporters of Ukraine in the war.

Although Bulgaria gets over 90% of its gas from Russia, the cutoff does not immediately put the country in dire trouble because of other potential suppliers. The Trans-Balkan gas pipeline runs from Greece through Bulgaria and Romania to Ukraine.

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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — An 11-year-old Ukrainian boy was one of at least three people wounded in what emergency officials are calling the first Russian strike in a residential area of the southern city of Zaporizhzhia since Russia’s invasion began.

The city has been a crucial waypoint for tens of thousands of people fleeing the besieged southern port of Mariupol.

The rocket strike came Thursday as parts of southern Ukraine prepared for a further onslaught by Russian forces who seek to strip the country of its coastline.

Residents said at least eight homes in the modest neighborhood were damaged or destroyed.

Glass shards cut the boy’s right leg to the bone. The injured boy’s father, Vadym Vodostoyev, said “it just takes one second and you’re left with nothing.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russia struck the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv shortly after a meeting between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday evening.

At least one person was killed and several were injured, including some who were trapped beneath the rubble, according to rescue officials. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the Shevchenkivskyi district in the northwestern part of the city was hit twice, causing fires in at least two high-rise buildings.

The explosions, which sent plumes of black smoke into the air, came just shortly after the two leaders held a press conference in which Guterres condemned the atrocities committed in towns like Bucha, where evidence of mass killings of civilians was found after Russia retreated. Authorities said the U.N. chief and his team were safe.

Appearing to be one of boldest attacks on Kyiv since Russian forces retreated from around the capital weeks ago, the explosions came as residents have been increasingly returning to the city. Cafes and other businesses have reopened, and a growing number of people have been out and enjoying the spring weather.

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