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Sunday October 2nd, 2022 10:48PM

Live updates | Steel mill clashes concern Red Cross official

By The Associated Press
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GENEVA — A top Red Cross official helping oversee a dramatic, five-day effort that led to the evacuation of dozens of civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to a government-held city said he remains “extremely concerned” about new clashes between Ukrainian and Russian forces there — with some other civilians still inside.

Pascal Hundt, who heads the Ukraine office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the humanitarian agency and the United Nations carried out the evacuation after Russia and Ukraine agreed that it would only include civilians. He said some people simply chose not to leave, and he didn’t know why — but suspected fear about continued fighting played a part.

A total of 127 people were evacuated from Azovstal and the Mariupol area in buses that arrived in government-controlled Zaporizhzia on Tuesday.

“We are today with a mixed feeling. We have done everything to help these people to basically leave the place where they were — to leave hell,” Hundt said in a call with reporters from Kyiv. “But we would have hoped that much more people would be able to join the convoy and to get out of hell.”

Hundt said about a dozen people taken out in the convoy were sick or injured, but none were in critical condition.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Aid workers prepare to receive civilians evacuating from Mariupol steel plant

— Push to arm Ukraine putting strain on US weapons stockpile

— Pope Francis offers to meet Putin, but hasn't heard back

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Latvia has summoned Russia’s ambassador to the Baltic country over Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s anti-Semitic statements, the Latvian foreign minister said Tuesday.

The ambassador was “to provide explanations” on May 5 and receive a protest, Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter.

In an interview with an Italian news channel, Lavrov said that Ukraine could still have Nazi elements even if some figures — including the country’s president — were Jewish, claiming that “Hitler also had Jewish origins.”

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat says the bloc’s executive branch is on the cusp of proposing a new raft of sanctions against Russia, including on oil.

EU policy commissioners have been discussing the new sanctions and are set to send their proposals later Tuesday to the 27 member countries for debate.

The union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a tweet that the executive is “working on the 6th package of sanctions which aims to de-swift more banks, list disinformation actors and tackle oil imports.” Swift is the most widely used international system for bank transfers.

Member countries have been involved in drawing up the proposals, but they routinely take days to endorse them. The sanctions can only enter force once they are published in the EU’s Official Journal. Hungary and Slovakia have already expressed reservations about signing on.

EU ambassadors are scheduled to meet on Wednesday. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is also likely to explain the proposals early Wednesday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has told French President Emmanuel Macron that Moscow is ready for talks with Ukraine.

The Kremlin said in its readout of Tuesday’s call that “despite Kyiv’s inconsistency and its lack of readiness for serious work, the Russian side is still ready for dialogue.”

The Kremlin added that Putin also informed Macron about the course of Russia’s “special military operation.” It added that the two leaders also discussed the global food security and Putin underlined that Western sanctions have exacerbated the situation.

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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — The U.N.’s aid coordinator for Ukraine says 127 people have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol and nearby areas to a government-controlled city, in an operation carried out along with the international Red Cross.

Osnat Lubrani, the humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said Tuesday that those evacuated included 101 people who “could finally leave the bunkers below the Azovstal steelworks and see the daylight after two months.”

Another 58 people joined the convoy in Manhush, a town on the outskirts of Mariupol.

“Today, we brought people safely to Zaporizhzhia,” Lubriani said. “However, I worry that there may be more civilians who remain trapped.”

The evacuees were receiving humanitarian assistance, including health and psychological care, from the U.N, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and partner agencies after arriving in Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday.

Some of the evacuees opted to be dropped off before arriving in the city, which is in government-controlled territory, Lubriani said in a statement.

— This item has been corrected to fix the spelling of Osnat Lubrani’s last name.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment that is holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol has confirmed to The Associated Press that Russian forces have started to storm the plant on Tuesday.

The move comes almost two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered its military not to storm the plant, but rather block it off.

Asked about the reports in Ukrainian media that the huge steelworks — the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in a city otherwise controlled by Moscow’s forces — was being stormed, Sviatoslav Palamar told the AP that “it is true.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Mariupol patrol police chief Mykhailo Vershinin was quoted by Ukrainian television as saying that the Russian military “have started to storm the plant in several places.”

The reports come amid a U.N. effort to evacuate civilians from the plant, which helped scores of people escape the sprawling facility.

According to Denys Shlega, commander of the 12th Operational Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard who is also currently at Azovstal, 200 civilians including children remain at the plant.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told reporters Tuesday that about 150 civilians have been taken from Azovstal and a few hundred remain at the plant. “We need a few more days to continue this operation,” Vereshchuk said.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has urged her visiting Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to try to influence Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

“Putin has to stop this war,” Frederiksen said Tuesday, adding immediately, “I hope that India will influence Russia.”

India’s neutral stance in the war has raised concerns in the West and earned praise from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who lauded India for judging “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.”

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Ukraine’s parliament that their country has achieved the “greatest feat of arms of the 21st century” by repelling Russia’s attempt to capture Kyiv.

Johnson addressed lawmakers in Ukraine’s legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, by video link on Tuesday. He is the first world leader to do so since Ukraine was invaded on Feb. 24.

Johnson, one of Ukraine’s most prominent international supporters, announced a new 300 million pound ($375 million) package of military aid to Ukraine, including radar, drones and armored vehicles.

Johnson said Ukraine had “exploded the myth of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s invincibility,” and expressed confidence Ukraine would win the war.

The British leader said Western allies had not done enough to stop Russia after it annexed Crimea and triggered a conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014, and said Ukraine’s allies should not press it to give up territory to make peace.

He said “you are the masters of your fate, and no-one can or should impose anything on Ukrainians. We in the U.K. will be guided by you and we are proud to be your friends.”

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The Russian military says they have resumed strikes on the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol.

Vadim Astafyev, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday Ukrainian fighters holed in at the plant “came out of the basements, took up firing positions on the territory and in the buildings of the plant.” Astafyev said Russian forces along with rebel forces from Donetsk were using “artillery and aircraft ... to destroy these firing positions.”

The steel plant is the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in a city that is otherwise controlled by Moscow’s forces. More than 100 civilians, including small children, were making their way out of the steelworks in an evacuation effort overseen by the United Nations and the Red Cross.

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TIRANA, Albania — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reiterated his call on the world to shut Russia out of all international financial and trade systems.

In an online Zoom speech to the Albanian Parliament Tuesday, Zelenskyy called on Europe and the world to stop buying oil from Russia, shut Russian banks out, stop trading with Russia, close ports to Russian ships and limit the arrival of Russian tourists “because you don’t know who is coming, a killer in the prisons or Mariupol’s hangmen.”

“It is simply unfair,” Zelenskyy said of the United Nations buying some $2.5 billion of materials from Russia for its humanitarian operations.

He thanked the tiny Western Balkan country for its full support, especially at the United Nations Security Council, where it is a temporary member.

“Our history when half a million Albanians were forcefully deported in an ethnic cleansing from their land in Kosovo, and found shelter in Albania, helps us feel from far away Ukraine’s heavy pain,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said.

A bloody 1998-1999 conflict between Serbia and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, left more than 12,000 dead and forced almost a million Kosovars to flee their homeland.

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BERLIN — The leaders of Finland and Sweden have indicated that their governments haven’t yet decided whether to join NATO, but stressed close security cooperation with other European countries in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Speaking Tuesday after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz near Berlin, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said “Russia’s attack on Ukraine has changed our security environment completely” and there was “no going back.”

“We have to decide on whether to apply for NATO membership or continue on our current path,” she said. “That is the discussion we are having now in our national parliament.”

Her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, said the Nordic nation’s parliament is conducting a security review that will be presented on May 13.

“The analysis includes future international defense partnerships for Sweden, including a discussion on NATO, and all options are on the table,” she said.

“While our respective security arrangements are of course decided nationally, we coordinate very closely with Finland,” Andersson added.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said both countries would be welcomed if they decide to join the 30-nation military organization and could become members quite quickly.

The foreign ministers of NATO’s member countries are scheduled to meet in Berlin on May 14-15.

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — A group of 20 children from an orphanage in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine has arrived in Slovenia where they will stay until the end of the war.

Officials said Wednesday that the children are mostly toddlers who travelled together with orphanage staff, doctors, nurses and their families.

The group will be staying near the western town of Postojna and will be granted temporary protection status in the small European Union country.

Local civil protection commander Sandi Curk says “the arrival was quite emotional.” Curk says there have been no problems along the route and that the trip lasted for 24 hours.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Slovakia and Hungary said Tuesday that they will not support sanctions against Russian energy that the European Union is preparing over the war in Ukraine, saying they are too reliant on those supplies and there are not immediate alternatives.

EU commissioners are debating new proposals for sanctions, which could include a phased-in embargo on Russian oil. The 27 member countries are likely to start discussing them Wednesday, but it could be several days before the measures take effect and it’s not clear if oil would be among them or Slovakia and Hungary would receive exemptions.

Slovak Economy Minister Richard Sulik said the country’s sole refiner, Slovnaft, cannot immediately switch from Russian crude to another kind of oil. Changing the technology would take several years, Sulik said.

“So, we will insist on the exemption, for sure,” Sulik told reporters.

Slovakia’s almost fully dependent on Russian oil it receives through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline. Hungary is also heavily reliant, though other major energy importers like Germany said it could cope if the EU banned Russian oil, with officials still noting “it is a heavy load to bear.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the country will not vote for any sanctions “that will make the transport of natural gas or oil from Russia to Hungary impossible.”

___

STRASBOURG, France — Italian Premier Mario Draghi is calling for Europe to move more rapidly toward greater defense integration following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Draghi told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg on Tuesday that European defense spending “is a deeply inefficient distribution of resources, that blocks the construction of a true European defense.” He called for a conference to improve coordinated of defense spending.

Draghi praised the European Council’s ambitious plan of action to strengthen the EU’s security and defense policy by 2030, but said “it is necessary to go quickly beyond these first steps and construct an efficient coordination among defense systems.”

___

GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s incident manager for Ukraine says evacuees from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol “are on the way” toward government-controlled areas away from the most intense combat zones where Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting.

Dr. Dorit Nitzan, speaking by video to reporters in Geneva from government-controlled Zaporizhzhia, said WHO teams have been among workers from the U.N. and other aid groups who have deployed to help dozens of evacuees — up to 100 — from the plant.

“Things are moving,” she said Tuesday. “We know that they are on the way.”

Nitzan said the U.N. health agency was not clear what kind of health needs that the evacuees would present but that hospitals nearby and trauma teams were on standby to help the arriving evacuees.

The United Nations humanitarian aid coordinator and the International Committee of the Red Cross were leading the evacuation, after securing agreement from Ukrainian and Russian authorities in recent days.

Nitzan said about 100 people have been trickling out in their own vehicles from Mariupol in recent days.

___

LVIV, Ukraine — The British military says it believes the Russian military is now “significantly weaker” after suffering losses in its war on Ukraine.

The British Defense Ministry made the comment Tuesday in its daily statement on Twitter regarding the war.

It said: “Russia’s military is now significantly weaker, both materially and conceptually, as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Recovery from this will be exacerbated by sanctions. This will have a lasting impact on Russia’s ability to deploy conventional military force.”

The ministry added while Russia’s defense budget has doubled from 2005 to 2018, the modernization program it undertook “has not enabled Russia to dominate Ukraine.”

“Failures both in strategic planning and operational execution have left it unable to translate numerical strength into decisive advantage,” the ministry said.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show nearly 50 Russian military helicopters at a base close to the Ukrainian border.

The image captured Monday by Planet Labs PBC shows the helicopters in Stary Oskol, Russia, some 175 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

The helicopters are stationed on the tarmac, runway and grass of the otherwise civilian airport. Military equipment is stationed nearby to support the aircraft.

Russia has been using its military attack helicopters in its war on Ukraine, flying low to the ground to try to avoid anti-aircraft missiles.

Meanwhile, another satellite image showed a bridge repeatedly targeted by Moscow near the Black Sea port city of Odesa still standing as of around noon Monday. That strategic bridge connects Odesa to the wider countryside and would be key to defending the area.

A breakaway region of neighboring Moldova home to Russian troops nearby has seen a series of mysterious explosions in recent days, raising concerns about the conflict widening.

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ROME — Pope Francis has told an Italian newspaper that he offered to travel to Moscow to meet the Russian president about three weeks into the invasion, but that he has not received a response.

Francis was quoted Tuesday by Corriere della Sera as saying his offer to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow was made through the Vatican’s No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, 20 days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He said, “Of course, it would be necessary for the leader of the Kremlin to make available some window of opportunity. But we still have not had a response and we are still pushing, even if I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting at this moment.”

Francis said he spoke with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, for 40 minutes by videoconference and for the first half “with paper in hand, he read all of the justifications for the war. I listened and told him: I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use language of politics, but that of Jesus. … For this we need to find the paths of peace, to stop the firing of arms.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod says his visit to Ukraine’s capital showed “the full support from the Danish side” on transfer of weapons, sanctions on Russia, but also humanitarian assistance.

Kofod reopened the Danish embassy in Kyiv and met with his counterpart Dymtro Kuleba and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday. His meetings come as Denmark’s neighbors, Sweden and Finland, are debating joining NATO. Denmark is a founding member.

Moscow has warned that such a move would have consequences, without giving specifics. Yet on Friday, a Russian military plane violated Swedish and Danish airspace.

“I have to say to Russia that it’s a sovereign right of each country to arrange themselves when it comes to security. Denmark is not threatening anybody. Sweden, Finland is not threatening anybody,” Kofod told The Associated Press. “It’s totally unjustified if Russia or anybody else is trying to, in a way, violate our airspace (…) or doing some kind of other hybrid attacks on us, this is totally unjustified. And we will, of course, protect ourselves against that.”

Earlier in the day, Kofod visited Irpin in the suburbs of Kyiv to witness firsthand the destruction and devastation.

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