VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis says Russia’s war in Ukraine is particularly “barbarous” given that it involves Christians killing fellow Christians in a scandal that should drive the faithful toward unity.
Speaking to members of the Vatican office that promotes Christian unity among Catholics, Orthodox and other Christian churches, Francis said Christians should ask themselves what they have done and can do to foster fraternity with one another.
Francis recalled that efforts at unifying Christians took off in the last century thanks to “the awareness that the scandal of the division of Christians had a historical weight in generating the evil that has poisoned the world with grief and injustice.”
He said: “Today, in the face of the barbarism of war, this yearning for unity must be fueled again.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— French farmers take on Russia with biogas
— Flowers in the rubble: Ukrainian woman sees a sliver of hope
— A song with power: Ukraine’s Eurovision entry unites nation
— Defenders inside Ukrainian steel mill refuse to surrender
— The AP Interview: Belarus admits Russia’s war ‘drags on’
— Jill Biden to meet Ukrainian refugees during border visit
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
GENEVA — The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization is pointing to “anecdotal evidence” that Russian forces are stealing grain from Ukraine, at a time when the country’s ports have been all but unable to export following the Russian invasion.
Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s markets and trade division, told reporters at a U.N. briefing in Geneva that about 700,000 tons of grain had “disappeared” in Ukraine. He cautioned that there were no “statistics” about possible theft.
“There’s anecdotal evidence that Russian troops have destroyed storage capacity and that they are looting the storage grain that is available,” he said. “They are also stealing farm equipment.”
He pointed to “quite a bit of credibility” to footage shared on social media suggesting that “large amounts of grain all being trucked out of the country by Russia.”
Schmidhuber said that “to the best of my knowledge,” no grain was leaving Ukrainian ports.
“It’s an almost grotesque situation that we see at the moment in Ukraine: There are nearly 25 million tons of grain that could be exported, but they cannot leave the country simply because of the lack of infrastructure and the blockade of the ports,” he said.
BUDAPEST, Hungary - A European Union embargo on Russian oil would be equivalent to dropping an “atomic bomb” on Hungary’s economy and could thus not be accepted, the country’s nationalist prime minister said on Friday.
Speaking on state radio, Viktor Orban reiterated earlier statements from Hungarian officials that Hungary would not support a new round of proposed EU sanctions against Russia if they included a ban on Russian oil exports.
Orban said that while his government is willing to negotiate on any EU proposals that are in Hungary’s interests, the country’s geography and existing energy infrastructure make a shutdown of Russian oil unfeasible.
“We cannot accept a proposal that ignores this circumstance because in its current form it is equivalent to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” Orban said.
Hungary’s government has firmly opposed EU plans to include Russian energy exports in its sanctions against Moscow, arguing that 85% of Hungary’s gas and more than 60% of its oil comes from Russia.
On Friday, Orban said that converting Hungary’s oil refineries and pipelines to be able to process oil from different sources would take five years and require massive investment.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is sending 5.7 million pairs of medical gloves to Ukraine, authorities said Friday, adding they were responding to a Ukrainian request sent via the European Union’s crisis preparedness center.
The gloves are surplus items and will not affect Denmark’s emergency preparedness, the state Danish Critical Supply Agency said in a statement.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Health had requested the gloves via Emergency Response Coordination Center, the agency said. They will be sent to a warehouse in Poland, from where they will be shipped to Ukraine.
Denmark has previously donated 1 million facemasks, 1 million white surgical coats and 5,000 respirators to Ukraine, among other things.
BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister confirmed Friday that her country will supply Ukraine with seven powerful self-propelled howitzers to help defend itself against Russia.
Christine Lambrecht said Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in Germany to use the self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery, which is capable of firing precision ammunition at a distance of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles).
Germany has stepped up its material support for Ukraine in recent weeks, after the government’s initial reticence to provide heavy weapons drew widespread criticism.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to address the nation Sunday on the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies 77 years ago has increasingly been portrayed as a day of liberation in the country. Scholz’s speech is expected to outline his government’s position on the war in Ukraine.
LVIV, Ukraine — The British military believes Russia wants to take the port city of Mariupol and its vast steel mill before it marks Victory Day on Monday.
The British Defense Ministry made the comment in a daily intelligence briefing it makes on Twitter.
The Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol has been the scene of weeks of fighting. It has a vast network of underground bomb shelters shielding fighters and civilians from Russian bombardment, though the site has been repeatedly struck by high-explosive bombs.
The British military said: “The renewed effort by Russia to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol is likely linked to the upcoming 9 May Victory Day commemorations and Putin’s desire to have a symbolic success in Ukraine.”
It added: “This effort has come at personnel, equipment and munitions cost to Russia. Whilst Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas.”
Victory Day marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
LVIV, Ukraine — There are growing suggestions that Ukraine might try to widen its push to seize more territory from Russia outside of Kharkiv, its second-largest city.
Ukrainian chief of defense, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said Thursday that a counteroffensive could begin to push Russian forces away from Kharkiv and Izyum, which has been a key node in Russia’s control of the area.
Ukraine in recent days has pushed Russia some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Kharkiv, which has been repeatedly struck by Russian shelling.
Further pushing the Russians away may spare the city from more artillery strikes, as well as force Moscow to divert troops from other areas of the front line to maintain its hold on territory there.
LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military says the Russian effort to seize the steel plant in Mariupol continues.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces issued a daily statement Friday saying that “the blockade of units of the defense forces in the Azovstal area continues.”
It added: “In some areas, with the support of aviation, resumed assault operations to take control of the plant.”
Elsewhere in the country, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces are conducting surveillance flights of territory. In the hard-hit areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine’s military said it repulsed 11 enemy attacks and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles. There was no immediate acknowledgement of those losses by Russia.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the majority of Russian forces that had been around the port city of Mariupol have left and headed north, leaving roughly the equivalent of two battalion tactical groups there, or about 2,000 troops.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that even as Russian airstrikes continue to bombard Mariupol, Moscow’s forces are still making only “plodding” and incremental progress as the main fight presses on in the eastern Donbas region.
He said he has seen no change in Russian behavior or momentum as May 9 draws near.
Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9, the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. There have been suggestions that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to tout a major victory in Ukraine when he makes his address during the traditional military parade on Red Square.
Kirby said the U.S. still assesses that Russia is behind schedule and not making the progress in the Donbas that it expected.
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — A cleanup operation took place in the center of Mariupol even as Ukrainian fighters held out against Russian troops in the city’s pulverized steel plant. The rest of the city is now under Russian control.
Municipal workers, as well as volunteers, were seen Thursday clearing debris near gutted, charred buildings, including the drama theater where hundreds died when the Russian military bombed it in March. Some workers hung a Russian flag on a tall utility pole.
One volunteer, who gave only his first name, Denis, said he was helping restore parks and war monuments so the city could celebrate Victory Day on Monday. Russia celebrates victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9.
KYIV, Ukraine — In his nightly video address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described a “catastrophic” lack of access to medical services and medicine in areas of the country under Russian occupation.
In those areas, he said almost no treatment was available for those suffering from cancer and where insulin for diabetics was difficult to find or nonexistent. He said antibiotics were in short supply.
Zelenskyy also said that during the course of the war, the Russian military has already fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine, while 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies. He said the destroyed or damaged infrastructure includes nearly 400 hospitals and other medical facilities.