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Sunday October 2nd, 2022 9:23PM

Live updates | Ukraine's president invites German leaders

By The Associated Press
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LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has invited Germany’s head of government and its head of state to visit Ukraine on May 9, the day Russia marks the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Western officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the Victory Day holiday to make an announcement about the war — either declaring a victory or escalating the conflict.

Germany is part of the Western alliance supporting Ukraine, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has yet to make a solidarity visit to the country. Scholz has traded barbs with Ukrainian officials in recent weeks because of Kyiv’s refusal to invite Germany’s head of state, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom Ukraine accuses of cozying up to Russia during his time as foreign minister.

Speaking at London’s Chatham House think-tank on Friday, Zelenskyy said he had spoken to Steinmeier and invited both him and Scholz to come to Kyiv.

He said Scholz “can make this very powerful political step to come here on the 9th of May, to Kyiv.”

There was no immediate word on whether the German politicians had agreed. German Parliament President Baerbel Bas is scheduled to visit Ukraine on Sunday and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is due to visit soon.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— New effort races to rescue civilians from Mariupol plant

— Europe’s farmers stir up biogas to offset Russian energy

— Flowers in the rubble: Ukrainian woman sees a sliver of hope

— A song with power: Ukraine’s Eurovision entry unites nation

— 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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says his country is providing Ukraine with “all the support we can give and also take responsibility for” in its war with Russia.

Speaking to business leaders in Hamburg on Friday, Scholz said Russia must not gain the upper hand in the conflict, which he described as a “war of destruction” waged by Moscow against Ukraine.

The German leader said that Russia’s position as a global power with a seat on the U.N. Security Council means that “if (Vladimir) Putin gets away with it then there’s a risk of international lawlessness.”

LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he is still open to negotiations with Russia, but only if Moscow withdraws its forces to their pre-invasion positions.

Zelenskyy told a meeting at London’s Chatham House think-tank on Friday that “regaining the situation as of the 23rd of February” — the day before the invasion — is a prerequisite for talks.

He said “in that situation we will be able to start discussing things normally,” and Ukraine could use “diplomatic channels” to regain its territory.

The British government, a key ally of Ukraine, has said Russia must be driven from all of Ukraine, including Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Despite Russia’s intensified attack on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Zelenskyy said there is still space for diplomacy. He said “not all the bridges are yet destroyed,” figuratively speaking.

Asked whether Russia would soon take full control of the besieged port city of Mariupol, Zelenskyy said: “Mariupol will never fall. I’m not talking about heroism or anything … There is nothing there to fall apart. It is already devastated.”

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BERLIN — Police in the German capital are bracing for possible confrontations between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters around the anniversary of the end of World War II.

Berlin police said Friday that security around 15 memorial sites across the city will be stepped up on May 8 and 9, and officers will crack down on any attempts to glorify Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The Russian government has tried to portray the leadership in Kyiv as ‘Nazis’ — a claim both Ukraine and Germany have ridiculed.

Berlin’s police chief Barbara Slowik said authorities have banned the use of Russian or Ukrainian flags, the playing of military music or the wearing of uniforms or the orange and black ribbon of St. George showing support for the Russian military anywhere near the memorial sites.

German news agency dpa quoted police saying that some 3,400 officers will be deployed throughout the city on both days.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — The president of Cyprus says he and the Greek prime minister agree that any additional European Union sanctions against Russia must be targeted and not chosen to “serve the interests” of some member states while leaving others in the lurch.

President Nicos Anastasiades said after talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens on Friday that the two leaders fully support EU sanctions against Russia and condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Anastasiades said he and Mitsotakis share the view that the 27-nation bloc must take into account the concerns of Greece, Malta and Cyprus regarding sanctions that could potentially harm their economies.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioanis Kasoulides told state broadcaster CyBC on Thursday that Cyprus objects to any sanctions that would impact law and accounting firms that offer services to Russian-owned companies registered in Cyprus.

Kasoulides said he believes the EU will move to impose additional sanctions on law and accounting firms servicing Russian-owned companies specifically registered in Russia.

He said an embargo on Russian oil and gas wouldn’t affect Cyprus which purchases its supplies from other countries but joins Malta in supporting Greece’s efforts to keep its sizeable oil tanker fleet off any sanctions list.

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ROME — The European Union’s foreign affairs chief has voiced worry that Russia might expand its war in Ukraine to include Moldova, a small nation that borders southern Ukraine.

Josep Borrell, the top EU diplomat, was asked at a forum in Florence, Italy, on Friday if the European Union was concerned about what could happen to Moldova.

“Yes, we’re very much worried about what can happen,’’ Borrell said. “The temptation to expand the war and affect Moldova is a possibility,’’ Borrell said.

He cited recent explosions in the country as well as the presence of Russian troops. Last month, two explosions in a radio facility close to the border with Ukraine knocked out of service a pair of powerful broadcast antennas in Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, according to local police.

Transnistria is a narrow strip of land that has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases some 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, describing them as peacekeepers.

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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.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The foreign ministers from the three Baltic countries have paid a visit to Kyiv Friday and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“This time we are also talking about the rebuilding, restoration and the EU candidate status for Ukraine,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted. “Blooming Kyiv reminds (us) that the country is ready for a bright future.”

Landsbergis was traveling with Edgars Rinkevics of Latvia and Estonia’s Eva-Maria Liimets. The latter posted a video on Twitter of them shaking hands with Zelenskyy.

Rinkevics wrote on Twitter that they also discussed “what the world, Europe and all us can learn from Ukraine.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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