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Thursday September 29th, 2022 6:24AM

Live updates | UN top rights body to hold session on Ukraine

By The Associated Press
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GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body will hold a special session this week following a request from Ukraine to discuss the worsening human rights situation in the country “stemming from the Russian aggression.”

The 47-member Human Rights Council said more than one-third of member states, the required minimum, backed the call that will pave the way for Thursday’s session at the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva.

Supporters included many Western countries, as well as Gambia, Marshall Islands and Mexico. A total of 55 countries, including observer states, backed the call, but the list could grow.

The council also held an “urgent dialogue” during its last session to discuss Ukraine just days after the Feb. 24 invasion by Russian forces.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia pounds Odesa as civilian bodies uncovered elsewhere

— Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week

— Biden signs Ukraine bill, seeks $40B aid, in Putin rejoinder

— German minister: Civilian killings demand accountability

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

KYIV, Ukraine — The governor of the eastern Luhansk region on Tuesday rejected Russia’s claims its forces have breached Ukrainian defenses near the city of Popasna and moved the region’s administrative borders.

In a Telegram post, Serhiy Haidai described the claim as “fantasies.” He insists that “the defense is strong. There are no breakthroughs.”

Moscow considers the eastern Ukrainian region a sovereign state.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s foreign minister is suggesting that Kyiv’s goals in fighting the Russian invasion have expanded.

In an interview with The Financial Times published Tuesday, Dmytro Kuleba said “the picture of victory is an evolving concept.”

“In the first months of the war, the victory for us looked like withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they occupied before Feb. 24 and payment for inflicted damage,” Kuleba said.

“Now, if we are strong enough on the military front and we win the battle for Donbas, which will be crucial for the following dynamics of the war, of course the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories,” the minister said.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the latest package of European Union sanctions against Russia, particularly highlighting a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil.

Zelenskyy told lawmakers in Slovakia’s Parliament on Tuesday that he understands Slovakia is not able to immediately replace Russian oil but stressed it is important to do so, calling it a price to be paid for freedom.

Slovakia, which is fully dependent of Russian oil, supports the sanctions but has asked for a three-year exemption from the ban until its key refinery Slovnaft makes technological changes needed to process other than Russia’s heavy oil.

Speaking through a translator, Zelenskyy also thanked Slovakia for its help in supplying his country’s military with the arms it needs. Acting at his request, Slovakia gave Ukraine its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say around 100 civilians still remain trapped at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol despite earlier reports that all have been evacuated.

Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks on Tuesday those left behind are the civilians that “the Russians have not selected.”

“How and based on what criteria they take people out (of the plant) is something only the occupiers know,” Kyrylenko said. He explained that everyone in Mariupol “de-facto is held hostage by the Russians, and the occupiers take advantage of it, constantly changing the conditions of the evacuation.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Petro Andryushchenko, an advisor to the Mariupol mayor, also said civilians are still trapped at the Azovstal mill that is the last pocket of resistance in the embattled port city.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the two officials knew about the remaining civilians at the Azovstal plant and the fighters still there were yet to confirm this.

Hundreds of civilians had sheltered at the plant. Scores of them have been evacuated in recent days in a joint effort by Ukrainian authorities, the Russian military, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that all women, children and elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal.

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BRUSSELS — A video conference focusing on a potential European Union ban on oil imports from Russia that was set to take place Tuesday has been postponed to a later date as Hungary continues to block the proposal.

EU commission officials did not give any reason for the postponement. The meeting was set to involve EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders from countries neighboring Hungary.

To further sanction Russia for its war in Ukraine, Von der Leyen has proposed having the 27 EU member nations phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year. But Hungary says it won’t vote for the proposed sanctions, saying they would have the effect of an “atomic bomb” on its economy and destroy its “stable energy supply.”

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MOSCOW — The Russian military on Tuesday reported breaching Ukrainian defenses near the city of Popasna in the Luhansk region and moved to the administrative border of the region, which Moscow considers a sovereign state.

Spokesman of Russia’s Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov said Tuesday that the breakthrough happened after “clearing Popasna from the nationalists was completed.”

Officials of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic claimed that their forces and the Russian troops seized most of Popasna on Sunday. That same day, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai admitted that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from the city.

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BUCHA, Ukraine — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pledged Tuesday that the international community would hold to account those responsible for the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

Speaking during a visit to the town on the outskirts of Kyiv, Baerbock said that “the worst crimes imaginable” had been perpetrated in Bucha during the Russian occupation.

Witnesses have told how Russian soldiers targeted civilians seemingly at random, leaving their bodies lying on the street.

“We owe it to the victims that we don’t just commemorate them here but that we hold the perpetrators to account,” said Baerbock. “And we as the international community will do this. That’s the promise we can and must make here in Bucha.”

Baerbock is the first member of the German government to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in late February.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are scheduled to talk about a potential European Union ban on oil imports from Russia, according to Macron’s office.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen will also attend the meeting, which is taking place by video conference on Tuesday. France currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

To further sanction Russia for its war in Ukraine, Von der Leyen has proposed having the 27 EU member nations phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

Hungary says it won’t vote for the proposed sanctions, saying they would have the effect of an “atomic bomb” on its economy and destroy its “stable energy supply.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — The secretary-general of the United Nations has met with Moldova’s president as Russia’s war on neighboring Ukraine has seen tensions rise in a breakaway region of Moldova.

A statement issued after the meeting said U.N. chief António Guterres offered President Maia Sandu “his support for the full respect for Moldova’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Mysterious explosions have struck Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region, raising concerns about the war in Ukraine spreading into a western front as Russia targets the Ukrainian city of Odesa with missiles.

Transnistria hosts some 1,500 Russian troops and other forces.

Pro-Russian forces broke off the border section from Moldova in 1992, and Russian troops have been stationed there since, ostensibly as peacekeepers.

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LVIV, Ukraine -- The Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, one of several Ukrainian units holed up at a Mariupol steel plant, says Russian war planes targeted the sprawling plant 34 times over the past 24 hours.

The regiment said in an online statement Tuesday that the Russians continue pounding the besieged Azovstal steel mill with naval and barrel artillery while using tanks and other weapons in “attempts to seize the Ukrainian fortress.”

Attempts to storm the plant with the support of the infantry continue daily, the statement added.

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BRUSSELS — The head of the European Investment Bank says Ukraine is currently “sitting on 8 billion euros worth of wheat” it can’t export because of the war and its lost access to the Black Sea.

Speaking during a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on Tuesday, Werner Hoyer said unblocking Ukraine’s seaports is crucial to fix the war-torn country’s trade crisis.

“They are sowing like crazy right now, and they will expect probably a good harvest, maybe 70% of last year’s harvest in a couple of months,” Hoyer said. “And then what to do with it?"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked his allies to take immediate measures to unlock Ukrainian ports for wheat exports.

Hoyer also looked at Ukraine’s reconstruction once the war started by Russia ends, saying it “is going to be a huge challenge" that costs trillions of euros.

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un reiterated his support for Russia’s efforts to defend its “dignity” against “hostile forces” in a congratulatory message sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin over an anniversary marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany.

North Korean state media said Kim in Monday’s message praised Russia’s victory in the “great war of justice to destroy fascism,” an apparent reference to World War II, and expressed hope that the countries would further develop their “strategic and traditional relations of friendship.”

The report by the Korean Central News Agency didn’t include any specific mention of Russia’s war on Ukraine. But it said Kim confirmed North Korea’s “firm solidarity” with Russia over its campaign to “root out the political and military threat and blackmail by the hostile forces and safeguard the country’s dignity.”

North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States over the crisis in Ukraine, claiming that the “hegemonic policy” of the U.S.-led West is threatening global peace and stability.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has left the U.N. Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed, has also created a favorable environment for Kim to push forward his weapons development as he tries to cement the North’s status as a nuclear power and negotiate a removal of crippling U.S.-led sanctions from a position of strength. North Korea has so far conducted 15 rounds of missile tests in 2022 alone.

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LVIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian official says authorities have found the bodies of 44 civilians in the rubble of a building destroyed by Russia in March.

Oleh Synehubov, the head of Kharkiv’s regional administration, made the announcement Tuesday via a message on social media. He said the five-story building had collapsed with the civilians inside.

He said, “This is another horrible war crime of the Russian occupiers against the civilian population!”

Synehubov did not identify specifically where the building was.

Russia has been holding Izyum, an eastern Ukrainian city in the Kharkiv region, as a key frontline node.

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