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203d ago / 6:52 AM UTC

Russian forces around 15 miles from center of Kyiv, U.K. defense ministry says

Russian forces northwest of Ukraine's capital Kyiv were around 15 miles from the city center and fighting was continuing, the United Kingdom's defense ministry said Saturday.

The British assessment said that a larger Russian column north of the city had dispersed, which might be part of an attempt to encircle it. It could also be an attempt to reduce vulnerability to counterattacks, the ministry said.

Elsewhere, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained encircled and continue to be shelled by Russian forces, the U.K. said. 

202d ago / 5:42 AM UTC

202d ago / 5:33 AM UTC

Humanitarian aid expected to reach Mariupol on Sunday

Humanitarian aid that has been delayed in reaching the besieged southern port city of Mariupol is expected to arrive Sunday, Zelenskyy said. 

A night after the president said Russian troops did not allow the shipment of food, water and medicine into the city, he announced Saturday that the cargo was expected to arrive Sunday afternoon. 

"Due to the complexity of the route they had to spend the night in Berdyansk," Zelenskyy said in an English transcript of his video address. 

Russian forces have encircled Mariupol, and the city has been without food, water, heat and medical supplies for more than a week as it has endured heavy shelling, officials have said. 

202d ago / 3:30 AM UTC

Ukraine resident passes burnt cars while fleeing

A resident passes by cars burnt in the Russian shellfire in the town of Irpin as he flees on Saturday on the road toward Kyiv.

A resident passes by cars burnt in the Russian shellfire as he flees on Saturday, March 12, 2022, from his hometown on the road towards Kyiv, in the town of Irpin.
Efrem Lukatsky / AP
202d ago / 3:24 AM UTC

Britain to pay people $456 a month to house Ukraine refugees

Britain will pay people to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion as the government moves to deflect anger over its response to the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two.

The new scheme called "Homes for Ukraine" will let refugees from the war come to Britain even if they do not have family ties, the government said on Sunday.

Britain will pay people 350 pounds, or $456, a month if they can offer refugees a spare room or property for a minimum period of six months.

Under the new scheme, members of the public, charities, businesses and community groups should be able to offer accommodation via a web page by the end of next week, the government said.

"The UK stands behind Ukraine in their darkest hour and the British public understand the need to get as many people to safety as quickly as we can," Michael Gove, the minister for housing, said in a statement.

"I urge people across the country to join the national effort and offer support to our Ukrainian friends. Together we can give a safe home to those who so desperately need it."

Anyone offering a room or home will have to show that the accommodation meets standards and they may have to undergo criminal record checks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to portray Britain as helping lead the global response to the Russian invasion but his government has faced criticism over delays in accepting refugees.

Lawmakers from all the main political parties have attacked the government's insistence that Ukrainians seek visas and biometric tests before arriving in Britain, saying this prioritized bureaucracy over the welfare of those fleeing war.

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine could rise to more than 4 million, double the current estimates of about 2 million, the UN's Refugee Agency said last week.

202d ago / 2:35 AM UTC

Retired tennis pro Stakhovsky in Ukraine ‘with a gun in my hands’

Less than two months into retirement from his professional tennis career, Sergiy Stakhovsky left his wife and three young children in Hungary and went back to his birthplace to help however he could.

“I don’t have the words to describe it. I would never imagine in my life that it would come to this — that I would be in my home city ... with a gun in my hands,” Stakhovsky, 36, said Saturday during a video interview with The Associated Press from what he said was a residential building in Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

“A lot of people are saying that they’re waking up and hoping ... it was just a bad dream. But, you know, on Day 16, (that) doesn’t work anymore,” he said. 

Stakhovsky turned pro in 2003 and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history when he ended Roger Federer’s record streak of 36 consecutive major quarterfinal appearances by beating him in the second round at Wimbledon in 2013. He walked away from the sport in January after losing in the first round of qualifying for the Australian Open.

On Feb. 24, Russia began attacking Ukraine. In the wee hours of Feb. 28, Stakhovsky arrived in Kyiv.

“You’re one second safe. The next second, something flies in, and no one is safe,” he said.

He said he still has family who live, and have remained, in Kyiv, including his grandmother, father and a brother.

As for how long he will stay, he isn’t sure.

“It’s tough to call with kids, because every time they ask, ‘When are you coming?’ or ‘What are you doing?’ I’m just, ‘I don’t know, honestly.’ For me, it’s not a right decision to be here and it was not the right decision to stay home. Any of this is not right,” Stakhovsky said. “But I am here because I believe that the future of my country — and the future of my kids, and the future of Europe as we know it — is under great danger. And if there’s anything I can do to change the outcome, I will try to do it.”

202d ago / 1:34 AM UTC

'Do more for Ukraine, for Ukrainians,' Zelenskyy asks partners

A defiant Zelenskyy again requested enhanced response and support from the West for Ukraine as Russian attacks continue across the embattled country. 

"On every occasion, I constantly repeat to our friends and partners abroad that they should do more for Ukraine, for Ukrainians," Zelenskyy said in the English transcript of remarks he made on Telegram. "Because it is not only for Ukraine. This is for everyone in Europe."

Earlier Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized the State Department to provide an additional $200 million in military aid to Ukraine in its defense against a Russian takeover. Zelenskyy was repeatedly asked Ukraine's partners to create a no-fly zone to "close the sky" over the country. 

Russian troops encircled the capital and were closer to the center of Kyiv on Saturday as fighting and shelling intensified, making the humanitarian response to those in need of care, shelter or help fleeing a more difficult job, officials said. 

Ukrainian officials continued to try to evacuate civilians who are just outside the city. While Russia has said it is not targeting civilians, the U.N. Human Rights office has said at least 579 civilians have been killed, including 42 children, as of Friday. Another 1,002 civilians were injured, the agency said. 

Zelenskyy warned about what he describes as a ruthless government that could continue its destruction beyond Ukraine if unchecked. 

"Evil that purposefully bombs peaceful cities, evil that fires even at ambulances and blows up hospitals will not be able to stop at one country — If it has the strength to go further," Zelenskyy said. 

It's unclear whether Putin's appetite for expansion would extend beyond Ukraine, should the country fall into Russian hands.

Closing out his remarks, Zelenskyy awarded eight members of his military with government recognition that includes the designation of Hero of Ukraine. Six of the eight were recognized posthumously.

202d ago / 1:29 AM UTC

202d ago / 12:56 AM UTC

Trump shifts tone, says Putin must negotiate peace or face 'blistering consequences'

Former President Donald Trump, who has stood apart from most American politicians by refusing to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, shifted his message a little during a political rally in Florence, S.C., Saturday night.

While Trump praised Putin again — “a man who is driven” — and continued to blame President Joe Biden for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he inched closer to suggesting Putin is in the wrong.

“The U.S. must make clear to Putin that he has two choices: to negotiate peace right now or else face blistering consequences,” Trump said, contending that could include a long-term ban on Russian energy.

The U.S. and its Western allies have imposed a series of harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia in recent weeks that do not have end dates.

“It happens to be a man that is just driven, he’s driven to put it together,” Trump said of Putin. “If he respected our president, it never ever would have happened.”

202d ago / 11:45 PM UTC

State Department authorizes $200 million in additional security assistance to Ukraine

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The United States will provide up to $200 million in additional military assistance to aid Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday.

In a written statement, Blinken said he authorized the fourth presidential drawdown package, which will include further defensive assistance to meet "armored, airborne and other threats."

The funding will include additional anti-armor and air defense weapons, according to a White House official.

President Joe Biden had authorized the State Department to provide the additional funding.

The latest aid package brings the total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to more than $1.2 billion, Blinken said. 

"We salute the armed forces of Ukraine and all Ukrainian citizens who are defending their country with great skill, iron will, and profound courage," Blinken said. "America and its Allies support their efforts to defend their country and protect their fellow citizens, and urge Russia to recognize that force will never defeat Ukraine’s spirit."

He added that the U.S. is committed to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and will continue to provide support, including humanitarian assistance. 

202d ago / 9:45 PM UTC

U.S. senators arrive in Poland to visit refugee sites, meet with officials

U.S. senators Roger Wicker, Rob Portman, Richard Blumenthal and Amy Klobuchar arrived in Poland on Saturday to meet with senior government officials and to visit refugee sites "to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to Poland, Ukraine, and other allies," according to a news release

Wicker said in a statement that he was glad to visit Poland as the delegation works to stop Putin. 

"Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine has threatened to plunge Europe into the deadliest conflict since 1945,” said Wicker, R-Miss. "I also look forward to meeting with senior Polish officials to find new avenues for cooperation in supporting our brave Ukrainian friends.”

Portman, R-Ohio, said the trip to Poland was important while Blumenthal, D-Conn., said it will give them a first-hand look at the "heartbreaking, exploding humanitarian crisis" and how the U.S. can help. 

"I’ll be bringing a message of strong solidarity and support from Connecticut’s people — particularly from our Ukrainian-American community — and I’ll be learning how best we can help," Blumenthal said. "The Ukrainian people are inspiring the world in their bold, brave fight for freedom." 

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle with our friend and ally Poland,” added Klobuchar, D-Minn. "We will make clear our commitment to stand with the Ukrainian and Polish people against Vladimir Putin.”

202d ago / 9:00 PM UTC

Sweden foreign minister dismisses new warnings from Russia on joining NATO

HELSINKI — Sweden’s foreign minister is dismissing fresh warnings from Russia that the Nordic country’s joining NATO would lead to retaliatory measures from Moscow.

Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish news agency TT on Saturday that “Russia has nothing to do with our independent decisions,” referring to the Stockholm’s possible move to join NATO.

Russia’s Interfax news agency on Saturday quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry official saying the possible accession of Sweden and neighboring Finland to NATO would have serious military and political consequences.

Sergei Belyayev, the head of department for Nordic countries at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said such a situation would require Russia to take “retaliatory measures” but didn’t specify what those measures could include.

He accused some NATO members, particularly the United States, of deliberately trying to drag the the two non-aligned Nordic countries into the military bloc.

Moscow has repeatedly warned both Finland and Sweden that their possible joining NATO would be seen as a hostile act from Moscow. Both countries have brushed off those warnings.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, polls in both Finland and Sweden have shown a substantially increased support for NATO membership.