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The United States pressed allies to further ramp up military support for Ukraine on Tuesday, with the clash between the West and the Kremlin once again entering the spotlight after Russia warned of the "real" danger of World War III.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged to “move heaven and earth” to help Kyiv win the war as he opened a meeting of NATO defense officials at a U.S. air base in Germany.
Meanwhile, officials in Poland and Bulgaria said Russia is suspending natural gas deliveries starting Wednesday, which would be the first since Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded payment in rubles instead of dollars and euros.
Putin was reported to have agreed "in principle” to United Nations and Red Cross involvement in any evacuation of civilians out of a besieged steel plant in Mariupol, but more discussions will be held, the world body said.
Moscow’s top diplomat warned that the threat of nuclear war “should not be underestimated” and said Western weapons shipments were legitimate targets, accusing NATO of having effectively “entered into a war with Russia through proxies.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest rhetorical escalation underscored the stakes as Ukraine’s allies rush to send heavy weapons and equipment to battle Moscow’s new offensive in the country’s east and south.
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Russia does not control skies, attacks on Mariupol are unguided bombs, U.K. says
Russia’s military does not control most of the airspace over Ukraine and the airstrikes it is conducting in Mariupol likely involved unguided free-falling bombs, the United Kingdom's defense ministry said Wednesday.
“These weapons reduce Russia’s ability to effectively discriminate when conducting strikes, increasing the risk of civilian casualties,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.
The statement said the U.K. assesses Ukrainian forces pose a threat to Russian aircraft, but the ministry did not go into greater detail.
The United States and the U.K. have announced pledges to send weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, to Ukraine.
Russia has also launched more than 1,600 missiles against Ukraine since it attacked and invaded Feb. 24, a U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday.
International Atomic Energy Agency team to assess, make repairs at Chernobyl
A team from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday to assess the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and make repairs following its seizure and occupation by Russian troops, officials said.
Russia’s military seized Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, on the first day of its Feb. 24 attack and invasion of Ukraine. They held it for around five weeks before withdrawing in late March.
“The IAEA will continue to support Ukraine,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said, according to a statement.
The team will repair remote data control systems which were disabled, will make assessments at the site and will deliver protective equipment, the IAEA said.
Tuesday marked the 36th anniversary of the April 26, 1986, disaster at a reactor at the now-decommissioned nuclear power plant. It is surrounded by a large exclusion zone, and the site requires radiological monitoring by workers.
Grossi told a news conference that he saw some of the excavations dug in the vicinity of the plant. “It is visible that there is damage, and we are assessing that because our job is to give precise information,” Grossi said.
Chinese drone maker DJI suspends sales in Russia, Ukraine
Chinese drone maker DJI says it is temporarily suspending all sales in Russia and Ukraine to make sure that its devices are not being used in combat or for military purposes.
DJI in a statement Tuesday said that it was pausing sales “in light of current hostilities.”
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News, but told the news agency Reuters that it was suspending sales "to help ensure no-one uses our drones in combat.”
It was not clear if DJI had any information that its drones have been used for military purposes.
The drone maker has said that it abhors any attempt to use its drones to cause harm, that it does not market or sell them for military use and does not allow its business partners to do so.
DJI, headquartered in Shenzhen, is the biggest maker of consumer and commercial drones in the world.
U.S. embassy staffers travel to Ukraine ahead of Kyiv return
U.S. embassy staff members traveled from Poland to Ukraine on Tuesday as the State Department prepares to resume operations in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
The U.S. evacuated staff members from Kyiv ahead of Russia’s Feb. 24 attack and invasion. U.S. staff members have been in Poland. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier Tuesday that U.S diplomats would return this week and would first be based out of Lviv.
The embassy tweeted that Tuesday's trip was "a first step ahead of more regular travel in the immediate future." The deputy chief of mission and members of the embassy team traveled to Lviv, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The Jack Russell terrier detecting bombs in UkraineApril 26, 202201:29
U.S. announces $10M reward, wants info on 6 Russians in 2017 cyberattack
The U.S. announced a $10 million reward Tuesday for information about six Russian officials accused in a 2017 cyberattack that infected computers worldwide.
The six officers of Russia’s intelligence service were charged criminally in absentia in the U.S. in 2020 in connection with the 2017 NotPetya malware attack.
The attack has been called the most destructive and costly in history. It caused almost $1 billion in damage to three U.S. companies, including a Pennsylvania hospital system, alone, according to the Justice Department.
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions in 2018 over the cyberattack.
The State Department said in announcing the reward Tuesday that all six officers work for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, or GRU. The six were also indicted in the U.S. in connection with cyberattacks that caused blackouts in Ukraine.
Putin reportedly agrees ‘in principle’ to U.N., Red Cross role in evacuation of Mariupol steel plant
Russian President Vladimir Putin “agreed, in principle,” to the involvement of the United Nations and the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from a steel plant in Mariupol, according to the U.N.
A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that Guterres and Putin met Tuesday in Moscow and that Mariupol was discussed.
Putin “agreed, in principle, to the involvement of the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol,” a statement about the discussions released by the U.N. said.
"Follow-on discussions will be had with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Russian Defence Ministry," it said.
Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. City officials on Tuesday put the number of civilians sheltering there at 2,000.
Putin last week declared victory in Mariupol and ordered Russian troops not to storm the steel plant. But Russia has been shelling it and attacking it from the air, Ukrainian officials have said. NBC News cannot independently verify the claim. Mariupol’s mayor called it a humanitarian catastrophe.
A U.S. Defense Department official said Sunday that the U.S. still considers Mariupol to be contested and that Ukrainians are still there resisting.
President Zelenskyy brings cheer, and iPads, to hospitalized childrenApril 26, 202201:37
Russia suspending gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria
WARSAW, Poland — Officials in Poland and Bulgaria say Russia is suspending their countries’ natural gas deliveries starting Wednesday.
The governments of the two European countries said Tuesday that Russian energy giant Gazprom informed them it was halting gas supplies.
The suspensions would be the first since Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that “unfriendly” foreign buyers would have to pay the state-owned Gazprom in rubles instead of other currencies.
Europe imports large amounts of Russian natural gas to heat homes, generate electricity and fuel industry. The imports have continued despite the war in Ukraine. Putin’s demand was apparently intended to help bolster the Russian currency amid the war in Ukraine.
Blinken: 'Russia has failed' in what it set out to do in Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that "Russia has failed" in its mission to eliminate Ukrainian sovereignty.
Blinken said that he is not predicting a scenario in which Ukraine loses its sovereignty and that the country and its allies are looking toward long-term sustainability in self-defense.
"It’s important to try to make sure that when that is accomplished, Russia is not in a position to repeat this exercise next month, next year or in five years," Blinken said.
U.N. chief visits Putin on Ukraine peace missionApril 26, 202201:25
Blinken says U.S. diplomats in Lviv will evaluate whether to reopen embassy in Kyiv
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that U.S. diplomats are returning to Ukraine this week and will first be based out of the western city of Lviv.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Biden administration’s 2023 budget request, Blinken said U.S. diplomats will evaluate from Lviv whether it’s safe to reopen the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Kyiv. He suggested that it is very possible the U.S. would make such a move.
Speaking about his trip to Ukraine, he said: “In Kyiv, we saw the signs of a vibrant city coming back to life, people eating outside, sitting on benches, strolling. It was right in front of us. The Ukrainians have won the battle for Kyiv.”
Blinken also confirmed that Congress should expect a supplemental funding request for additional aid to Ukraine.
Austin announces 'contact group' for U.S., allies to discuss Ukraine strategy
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Tuesday that the U.S. and its European allies have formed a “contact group” that will meet monthly to discuss the strategy for Ukraine to defeat Russia.
Austin made the announcement in remarks at Ramstein Air Base in Germany during a conference with 40 other countries to discuss aid to Ukraine.
“We have to move at the speed of war,” he said. “We’re here to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unjust invasion and to build up Ukraine’s defenses for tomorrow’s challenges. ... Ukraine clearly believes that it can win. And so does everyone here.”
Austin said that Germany’s decision to send 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine is “significant” and that he expects Ukraine to eventually apply for NATO membership.
Russia to expel several Swedish diplomats
Sweden’s foreign minister has decried as “unjustified and disproportionate” a decision by Russian authorities to expel several Swedish diplomats.
Ann Linde vowed in a social media post that Sweden would respond “appropriately” to the expulsions of four Swedish diplomats, which Moscow announced Tuesday. Separately, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said three diplomats “from the Swedish Embassy in Russia” would be expelled.
Swedish news agency TT reported that three of the diplomats were based in Moscow, where the embassy is located, and that one was in St. Petersburg.
Linde wrote on Twitter: “By expelling Western diplomats, Russia is isolating itself internationally.”
Russia has generally sought to keep expulsions symmetrical to moves by European countries to kick out Russian diplomats over President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Sweden expelled three Russian diplomats this month.
Russian forces hit key bridge in Ukraine
Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has hit a strategic bridge linking the southern Odesa region with neighboring Romania.
Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, said the bridge across the Dniester Estuary where the Dniester River flows into the Black Sea was damaged in Tuesday’s missile attack by Russian forces. He said there were no injuries.
The strike has cut off the railway connection to areas of the Odesa region west of the estuary and Romania.
It comes after last week’s claim by a senior Russian military officer that Russia aims to take control of the entire south of Ukraine and build a land corridor to the separatist Transnistria region of Moldova, where tensions have escalated in recent days amid fears Moscow may be engineering a pretext for military action there.
Ukrainian refugees confront increase in pregnancy complications
WARSAW, Poland — Viktoria Pohrebna knew her pregnancy with twins was high risk. She went to regular doctor appointments, carefully managed her stress level and crafted a detailed birth plan so she would be ready for any scenario.
But when Russia invaded Ukraine, Pohrebna was forced to decide whether to stay in Kyiv and risk giving birth in a bomb shelter with limited access to doctors and medical supplies or leave her husband and home behind to deliver the babies safely in another country.
While no data is available yet, doctors in Poland say they are seeing higher rates of pregnancy complications, premature births and stillbirths among Ukrainian refugees due to severe physical and emotional stress and prolonged periods of limited access to health care.
Defense Secretary Austin shares update from U.S.-led meeting in Germany
Ukrainian officials report more civilian deaths as Russia attacks east
Ukrainian officials are reporting more civilian deaths in various parts of eastern Ukraine as Russian forces step up attacks.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said three people died after Russian shells hit a residential building in the city of Popasna, which Russian forces have been trying to capture. Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko of the neighboring Donetsk region said two people were killed and six others wounded in his region, writing on social media that “Russians continue to deliberately fire at civilians and to destroy critical infrastructure.”
To the north in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the regional governor, Oleh Synehubov, said shelling of civilian areas killed three people and wounded seven more. And further south, regional authorities in Zaporizhzhia said a missile strike killed at least one person and wounded another. Russian forces fired several missiles targeting one of the factories in the city, they said.
NBC News has not verified the number of people killed.
Refugees flee to Moldova, where Russia’s shadow looms large
No country has taken more refugees per capita than Moldova, where people have opened their homes to Ukrainians.
But the country faces challenges, including growing Russian pressure.
Moldova is small, poor and terribly vulnerable to a hostile Kremlin. Now it is also struggling to shelter its swelling refugee population.
Turkey suggests talks between Ukrainian and Russian leaders
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed talks between Ukraine and Russia’s leaders in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Erdogan’s office.
During the call, Erdogan mentioned the importance of a cease-fire, humanitarian corridors and safe evacuations, according to the statement. Turkey “would continue to make every effort to bring an end to the current state of affairs, which harms everyone, and to establish lasting peace,” the statement said.
The Kremlin said that the two leaders also spoke about the situation in the southern city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces in the Azovstal steel plant are holding out against Russian forces. Putin urged the soldiers to surrender, the readout said.
Moldova convenes security officials after explosions in separatist region
Moldovan President Maia Sandu convened an urgent security council meeting after two blasts damaged radio transmitters in the breakaway region of Transnistria
Sandu is set to hold a news conference later this morning, according to a statement on Moldovan government's website. Tuesday’s explosions came just a day after several blasts were also reported near the Ministry of State Security in the city of Tiraspol, the region’s capital.
The Moldovan authorities are sensitive to any sign of growing tensions in Transnistria, an unrecognized Moscow-backed sliver of land bordering southwestern Ukraine. Russia has troops permanently based there, which Kyiv fears could be used as a launchpad for further attacks.
More than 8 million expected to flee Ukraine by year end, U.N. says
The United Nations refugee agency expects there to be 8.3 million refugees from Ukraine by the end of the year, it said as it launched an appeal for funds for the crisis.
The war has uprooted more than 12.7 million people in the past two months, according to the agency. More than 5 million have fled across the border while 7.7 million remained displaced inside Ukraine.
“Until we see an end to this war, humanitarian needs will continue to grow and displacement will not cease,” U.N. refugee agency spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said, according to a press release. The agency’s response plan would help refugees who have fled to neighboring countries including Hungary, Moldova, Poland and others.
Animals left behind in Kyiv
U.N. chief says he wants to discuss cease-fire during Moscow visit
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hopes to explore the conditions needed for a cease-fire in Ukraine during a visit to Moscow on Tuesday where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Guterres is also scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later in the day and will visit Kyiv later this week. It is the highest-profile peace mission to Russia since the war began, and a trip that has been criticized by Ukrainian officials.
“We are extremely interested in finding ways in order to create conditions for effective dialogue, create conditions for a cease-fire as soon as possible, create conditions for a peaceful solution,” Guterres said in a news conference with Lavrov.
U.N. secretary-general urges Russia to commit to cease-fire in UkraineApril 26, 202205:11
Return to Hostomel
U.S., allies will move 'heaven and earth' to meet Ukraine's defense needs, Defense Secretary Austin says
Ukraine’s allies will move "heaven and earth" to meet the country's needs as it wages its defense against Russia’s invasion, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Tuesday as he opened a meeting of NATO defense officials in Germany.
Austin said the goal of the conference, also attended by Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, was to get a better understanding of Ukraine’s defense needs so the U.S. and its allies could move “heaven and earth so that we can meet them.”
"Your resistance has brought inspiration to the free world and even greater results," he said, adding that it will “go down in military history."
'Ukraine can win war': U.S. Defense Secretary Austin meets allies in GermanyApril 26, 202204:26
Germany to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft tanks
Germany’s defense minister says her country will enable the delivery of self-propelled armored anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht made the announcement at the U.S.-hosted meeting on arming Ukraine at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, according to the text of her remarks Tuesday provided by her ministry.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced mounting pressure, including from within his governing coalition, to approve the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. Germany decided on Monday to clear the delivery of the Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, Lambrecht said, without providing details.
Ukrainian women sweep for mines
2 explosions hit Moldovan separatist region near Ukraine border
Police in the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria say two explosions Tuesday morning in a radio facility close to the Ukrainian border knocked two powerful antennas out of service.
The incident occurred in a small town roughly 7 miles west of the border with Ukraine, according to the region’s interior ministry. It comes just a day after several explosions believed to be caused by rocket-propelled grenades were reported to hit the ministry of state security in the city of Tiraspol, the region’s capital. No one was hurt in the explosions, officials said.
Transnistria, a strip of land with about 470,000 people between Moldova and Ukraine, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops there nominally as peacekeepers, but concerns are high that it could try to stage a false-flag accusation before escalating its involvement.
U.K. army minister dismisses Russian warnings of nuclear war
British armed forces minister James Heappey has dismissed warnings by Russia about the dangers of World War III as "bravado," calling the chance of nuclear war “vanishingly small.”
He made the comments in an interview on BBC Radio 4, according to the Press Association. Heappey also said it was “entirely legitimate” for Ukraine to go after military targets in Russia to disrupt its logistics and supply lines.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had warned that Western weapons supplies to Ukraine were legitimate targets and that NATO's involvement was "pouring oil on the fire" of the war.
U.S. kicks off defense meeting with NATO allies in Germany
A mock grave for Putin in Zaporizhzhia
Russian forces take over city council in occupied Kherson, remove Ukrainian flag
Ukraine’s flag has been removed from the city council in the occupied southern city of Kherson after Russian forces took control of the building.
“During the two months of occupation, the city council remained one of the local authorities operating under the yellow and blue flag,” Kherson Regional State Administration head Hennadii Lahuta said in a post on Telegram early Tuesday. “We will never accept any tricolors or Soviet flags, because Ukraine is in our hearts.”
Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces early in the war and its residents took to the streets in protest against the occupation. That dissent was soon quashed by Russia’s military. The change of flag comes after warnings by the U.K. military that Russia was planning a “staged referendum” in the city “aimed at justifying its occupation.”
Ukraine says Russia's World War III warning shows it 'senses defeat'
Odesa residents leave flowers for victims of missile strike
Residents of the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa have left flowers to pay their respects to the victims of a missile strike on a residential building over the weekend. Among the dead was a 3-month-old girl.
Russian foreign minister warns the West not to underestimate the risk of nuclear conflict
Russia's top diplomat has warned that the threat of World War III is "real" and urged the West not to underestimate the risk of the Ukraine war escalating into a nuclear conflict.
“Everyone is reciting incantations that in no case can we allow World War III,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a wide-ranging interview on Russian television. He accused Ukrainian leaders of provoking Russia by asking NATO to become involved in the conflict.
By providing Kyiv with weapons, Western countries are “pouring oil on the fire,” he said, according to a transcript on the Russian foreign ministry’s website. Lavrov said the weapons shipments “will be a legitimate target,” adding that Russian forces had already targeted weapons warehouses in western Ukraine.
Regarding the possibility of a nuclear confrontation, Lavrov said: “I would not want to see these risks artificially inflated now, when the risks are rather significant.”
“The danger is serious,” he added. “It is real. It should not be underestimated."
Scars of shelling in eastern Ukraine
Ukraine apologizes for linking Japanese emperor to Hitler
The Ukrainian government has apologized for showing a picture of Emperor Hirohito, Japan’s ruler during World War II, alongside those of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in an online video about the fight against fascism.
“Our sincere apologies for making a mistake in the previous version of the video. We had no intention to offend the friendly people of Japan,” a government Twitter account said in a post on Sunday. It added that it had posted a new version of the video without a picture of the emperor, who has been referred to in Japan as Emperor Showa since his death in 1989.
Yoshihiko Isozaki, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, said Tokyo had lodged a protest over the original video. “Portraying Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Showa in the same context is completely inappropriate,” The Associated Press quoted Isozaki as saying. “It was extremely regrettable.”
He said the video would not affect Japan’s strong support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion, which has included extensive economic sanctions, the provision of nonlethal military aid and the acceptance of Ukrainian refugees.