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Russia has opened a long-anticipated new phase of the war in Ukraine, launching its eastern offensive in a bid to seize the country's industrial heartland.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed the move Tuesday, saying the Kremlin's goal was to achieve the “full liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics,” which together make up the Donbas region.
The full-scale assault on Ukraine's east came as the last fighters in Mariupol, the besieged port city that is crucial to Moscow's goals, continued to hold out despite a new Russian deadline to surrender.
It also followed Russian strikes across the country, hitting supply lines and military infrastructure and killing at least seven people in the western city of Lviv.
The United States is expected to announce another package of military aid, which is expected to be similar in size to the $800 million one the administration announced last week, multiple officials said.
While Russia has faced increasing isolation and sanctions, China has highlighted the strong relationship between the two countries. In a meeting Monday, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said China would continue to strengthen its “strategic coordination” with Russia, regardless of how the "international landscape may change."
Ukraine says direct contact restored with Chernobyl
Ukraine’s nuclear regulator says it has resumed direct communication with the Chernobyl power plant after Russian forces seized the site and held it for five weeks, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
The director of the international agency called the re-establishment of phone communication an important step.
Russian forces seized Chernobyl, which was the site of a deadly 1986 nuclear disaster, on the first day of the Feb. 24 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and they held it until they withdrew from the plant March 31, officials said.
Staff members were prevented from rotating for weeks during the occupation. There are radioactive waste management facilities at the site, and the damaged reactor is surrounded by a large exclusion zone.
Ukraine’s regulator said that it lost contact with the site March 10 but that it continued to be informed by senior off-site management, the IAEA said.
"This was clearly not a sustainable situation, and it is very good news that the regulator can now contact the plant directly when it needs to," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement Tuesday.
China says it will continue to increase strategic ties with Russia
China will continue to improve “strategic coordination” with Russia, its foreign ministry said Tuesday, highlighting the strong relationship between the two countries even as Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly isolated on the world stage.
Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng made the remarks during a meeting in Beijing on Monday with Andrey Ivanovich Denisov, the Russian ambassador to China, a ministry statement said. Le said the almost 30 percent increase in trade between the two countries in the first quarter of this year demonstrated the “great resilience” of their cooperation.
“No matter how the international landscape may change, China will continue to strengthen strategic coordination with Russia for win-win cooperation, jointly safeguard the common interests of the two countries and promote the building of a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind,” the statement said.
It added that Denisov said Russia considered its relationship with China a “diplomatic priority.”
China, which issued a joint statement with Russia hailing its “no limits” relationship shortly before Putin invaded Ukraine in February, has called for a peaceful solution but refrained from condemning the attack.
Canada set to send heavy artillery to Ukraine
OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will send heavy artillery to Ukraine.
Trudeau said he has been in close contact with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and that Canada is very responsive to what Ukraine needs. He said there will be more details about the pledge in the days to come and that Ukrainians have “fought like heroes.”
Canada’s government has also hit 14 more Russians with sanctions for their close ties with President Vladimir Putin, including his two adult daughters.
Zelenskyy says Russian attacks in east ‘increased significantly,’ calls for no delay in aid
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday that Russian attacks in the east have increased significantly and asked that there be no delay in military aid.
“The intensity of fire of the Russian forces in Kharkiv direction, in Donbas, in Dnipropetrovsk oblast increased significantly,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.
Zelenskyy also said that “the situation in Mariupol remains, without changes, tough.” The city has been besieged and devastated by what Ukrainian and officials in other countries have said are indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces.
Zelenskyy accused Russia of blocking efforts to organize humanitarian corridors or to otherwise help the people trapped there.
U.K.: Russian shelling, attempted advances increase in the Donbas
Russian forces have increased shelling and strikes in the Donbas line of control in Ukraine’s east, and Ukrainian forces have repelled several attempted advances, the British Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
The United Kingdom reported the increased activity as Russian forces are reportedly mounting a new offensive effort in the Donbas area.
“Russia’s ability to progress continues to be impacted by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges that have beset them so far, combined with the resilience of the highly-motivated Ukrainian armed forces,” the Defense Ministry tweeted in an intelligence update.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the long-anticipated offensive by Russia has begun.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Tuesday that its war in Ukraine “entered another phase” and that the aim was what he called the “Donetsk and Luhansk republics,” which make up the Donbas.
Ukraine zoo workers who stayed at park to feed animals are found dead
Two employees who stayed at a zoo in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to feed animals but disappeared early last month were found dead Monday, according to a video posted on Feldman Ecopark's Facebook page.
Another zoo worker made the announcement in the video.
“War brings bad news," a caption on the video read.
"When the war started, they stayed in the Ecopark and helped feed the animals. When we came to the Ecopark on March 7, we did not find them there. We searched for them for a long time, connected with law enforcement officers, until the last time we hoped that something irreparable didn’t happen and they were able to survive. But yesterday we received confirmation that their bodies have been found. Our children were shot by enemies, and their bodies were barricaded in the basement. In loving memory of these beautiful brave men, sincere condolences to their family and friends. We believe that the monsters who did this will get punished.”
The names and ages of the reportedly deceased have not been released, and Ecopark did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Feldman Ecopark was working to evacuate all its animals out of the range of regular shelling, it said on Facebook.
U.N. chief calls for 4-day Holy Week cease-fire in Ukraine
U,N, Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday called for a four-day cease-fire in Ukraine to coincide with the Orthodox Christian Holy Week and Easter.
Guterres launched an effort for a possible humanitarian cease-fire late last month, so far without wide agreement.
Guterres said a four-day pause this week would allow the evacuation of civilians, a plea he made as Russian forces have launched an offensive effort in the country’s eastern Donbas region. He said a halt would also allow desperately needed humanitarian aid to reach hard-hit areas like Mariupol, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Save lives. Stop the bloodshed and destruction. Open a window for dialogue and peace. Keep faith with the meaning and the message of Easter,” Guterres said.
The proposed pause would be from Holy Thursday through Easter on Sunday. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted his support.
U.S. trying to seize $325 million superyacht
The U.S. government is attempting to seize a superyacht docked in Fiji that is widely believed to be owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, according to a restraining order application filed by Fijian authorities.
The Amadea is “restrained from leaving Fijian waters” until U.S. authorities finalize their warrant to seize the ship, Fiji’s public prosecutor, Christopher Pryde, said in a statement.
The move comes as Western countries have ramped up efforts to seize and freeze assets around the world owned by sanctioned Russian individuals with ties to President Vladimir Putin. Kerimov has been sanctioned in the U.S. since 2018.
Biden administration to announce another military aid package for Ukraine
The Biden administration is preparing to announce another substantial military aid package for Ukraine this week, five U.S officials told NBC News. Three officials said the package is expected to be similar in size to the $800 million one the administration announced last week.
Two officials said the package is expected to include more artillery and tens of thousands more artillery rounds, which will likely be critical to the coming offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
President Joe Biden has not signed the new package, officials said. Asked Tuesday whether he will send more artillery to Ukraine, Biden said, “Yes.”
Shelling continues at Mariupol steel plant
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Tuesday that Russia is continuing to shell Azovstal, the steel plant in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians are sheltering.
German bosses, unions oppose boycott of Russian gas
BERLIN — Germany’s employers and unions have joined together in opposing an immediate European Union ban on natural gas imports from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, saying such a move would lead to factory shutdowns and the loss of jobs in the bloc’s largest economy.
“A rapid gas embargo would lead to loss of production, shutdowns, a further de-industrialization and the long-term loss of work positions in Germany,” said Rainer Dulger, chairman of the BDA employer’s group, and Reiner Hoffmann, chairman of the DGB trade union confederation, in a joint statement Monday on Germany’s dpa news agency.
They argued that E.U. sanctions need to be targeted to put pressure on Russia while minimizing damages to the countries imposing the sanctions, saying “in the current discussion, we don’t see that.”
The statement comes as European leaders are discussing possible new energy sanctions against Russian oil, following a decision April 7 to ban Russian coal imports beginning in August. Ukraine’s leaders say revenues from Russia’s energy exports are financing Moscow’s destructive war on Ukraine and must be ended.
Russian offensive is prelude to larger operation, U.S. defense official says
Russia is beginning limited offensive movements southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday.
“We think these offensives are preludes to larger offensive operations that the Russians plan to conduct," the official said, adding the U.S. has seen ground movements in the east.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed the move Tuesday, saying the Kremlin’s goal was to achieve the “full liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics,” which together make up the Donbas region.
“We will defend ourselves. We will fight. We will not give away anything Ukrainian,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address late Monday.
Human Rights Watch website no longer accessible in Russia
The website for Human Rights Watch, a leading international nonprofit that tracks human rights abuses, is no longer accessible for Russians, the Kremlin’s censor announced on Tuesday.
Russia’s Justice Ministry had cancelled the registration of a number of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Carnegie Foundation, earlier this month, part of a national crackdown on international voices critical of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Human Rights Watch had maintained an office in Russia for 30 years, the organization said.
Netblocks, a British company that tracks internet outages around the globe, confirmed that the HRW was no longer accessible for users in Russia.
Ukraine grain storage shortage adds to farmers’ woes
Ukraine has insufficient storage capacity even for its reduced 2022 grain harvest, the United Nations’ World Food Programme said on Tuesday, with the country struggling to export existing stocks during the invasion by Russia.
Jakob Kern, the World Food Programme’s emergency coordinator in Ukraine, cited estimates that 20 percent of planted areas in Ukraine will not be harvested in July and that the spring planting area will be about a third smaller than usual.
Ukraine is the world’s fifth-biggest exporter of wheat and in the top three for maize, barley and sunflower seeds.
The lack of Ukrainian grain on world markets has been pushing up food prices around the world. The World Food Programme is spending $70 million more a month to buy the same amount of food as last year, Kern said
Why eastern Ukraine is now the focus of Putin’s war and what to expect from the battle for Donbas
ON THE ROAD TO KYIV, Ukraine — For weeks Ukraine and its western allies have been waiting for Russia’s promised offensive in the Donbas.
With troops concentrated for a major ground assault, airstrikes bombarding cities and Ukraine’s forces steeling for what could be a series of decisive battles, many expect this newly launched Russian offensive to be better equipped and organized than the failed first phase of the war.
So why has Russian President Vladimir Putin refocused his military’s efforts on this region of eastern Ukraine, and what should we expect in the days and weeks to come? NBC News takes a look.
Ukraine forces focus on defending East
Ukraine forces are focused on stalling a Russian offensive in the east, Ukrainian presidential adviser Alexey Arestovich said Tuesday.
Russian troops are focused on Izyum, in an attempt to surround the Ukrainian troops in the Donbas and reach the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Arestovich said.
"The most capable Ukrainian troops have been assembled in the east, so the enemy will not be able to realize his plan," he said.
Arestovich added that the war is in its second phase. The third phase, he said, could end in three ways: Russia will hold the occupied territories, Russia will withdraw from Ukraine, or Russia will ask to negotiate.
Citing Russia’s war, IMF cuts global growth forecast to 3.6 percent
The International Monetary Fund has downgraded the outlook for the world economy this year and next, blaming Russia’s war in Ukraine for disrupting global commerce, pushing up oil prices, threatening food supplies and increasing uncertainty already heightened by the coronavirus and its variants.
The 190-country lender cut its forecast for global growth to 3.6 percent this year, a steep falloff from 6.1 percent last year and from the 4.4 percent growth it had expected for 2022 back in January.
Now, the IMF expects Russia’s economy — battered by sanctions — to shrink 8.5 percent this year and Ukraine’s 35 percent.
U.S. economic growth is expected to drop to 3.7 percent this year from 5.7 percent in 2021, which had been the fastest growth since 1984. But Europe, heavily dependent on Russian energy, will bear the brunt of the economic fallout from the war.
U.N. Security Council set to meet on refugees
The United Nations Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. ET today to discuss the latest developments in the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, with a particular focus on refugees.
The meeting was requested by France and Mexico and will start off with briefings by Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) António Vitorino and U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly T. Clements.
According to the U.N., as of Monday 4.98 million people had fled to neighboring countries to seek refuge since the start of the war.
Ukraine's fight linked to fate of other Black Sea countries, foreign minister says
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says security for his country also means security for Bulgaria and all other Black Sea countries.
“We are fighting not only for our safety,” Kuleba said after talks Tuesday with his Bulgarian counterpart, Teodora Genchovska. “We are fighting for you too, so that you never have to face the tragedy of Russia’s attempts to affect and damage your country.”
Kuleba expressed understanding that many in Bulgaria have emotional and historic links to Russia.
“But now it’s different — destroying, killing, torturing, raping,” he said. “This is not a Russia that deserves sympathy and understanding. I want everyone to understand that.”
Along with Hungary, Bulgaria is the only European Union member that has so far been reluctant to send weapons to Kyiv. During his unofficial visit to Sofia, Kuleba will also meet Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.
Russia says West pushing Ukraine to fight on
Russia’s defense minister has accused the U.S. and other Western nations of supplying Ukraine with weapons so that it continues fighting “until the last Ukrainian.”
Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday at a meeting with the top military brass that Washington and its allies are doing all they can to drag out Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
He noted that “the growing supplies of foreign weapons clearly signal their intention to provoke the Kyiv regime to keep fighting until the last Ukrainian.”
Russian forces take control of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine, governor says
Russian forces have seized control of the city of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine and all Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the city, the regional governor said on Tuesday.
“Kreminna is already under the control of the orcs [Russians], we had to withdraw because our forces kept the defense there for almost two months,” governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Gaidai told a briefing.
"Our forces withdrew, took up new positions and continue to defensive activities," he continued.
The governor said Russian forces came "from all sides" and have begun "massive shelling."
“At the moment, we cannot count the number of civilians killed. According to official statistics, there are 1,200 people killed, but in reality, the number is way higher," he said.
Only around 70,000 people out of 350,000 residents remain in the region, according to the governor.
Azov commander says civilians trapped in Mariupol steel plant with fighters
Hundreds of civilians are sheltering at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol along with the besieged port city's last pocket of Ukrainian fighters, the commander of the Azov Regiment has said.
Speaking shortly after Russia’s ministry of defense issued a new deadline for Ukrainian soldiers defending the plant to surrender, Denis Prokopenk urged world leaders to organize a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the civilians.
"They use free fall bombs, rockets, bunker-buster bombs, all varieties of artillery, both ground and naval for indiscriminate attacks," Prokopenk said, accusing Russian forces of knowingly attacking sheltering residents.
He said that civilians of all ages, including women and children, were sheltering at the plant. NBC News has not verified the claims.
The Azov Regiment is a seasoned volunteer force known for its far-right ideology.
Chechen leader says Russia will capture Mariupol steel plant Tuesday
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Russian forces would on Tuesday completely take over the Azovstal steel works where Ukrainian defenders have been holding out in the besieged port of Mariupol.
“Today, with the help of the Almighty, we will ... take over Azovstal completely,” Kadyrov said in an audio message on his Telegram channel.
Russia earlier called on Ukrainian forces and foreign fighters holed up in the Azovstal plant to lay down their arms by noon Moscow time if they wanted to live.
Russia confirms shift of military focus to eastern Ukraine
Russia said its military operation in Ukraine has entered "another phase" Tuesday, confirming earlier reports from Ukraine that a new Russian offensive has begun in the country's eastern Donbas region.
“The operation is continuing, and another phase of this operation is starting now,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a televised interview Tuesday.
He said the operation was to achieve the "full liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics."
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years in the mostly Russian-speaking region and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Moscow.
Feeding an army in Odesa
Russia gives deadline for Ukrainian troops at Azovstal metallurgical plant to surrender
Russia's defense ministry has given a deadline of midday Tuesday for Ukrainian troops defending the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol to surrender, promising that those who do so will be kept alive.
The call for surrender took into account the "catastrophic situation" at the plant and was "guided by purely humane principles,” the ministry said in a statement on its Telegram channel Tuesday.
"All who lay down their weapons are guaranteed the preservation of life," its statement read.
The ministry gave a timeline for Ukrainian troops to exit "without any weapons or ammunition" between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time Tuesday afternoon (7 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET).
The Mariupol city council earlier Tuesday had said Russian forces were heavily bombing the plant, where at least 1,000 civilians were in underground shelters, the majority of whom are women and children.
Biden set to hold video call with allies on Ukraine support
President Joe Biden is set to hold a call Tuesday morning with U.S. allies and partners to discuss support for Ukraine.
The president will "discuss our continued support for Ukraine and efforts to hold Russia accountable as part of our close coordination," according to the White House pool report.
Photos appear to show Russian warship damaged after blast
Pictures that appear to show the Russian warship Moskva with major damage have circulated on social media, though they remain unverified.
The pictures have circulated in the open-source intelligence community, which collects and attempts to substantiate images and video and has been particularly active around the war in Ukraine.
Naval experts have said the pictures appear to match the Moskva, a Slava-class cruiser that sank last week, but cannot be certain. The Pentagon has also said the images cannot be verified.
Ukraine and Russia offered conflicting reasons for the ship's loss. Kyiv said it hit the ship with two missiles, an assessment eventually supported by a senior U.S. defense official, while Russia maintains that the warship was damaged in an explosion and then sank in the stormy sea while being towed for repairs. The vessel was considered the Russian flagship in the Black Sea.
James Stavridis, a retired navy admiral, said there is a high likelihood that the pictures are of the Moskva.
“In today’s world, with the ability to produce deep fakes of just about anything, I wouldn’t bet my life on an assessment," he said. “I would say this is in fact the Moskva. It certainly appears to be a Slava-class cruiser. They are utterly distinctive with the missile tubes up forward. No other Slavas or similar ships have been sunk in distress that I know of or can find. Occam’s Razor tells me this is very probably the Slava class cruiser Moskva.”
Russia says it destroyed more than 1,260 Ukrainian military assets
Russian missiles destroyed more than 1,260 military assets during renewed attacks in eastern Ukraine on Monday night, according to the Russian defense ministry.
The destroyed assets included 25 command posts, two anti-missile rocket launchers and two weapons depots, the ministry said in a statement on its Telegram channel Tuesday.
Russia has destroyed thousands of Ukrainian military assets since the beginning of its invasion, including 140 aircraft, 2,353 tanks and other armored combat vehicles and 1,014 field artillery, the ministry said.
Japan to send protective equipment to Ukraine
Japan's defense minister said Tuesday that his country will send protective masks, clothing and drones to the Ukrainian government.
The Japanese government started providing Ukraine with bulletproof vests and helmets last month. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the drones will be used for monitoring and will not be capable of carrying weapons.
Russian troops kill 5 in Donetsk, Ukrainian national police says
Russian troops killed five civilians and injured six more during renewed attacks on the region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine over the course of Monday, Ukraine’s national police said. One child was among the injured.
Russian troops fired on 17 settlements in the region, the national police said on Tuesday in a statement on its Telegram channel.
“The enemy fired rockets at the civilian population, from Grad multiple rocket launchers, tanks, and heavy artillery,” the statement read.
Wreckage piled high in Irpin
Russia trying to 'establish full control' over the Donbas region, Ukraine says
Russian forces are seeking "to establish full control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk," which together make up the eastern Donbas region, the general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said early Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address late Monday that the long-anticipated 'battle for the Donbas' had begun.
Russia has been building up forces for a new offensive in the east for weeks, refocusing its efforts on Ukraine's industrial heartland after failing to seize the capital, Kyiv, and suffering a series of setbacks through the first phase of the war.
Russian forces attacking along a broad front in the east, Ukraine says
Russian forces are attacking along a broad front, over 300 miles long, Ukrainian officials said late Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces were increasing assaults in the Luhansk and the Donetsk regions — both of which are part of the Donbas — as well as in the area of Zaporizhzhia, they said.
“The occupiers attempted to break through our defenses,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, said. “Fortunately, our military is holding out. They passed through only two cities — this is Kreminna and another small town.”
He added: “We are not giving up any of our territories.”