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Ukraine official says Kyiv region liberated, thousands evacuated from Ukraine

Six other humanitarian corridors are also set to open, Ukraine's prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said.

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Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar posted Saturday that the entire Kyiv region had been liberated from Russian military forces on the minister's official Facebook page.

"Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader!" Malyar wrote.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said Saturday that draft peace treaty documents between Ukraine and Russia were at an advanced enough stage to allow for direct talks between Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. He indicated there was a high probability that such a meeting could take place in Turkey.

In the southern city of Mariupol meanwhile, tens of thousands of people remain trapped with scant access to food and water in the city that has been encircled since the early days of Russia's five-week-old invasion.

Elsewhere, Britain's defense ministry said in an intelligence briefing that Ukrainian forces continued to advance on withdrawing Russian forces in the vicinity of Ukraine's capital Kyiv. It added that Russian forces "are reported to have withdrawn from Hostomel airport to the city's northwest, which has been subject to fighting since the first day of the conflict."

See full coverage here.

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Zelenskyy: Troops shell retreating Russians

LVIV, Ukraine – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops retaking areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv are not allowing Russians to retreat without a fight, but are “shelling them. They are destroying everyone they can.”

Zelenskyy, in his Saturday night video address to the nation, said Ukraine knows Russia has the forces to put even more pressure on the east and south of Ukraine.

“What is the goal of the Russian troops? They want to seize the Donbas and the south of Ukraine,” he said. “What is our goal? To defend ourselves, our freedom, our land and our people.”

He said a significant portion of the Russian forces are tied up around Mariupol, where the city’s defenders continue to fight.

“Thanks to this resistance, thanks to the courage and resilience of our other cities, Ukraine has gained invaluable time, time that is allowing us to foil the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities,” Zelenskyy said.

Lithuania says it's the first European country to fully nix Russian natural gas

Lithuania on Saturday declared it has completely cut off Russian natural gas imports, becoming the first European Union nation to fully nix supplies from Russia's state-owned fuel supplier, Gazprom, its Ministry of Energy said in a statement.

The country has been headed toward freedom from Russian natural gas since before the February invasion of Ukraine, the ministry said. Citing data from a transmission system operator, the ministry said it had no traces of the Russian fuel in its pipelines.

"We are the first EU country among Gazprom's supply countries to gain independence from Russian gas supplies, and this is the result of a multi-year coherent energy policy and timely infrastructure decisions," said Minister of Energy Dainius Kreivys said in the statement.

Lithuanians are dependent on liquified natural gas imported through the Klaipėda Oil Terminal, the ministry said, and other imports are "enough" to satisfy its heating and cooking needs. If necessary, the country could also open gas delivery through Latvia and, starting in May, Poland, the ministry said.

200 arrested across Russia at anti-war demonstrations, watchdog group says

A Russian group that monitors political arrests says 208 people were detained in demonstrations held Saturday across the country protesting Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

The OVD-Info group said demonstrations took place in 17 Russian cities, from Siberia to the more densely populated west. More than 70 people were detained in Moscow and a similar number in St. Petersburg, the organization said.

Video released by another group that monitors protests, Avtozak, showed some detainees being led to police prisoner transports as they smiled and carried flowers. Others were shown to be more harshly forced into the transports, bent over with their arms pinioned behind them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has cracked down heavily on dissent, even before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Zelenskyy and UK Prime Minister discuss war, peace negotiations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with U.K.'s Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday to discuss ongoing peace negotiations.

Johnson "congratulated Ukraine's brave armed forces for successfully pushing back Russia's invading army in a number of areas, but recognized the huge challenges that remain and the immense suffering being inflicted on civilians," a Downing Street spokesperson said. 

 Johnson updated Zelenskyy on last week's military donor conference and said he would continue to help with defensive support. 

"President Zelenskyy also updated on the status of peace negotiations and welcomed further UK involvement in these diplomatic efforts," the spokesperson said. "Both leaders agreed on the importance of continuing to ratchet up sanctions to increase the economic pressure on Putin's war machine, so long as Russian troops remain on Ukrainian territory."

 Johnson and Zelenskyy said they would remain in close contact. 

Ukrainian negotiator: Draft peace treaty documents at stage to allow direct talks between Putin, Zelenskyy

Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said in an interview on Ukraine's Rada TV channel Saturday that draft peace treaty documents between Ukraine and Russia were at an advanced enough stage to allow for direct talks between Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and there was a high probability that such a meeting could take place in Turkey.

According to Arakhamia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "called both us and Vladimir Putin yesterday, and he seemed to confirm for his part that they were ready to organize a meeting in the near future."

Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister: Whole Kyiv region liberated

KYIV, Ukraine — Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar posted Saturday that the entire Kyiv region had been liberated from Russian military forces on the minister's official Facebook page. 

"Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader!" Malyar wrote.

The Associated Press reported earlier in the day that Ukrainian troops were moving farther north from the capital of Kyiv on Saturday, taking up positions in the town of Bucha, and in the Antonov Airport area in Hostomel after retaking territory from Russian forces. 

Ukrainian forces retake areas near Kyiv amid fear of traps

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops moved cautiously to retake territory north of the country's capital on Saturday, using cables to pull the bodies of civilians off the streets in one town out of fear that Russian forces might have booby-trapped them before leaving.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned earlier in his nightly video address that departing Russian troops were creating a “catastrophic" situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and “even the bodies of those killed."

More than 4,200 Ukrainians were evacuated on Saturday, deputy prime minister says

More than 4,200 Ukrainians were evacuated on Saturday as Russia continues its attack on the country. 

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said people were fleeing in evacuation convoys and through their own private means. Ten buses carrying more than 300 Mariupol residents took them from the city of Berdyansk on Saturday. The buses had already passed through Vasylivka, Vereshchuk said. 

Another 2,650 people were evacuated from the cities of Severodonetsk, Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Kreminna, Popasna and Nyzhne in the Luhansk region. Just over 1,260 people traveled via their own transportation from Mariupol and Berdyansk to Zaporizhia. 

Vereshchuk said evacuations would continue into Sunday morning. 

Breakaway area denies Russian troops massing

CHISINAU, Moldova — Authorities in the tiny breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova denied “absolutely untrue” claims Saturday by Ukraine that Russian troops based there had been massing to conduct “provocations” along Ukraine’s border.

Earlier Saturday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that Russian troops already in Transnistria were preparing for “a demonstration of readiness for the offensive and, possibly, hostilities against Ukraine.”

“The information disseminated by the General Staff of Ukraine is absolutely untrue,” Transnistria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that leaders had repeatedly “declared the absence of any threat to Ukraine.”

Moldova’s Foreign Ministry also said Saturday there is “no information to confirm the mobilization of troops in the Transnistrian region” and that “state institutions are closely monitoring the security situation in the region.”

Transnistria is a Russia-backed region of Moldova that broke away after a short civil war in the early 1990s, and is unrecognized by most countries. An estimated 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed there.

Ukrainian journalist killed in combat zone

KYIV, Ukraine — A prominent Ukrainian photojournalist who went missing last month in a combat zone near the capital has been found dead.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement Saturday that Maks Levin was killed with two gunshots, fired allegedly by the Russian military. Levin’s body was found in the village of Huta-Mezhyhirska on Friday.

Levin, 40, worked as a photojournalist and videographer for many Ukrainian and international publications.

Levin had been missing since March 13, when he contacted his friend from Vyshhorod near Kyiv to report on the fighting in the region.

An investigation into his death has been launched.

Ukrainian flag rehoisted at Chernobyl site

The flag of Ukraine was rehoisted at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Saturday morning, according to the Chernobyl state specialized enterprise.

The flag-raising ceremony took place to the sound of the Ukraine national anthem and was attended by the station's operations staff who had stayed on during the Russian occupation to ensure nuclear and radiation safety of the facilities, the enterprise said in a statement on its Facebook page. 

Russian forces left the site on Wednesday after some soldiers suffered acute radiation poisoning, according to Ukrainian authorities.   

Pope Francis blasts Putin for launching 'savage' war

Pope Francis Saturday blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching a “savage” war. Speaking after his arrival in Malta, he delivered his most pointed and personalized denunciation yet of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Pope Francis didn’t cite Russian President Vladimir Putin by name, but the reference was clear when he said that “some potentate” had unleashed the threat of nuclear war on the world in an “infantile and destructive aggression” under the guise of “anachronist claims of nationalistic interests.”

“We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past,” Francis told Maltese officials and diplomats on the Mediterranean island nation at the start of a weekend visit.

Francis has to date avoided referring to Russia or Putin by name. But Saturday’s personalization of the powerful figure responsible marked a new level of outrage for the pope.

“Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interest, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will either be shared or not be at all,” he said.

Russia to end cooperation over International Space Station if sanctions are not lifted

Russia will look to end mutual cooperation on the International Space Station if Western sanctions against the country are not lifted, the head of the country's space agency said Saturday. 

Dmitry Rogozin said in a series of tweets that the U.S, European Union and Canadian space agencies had responded to letters he sent demanding the removal of sanctions against corporations connected to the Russian aerospace industry.   

"From our perspective it is clear that sanctions will not be lifted," he wrote, adding that he found "such a state of affairs ... unacceptable." 

As a result, he said he believed that the revival of normal relations between Roscosmos and its ISS partners was only possible when the sanctions were lifted. 

Proposals for the completion or termination of mutual cooperation "will be presented to our country’s government in the nearest future," he added. 

In separate comments to reporters broadcast on Russian state TV, Rogozin emphasized that Western partners needed the ISS and "cannot manage without Russia, because no one but us can deliver fuel to the station."

Rogozin added that "only the engines of our cargo craft are able to correct the ISS's orbit, keeping it safe from space debris."

Ex-ICC prosecutor declares Putin 'a war criminal'

GENEVA —The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is a war criminal,” Carla Del Ponte told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview published Saturday.

In interviews given to Swiss media to mark the release of her latest book, the Swiss lawyer who oversaw ICC war crimes investigations in Rwanda, Syria and the former Yugoslavia, said there were clear war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

She said she was particularly shocked by the use of mass graves, which recalls the worst of the wars in former Yugoslavia.

“I hoped never to see mass graves again,” she told the newspaper Blick. “These dead people have loved ones who don’t even know what’s become of them. That is unacceptable.”

Other war crimes she identified in Ukraine included attacks on civilians, the destruction of civilian buildings and even of entire towns.

Rockets hit theme park in Kharkiv, city council says

Several rockets hit a theme park in Kharkiv on Saturday morning, the city council said in a Telegram post, citing the park's press service.  

A 57-year-old gardener was injured in the strike on the Maxim Gorky Central Park for Culture and Recreation, the council said. It added that the man was taken to the hospital. 

At least two attractions were damaged, and the attack also destroyed trees, a performance stage and some cafes, the council said.  

NBC News has not been able to independently verify the attack. 

The mother of Senior Lieutenant Dmytro Oliinyk, 40, who was killed in battle, mourns while holding a Ukrainian national flag during his funeral ceremony at the Lychakiv cemetery, in Lviv, Ukraine on Saturday.

Image: Funeral of Ukrainian soldiers in Lviv
ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters

Russia declares top journalist and video blogger 'foreign agents'

Russia has declared a prominent journalist, a video blogger and six other media figures "foreign agents," the latest in a series of such moves that critics say are designed to stifle dissent.

The expanded list, published by the Justice Ministry late on Friday, included Elizaveta Osetinskaya, former editor-in-chief of several Russian business newspapers that published disclosures about the commercial interests of people close to President Vladimir Putin.

The term "foreign agent" carries negative Soviet-era connotations and subjects those listed to stringent financial reporting requirements. It also obliges them to preface anything they publish with a disclaimer stating they are foreign agents.

The list also included Maria Borzunova, a reporter from the independent TV Rain (Dozhd) channel, which was itself declared a "foreign agent" last August and suspended its work after Russia blocked access to its website in March.

Evgeny Ponasenkov, a writer and video blogger, known for witty off-the-cuff remarks taking aim at the government on social media and talk shows on state-run TV channels, was also named a "foreign agent."

Pope says Kyiv visit is 'on the table'

Pope Francis confirmed to NBC News on Saturday that he was considering an invitation from Kyiv's mayor to visit the Ukrainian capital. 

A trip was "on the table," the pontiff said as he flew to Malta. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko invited Francis to travel to the city in a letter last month. Klitschko said his presence there was "key" to saving lives and achieving peace.

"We appeal to you, as a spiritual leader, to show your compassion, to stand with the Ukrainian people by jointly spreading the call for peace," the letter said.

It followed earlier invitations by Ukraine's Byzantine-rite Catholic leader Sviatoslav Shevchuk and Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash.

   

Death toll from strike on Mykolaiv state building rises to 31

The death toll from an explosion that destroyed Mykolaiv's regional state administration building on Tuesday morning has risen to 31, Ukraine's State Emergency Service said Saturday. It added that 34 were injured in the blast. 

"Rescuers continue to dismantle the structures and remove the bodies of the victims from the rubble in the building of the Regional State Administration in Mykolaiv," the SES said in a statement posted to its official Telegram channel.

Regional governor Vitaly Kim said shortly after Tuesday's strike that a Russian missile had hit the building tearing a gaping hole in the structure and destroying his office. 

Ukraine says seven humanitarian corridors will open on Saturday

Seven humanitarian corridors to evacuate people from Ukraine's besieged regions are planned for Saturday, Iryna Vereshchuk, the country's deputy prime minister, said in a message posted to her Telegram channel. 

The planned corridors include one for people evacuating by private transport from the city of Mariupol and by buses for Mariupol residents leaving the city of Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said.

Humanitarian corridors will also open in the southern cities of Severodonetsk and Popasna as other areas of Ukraine's south which has been besieged by Russian forces, she said. 

UK: Russian forces reported to have withdrawn from Kyiv-area airport

Russian forces are said to have withdrawn from an airport near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv where there has been fighting since the Feb. 24 invasion, the British defense ministry said Saturday.

Russian forces have withdrawn from Hostomel airport, which is northwest of the capital, the United Kingdom said in an intelligence update.

Ukrainian forces have also re-taken some villages and "secured a key route in eastern Kharkhiv after heavy fighting," the U.K. assessment said.

Kharkhiv is in northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

Vice President Kamala Harris says regime change not U.S. policy

Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated that regime change in Russia is not the policy of the United States, days after the president remarked that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not remain in power.

"Let me be very clear: We are not into regime change, and that is not our policy. Period," Harris said in an interview with MSNBC host Joy Reid that aired Friday.

The comments from the vice president come after President Joe Biden in a speech in Poland last week said, "For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power," referring to Putin.

A White House official that day said Biden was not calling for Putin to be deposed, and Biden on Monday said that he was not talking about a U.S. policy change.

"I was expressing my outrage. He shouldn’t remain in power, just like bad people shouldn’t continue to do bad things. But it doesn’t mean we have a fundamental policy to do anything to take Putin down in any way," Biden said.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted to Biden's comments in Poland by telling Reuters "that's not for Biden to decide," and that "the president of Russia is elected by Russians." 

Harris said that Russia has committed atrocities in Ukraine, and called Russia's invasion and attack "a war that was instigated — unprovoked, unjustified — against a whole population of people."

Efforts underway to protect artwork in Lviv’s National Gallery

Venice is preparing special material to send to Lviv’s National Art Gallery and other museums in the Ukrainian city so artworks can be better protected during the war.

Mariacristina Gribaudi, head of the Venice Civic Museums Foundation, said in a statement Friday that some 65,000 artworks and 2,000 sculptures have been placed in Lviv storerooms as a precaution, but the objects aren’t adequately protected.

The Venice foundation will oversee a shipment of special fabric that can cover paintings and graphic art as well as furniture, costumes and materials made from glass or marble to protect the objects from the majority of solvents and gasses. The fabric also impedes mold and fungus growth while the works are in storage.

Also being sent are polyethylene foam shock-resistant panels.

Venice museums experts also gave advice in a video call with the Lviv gallery’s management about how to best store artworks.

Russian forces leaving mines behind, Zelenskyy says

Minefields have been planted in areas where Russian forces have left or been pushed back, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address Friday.

He said that in northern Ukraine, Russian forces have either left or been pushed back and "complete catastrophe is left after them."

"Firstly, the airstrikes can continue," Zelenskyy said. "Secondly, they lay minefields on those territories, in houses, on equipment, even on dead bodies. There are a lot of trip wires, a lot of other dangers."

He said in reclaimed territory, people need to wait until the land is cleared of explosives.

There has been some reduction in Russian forces arrayed against Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, but U.S. military officials said Thursday it had not been a wholesale repositioning. On Friday, the mayor of the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, said it was recaptured by Ukrainian forces.