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Ukraine-Russia war: Russia says first phase of Ukraine invasion complete, focus now on Donbas

President Joe Biden will receive updates on the humanitarian response to the Ukraine war on his trip to Poland, where more than 2 million have fled.

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The city of Kherson in southern Ukraine near Russian-occupied Crimea is "contested territory again," a U.S. Defense Department official said. If the city is retaken, it would represent a major setback for Russia.

The battlefield development came as Ukrainian officials, citing eyewitnesses, said some 300 people had died after Russian forces bombed a theater where more than 1,000 had taken refuge in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. NBC News was not able to independently confirm the claim, which involved an attack that has become an emblem of Russia's indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets.

Speaking Friday on the state-owned news channel Russia-24, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, deputy chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces, said the "first stage" of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a "special military operation" is complete and the military will now focus on the “complete liberation” of the separatist Donbas region.

The announcements Friday came as President Joe Biden traveled to Poland for the second leg of an emergency trip to Europe to fortify the West's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biden was briefed on the humanitarian response to the war, which has forced more than 3.6 million people to flee Ukraine to neighboring countries, with more than 2.1 million seeking refuge in Poland.

See full coverage here.

France's Macron says he is helping launch new evacuation effort in Mariupol

France is helping launch a new evacuation effort in Mariupol, the southern Ukrainian port city that has been devastated after weeks of Russian bombardment, French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday.

Speaking at the European Union Summit, Macron said the operation is being organized with Turkey and Greece “to evacuate all those who want to leave.” 

Macron said there had been discussions about the effort with the city’s mayor, and he planned on discussing it with Russian President Vladimir Putin within the next two days, he said.

Some previous plans to help civilians flee the besieged city have worked, though several others have failed. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of shelling escape routes and capturing those fleeing the city.

Officials in Mariupol said earlier Friday that roughly 300 people had died when Russian forces bombed a theater where more than 1,000 people were hiding earlier this month. 

NBC News has not independently verified the claim and Russia has denied targeting civilians.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his nightly address, said Friday that the number of Russians killed in the war has surpassed 16,000. 

"Containing the attacks of the enemy, the Ukrainian defenders are bringing the Russian government to the simple and logical idea. We need to talk, talk meaningfully, urgently, honestly, and with a result in mind, not to drag out time," Zelenskyy said.

Estimates of the number of Russian soldiers killed in the conflict have varied, and NBC News has not independently verified the death toll.

U.S. man detained by Russians forces while fleeing Ukrainian city is released

A Minnesota man who was detained by Russian forces while trying to flee the Ukrainian city of Kherson and held for 10 days has been released, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Friday.

Tyler Jacob, 28, who was living in Ukraine, was taken by Russian forces around two weeks ago, her office said in a statement.

“I am relieved that Tyler is safely reunited with his wife and daughter. Over the last two weeks, my team and I have been in close contact with his family, the State Department, and the U.S. embassy in Moscow working towards this outcome, and I am grateful that we were able to help bring him to safety,” Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said in a statement.

Read the full story here

Russian forces will refocus on 'complete liberation' of separatist Donbas region, military official says

Russian forces have completed “the first stage” of what President Vladimir Putin has described as a “special military operation” in Ukraine and will now focus on the separatist Donbas region, a Russian military official said Friday.

Speaking on the state-owned news channel Russia-24, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, deputy chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces, said his country’s military is aiming for the “complete liberation” of the region.

The Russian-backed breakaway “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk have been involved in a low-intensity conflict with Ukrainian forces since 2014, when Russia also annexed Crimea. More than 14,000 people were killed in the conflict before Russia's invasion last month.

Rudskoy’s comments come just over a month after Russia’s invasion began — and as its armed forces appeared to settle on a strategy of relentless assault after its military was hobbled by bad planning and stiff resistance from Ukrainians. 

A NATO official said the organization estimates that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have died and tens of thousands more have been injured, captured or gone missing.

Rudosky claimed that Ukraine’s ability to fight has been “significantly reduced, which makes it possible, once again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas.”

Read the full story here

More than 7,000 evacuated Friday through humanitarian corridors

A total of 7,331 people were evacuated Friday through two humanitarian corridors to safer areas, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Of that group, 2,800 people traveled by private cars from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, and 4,000 were evacuated from Berdyansk by bus. She said 80 tons of food was sent to Berdyansk to support people in Mariupol.

Evacuation corridors for the Mariupol, Kyiv and Luhansk regions were scheduled to be open Saturday, she said.

Pope Francis says 'vicious war' has 'overtaken so many people'

Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine on Friday and said the “vicious war that has overtaken so many people, and caused suffering to all, has made each of us fearful and anxious.”

Francis said we “sense our helplessness and our inadequacy” but that “human reassurance is not enough.”

“We need the closeness of God and the certainty of his forgiveness, which alone eliminates evil, disarms resentment and restores peace to our hearts,” Francis said. “Let us return to God and to his forgiveness.”

Russia no longer in full control of Kherson, official says

Russian troops are no longer in full control of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson after a counterattack by Ukrainian forces, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Friday.

Russian forces captured Kherson in the first week of its invasion, the first major city to be captured after invading the country last month.

“We can’t corroborate exactly who is in control of Kherson, but the point is, it doesn’t appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was before. The Ukrainians are trying to take Kherson back,” the official told reporters. “We would argue that Kherson is actually contested territory again.” 

There was now "heavy fighting" underway in Kherson, the official said.

The news came after U.S., British and Ukrainian officials said Ukrainian troops had stymied Russia's assault on the capital, Kyiv, and pushed back the Russians in some areas around the city.

If Russia lost Kherson in the south, it would represent a major battlefield setback and complicate any attempt by it to capture the Black Sea port of Odesa, the Defense Department official said. 

If the Ukrainians took back Kherson, “that would be a significant development, no question about that,” the official added.

Russia sending reinforcements to Ukraine, U.S. official says

The Russian military has started to move reinforcements to Ukraine from Georgia, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday. 

It was the first time Russia had deployed additional troops to Ukraine after having massed more than 150,000 forces around Ukraine before invading the country a month ago.

The defense official told reporters in a phone briefing that “we've seen our first indication that they [Russians] are trying to send in some reinforcements from Georgia.”

“So we have seen the movement of some number of troops from Georgia. We don't have any exact numbers,” the official said. 

Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and has kept troops in two secessionist areas, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

Pentagon officials had indicated previously that Russia appeared to be considering bringing in more troops and supplies to bolster its forces in Ukraine.

The move underscored how Russia’s attack on Ukraine has failed to produce a swift victory and has been plagued by logistical and communication problems, despite Russia’s overwhelming advantage in troop numbers and firepower. 

Spotify pulls out of Russia

Spotify said Friday it is pulling out of Russia due to legislation criminalizing certain types of news

"Spotify has continued to believe that it's critically important to try and keep our service operational in Russia to provide trusted, independent news and information in the region," the streaming company said in a statement. 

"Unfortunately, recently enacted legislation further restricting access to information, eliminating free expression, and criminalizing certain types of news puts the safety of Spotify's employees and possibly even our listeners at risk," it said. 

Spotify said it expected to have fully suspended its service in Russia by early April, after working through operational obstacles. 

More than 1,080 civilians killed, 1,707 injured in Ukraine as of Thursday, United Nations says

As of Thursday, more than 1,080 civilians have been killed and another more than 1,700 have been injured following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Friday.

A total of 1,081 civilians have been killed, including children, and 1,707 have been injured in regions around Ukraine, according to the United Nations. 

Most of the civilian deaths and injuries were caused “by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” it said.

The United Nations said it believes the actual figures are “considerably higher” given information delays and many reports pending confirmation. It also said a report from the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said that as of 8 a.m. local time Friday, 135 children had been killed and 184 injured.

NBC News has not independently verified the number of casualties.

Biden speaks to troops in Poland: 'We're at an inflection point'

Biden on Friday traveled to southeastern Poland where he met with U.S. troops before a scheduled meeting with aid workers assisting refugees in a country on the front lines of the humanitarian and military crisis unfolding in Ukraine

“What you’re engaged in is much more than just whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people in Ukraine. We’re in a new phase, your generation, we’re at an inflection point,” Biden told the troops.

Biden spoke with the U.S. troops in Rzeszow who began arriving at the military base there last month as part of U.S. deterrence efforts against Russia. The president made small talk and shook hands with a group of service members, whom he called the “finest fighting force in the history of the world," at one point sitting down to join them for a slice of pizza in the mess hall.

"You are the organizing principle around which the rest of the world, the free world, is moving," Biden said. "We’re in the midst of, and I don’t want to sound too philosophic here, but you’re in the midst of a fight between democracies and oligarchs."

Claims of mass deportations in Ukraine evoke painful history

The reports have filtered out for days: Mass kidnappings, forced deportations, Ukrainians spirited across the border to Russia.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry said Thursday that 6,000 residents of the besieged city of Mariupol had been “forcibly deported” by Russian forces — stripped of their passports and identity documents — and taken to Russia as “hostages.”

Like much in this war, the claims have been impossible to independently verify. A statement from the foreign ministry Thursday echoed allegations and details released by Mariupol’s city council in recent days, stating that “several thousand” of its residents had been taken to “filtration camps” in Russia before being “redirected to remote cities.”

Russia, in turn, has cited the “evacuations” of more than 380,000 people from Ukraine to its territory. 

Communications are sporadic or down, and no foreign journalists are left in the city. That’s meant relying on the rare videos that have emerged from the city — and on the testimony of those who’ve managed to escape. 

Yet the language — “filtration camps” — and the imagery of mass deportations are particularly resonant, evoking a dark chapter in Russian history.

Read the full story here.

Swiss adopt more E.U. sanctions against Russia

The Swiss government announced Friday it has decided to adopt more European Union sanctions against Russia over President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland will now prohibit the export of goods and related services for the Russian energy sector, the government said in a statement. "Also prohibited is the participation in businesses active in the energy sector and the provision of loans or other financial resources to such businesses," the statement said.

The government will also ban iron and steel goods imports from Russia and block the export of luxury goods and maritime navigation goods to the country. In the financial sector, Swiss transactions with certain Russian state-owned firms will be barred.

Polish president’s plane makes emergency landing in Warsaw on way to meet Biden

The plane carrying Polish President Andrzej Duda to eastern Poland to meet President Joe Biden made an emergency landing in Warsaw, the Polish state-run news agency PAP reported Friday, citing an adviser to Duda. 

Duda awaited the departure of a reserve plane to Rzeszow, where he was expected to welcome Biden, according to PAP.

Ukrainian mother of 2 displaced by war: 'Pray that we win sooner'

Yulia Zhdanova, a Ukrainian mother of two, fled her home in Chernihiv amid Russian bombing. She is now trying to survive in western Ukraine, where she described her new reality in stark terms.

The people where she is sheltering "cook food on the fire outside," Zhdanova said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday. "They don't have toilets because there is no water. ... They don't have gas, oil or electricity. No connection."

She said that trucks were bringing water to some regions, but stomach illnesses and other ailments were rampant "because people can't even wash their hands." Russian's attacks on bridges and other critical infrastructure make it especially challenging to access humanitarian aid, she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces remain intent on ravaging her country, she said.

"They want to destroy everything of what we worshipped, everything [that] was precious to us," she said. "We don't want them to do anything on our peaceful land, because before, we had a really good, peaceful life."

But she said she remains optimistic that Ukrainian troops and freedom fighters trying to resist Russia's assault will be triumphant in the end.

"I know that our soldiers are so brave, and they are so patriotic," she said. "Pray that we win sooner."

Biden to meet with Ukrainian refugees during Poland visit

President Joe Biden will meet with refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine during his time in Poland this weekend, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. 

Biden is expected to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss the humanitarian response to the conflict. 

"He will also have the opportunity to meet with Ukrainian refugees, and with American humanitarians who are there trying to help feed and respond to the material needs of the refugee population in Warsaw," Sullivan said. 

More than 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion, according to the United Nations refugee agency. At least 2.2 million have sought refuge in neighboring Poland. 

Sullivan said Biden would also be giving a major address that will "speak to the stakes of this moment, the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world sustain unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression."

"He'll also talk about the context and history of this conflict, and where he sees it going from here," Sullivan said. 

 

Ukrainian adviser claims attack on 'nuclear city' of Slavutych has been repulsed

Ukrainian troops fended off a Russian attack on the northern city of Slavutych, which is home to workers from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant, a presidential adviser said Friday.

Slavutych was built to house Chernobyl workers following the plant's deadly 1986 nuclear disaster

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said that a "first attack" Friday on the "city of nuclear weapons" had been repulsed. 

His statement came just hours after the Slavutych city council warned citizens to stay in their homes, citing the threat of snipers. Officials have been warning for days that Russian troops were close to the city and that it was impossible to evacuate. 

Putin says West trying to 'cancel' Russian culture

President Vladimir Putin on Friday said the West was trying to cancel Russian culture, including the works of great composers such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninov.

"Today they are trying to cancel a whole thousand-year culture, our people," Putin said in a televised meeting with cultural figures, referring to the cancellation of events involving Russian masters in some Western countries in recent weeks.

"In this way they are banning Russian writers and books," Putin said.

A man walks on the debris of a burning house, destroyed after a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday.

A man walks on the debris of a burning house, destroyed after a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
Felipe Dana / AP

U.N. rights office says evidence growing of Mariupol mass graves

The head of the U.N. human rights team in Ukraine said Friday that monitors had received more information about mass graves in the besieged port city of Mariupol, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies.

"We have got increasing information on mass graves that are there," Matilda Bogner told journalists by video link from Ukraine, saying some of the evidence came from satellite images.

The U.N. rights office, which has some 50 staff in the country, has so far counted 1,035 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Feb. 24. But verification difficulties meant that toll included "very few" from Mariupol, which has been under heavy bombardment for weeks, Bogner said.

Bogner's team is probing alleged human rights violations, such as reports that Russian forces had shot and killed civilians in their cars as they were fleeing; dozens of cases of disappearances of Ukrainian officials and journalists; and the forced movement of civilians into Russian-held territory. Russia, which has called its actions since Feb. 24 a "special operation", has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.

Bogdan said her team have also received reports of violations by Ukrainian forces including indiscriminate shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, and two alleged killings of civilians due to their perceived support for Russia. Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly said that they have never targeted civilians, adding that the people who are in Donetsk and Luhansk are Ukrainians.

4 killed after aid center in Kharkiv hit by Russian shelling, local police say

Four people were killed after a facility in Kharkiv being used as a humanitarian aid center was hit by shelling Friday morning, Kharkiv police said.

“Today at about 7:45 a.m., the Russian Federation fired on a city polyclinic in the Osnoviansky district of the city, where the humanitarian aid center is located. There are no military facilities nearby, ” local police said in a statement. 

“Police are documenting the crime against the Ukrainian people and gathering all the necessary material evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement said.

A child holds a loaf of bread as civilians are evacuated along a humanitarian corridor from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Thursday. 

A child holds a loaf of bread as civilians are evacuated along humanitarian corridors from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Thursday.
Leon Klein / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukraine, Russia agree on evacuation corridors from Mariupol and Melitopol

Ukraine and Russia have agreed upon two humanitarian corridors for Friday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a televised statement.

Vereshchuk said that an evacuation corridor was being established from the besieged city of Mariupol, which has been severely bombarded by Russian troops for weeks, to Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine. Evacuees were expected to arrange their own transport, she said.

A centralized plan has also been approved from the port city of Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia by bus for which 48 buses are already stationed at the entrance to Berdyansk, she said.

A second humanitarian corridor links Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia, for which cargoes and buses have already arrived, Vereshchuk said.

Russia has previously been accused of failing to uphold its end of agreements to provide safe corridors. 

Ukraine asks E.U. to block land and sea transport with Russia and Belarus

Ukraine has appealed to the European Union to completely block land and sea transport with Russia and Belarus and to prohibit the movements of goods, its ministry of infrastructure said Friday.

In a statement on Facebook, it said that "despite the restrictive measures already in place, Russian businesses are finding workarounds and continuing to operate in other countries.”

It proposed that the European Commission prohibit the provision of custom services for goods delivered to the two countries. “These measures are necessary to stop the supply to the aggressor country of dual-use goods that can be used for military purposes,” it said. 

Earlier, the ministry had called on the E.U. to shut its ports for Russian and Belarusian related companies and demanded closure of the road network for their carriers, it said.

Israel tries to leverage Russia ties to try to end war in Ukraine

JERUSALEM — On the surface, it seems like a doomed diplomatic gambit — the untested leader of Israel, which is known for its unresolved conflict with the Palestinians and wars with its neighbors, tries to help end the most serious combat in Europe since the end of World War II.

That’s what happened when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Feb. 26, a Saturday, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, despite being an observant Jew for whom travel on the Sabbath is forbidden unless it’s a matter of life and death.  

Once there, he met with President Vladimir Putin for three hours in a bid to help end the war. Leaders from other top negotiator countries — NATO members France, Germany and Turkey — have spoken with Putin only by phone, according to Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Israel, which has failed to negotiate a two-state resolution with the Palestinians, could seem poorly cast as a diplomatic powerhouse in efforts to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The close ally of Washington has also been criticized for not having taken a stronger stance and joining many of its Western allies in sanctioning Russia.  

Read full story.

Japan increases economic sanctions on Russia

Japan will add 25 more Russian officials and oligarchs to its list of blacklisted individuals as part of its economic sanctions on the country, its Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The ministry said in its regular press livestream that it will freeze the assets of the listed individuals and ban Japanese exports to 81 Russian businesses.

“We need to stop this [Russia's] aggression as soon as possible,” Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said in the press conference. 

Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda have already suspended imports and halted factory productions in Russia. 

Prime Minister Kishida also announced an additional 100 million dollars of humanitarian assistance to aid Ukraine and neighboring countries. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Dutch marines at a base in Bardufoss in Norway on Friday. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Dutch marines at a base in Bardufoss in the Artic Circle, Norway on Friday.
Yves Herman / Reuters

Australia imposes sanctions on Belarus president, Russian 'propagandists'

Australia has placed sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and family, as well as on 22 Russian individuals or “propagandists”, its Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

Foreign minister Marise Payne said in a statement that the Belarusian government has provided “strategic support” to Russia by providing grounds to train military forces, fire missiles, facilitate transportation of Russian troops and heavy weapons into Ukraine "in their assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

The sanctions placed on Russia will continue to target “propagandists and disinformation operatives” including editors from organizations such as Russia Today, the Strategic Culture Foundation, InfoRos and NewsFront.

Payne said the move reflected “the strategic importance of disinformation in Russia's attempts to legitimize Putin's unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine." 

Biden says Putin using energy resources to 'coerce' neighbors as EU commits to transatlantic data flows

President Joe Biden, in a joint statement with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said Putin has used Russia’s energy resources to "coerce" its neighbors, as the two leaders announced measures to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian fuel.

“I know that eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe. But it's not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it's going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” he said in Brussels on Friday, as they announced the establishment of a task force.

Von der Leyen also revealed a new framework for transatlantic data flow, enabling “predictable and trustworthy data flows between the EU and U.S.,” which Biden said will help “companies both small and large compete in the digital economy.”

Mariupol officials: About 300 dead in theater attack, according to eyewitnesses

Around 300 people died after Russian forces bombed a theater where over 1,000 people had taken refuge in the besieged city of Mariupol, local officials said Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

NBC News was not able to independently the claim, which involved an attack on March 16 that has become an emblem of Russia's indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets.

Mariupol's city council said that "about 300 people" died in the attack on the theater, according to eyewitnesses, calling it a "horror."

The council said that it had wanted to "believe" that those inside the theater had all managed to escape, but that testimonies from those who'd been inside the building "say otherwise."

"The Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol has always been the hallmark of the city," the council said in a statement. "Now there is no more Drama theatre. In its place, a new point of pain for Mariupol residents appeared, ruins that became the last refuge for hundreds of innocent people."

Russia has denied targeting civilians in its attacks on Ukraine.

U.S., E.U. announce Task Force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy

The United States and European Union have announced a joint task force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fuels, strengthening the region’s energy security as Russia continues its invasion in Ukraine.

“This Task Force for Energy Security will be chaired by a representative from the White House and a representative of the President of the European Commission,” said the White House on Friday.

The Task Force will focus its efforts on diversifying liquefied natural gas, reducing demand for natural gas altogether and accelerating renewable energy projects, it said.

President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to the media about Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday. 

President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to the press about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels on Friday.
Evan Vucci / AP

Russia and Ukraine swap prisoners of war

Russia and Ukraine have carried out their first "full-fledged" prisoner swap since the war began, according to Ukraine's deputy prime minister.

Iryna Vereshchuk said in a Telegram post that 10 Russian prisoners of war were handed over in exchange for 10 Ukrainian servicemen. 

An additional 11 Russian civilian sailors rescued from a sunken ship were being exchanged for 19 Ukrainian sailors who hailed from the Sapphire rescue ship, she added. The Sapphire's crew was captured in late February when the vessel was trying to get troops off of Snake Island.

Vereshchuk did not say when or where the exchange took place in her Thursday post. 

Russia's human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova, confirmed the swap, according to the Interfax News Agency

"We, too, were involved in establishing contact with Ukraine on this issue. Work continues in the framework of the queries I receive from citizens," Moskalkova told Interfax.

Ukrainian servicemen attend a funeral for marine Alexandr Khovtun in Kyiv on Sunday. Khovtun died in combat in the town of Huta-Mezhyhirska, north of Kyiv. 

Ukrainian servicemen attend a funeral for marine Alexandr Khovtun in Kyiv on Sunday, March 20, 2022. Khovtun died in combat in the town of Huta-Mezhyhirska, north of Kyiv.
Felipe Dana / AP

Mariupol police general offers his life to save children

Mariupol National Police General Vyacheslav Abroskin has offered his life to Russian forces, asking to let children out of the besieged port city in exchange.

“There are many children left who, if not saved now, will die in the coming days, the clock is ticking,” he said in a Facebook statement on Wednesday. “My life belongs to me alone and I offer it in exchange for the lives of children who still remain in Mariupol,” he said.

Abroskin, who said he was on Russia's "wanted list," appealed to the forces to let him organize the removal of children, asking for three days. 

Ukraine reclaims ground, pushes Russians away from Kyiv, U.K. says

Ukrainian forces have reclaimed towns and continue to push Russian Forces away from the Kyiv towards Hostomel Airfield in the north-west, Britain's defense ministry has said.

In an intelligence update published Friday, it said, “Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian Forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to re-occupy towns and defensive positions" up to just over 20 miles east of Kyiv. 

In the south, Russian forces continued to circumvent Mykolaiv to reach east towards Odesa, it said.

Biden heads to Poland as country grapples with Ukraine refugee influx

President Joe Biden on Friday plans to travel to southeastern Poland, where he intends to meet with U.S. troops and aid workers assisting refugees in a country on the front lines of the humanitarian and military crisis unfolding in Ukraine. 

Biden is scheduled to visit Rzeszow to thank the thousands of U.S. troops who began arriving at a military base there last month. The base in Poland is less than 100 miles from where Russian missiles struck a Ukrainian military post this month. Before he returns to Washington on Saturday, Biden said, he will try to meet with some of the refugees.

“I’ve been to refugee camps, I’ve been in war zones for the last 15 years, and it’s devastating,” Biden said at a news conference Thursday. He said meeting with refugees in Poland would “reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks.”

Read the full story here. 

Humanitarian aid let into Melitopol, mayor says

Humanitarian aid that had been stalled has been let into the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Mayor Ivan Fedorov said on Facebook.

The convoy, carrying food, medicine and hygiene products, was stopped Thursday night at the entrance to the city, Fedorov said. Russians allowed the convoy to enter Friday morning, he said. 

Approximately 350 residents will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhia as the buses exit the city, he said.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian officials said Fedorov had been captured and later released.